Graded readers are very short books of various genres that are specially created for learners of foreign languages. They are usually accompanied by narrative illustrations or photos and perhaps an audio component along with teaching and learning support material. They are “easy reading” in nature, and generally used to support the extensive reading approach to teaching English as a second or foreign language along with other languages.
Graded readers may be simplified versions of existing works adapted from literary classics, films, biographies, travel books, etc., or they can be original stories. Whether fiction or non-fiction, they are generally written at a less demanding language level. They are ‘graded’ in the sense that the sentence structure and vocabulary are controlled in order to make content accessible to language learners. Graded reader series normally have 4-6 different reading levels to suit a range of skill levels and allow progress over time.
They are written with specific levels of grammatical complexity in mind and with vocabulary that is limited by frequency headword counts. For example, Level 1 in a series might be restricted to 500 headwords, Level 2 to 600 headwords, and Level 3 to 700 headwords. Other factors taken into consideration when determining levels might include the number and range of characters; the complexity of the plot; the expected background of the target audience; compliance requirements for certain markets (e.g., sex, dating, religion, gender roles and sexuality, etc).
Although graded readers employ simplified language, they do not necessarily lack narrative depth or avoid complex themes; often, they cover the same range of “serious” themes as books written for native speaker audiences.
The major difference between ELT reading materials and the native speaker reading materials is that those who read their first language already have knowledge of several thousand words before they begin to read. By contrast, second language learners do not have such a store of vocabulary and grammar knowledge to call upon. Thus, many native-speaker graded readers may not be suitable for ELT learners.
Click here to learn about Hathaway Education’s Graded Readers and ancillaries, available for license to publishers.