Class Project: Reading Out Loud to Children

Have you ever tried have your ESL students read aloud, either as a whole class, individually, or to each other? Sometimes this is a strategy that works pretty well, but often times you get students who are not paying attention while someone else is reading, or reading ahead to mentally practice what they’re going to read, shy students, students who are nervous about vocabulary pronunciation, and so on.

So how do you help build students’ confidence with reading out loud, and make it fun? Easy! (…ish!) If you are teaching college level ESL students (like I am), have them read aloud to children, especially preschool or kindergarten age. Children are very easy audiences for ESL learners…children are usually active participants in the reading aloud process (they ask questions, they make comments, they get excited). In the past, when I’ve had my ESL students read aloud to children, they really enjoyed the reaction they got from the kids. They also said that they were never worried about pronunciation, because kids don’t really pay attention to that. They also said it was just plain fun hanging out with children because they got to talk a little bit about their culture (they chose pictures books based on their culture to read out loud). ESL students are also likely to put a little more effort into reading out loud to children, because it’s a lot like play-acting…they have to be aware of how their voice affects the reading of the story. ESL students also get to work on creating a dialogue over what they’re reading. Sometimes they ask the children to respond, or ask what happens next, or follow up a page with a tag question (“That rabbit is really cute, isn’t he?”). Also, small children really respond to being read to – it helps them with processing and language skills. So overall, having ESL students read to small children is mutually beneficial.

Now you might be wondering…”How do I find children to read to?” This is the slightly harder, but more rewarding part. I am lucky enough that my university is located in a downtown area, and the public library is only about four blocks away from my office. I have worked with my public library for a few years now to collaborate on my ESL reading classes. This includes doing tours of the library, hosting a conversation hour, and so on. The library hosts a preschool story time every day, and we have participated in this before – parents bring their young children and the ESL students take turns reading the picture book for the day. So the first thing you could do is approach your public library and ask if they would allow your ESL class to participate in a similar event. I also know of a colleague who has taken her ESL reading class to her daughter’s preschool with very positive results. If you have a preschool near your classroom, you may approach them about forming a reading partnership. You could even bring your class on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis to build on the benefits of reading aloud!

So if you want your students to get past bored, repetitive, wooden reading aloud, try out this idea! Good luck!

Current Events: The Burning Problem of China’s Garbage

Hey all! It’s been kind of a slow news week (well, not really, but I haven’t been able to find a news event that ESL students might be able to understand and relate to without a ton of background knowledge on US politics), so here’s another one-off story from NPR. I’ve adapted the original article for vocabulary and readability. The story is interesting, and I’ve found that many students enjoy talking about the environment.

Click here for the lesson plan “The Burning Problem with China’s Garbage”

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Book Review: The Bone Sparrow, One Half from the East

In the past few weeks I’ve been pretty slow about reading (I always get into a February slump!), but I have managed to finish reading two middle grade novels that I had been considering for class use. Below are my general thoughts about these books, and whether I’d recommend them for use in an ESL reading class!

(Click on the title for a Goodreads description!)

28217813One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi

This book was a very interesting read on a topic I had never heard about – bacha posh. Essentially, in some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, if a family has all daughters and no sons, they turn a young daughter into a boy until she reaches puberty. This is the story of Obayda, who becomes Obayd because her father is injured and there are no male family members to help support her family. The novel explores all of Obayd’s newfound freedom now that she is a boy – she doesn’t have to do chores, she can run around at school, and she has much more independence than her sisters. However, there are definitely some pitfalls that she runs into, like what will life be like once she is turned back into a girl and her freedoms are taken away?

What ESL Students Might Enjoy: A lot of this story focuses on relationships within a family, which is usually an easy topic to connect to. Students may find some of Obayd’s frustration with her family easy to connect to. There is also a lot of exploration about what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl in relation to family responsibility in freedom.

Recommended for an ESL Reading Class?: Yes, definitely! Since the book is middle grade, it is a fairly easy, low-vocabulary read. Non-middle eastern students may struggle a little with some of the culture references, but those are easily explained. Overall, I think this is a great book to use in an ESL class!


