Why is Reading Important for Young ESL Learners?
Reading is one of the core foundations for learning a language. Reading helps ESL learners develop a wide range of vocabulary, and see grammatically correct sentences in context. It’s also no secret that a high level of literacy usually translates to a higher level of academic success. Being bilingual has a profound effect on your brain, and has many cognitive benefits aside from the obvious practical benefits of living in a globalized world.
According to EC English, “Books and other authentic texts are rich in idiomatic language that so much of the English language is based on”.
As such, as ESL teachers, we want to introduce the development of reading skills and habits to ESL learners at a young age.
How to Choose a Book for Young Learners to Read
When selecting books for young learners, have specific learning goals for improving their overall fluency, and opt for books that use contemporary English. Books that use modern English will help your ESL students far more than books that use antiquated forms of English, even if these books are classics. Storybooks are great choices because they are stories children can get into, and they contain large amounts of dialog that children can absorb and emulate in their English language learning development.
5 Must Read Books for Young ESL Learners
Oxford’s Picture Dictionary teaches vocabulary to young ESL learners across several subjects including math, science and social studies, using illustrations and visuals. The picture dictionary includes vocabulary cards, as well as reading and writing practice. There is also an audio CD for listening and repeating dictionary words using correct pronunciation.
This is an excellent book for ESL teachers to use with young learners in the classroom, or for parents to use at home with their children.
The story of a tall cat with a red and white striped hat who enters the lives of two young children and causes a great deal of mischief while their mother is away. This perennial classic from the famed children’s author Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) is great for teaching early ESL students rhyming through simplistic dialog. The Cat in the Hat is an excellent choice because it helps teach students different word families as well as phonics, which is important in the early years of learning a new language. Because many of the books are often set in fantastical make-believe worlds, books from Dr. Seuss do a great job of transcending cultural barriers that may cause students to have trouble understanding many other English books.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is a classic that has been helping school children learn to read for over 50 years. The book follows the story of a boy named Max who sails to a wild jungle setting inhabited by monstrous creatures known as the wild things. The book is flush with deeply detailed illustrations and is only 338 words in length, ensuring that young ESL students will not be overwhelmed with words they may have trouble understanding.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a very simple picture book which differs from the previous two on our list in that the text doesn’t follow a rhyming scheme. Instead, this story is about a caterpillar that hatches and begins to consume everything it comes across. After feasting on too much and becoming sick, the caterpillar goes into its cocoon and then hatches into a magnificent looking butterfly. The book is great for teaching students a wide variety of vocabulary from numbers to food types. For teachers who are responsible for developing their own lesson plans, the book has many lessons and activities that have been developed around it in the nearly 50 years since it was released.
Let’s Go! 1 Student Book is part of the Let’s Go! series, and is designed to give children opportunities to learn English in fun, interactive ways such as through song and dance, colorful activities, work sheets, listening tests, communication games and pair work. The focus of this book is primarily on phonics, grammar, and learning the alphabet. There is also a student website to extend learning opportunities for young learners.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit is the original classic by Beatrix Potter. It’s the story of a mischievous rabbit and the trouble he encounters in Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden. Popular with children around the world, this book is the first and most popular among Potter’s series of 23 little books. Indeed, it’s so popular that Peter Rabbit appears in baby clothing, bedding, nursery decor products and collectibles even today, more than 100 years after the book was first published.
Things to Consider when Choosing Books for Young ESL Learners
One of the challenges choosing books for ESL learners is that proficiency level does not correlate with age. Indeed, many young learners have a stronger command of English than many adults do, so when choosing books for reading, consider the content and context of the book in addition to the level. If your ESL students are young, you want to select texts with themes that resonate with younger audiences, and that challenge them at their level of reading comprehension.