Tips for using graded readers

Discover some new ways of getting more out of a graded reader.

Reading a book in a foreign language can be a daunting task! It can be so long, full of advanced grammar and an overwhelming number of rarely used words. Arghh! At the LLC we have hundreds of graded readers so you can still read, but you only need to focus on what's important.

Research shows that learners who use graded readers improve faster than those who don’t. What's more, it not only improves your reading, but also your skills in other areas too – even speaking.

Graded readers are best read little and often. The key to making them useful is finding ways of interacting with them. To help you do this we have put together half a dozen ideas:

1. Do the activities

Many graded readers come with activities throughout or at the end of the book. Doing these can help you check your comprehension and focus on important vocabulary.

2. Listen to the accompanying CD (or online audio)

The LLC tries to obtain CDs with all graded readers. The CD can be used in a number of ways depending on what you want to practice. If you want to improve your listening comprehension, put the audio on your phone and listen to it three or four times when you are walking around. By this time you will understand everything you can.

Now listen through it again while reading along with the book. The bits you couldn't understand before are really important. Think about why you didn't understand them –was it because you didn't know a particular word/expression, or misunderstood the grammar? You could note these down on a piece of paper. Some of these might form the basis for 3 below.

3. Learn new vocabulary

Graded readers are specially written to introduce the most important vocabulary according to frequency. This means it's really worth learning the words you don't know. As you go through the reader you can note down new words and the page number. Don't worry too much about the words you don't know until you have finished – you don't want to disrupt your understanding of the story.

Afterwards, go back and enter the sentences containing the words you didn't know into Quizlet or another similar website/app. If the word was repeated, enter all examples. If it wasn't repeated it can be useful to find more examples to add to your Quizlet deck. You can find some in a good dictionary which gives examples or Linguee.

Make sure these sentences are ones you fully understand and that could be useful to you. When you have these you can review them regularly on Quizlet (you can use their free app for convenience) or even print them out if you're a bit more old school (using Quizlet)! Through frequent review you'll take these new words into your long-term memory and be able to use them in a sentence.

4. Let the graded reader inspire your writing

The obvious thing here is to write a summary, but there are so many other things you could try. Think about what you want to practice. You could describe one of the characters or places, you could write about your opinion about something in the story, you could describe a picture in the graded reader etc.

Another thing you could do is to challenge yourself to write a short text using half a dozen new words you have just learnt from the graded reader. You could get a native speaker to check what you've written. Ask your Language Buddy to have a look or upload it onto Lang-8. Don't forget to return the favour by helping someone else. You don't need to write a novel, no more than 100 words, and get some feedback.

5. Act it out

Act out a conversation as it appears in the graded reader word for word, or write your own version and record it with another student. If the reader has an audio CD or online audio track, listen to the conversation a number of times and try to approximate the pronunciation as best as you can.

Don't forget to have fun while you do the recording – you can use any computer at the LLC, they all have microphones.

6. Practice your pronunciation

Most LLC graded readers come with an audio CD, or you can download the audio from the publisher's website. The audio is usually very clear and uses standard speech.

You could take a short passage you liked after reading the book and use it to improve your pronunciation. Just select a passage that takes about a minute to read. Record yourself using Audacity (this is installed on all LLC computers or can be downloaded here

Then listen to the CD and compare it to your reading. Are there some sounds you did not pronounce correctly (pay attention, for example, to the vowel sounds – a, e, i, o, u)? What about stress patterns? Did you stress the right syllable in the word and what about the sentence as a whole? If it is Chinese, were the tones right? Try again until you feel you are mimicking the native speaker's recording really well.

This exercise will probably draw your attention to things you do wrong all the time and will allow you to improve your speech in general. Compare your original and final recordings. Listen to how much you've improved!