What is a graded reader?

elt graded reader reading Oct 22, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

Graded readers are generally understood as storybooks that are simplified and adapted for children by limiting the vocabulary range and controlling the grammatical structures. However, content is not limited to storybooks, and there is a significant proportion of non-fiction topics in most graded reader series.

Graded readers are most commonly used for extensive reading, that is, reading for pleasure outside the classroom, but they can and should also be used for other purposes. Hill (2001) proposes that these books can be used in reading courses and as class texts. I will explain this in the next section.

A holistic view

As part of a reading programme,  graded readers can be used as a means of moving up the graded reader levels as quickly as possible, as well as for pleasure reading.

Using graded readers as class texts means that all students in a class will be reading the same book. One of the benefits of using graded readers this way is that teachers can exploit the content of the book for written and oral communicative activities (Hill, 2001). Another benefit is that teachers can check learners’ comprehension more efficiently because the same book is being used (Hill, 2001).

Despite criticism of the use of simplified reading materials from proponents of authentic materials, there is no research to support this position (Nation & Wang, 1999). In fact, Nation and Wang (1999) argue that graded readers allow students to experience reading in a second language at a level of comfort and fluency that is close to their first language.

Theory and practice

Repetition is important for vocabulary learning. In other words, the chances of students learning a word are higher if they encounter the word frequently in different contexts. Nation and Wang (1999) state that reading seven graded readers at Level 1, for example, will ensure that learners encounter each Level 1 word more than 10 times.

To promote a student-led community that encourages students to read graded readers, teachers can initiate a weekly informal reading club. The meeting could start with a 10-minute ice-breaker to help new members relax and to create a sense of community. Then, the students could proceed with their reading. In this programme, higher level students are asked to to support lower level students. This means that all students play an active role by giving and receiving support. The main roles of the teacher are to identify an appropriate book level for new members and to ask students questions about the books.


Hill, D. (2001). Graded readers. ELT Journal, 55(3), 300-324.

Nation, P. & Wang, K. M. (1999). Graded readers and vocabulary. Reading in a Foreign Language. 12(2), 355-380.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based Independent Researcher and a Research & Development Consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

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