As ESL teachers, part of what you and I do is bring real life literature into our classrooms.
Our students benefit from the vocabulary and grammar challenges that come hand in hand with some of the most interesting stories we can offer our classes. This fantastic literature would not be possible without the authors who write it. Perhaps you already include some of these authors in your classroom material. If not, you may decide to once you know a little bit more about them.
Do Your Students Know These Writers? What About You?
Mark Twain is one of the best known and beloved of American authors. His famous works including Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are frequently included in reading requirements for English classes, from middle school to college and beyond. His work is useful for ESL students because of its relatively modern English and its engaging content. If you have ESL students who plan to attend universities after their language studies, they may find that at least one of Mark Twain’s famous pieces is on the required reading list for incoming freshmen.
Maya Angelou is a beloved contemporary author and poet. She is most famous for her series of autobiographies, which some have called autobiographical fiction. The most well known of these is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She writes in a unique style that challenges the genre of autobiography and makes her readers think. She is well known for her depiction and defense of black culture and her experience with the U.S. civil rights movement. ESL students will find her work eye opening as they glimpse a culture with which they may not have had much experience.
Robert Frost is another well known and well loved American poet. His generally short poems are written with simple language and beautiful imagery. ESL students will enjoy reading his selections, which often focus on nature and the natural world. His work can be found in many American literature anthologies and can easily be incorporated into many ESL lesson plans.
A far cry from some more traditional authors, Stephen King is the master of the thriller. Teachers and students should be choosy about including his work for reading assignments, but he does have one great quality to offer. Many of his books have been made into movies, and showing movies concurrently with reading a novel can be a great benefit to ESL students. Be choosy with the works of King that you bring into the classroom, but as a popular contemporary author, he has a lot to offer students of English. You may want to start with his short story “The Body” and its movie version Stand By Me.
Thornton Wilder is a Pulitzer Prize winning American playwright, and he may be best known for his piece Our Town. Because of his simple language and depiction of U.S. culture, his work is often read in ESL programs. When reading his work, your students may see into a society long past but one that has helped make the U.S. what it is today.
Langston Hughes was an American poet and one of the early innovators of jazz poetry. He uses beautiful imagery to capture and communicate the life of the African American in the first half of the twentieth century. His simple language communicates powerful messages that touch the heart. ESL students will likely find his material easier to read than that of many contemporary writers, and his children’s literature may be a good place for you to start bringing Hughes’ work into your classroom.
Though not traditionally included in collegiate literature classes, John Grisham is a name your students will want to know. Many of his exciting and suspenseful tales are available through Penguin books in ESL friendly versions. Your students, even those at the beginning levels, will enjoy his exciting tales and will welcome a movie day when you watch the movie version of your completed novel!
Harry Potter and his magical friends have been popular for several years, and he is one of the most beloved characters in modern youth literature. Your students have likely seen the movies based on this book series by the famous British author, and may enjoy reading one or more in class. The first book, The Sorcerer’s Stone is particularly suited to ESL classrooms since it is easy to understand and introduces the engaging characters Rowling is so famous for.
Though it is unlikely that your students will be reading Shakespeare in its original form, more than likely they already have some familiarity with the famed British playwright. If you choose to include a classic romance or tragedy in your classroom, you can find modernized versions which will be far more ESL friendly. Since many students will already know the stories, they will be able to focus on the language rather than the content.
For students and teachers who like mystery novels, none compares to Agatha Christie. Though often looked down upon by her contemporaries, Christie’s novels have continued to entertain readers of English for generations. Because she is a British author, make your students aware of any expressions particular to British English that may be unfamiliar to them. Additionally, be on the lookout for any dated expressions your students may not know.
When literature is part of the classroom, students will find a new world (or worlds) awaiting them.
There is no need for ESL teachers to shy away from literature just because their students are studying English as a second language. These authors and many more have a lot to offer any student who takes the time to read them, whether in their first language or second.