29223495The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

This is a beautifully written, incredibly depressing story about a boy named Subhi who was born in an Australian refugee camp and has spent his entire life there. What I enjoyed the most was the small magical element of the book called the Night Sea – a mysterious sea that only Subhi can see that leaves him gifts every once in awhile. There is also a strong theme of story-telling that runs throughout the novel. Subhi makes friends with Jimmie, an Australian girl

What ESL Students Might Enjoy: The writing is fairly simple, and the story is very straightforward. There are a few places where Subhi is reading a story that takes place in the past, but this is denoted by a different font. Overall, the readability is fairly simple.

Recommended for an ESL Reading Class?: I’m not so sure about this one. The readability is nice, but the story is very, very depressing. In the past, my students have sometimes complained that there’s not enough action in a book and they get kind of bored. This book is kind of like that – it’s a lot of just daily life stuff in the refugee camp. There’s not really any action until the last 30 pages or so, so students might get a little bored.

Current Events: The Wings on the Bus

Today’s current events is a little different – instead of doing a normal round-up of related news stories, I chose one news story from NPR and based a short lesson plan on it. I will do another current events link round-up later in the week. I thought this little article was too cool to pass up, though!

This article from NPR is a charming story of how students from a small island in Lake Erie get to school every day on an airplane. I think students will find this article entertaining, and it is very easy to read. Because of this, the lesson plan is designed for low-intermediate, or even high-beginner readers. There are several pre-reading discussion questions, an active reading activity, a very simple vocabulary matching exercise, true or false questions, and a short research/extension activity.

Click here for the current events lesson plan ‘The Wings on the Bus’

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Happy Monday!

New Releases: February 2017

I always get excited about new books! Here’s a list of middle grade and young adult new releases for February 2017. While they all look interesting, I’ve put stars* next to the ones that I would consider using in my ESL classroom (either intermediate or low-intermediate reading classes).

27508688The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

Tess and Max are sent to the English countryside for the summer and long for some excitement. So when Tess, out for a walk alone, happens upon an ornately carved gate and an old brass key, she decides to see what’s inside. To her amazement, she discovers the grounds of a castle filled with swans, bullfrogs, a hedge maze, an old-fashioned carnival, and a boy, William, just her age. William invites Tess back, and she can’t wait to return, this time with her brother.

But strange things happen at William’s castle. Carnival games are paid for in wishes, dreams seem to come alive, and then there’s William’s warning: Beware the hawthorne trees. A warning that chills Tess to the bone.

In the end it’s up to Tess to save her family and her friends from being trapped forever in the world beyond the hawthorns—but will one wish be enough?


33282947See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng*

11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.


25620395The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson Coats*

High-spirited young Jane is excited to be part of Mr. Mercer’s plan to bring Civil War widows and orphans to Washington Territory—but life out west isn’t at all what she expected.

Washington Territory is just the place for men of broad mind and sturdy constitution—and girls too, Jane figures, or Mr. Mercer wouldn’t have allowed her to come on his expedition to bring unmarried girls and Civil War widows out west.

Jane’s constitution is sturdy enough. She’s been taking care of her baby brother ever since Papa was killed in the war and her young stepmother had to start working long days at the mill. The problem, she fears, is her mind. It might not be suitably broad because she had to leave school to take care of little Jer. Still, a new life awaits in Washington Territory, and Jane plans to make the best of it.

Except Seattle doesn’t turn out to be quite as advertised. In this rough-and-tumble frontier town, Jane is going to need every bit of that broad mind and sturdy constitution—not to mention a good sense of humor and a stubborn streak a mile wide.


27883214Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.


33956433City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.


