Realia for teaching literacyIf you’re teaching adult ‘prelim’, CPSWE, Initial Course in EAL, ‘pre-beginner’ or ‘literacy’ students in an ESOL class, you’re probably making a lot of your own materials. Your classroom cupboards are filled with word and letter cards, ‘play money’, food and medicine packets and supermarket flyers. Your reading materials are based on excursions or ‘learner news,’ recorded on learners’ phones for a ‘take-home’ reading opportunity… it’s all busy, but satisfying.

When you want to make the transition to print or online materials, however, the choices for this level are limited. I thought I’d put together this list of Australian materials designed for our ‘prelim’ adult learners…

‘Prelim’ workbooks

The literacy workbook for beginners from AMES NSWWhile there’s no official CPSWE workbook from NSW AMES, there’s the well-known The Literacy Workbook for Beginners.

This is  also available in Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese versions. It’s been around for a while, and is really simple and spacious in layout.

Preliminary Spoken and Written English book by Po Lin WooLong-term prelim teacher Po Lin Woo created her own Preliminary Spoken and Written English Workbook to meet the need for a workbook that covers the CPSWE outcomes (that’s the Preliminary Course for the Certificates in Spoken and Written English, for anyone reading this from outside Australia – currently used in the Adult Migrant English Program, as well as in many other adult education courses). She doesn’t have a website, but a search will bring up her books in all the language bookshops and libraries.


Everyday Australian Picture Dictionary from TELLSThe Everyday Australian Picture Dictionary from TELLS is available in English and in Thok Nath (Nuer) (Sudan), Kirundi (Burundi), S’gaw Karen (Burma) and Mã’dí (Sudan).

There’s an additional Teacher Resource, with activities.

There’s also the Everyday Picture Dictionary CD suite from AMES Vic. It’s a set of CDs with great printable resources.

Reading books at sentence level 

Readers from TELLS, QLDFor reading at ‘sentence level’, try the Everyday Living Readers from TELLS in Queensland.

They are photo-stories, at a very simple level. Pictures are in colour, with one sentence per page.

They are more ‘useful reading’ than ‘story’ at this level.

Welcome to Hope Street by Clare Harris from The Book Next DoorWelcome to Hope Street is the photocopiable reader from The Book Next Door (that’s me).

Again, it’s ‘sentence level’, though I’ve tried to introduce a little ‘twist’ at the end of each sentence set.

It also has worksheets and ‘cut-ups’, as you can see from the picture.

Phonics readers

Babies - a title from Sound English readersSound English produces phonics readers, which focus on different sounds – this book is ‘b’. (I can’t find the website but your local language bookshop will know about them.)

However, it’s actually not one of the first 10 ‘preliminary’ books. These prelim readers cover ‘sight words’ (the phonics-based stories are from beginner level).


Sing with Me by Carmel Davies and Sharon DuffSing with me 1 from Urban Lyrebirds is ‘beginner’ level, but some of the songs are very simple.

I’ve used them successfully in a prelim class (with students calling ‘Again, again, please!’)

Speaking/writing resources

Everyday Interactive Tasks from APELSEveryday Interactive Tasks from APELS is photocopiable: the site seems to be down, but a bookshop will be able to help.

It  is aimed at a range of levels from beginner upwards.

Open it in the wrong place and you might think ‘oh, it’s not prelim’ – but a number of the interactive tasks would be fine for that level.

Apps and software (phonics)

OzPhonics appOz Phonics apps (for iPad or iPhone) are aimed at both children and adults, but are not ‘childish’, and have the option of Australian pronunciation (and at some levels, of NZ pronunciation, as I discovered to my surprise, when one student changed his settings).

Sound English phonics readers (mentioned above) are also available as an app or software and readers: the later levels assume a higher level of English


There are Aussie school fonts for purchase from School Fonts, to make your own handwriting materials.

Writing Wizard appI’m breaking my rule here, by including a ‘non-Australian’ resource, because I don’t know of anything comparable. Writing Wizard provides ‘trace the letter’ letter formation practice – on a phone or device… in different font styles. You can watch here.

On the subject of fonts, an attractive ‘readable’ font for creating your own materials, with ‘infant’ a and g, and a non-reversible b and d, is Andika. (I find Century Gothic is a bit thin, and Comic Sans isn’t always what I’m looking for. We used  Heinemann Special for my books.)

Free resources

I’m breaking that rule again, because I can’t find anything Australian at prelim level. There are real prelim resources from the ESL Literacy Network at Bow Valley College, Canada – beautifully done, though they do (not surprisingly) have references to cold weather clothing, rather than beach safety…   At more of a beginning level, but with very attractive photo-resources, there’s also Best of the Reader.

UPDATE: Another great resource is Teach ABC English – which has a new site.

Sound-symbol Posters

There are Sound Spelling posters and smaller charts from AMES Vic: these use phonetic symbols, which some teachers feel may confuse prelim learners. (However, other learners are familiar with the symbols, and they don’t dominate the charts). They are designed for adults.

Thrass charts are designed for children, but I know they have also been used for adults (recommended to those who’ve done the Thrass training).

Videos and online English

I couldn’t think of what to list here for language/literacy videos (excluding videos that elicit language, like the ever-popular Mr Bean series). Is there something simpler than the beginner level videos available for English Have a Go, or English Everywhere Everyday? Any suggestions?

For online courses, I can’t find anything at the prelim level that’s Australian – tell me if I’m wrong, and I’ll be happy. MOOEC starts at beginner level.

‘How to’ resources for teachers

‘Pre-literacy’ covers such a range of learners, from highly educated students who are adapting to Roman script (and left-to-right script direction), to those who don’t have literacy in their first language:

Beginner level materials

This is where the list suddenly expands, as there are far more materials aimed at early CSWE I or equivalent (rather than at CPSWE), but which have elements that can be used for literacy learners.  I’m thinking of:

What about for ‘Pre-employment’ learners?

With changes to the next AMEP contract, more of us will be wondering which prelim resources have a workplace context. Good question…

However, to spare you further scrolling down, I think this should be the subject of another post…

Please get in touch!

I hope you’ll comment or contact me if you’re using something I haven’t mentioned here. (I haven’t included EAL/D schools material because I work with adults, but would love to know about those resources too.)

NOTE: Thanks to people who sent updates: they are listed in this new post.