Alice Savage, author of The Yellow House Stories, introduces the new Gemma Hi-Lo series and provides advice for using them—with their special readers’ theater resources—in a classroom setting.

by Alice Savage

At first glance, Rashid seems like a difficult guest. He’s coming out of war-torn Syria. His father died in the conflict, and Rashid has enemies in Jordan.

But when Rashid’s uncle and his wife agree to host the young man in their small, Houston home, no one thinks twice. Family is family, and they will figure it out.

This is the premise for The Yellow House on Summer Street, a new Hi-Lo novel for adult literacy and English language learning from Gemma Media. It’s the first book in a series of stories set in Houston, The Yellow House Stories.

The short novels follow Rashid, his relatives, friends, and neighbors as they navigate relationships, education, accidents, romance, and a very big storm. The Yellow House on Summer Street and its sequel, Mona, are now avaliable from Gemma — with further Yellow House titles in the works.

An Authentic Reading Experience

Written at the second-grade level, each A2 volume in the series is around 100 pages, set in large, readable type, with wide page margins and short chapters. The books contain a maximum of 800 word families, most of which appear across high frequency word lists.

This leveling means The Yellow House books can potentially offer multilingual readers an authentic reading experience. In other words, readers can follow the story easily without having to look up words or figure out meaning. They can simply read the books!

Cover of The Yellow House on Summer Street

Joe, Brita and their children are a typical American family living in an ordinary neighborhood in Houston, Texas. Their life changes overnight when Joe’s Syrian relatives ask for his help and Rashid, a young man with a difficult past, arrives on their doorstep.

Rashid has had a rough time escaping the civil war, yet he is a hopeful young man with an easy smile and lots of energy. Unfortunately, where Rashid goes, trouble often follows…

The Yellow House on Summer Street is the first of The Yellow House Book series.

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Using the Books in the Classroom

There are two ways to use graded readers such as these short novels. One is to create a pleasure reading library, sometimes called an extensive reading collection. Each learner picks out a book and reads for fun. Readers can follow their interests in selecting a book and go as fast or as slowly as they wish.

Another possibility is to bring the content of a graded reader into classroom lessons. Learners reading the same book can discuss the context, compare themselves to specific characters, or analyze the choices that Rashid or other characters make. They can summarize and respond, reflect on a new culture or use a story as a jumping off point for writing about their own experiences.

Focused Language Practice—and Drama

In a classroom setting, groups can also use the content to answer questions in a focused language practice (at the A2 level).

For example, have students write about what they think might happen next to practice future and modals.

They can answer questions with verbs that practice infinitives e.g., What does Rashid want to do? What does Olivia plan to do? Or have them explain why they are like or not like a character using present simple and comparatives. To practice the past, have them simply answer past tense questions.

Cover of Mona

Fall brings more changes to the yellow house as Joe and Brita open their home to a new relative. Rashid’s mother, Mona, lost her husband in the Syrian civil war, but her dreams for their son keep her going.

She arrives in America with not much more than hope. As for creating her own new life? Well, that is not something Mona wants to look at just yet. But this beautiful, sad woman does not go unnoticed!

Mona is the second installation of the Yellow House Stories, with more to come!

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You can even bring drama into lessons. The Yellow House Stories come with readers theater scripts.  In readers theater, students take parts, rehearse, and perform, but they don’t have to memorize the lines. They have a script in front of them.

The process provides abundant (and often lively) pronunciation practice while taking less time than a full production. Importantly, these scripts are meant to be spoken, so the dialogs include emotion and intention (prosody). Scripts also are rich in useful conversational, fixed expressions, such as, “Never mind,” or “I can’t help it.”

The Yellow House Stories are part of Gemma’s Hi-Lo series of readers designed to provide literature and literacy. The non-profit has an extensive collection, and many of the books come with teaching materials, all available on their website

Such books offer accessible content that can scale up what English language learners do with language. After all, responding to a human story remains one of the best ways to create connections and make sense of the world.

Click to Download FREE Readers Theater Scripts

for The Yellow House on Summer Street and Mona

Readers Theater Script:

The Yellow House on Summer Street

Readers Theater Script:


About the Author

Author Alice Savage

Alice Savage is professor of ESOL at Lone Star College-North Harris in Houston, Texas, where she teaches a variety of English langauge courses to students from all over the world. She’s also trained preservice teachers for the Certificate in English Language Teaching (CELTA) offered by The University of Cambridge.

In addition to teaching, she is a materials writer and have published ESOL textbooks with Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Pearson/Longman. She participates in the Big Ideas Series published by Wayzgoose Press, and has written several plays for English learners for Alphabet Publishing.

She enjoys the intersection of teaching, teacher-training and writing because it allows her to work out the puzzles of turning theory into practice. She holds a Masters of Art in Education from the School for International Training, and a Bachelor of Art in English from the University of Washington.