Warcross: ESL Teaching Guide

516zrvqj44l-_sx332_bo1204203200_Warcross by Marie Lu was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017, and it met all of my expectations! I LOVED this story, and thought it was a very fun and exciting read!

If you are teaching an ESL high-intermediate to advanced reading class this upcoming semester, consider using Warcross. The book takes place in a world where a virtual reality game (called Warcross) is so popular that 90% of the world’s population play the game in some way. The book tells the story of Emika Chen, a hacker who accidentally glitches herself into the opening game of the international Warcross championship tournament. If you have students like mine (mostly 18-21 years old, from Asian countries), they will definitely connect with the video game obsessed characters and virtual reality story line! There’s a lot of action, a little bit of romance, and plenty of topics that will lend themselves well to classroom discussion.

Warcross is an especially great book is you are considering gamifying your classroom this semester. There are a lot of concepts in the book that lend itself really well to gamifying, and I’ve written some suggestions in the teaching guide. Having a video game-themed semester sounds like a fun way to get students actively involved in learning English!

Click here for a sample of Warcross: ESL Teaching Guide

Click here to purchase the full, 18-page teaching guide!



Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day to all my fellow female ESL teachers out there! Below you’ll find a few news articles related to International Women’s Day. I hope you are able to use them in your ESL reading classes to begin an important discussion about gender and equality!

If you have a wonderful woman in your life, make sure to thank her today for all of the hard work (visible and invisible) that she does every day!

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’

If you liked this lesson plan and have used it in class, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi so I can continue creating free content!

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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.


Good morning! (Well, at least it’s morning in my part of the world) I’ve had a ton of visitors over the past few days, so I wanted to know if you guys had any suggestions/comments on blog content? I know most people are visiting and viewing the current events round-up and some of the novel teaching guides, and I’m glad that you are taking a look at my materials!

Are there any current events in particular you would like me to write a lesson plan for? Are there any books you are thinking of teaching in class and think I should review or write a guide for? Let me know! I want to make sure my teaching materials are as helpful as possible to ESL teachers around the world, so please feel free to contact me with suggestions, comments, or requests!

You can comment on this blog post, or you can send me an email: eslliteraturelessonplans@gmail.com

Happy Tuesday!

Book Theme: China

Happy Lunar New Year! Being an ESL teacher in the US (as opposed to an EFL teacher overseas), I know [in theory] all about my students’ special holidays, but I often forget when they actually occur. Luckily, my Chinese students reminded me of their new year this morning when they brought dumplings to class! So in honor of all my Chinese students and the Lunar New Year, here’s a reading list of young adult and middle grade novels set in China, inspired by Chinese culture, or featuring Chinese characters!

5983694Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Grace Lin, author of the beloved Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat, returns with a wondrous story of happiness, family, and friendship. A fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a timeless adventure story in the classic tradition of The Wizard of Oz.

In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.


118944American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse…

These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent.


30652334The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power. Jing’s life isn’t easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good. She is sold as a bride to the Koh family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju’nan. It’s not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Koh’s, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan–and to herself.


12892470The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

In Chinese, peng you means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated. When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world. Books, however, can’t tell Anna how to find a true friend. She’ll have to discover that on her own. In the tradition of classics like Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and Eleanor Estes’ One Hundred Dresses, this novel subtly explores what it takes to make friends and what it means to be one.





27508527The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang

Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.

Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together—one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.

When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.


22501055Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.


13521501Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

The moon is missing from the remote Village of Clear Sky, but only a young boy named Rendi seems to notice! Rendi has run away from home and is now working as a chore boy at the village inn. He can’t help but notice the village’s peculiar inhabitants and their problems-where has the innkeeper’s son gone? Why are Master Chao and Widow Yan always arguing? What is the crying sound Rendi keeps hearing? And how can crazy, old Mr. Shan not know if his pet is a toad or a rabbit?

But one day, a mysterious lady arrives at the Inn with the gift of storytelling, and slowly transforms the villagers and Rendi himself. As she tells more stories and the days pass in the Village of Clear Sky, Rendi begins to realize that perhaps it is his own story that holds the answers to all those questions.

Current Events Round-Up: The Women’s March

I think the most dominant news story over this past weekend, even more popular than the Inauguration, was the Women’s March in Washington DC and other cities around the world. So I rounded up a collection of articles about the Women’s March, and they range in difficulty from low-intermediate to academic.

Since today is my first teaching day of the semester, I didn’t have much time to put together a lesson plan for this current events round-up. However, I think you’ll have plenty of material to use if you want to cover the Women’s March in class!

Happy Monday!