Reading is an essential skill in learning a language, but it can be difficult to find appropriate material for different ages and levels. This ESL reading list will have your students interested in reading and learning at the same time.

What does reading achieve?

Let’s look first at why it’s important to read for ESL learning. Reading activates your imagination and can strengthen the pathways in the brain that are involved in learning a language. If students are able to read a novel and form an image in their head about what they’re reading about, it makes their brain recognise the information as important. What this does is allow students to retain more of the vocabulary, especially if the book is enjoyable, which is key to making this strategy effective.

What else you’ll find in Kings English: Helping students using metacognition

Novels can also provide students with a topic to discuss. This improves their conversation and vocabulary skills at the same time. In my experience, books that send a message are great to work with because they can spark a debate. Often students are able to share their opinions about what the story is suggesting. Novels with a political or dystopian theme work well for this. Students can discuss warning signs in their own history or political systems of what may happen if current systems break down. It’s also a good opportunity to discuss how people are influenced by media and propaganda.

A good classroom novel with this theme is The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, where the protagonist is fighting against the “Capitol” in a dystopian world of class order. Another great novel in this genre and one that has become more popular with the current world political climate is George Orwells 1984 which has a similar theme in that people are living in a class system ruled by an elite power.

What should students read?

Reading can be challenging for ESL learners, especially when their English level doesn’t quite match their interests. Teens and adult learners may find simple stories to be dull. A way to address this is to choose novels that have a movie version as well. Most readers will tell you that the movie version of a book ruins the story.

In the case of ESL students, watching the movie (maybe a few times) while reading the book can give them that little bit of information needed to better comprehend the reading. Take for example the novel The Fault in our Stars, by John Green. Students could watch the movie as they’re reading the book. this allows them to better focus on vocabulary and comprehension. They’ll already have the basic progression of events so they won’t waste time focusing on the wrong aspects. If they begin to feel as though they aren’t sure whats going on, they can think back to what happened at that point in the movie and make assumptions. This strategy leads to better reading comprehension and higher confidence in their abilities.

Here are a few more of my recommendations for great reads for teens to adult B1-C1 level students. These books also happen to have movie adaptations.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

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