Books With a Little History

I’m currently working on a reading guide for Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising. I’m a big fan of middle-grade books based on historical events because a) they’re a great vehicle for cultural education and discussion among ESL students, and b) they feature a lot of themes that are recognizable to adults without characters being overly childish. You can also find historical books based on a wide range of cultures – even some that your students may relate to. I usually use these middle-grade books in my low-intermediate reading classes.

So if you’re looking to inject a little history into your reading class, check out this list of middle-grade historical novels!

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (Cuba, 1896)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Kansas, Great Depression)

Heart of a Samurai by Maggi Preus (Japan, 1841)

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (England, WWII)

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost (Indiana Territory, 1812)

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (Little Rock, Alabama, 1958)

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (North Carolina during segregation…couldn’t find the exact year)

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (Chile and the US, 1970s)

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau (Mexico, 1950s)

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Geimenhart (American West, again, couldn’t find the exact year)

These are just a few to get you started! There are tons of really great historical novels out there that would work perfectly well in an ESL classroom. I have only read a few of these…the rest are based on Goodreads lists and recommendations…but one of my favorite things about teaching reading is discovering new stories along with my students. I’m currently on the lookout for good middle-grade historical fiction featuring Chinese or Arabic characters (since that’s usually the make-up of my classes), so I’ll be adding to this list in the future!

Enjoy!

Introduction

I started thinking about ideas for this blog about 4-5 months ago. My intention was to create and publish ESL-centered literature lesson plans and reading guides. Since then, life has gotten in the way and I’ve been unable to publish anything. However, I am currently working on finishing up my first reading guide for this blog, and hope to publish it sometime this week!

So before that comes out, let me tell you a little about this blog. I currently teach ESL to international students at a large, American university. I’ve been teaching for about 6 years now, including student teaching time during graduate school. This year, my department hired a bunch of new teachers straight out of their graduate program, and I kept thinking back to my own first year of teaching. I had only a BA and a TEFL certificate – no pedagogy knowledge or classroom experience. I was terrified for the first month of teaching, and constantly scrambling to put lesson plans together.

Additionally, this year, I ended up taking an overload of classes, which meant a lot less time to prep for lesson plans. Teaching my reading class’ novel ended up sorting of falling by the wayside. I tried to look up teaching guides for this novel on the internet to sort of ease the lesson planning load, but the only guide I found for the novel was completely centered on the American K-12 setting – it involved common core standards and relied on a level of cultural knowledge that my ESL students just wouldn’t have. Therefore, I decided to start writing my own reading guides for ESL students and teachers.

Basically, my goal for this blog is to help those first year ESL teachers, or any ESL teachers who find themselves suddenly having to teach a novel with no prior experience. I want teachers to be able to find a ready-made reading guide to their chosen novel on this website – then, they can pretty much plug and chug!

Each guide, at the minimum contains an introduction to the book along with a suggested class level, suggested vocabulary words, comprehension questions, writing activities, and extension/research activities. You can pick and choose which parts you want to use or which parts work for your teaching style. Most comprehension questions can be turned into quiz questions, and writing assignments and extension activities can be done as homework or in the classroom, either as individual work or group work. The reading guides are just the basics – it’s up to you to decide how to use them! All the reading guides, activities, and links are free for anyone to use…I don’t believe in putting teaching materials behind a paywall. Teaching is tough enough as is without having to pay for materials!

Thank you so much for reading and using this blog! I don’t have an email for the blog just yet, but if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments :]