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How I Made my First Graded Reader (for Language Teachers)

I took a successful piece of literature that has endured the test of time and I made it accessible to English learners as a language learning tool.

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I’ve been wanting to make my own graded reader series for a while now. I really like the idea of creating comprehensible input for students to learn from. The idea is that they get plenty of Meaning Focused Input (see this post on the Four Strands if you aren’t sure about Meaning Focused Input).

If you’d like to look at the free graded reader I made, you can click the book below or click here. If you are an English teacher (and your learners know about a 1,000 words), please share this graded reader with your learners. You can find vocabulary size tests (in Chinese too!) on Paul Nation’s webpage.

I used AntWordProfiler (which is free and available here for download as desktop program) to go through a classic story and eliminate most of the mid-frequency and low-frequency words. The result is that 98% of the vocabulary is within the first 1,000 most common word families based on the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English. I got the word lists from Paul Nation’s webpage.

The story I chose was called “The Little Lame Prince and his Travelling Cloak” by Dinah Dolorez Mulock. It was written in 1875 and it has since been a classic for young and old.

Why can’t students just read the original story? It’s authentic material for native speakers. Surely it is better than something artificial.

Well, let’s see what happens when you take a story that was intended for children and crunch it through AntWordProfiler. What vocabulary range do you need in order to pick this book up and read it for pleasure and use it for Meaning Focused Input? Let’s take a look:

The word list I added is called “lame prince supplemental.” In the center of the screen it’s called “Level 7.” “Level 0” are words that are not in the lists.

A language learner who would like to take this book and read it for pleasure would need a vocabulary of about 6,000 words to be able to use the book for Meaning-Focused Input. That doesn’t meant that every word in the top 6,000 most frequent words are needed, but the student would need to have that kind of range to move through the book effortlessly like a competent native speaker might.

I went through the book, which needed a vocabulary of 6,000. I eliminated almost every word that was outside of the top 2000 list and I worked hard to ensure that words in the second 1,000 word list were repeated. Let’s see the result in AntWordProfiler:

The top 1,000 words now give 91.7% coverage. The supplemental list (the same list as before) is now 6.3%. The top 1,000 words and the (supplemental word list) now make the total words 98%. The supplemental list has the names of the characters that were repeated many times.

The text is now ensuring that the next list of most useful words to the reader are being repeated. Also combed through the text and eliminated many words that were in the text only one time.

Why did I do it?

I’ve been wanting to make my own graded reader that was longer than a few pages. I’ve always enjoyed them in my own language and I’d like to get really good at making them. I’ve even read the book “How to Write Graded Readers” by Sue Leather.

Of course, I didn’t really write my own from scratch. I took a successful piece of literature that has endured the test of time and I made it accessible to English learners as a language learning tool. I’m going to continue doing this though to become more proficient with using word lists and AntWordProfiler. I plan to make a lot of the work for free to download on my site.

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