Benefits of Using Young Adult Books in Advanced ESL Classes

ESL Sessions

As young adult literature’s popularity has grown, so has its presence in classrooms, even English as a second language (ESL) classrooms. I discussed how to create effective reading activities for ESL students in a previous post. I’ll explain the benefits of having advanced ESL students read young adult books: These books are approachable and may provide better cultural insight than nonfiction reading texts.

Approachable

Because young adult books are for young adults, students can identify with them more easily than they can identify with other literary genres. According to Yongan Wu in “Teaching Young Adult Literature in Advanced ESL Classes,” these books put real-life situations in simple contexts, which is helpful for ESL students. Also, Wu writes that young adult literature concerns circumstances familiar to its audience, such as coming of age, identity formulation, and social relationships.

However, these stories’ plots are only part of what makes them approachable. Authors typically write in first person, in simple and modern language, and in a linear structure, making their books easy reading for students developing skill in reading English. Young adult literature can also be a fun, effective way to introduce certain expressions and to model narrative writing to students, Wu explains.

Better Cultural Insight

Explanatory reading texts I’ve seen in textbooks give overviews of cultural aspects, but young adult books go further in providing cultural insight. Wu writes that young adult books connect readers to events to give them insights into American culture and society, especially aspects of culture and society pertaining to young people. Young adult books show how a typical American understands and acts on certain life events, including events that ESL students are probably familiar with, such as a first crush.

Wu states two examples of books that can have this effect. First, reading Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse teaches what living in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression was like rather than explaining what it was. Second, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli illustrates the academic and social activities of an American high school.

By presenting characters and events that students can relate to in simple language with cultural details, young adult literature is a good choice for ESL students who have enough skill to read longer works. The idea of reading a long work can be intimidating for ESL students, so having them read young adult books is a way to make the process more approachable and enjoyable. Because there are plenty of young adult books out there, ESL teachers have plenty of good options to choose from, too.

Work Cited: Wu, Yongan. “Teaching Young Adult Literature in Advanced ESL Classes.” The Internet TESL Journal 14.5 (May 2008): n. pag. Web.

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