Most Anticipated Releases: February 2018

There are so many good books coming out this year, and I want to share a few that might be fun to read with your ESL students! While I haven’t read any of these yet, I look forward to all of them and think they might be appropriate for a variety of ESL or EFL classrooms.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or through email ( What books are you looking forward to reading in February?

Note: Most of these are being released in the US. If you are located outside the US and are interested in these books, you will have to check with publishers in your country.

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena29451548

Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal

This book looks incredibly fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how the story plays out. I haven’t read the book, but my students usually tend to like contemporary novels because they can connect with the characters.

35297380American Panda by Gloria Chao

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

I have already shared the title and premise of this book with a few students, and they seemed very interested. One has even preordered it! I can’t wait to get into this book – I think it will work well for an ESL reading class!

34506912The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

This is a graphic novel and looks SO GOOD. I love that it’s a fairy tale, but also deconstructs traditional gender norms. My students are very interested in talking about LGBTQ topics, so this may be a big hit in class!

25797017Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy

At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war with thirty-four nations lead by the United States.

Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. Cinematic, accessible, and timely, this is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.

I’m very intrigued by the premise of this book. I think it’s based on a true story (from the co-author). I may end up using this one for a future reading guide, depending on the content. I really enjoy books based on actual historical events.

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta32618983


(But she doesn’t know it yet.)

On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish later that day and a rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories—like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess—and a wealth of secrets about her origin they’ve kept hidden.

To complicate matters, two crushworthy Indian princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’re here to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and slay demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld (who may or may not want to kill her) and the rakkhosh queen (who definitely does) in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it…

This book looks like great fun, and I know my students always love a story with a lot of action and adventure!


Current Events: Active Volcano in the Philippines

There is currently an active volcano in the Philippines that might possibly erupt. What are people doing to stay safe? What are the dangers of living near a volcano? Read through this article and worksheet to learn more about this situation.

Edit: I wrote this article yesterday, when the volcano was threatening to erupt, but it looks like it has erupted after all. Check out an update here from NPR.

Click here for this free current events lesson plan!


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!


Current Events: California Fires Leave Many Homeless

I’ve written a current events lesson based on the fires that are currently wreaking havoc across California. I’m hoping that through this lesson, students gain more awareness of natural disasters in the US and around the world, and figure out how they can help people in need.

This is definitely a lesson for more advanced students – the article is from the New York Times and has not been edited at all. The reading is long (about three pages), and features some advanced, academic vocabulary.

Click here for the free ESL current events lesson: California Fires Leave Many Homeless.

Remember, if you liked this lesson plan and have used it in class, please consider a small donation on Ko-fi so I can continue creating free content!

Current Events: National Coming Out Day

Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day in the US. I’ve written up a quick current events lesson plan on what National Coming Out Day is, and why it’s important for LGBTQ people in the United States. This activity includes pre-reading questions, an active reading activity, some vocabulary words, and post-reading questions.

Click here for the free ESL lesson plan ‘National Coming Out Day’

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

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!

Current Events: Social Media Use Leads to Social Isolation

Hey all! Here’s my current events lesson plan for this week! It’s based off of this article from NPR, and I thought it was an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking topic. I know that my students are constantly on social media (even when we’re in class…grrr), so this is a worthwhile topic for students to contemplate. This lesson is best suited for intermediate or advanced students – it’s not a long article, but some of the vocabulary is difficult (even after editing it for readability).

Click here for the lesson plan “Social Media Use Leads to Social Isolation”

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

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Current Events Round-Up: The Oscars

Sorry all! I’m a bit behind on current events this week – it’s almost midterms in my department and I’m in charge of a few different projects, and basically it’s been a little crazy!

One of the biggest events this past week was the Oscars, so here are a few articles related to the Oscars. Most of these articles are a little on the long side, so be wary if you teach lower level students!

Happy Friday to everyone!

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”

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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