Children, teens and adults who are learning English as a second language can examine stories -- written in English -- to better understand the language. Elementary books with detailed pictures are the best place to start, because these books have simple vocabulary words and descriptive images that provide visual clues for understanding words and concepts. ESL students might read books, listen to audio CDs or watch age-appropriate TV show episodes to learn the language.
Children's Picture Books
Select a children's picture book that has a strong plot, interesting characters and unpredictable elements to read aloud to your students. For example, you might choose Zelda and Ivy by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride by Kate DiCamillo or Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold. If you're working with an entire class, rather than one-on-one, create an enlarged electronic presentation of the words and images from the book to display on your white board, so students can follow along as you read.
Ask your students to predict what they think will happen next or have them explain what just happened to make sure they understand the plotline, recommends One Stop English, a teacher resource site that's part of Macmillan Education. The Common Core State Standards Initiative for fifth-graders recommends discussing important themes in the stories, including ways characters respond to challenges and analyzing how the narrator feels about the main issues or events.
Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary Skills
Before class or before a tutoring session, print a short story on paper -- one that has a specific theme or message. The El Civics for ESL Students website has a list of short stories, such as "Breakfast," "Checking Account" or "Family Dinner." Or, write your own short story if you want to cover a specific theme. Include a picture and several true-or-false, multiple-choice or yes-and-no questions at the bottom of the page to test reading comprehension. Ensure that the story is short -- one or two double-spaced paragraphs.
Ask your students to highlight or circle any words they don't understand. Introduce them to picture dictionaries, recommends the Florida State University Goldstein library. That way, your students will gain a sense of independence as they look up words they don't know, without having to rely on your explanations. Give them five to 10 minutes to work on the stories without your help. Then, explain any remaining unknown vocabulary words, discuss the meaning or importance of the story and review the answers to the comprehension questions.
Audio CDs with Accompanying Books
Select an elementary-level audio CD that has an accompanying picture book or a juvenile chapter book for students to follow along, such as Ella the Elegant Elephant by Carmela and Steven D'Amico or a book from The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne. Instruct young students, ages 8 and below, to place their finger under the words in the book as the narrator reads to help them keep their place. Perform this activity as a class with everyone listening to the same story, or give your students computers with headphones to read individual books.
At the end of the book or after an especially descriptive chapter, ask your readers to draw a picture of the story -- where it takes place, the main characters and important events in the story. Explain any difficult vocabulary words that they may not understand. Teen and adult ESL students, who are intermediate or advanced readers, can listen to more mature stories, such as those available on websites supported by the University of Delaware Self Access Learning Center. The goal is to promote reading comprehension and increase students' vocabulary.
TV Episodes and Graphic Organizers
Show intermediate and advanced ESL students an episode from a TV show that has a strong story line, such as "Glee," "That 70s Show," "Friends," "Gossip Girls," "Grey's Anatomy" or "The Big Bang Theory." After the episode, pass out a premade fill-in-the-blank graphic organizer to each student, such as a bubble-topic organizer. Instruct students to label the bubbles: "setting," "plot," "tone," "characters," "themes," "structure," "conflict" and "resolution." Tell your students that they don't have to fill in the bubbles with complete sentences -- short phrases are acceptable. The Common Core State Standards initiative for ninth and 10th graders recommends analyzing the tone of the story and discussing how the structure, such as parallel plots, create mystery, suspense or conflict. Show younger students an age-appropriate TV episode, such as a cartoon or a Nickelodeon episode, but allow them to draw a picture of the events, rather than making a graphic organizer.
- One Stop English: Teaching Materials -- Using Literature in the EFL/ESL Classroom
- Florida State University Goldstein Library: Juvenile Literature and Other Information Resources for ESL Students
- University of Delaware Self Access Learning Center: Listening -- ESL
- EL Civics for ESL Students: ESL Reading Worksheets
- Zelda and Ivy; Laura McGee Kvasnosky
- Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride; Kate DiCamillo
- H! Fly Guy; Tedd Arnold
- Common Core State Standards Initiative: English Language Arts Standards -- Reading Literature -- Grade 5
- Common Core State Standards Initiative: English Language Arts Standards -- Reading Literature -- Grade 9-10
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