September 23, 2019

How to Determine if Books are Suitable for English Language Learners

Are you a regular education/mainstream teacher with English Language Learners in your classes?  Or are you an ESL teacher with multi-level ELLs in your classes?  Both teaching contexts present a challenge when using a textbook or a novel since it’s quite likely your ELLs are not all reading at the same level.  This post will give you some tips on how to analyze a textbook or novel to see if it is suitable to be used with your ELLs.
How to Determine if Books are Suitable for English Language Learners | The ESL Nexus
What features in a text you should look at when using texts with ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
First off, look at the presentation of the text:
* Look at the size of the font(s): The larger the font, the easier it is for an ELL to read and comprehend the material.
* Look at the type of font: Printed letters are easier to understand than words in cursive fonts, especially since different languages write cursive letters in different ways.
* Look at the letter spacing: The more space there is between the words and lines in a sentence and paragraph, the easier it is to read and understand the text.
* Look at the amount of white space: The more white space there is around the margins, the easier it is to comprehend the text.

Next, look at the non-textual features in the text:
* Are pictures included: Photographs and illustrations that help explain the text will greatly aid ELLs’ comprehension of the material and for ELLs at beginning and intermediate levels of proficiency the more images the better, but even ELLs at advanced proficiency levels find pictures beneficial.
* Are diagrams, tables, and/or charts included: The easier it is to read the info in those images and in their explanatory captions, the better it is for ELLs.
* Are the images in color or black-and-white: Color is preferable but if the black-and-white images are high quality and it’s easy to discern what they are, then ELLs will be able to figure out what they depict.

Lastly, analyze the text complexity of the textbook or novel: 
* Look at the sentence complexity of the text: Shorter sentences are easier to comprehend.
* Look at what grammar structures are used: Sentences beginning with subordinate clauses, (e.g. Before I went home, I did my homework), sentences with relative clauses (e.g. The girl, who came from Mexico, earned the highest math grade on the text), some transitions (e.g. nevertheless, on the other hand), sentences with idioms and figurative language – texts with these features will be harder to comprehend.
* Look at how new vocabulary words are  presented: When definitions are provided right after the new word, such as in parentheses or offset by hyphens or commas, that makes the text easier to comprehend.  Even texts that have words explained in footnotes or a glossary in the margin of a page will be easier to comprehend than texts that make students flip back and forth between a glossary at the end of the book and the page being read.

After you’ve analyzed the book, you’ll have a better idea of whether it is something your ELLs will be able to read and understand or if they will have difficulty comprehending it.  To help your students even more, check out this blog post for 14 Tips to Help ELLs Understand Their Textbooks.

Use these Social Studies Resources when Teaching English Language Learners | The ESL Nexus
Click HERE for more info about these resources; source: The ESL Nexus
Social Studies textbooks in particular are text-heavy and written in dry prose.  I’ve created a line of resources about historical time periods and civilizations, with more to come, that are written at lower levels of text complexity.  They’re aimed at ELLs in mainstream classes who have a hard time understanding regular education textbooks but they can be used by any student who is not reading on grade level.  If your students are having difficulty comprehending their regular Social Studies textbooks, these resources will help them out.  You can find them all HERE.