Graded Readers‏‎ in English Language Teaching

Teaching Materials

The cover of Sherlock Holmes - simplified.Graded Readers are books which have been simplified, adapted, or written for a specific learner level of English. They can be fact or fiction, new works or older classics.

They are ideal for the TEFL classroom as they allow students to read exciting, interesting stories in English which will not only help them with their language, but also let them enjoy some great storytelling.

Different Levels

This quote is from the Sherlock Holmes story, A Scandal in Bohemia.

The furniture was scattered about in every direction, with dismantled shelves and open drawers, as if the lady had hurriedly ransacked them before her flight. Holmes rushed at the bell-pull, tore back a small sliding shutter, and, plunging in his hand, pulled out a photograph and a letter. 

This could well be too difficult for many students. For advanced level students it could be rewritten like this:

The furniture was all over the place. The shelves were broken and the drawers open. It was as if the lady had hurriedly searched through them before she ran off. Holmes rushed over to the bell rope and pulled open a small sliding shutter. He thrust his hand in and pulled out a photograph and a letter. 

Again, this could be rewritten like this for beginner level students:

The furniture was all over the room. The shelves were broken and the drawers were open. It looked like the lady looked for something. And then left quickly. Holmes ran over to a small sliding door. He put his hand in it and pulled out a photograph and a letter.

Style of Graded Readers

Many graded readers have several different components making them easier to use:

  1. The text.
  2. Glossary of potentially unknown words.
  3. Character list.
  4. CD (spoken text).
  5. Exercises after each chapter.
  6. Illustrations helping in understanding the story.

The vocabulary for graded readers is checked to conform to a particular level. For example, the word “imprison” is regarded as an upper intermediate (or thereabouts) word and so it won’t appear in a book for beginners which may typically contain just 200 – 300 headwords. Often a graded reader will mention on its cover the level it is appropriate for as well as the number of headwords it uses.

Likewise certain grammatical constructions will appear in one level but not another. For example, in a beginner’s book you will not see long sentences‏‎ with subordinate clauses‏‎ or conditionals‏‎.


The man who arrived last night turned up at our house in a vintage car.

Graded for beginners:

A man arrived last night at our house. He was driving an old car.

Why Use Graded Readers?

The main reason to use graded readers is because texts written for native speakers can be daunting and impossible to read by learners of English. Even books for native English speaking children are likely to contain slang and cultural references which would simply not be understood by many learners.

Graded readers allow students to practice English and enjoy the language in an informal and pleasurable way, much as they might enjoy reading novels or texts in their own language. 

Use of Graded Readers in Class

Graded readers tend to be used as an adjunct to the class or for personal study and enjoyment. Handled in the right way they can be an excellent resource, but handled in the wrong way, they can be boring and off-putting for students.

First, the right book for the right student. This means both the subject and level should be appropriate. A beginners version of Jane Austin is not right for an advanced class of unruly teenage boys! Some publishers insist of recreating graded versions of dry classics, whilst others will provide more interesting and up to date books by contemporary authors.

There are different ways to use graded readers in class depending on whether you use them as individual study aids or with the class as a whole. For more on the best way to use full length books in class, see the article, Reading for Pleasure‏‎.

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