25014114History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Current Events Round-Up: Travel Ban

As an ESL instructor in the US, I work with students from a wide variety of languages and backgrounds, and it’s been an incredibly depressing weekend as far as tolerance and inclusivity go. I’m sure everyone in the US has heard about the Muslim/Middle East travel ban and the resulting protests at airports around the country. This is a really worthwhile topic to cover with your students, especially if you’re in the US and you have students who are affected by this and afraid to travel. This is also a good time to introduce the idea of the US Constitution, since the word ‘constitutional’ comes up in these articles quite a bit. I’ve compiled a list of articles from the past weekend that are accessible to students from low-intermediate to academic ESL students.


The Lesson: This lesson is based on an article similar to the last one on the list about MoMA changing some of their famous paintings to ones from artists that are from the countries affected by the travel ban. The article is not very long, but some of the vocabulary is difficult so it would work best for high-intermediate to academic students. This lesson includes pre-reading discussion questions, an active reading annotating activity, vocabulary in context, post-reading questions, and a research/extension activity at the end.

Click here for the ESL current events lesson ‘MoMA Takes a Stand’

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Book Theme: Music

Today is National Play Your Ukulele Day! In addition to being a full-time ESL instructor, I’m also a part-time ukulele teacher (just for fun – I don’t get paid!). I’ve even started a club at my university for international students who want to learn ukulele. It’s great fun and I think everyone should pick up a uke and learn!

In celebration, here are several young adult and middle grade books that are focused on music! (The first one is my favorite…I taught it in a reading class last summer and decided to start playing ukulele right then!)

22232Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli

Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’ s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.


15792865Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino

In Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino, eleven-year-old musical prodigy, Elvis Ruby, was supposed to win the most coveted reality show on television, Tween Star. None of the other contestants even came close to his talents. But in the middle of the biggest night, with millions of people watching, Elvis panicked. He forgot the words to the song. He forgot the tune. He forgot how to play every single instrument he’d ever known and froze on national TV. So Elvis must run from the paparazzi camped outside his door and spend the summer working with his aunt and cousin at Piney Pete’s Pancake Palace in the remote wilds of New Jersey. It’s the perfect place to be anonymous, that is until Elvis meets Cecilia, a girl who can’t seem to help blurting out whatever’s on her mind.


827988The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff

“Remember, what’s down inside you, all covered up—the things of your soul. The important, secret things . . . The story of you, all buried, let the music caress it out into the open.”

When Allegra was a little girl, she thought she would pick up her violin and it would sing for her—that the music was hidden inside her instrument.
Now that Allegra is twelve, she believes the music is in her fingers, and the summer after seventh grade she has to teach them well. She’s the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians’ Competition.
She knows she will learn the notes to the concerto, but what she doesn’t realize is she’ll also learn—how to close the gap between herself and Mozart to find the real music inside her heart.


22323663The Way To Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood

When Theo gets off a bus in Destiny, Florida, he’s left behind the only life he’s ever known. Now he’s got to live with Uncle Raymond, a Vietnam War vet and a loner who wants nothing to do with this long-lost nephew. Thank goodness for Miss Sister Grandersole’s Boarding House and Dance School. The piano that sits in Miss Sister’s dance hall calls to Theo. He can’t wait to play those ivory keys. When Anabel arrives things get even more enticing.  This feisty girl, a baseball fanatic, invites Theo on her quest to uncover the town’s connection to old-time ball players rumored to have lived there years before. A mystery, an adventure, and a musical exploration unfold as this town called Destiny lives up to its name.

Acclaimed author Augusta Scattergood has delivered a straight-to-the-heart story with unforgettable characters, humor, and hard questions about loss, family, and belonging.


22544766Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt

It’s 1948 in Rippling Creek, Louisiana, and Tate P. Ellerbee’s new teacher has just given her class an assignment–learning the art of letter-writing. Luckily, Tate has the perfect pen pal in mind: Hank Williams, a country music singer whose star has just begun to rise. Tate and her great-aunt and -uncle listen to him on the radio every Saturday night, and Tate just knows that she and Hank are kindred spirits.

Told entirely through Tate’s hopeful letters, this beautifully drawn novel from National Book Award-winning author Kimberly Willis Holt gradually unfolds a story of family love, overcoming tragedy, and an insightful girl learning to find her voice