Reviewing graded readers

… is tricky, possibly second only to dictionaries in being difficult to write about.

You can of course list their component bits (CD, exercises at the back, glossary, illustrations, list of characters) and judgements on them, but the main things are of course shared by every reader in history- simplified stories. As we are not likely to be able to judge that level better than the people at Penguin etc, it’s quite tricky to find much to say. Here is a random list of things I have written in my graded reader reviews or spring to mind now:

– Which of a range of titles was most popular with your students (or yourself) and why

– Childish or content that is too adult for some readers

– Quotes from reviews from your students

– Did or did not persuade your students to buy or borrow more?

– Genre(s)

– Unexpected plot twists

– Comparisons to film versions

– Voices on CD

– Online resources

– Some blurb from the back of the book, website or catalogue and how true it is

– Some theory behind the books from those places with comments

Here are some examples:

A selection of CUP graded readers (Was I really writing reviews eight years ago?? Really must get a hobby soon!)

Historical graded readers (also me)

New Penguin Readers (by Dave Allen on

New Scholastic Readers (ditto)

National Geographic Footprint reading library (by Kaithe Greene on

Graded readers- a survey review (elsewhere)

There are also a few survey reviews on ELTJ if you have paper copies or an online subscription.

Any other suggestions of things to include or links to reviews? Anyone else want a stack of free readers or other books by reviewing for Comments below or email through “Contact me” please.

This entry was posted in ELT publishing, Graded readers (easy readers), links, Materials, TEFL reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Reviewing graded readers

  1. David V. says:

    I never see enough justification on the methods by which the language is graded beyond the range of grammatical structures are included.

    I wonder how many of you are aware that, in addition to, for example, only being allowed to use structures x, y and z, it is (fairly) standard practice to issue the writer with a list of vocab they need to include. This rarely, if ever, involves looking at different meanings or parts of speech or much else involved in knowing a word.

    Here’s an example (presented to me in a conference): in 100 instances of the word ‘draw’ as it appeared in readers from beginner through to advanced, 99 of those were related to drawing a picture. There were no examples of ‘drawing conclusions’ or ‘drawing the line at’.

    It’s this lack of care for lexical development that really irks me when I see the word ‘graded’ as it only ever refers to grammar structures. Come on publishers, it’s the 21st century now.

    Maybe I’ll produce a series of lexically graded readers, could put me in contention for an ELTon.

  2. Alex Case says:

    That is another great way of approaching a review, one we get far too rarely- ripping apart the whole concept behind the book and its ilk! Having said that, if you can’t recommend it to anyone in any way we tend not to publish it on

  3. Nick Jaworski says:

    I’ve never been a fan of graded readers, but I think the biggest reason for this is that they are boring. All I ever see are Oliver Twist or Sherlock Holmes in dumbed down fashion. Why not make graded readers by contemporary authors? Why not make a graded reader of 1001 Arabian Nights rather than another Charles Dickens? Classics tend to be good for the language they use rather than the story they tell IMO. For really gripping stories I’d go for modern thrillers. I’d like to see more of them and I don’t know if they are out there.

  4. Darren Elliott says:

    They are Nick. There is an absolutely huge range out there now, and it is growing day by day. Non-fiction, horror, romance, suspense, classics, modern thrillers… a quick Google search brings up OUP and Penguin versions of The Arabian Nights on the first page.

    Not all of them are brilliant, but they are getting better and better. The Penguin version of ‘The Birds’, for example, is an absolute chiller… and with only 600 headwords.

    I think the criticism of readers based on lexical progression is unfair, too. Paul Nation is someone who knows a little bit about teaching and learning vocabulary, and he is a great champion of extensive reading. There is plenty of time and scope for teaching new language, but extensive reading is for consolidation, building fluency and confidence, encouraging autonomy…. which it seems to be doing pretty well, according to research.

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