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Theme-based lessons for young learners 1: Houses and homes

May 19, 2020 by s.nagele

Among the various approaches to content-based instruction and content and language integrated learning (CLIL) some of the most effective ones seem to be theme-based and language-driven. It means that content becomes 'the vehicle for language learning',  opposed to content-driven approaches, in which language is 'the vehicle for content learning' (Byram, 138).

In this new series for young learners, we are going to explore themes which are drawn from the rich content of the stories in our young readers series. These stories for young learners are linked to various topics in the primary school curriculum, and they also reflect topics found in young learners examinations. Through stories you can explore engaging cultural and imaginative contexts, and the topics are more stimulating for the learners. You can also support the content of other subjects across the curriculum, letting your students set up projects to explore various aspects of the same topic.

In a twin series, we are also going to offer reading ideas, activity tips and discussion questions to explore the same themes with teen and adult learners.

The theme we explore in January is 'Houses and homes'.

Young learners usually love describing their own houses and rooms, even drawing and colouring pictures of them in great detail. As they grow older they also like imagining ideal houses and homes. Stories usually feature cozy homes, enchanted houses, fabulous castles and all sorts of weird and wonderful places which function as the homes of real or imaginary characters. In this journey through four readers we learn about houses from the outside in. We also learn about castles in fairy tales.

The Kite written by Rick Sampedro and illustrated by Stefano Misesti. Level 'b' story.

In this lovely story of two families with a grudge against each other you can introduce the basic words and colours to describe houses and gardens. Using simple languages and colourful illustrations this story talks about friendship and peace on the very familiar backdrop of the family home. Ehud and Elisa like flying kites, and on a windy day Ehud’s kite goes up and he can’t see it. Then the kite  comes down in Elisa’s garden. You will learn the words house, garden, fence as well as colours and sizes.

Activity tip: Take a copy of the black and white line drawing of the house and garden on page 2 of the book. After you have read the book give copies to the students and ask them to write their own sentences about the picture, modelled on the listening activity in the book. In pairs they read their sentences while their partners colour the picture as instructed.

The Fisherman and his Wife retold by Richard Northcott and illustrated by Andrea Alemanno. Level 'c' story.

In this retelling of the German fairy tale (collected by the Brothers Grimm), we read about a fisherman who catches a magic fish. The fisherman lives in a hut with his wife. When he tells his wife about the magic fish, she asks the fish for a nice house. Then she wants a castle. And then she wants to become queen.

Apart from the rather explicit moral lesson offered by the tale, we can learn about different types of houses. The three words for young learners are hut, house and castle. Introduce adjectives to describe these types of homes, and teach parts of these buildings with higher level students. Here is a list of a few words that you can add: chimney, roof, wall, window, door, stairs, tower.

Activity tip: What's your favourite thing about your house? What do you want to change about it?

Extra question: What is the sea like in the pictures? What colour is it when the fish is happy? What colour is it when the fish is angry? Draw a picture of happy you at the sea.

Freddy the Frog Prince written by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Agilulfo Russo. Level 'c' reader.

This story tells you about Freddy the frog, who lives a happy life in a pond near a castle. But one day, Princess Priscilla arrives and tries to change Freddy's life.

This heartwarming and funny story of the frog who does not want to become a prince, gives you the perfect opportunity to introduce words to describe the environment where you live. The princess lives in a castle, the frog spends some time in the castle, but his real home is in the pond in the woods.

Activity tip 1: Draw a picture of a castle. How is it different to your house? What is the same?

Activity tip 2: Where do other animals live? You can use the story as the basis for CLIL projects on animals and their habitats.

Fat Cat's Busy Day written by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. Level 'd' reader.

The hero of this story is Fat Cat, a lazy tabby cat, who saves the house from burglars. Use this story to teach and revise different rooms and furniture  through the activities and using the context of the colourful and dynamic pictures.

Activity tip: Before reading the story, using Play Station 1 to pre-teach the rooms in the house as well as bedroom furniture. After reading get your students to personalise the Spot the Difference activity on page 31 by drawing their favourite room in the house, and then copying it, adding some differences.


  • Byram, M. (2004). Routledge encyclopedia of language teaching and learning. London: Routledge

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