Choosing Books for English Language Learners

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by G. L. Cronin

When I began employment at my junior high school library, no library resources existed for our growing population of English language learners. I wanted our new English speakers to feel that the library belonged to them and reflected their needs and interests. This meant our library collection needed books for this population.

Consider these approaches when selecting books for English language learners:


Interview English language learners.

Discover students’ reading interests. Not only will students appreciate school librarians who seek their input, they will feel a part of the book selection process. The interview process will encourage their speaking skills and help develop librarian/student rapport.


Purchase popular fiction in their L-1/native language.

Students want to read books their peers mention. Provide dual language or books in English language learners’ native language. Encourage them to be part of the discussion.


Location, location, location: Position the English language learner collection in a prominent place.

Not only will the English language learners flock to this collection, students who only know English will peruse these titles.


Find books that reflect English language learners’ various cultures.

Review newer fiction and nonfiction titles that offer insights about the English language learners’ countries of origin. Look for accessible nonfiction in English that includes easier reading levels, enticing photographs, and sidebars aplenty.


Be open to new authors.

Searching for new authors to add to the collection? English language learners will relish the opportunity to tell librarians about popular writers in their native country. These authors most likely will not appear in standard book reviews, but the inclusion of them will enhance the collection.


Go graphic, but first check out the illustrations.

Graphic novels can be helpful to English language learners due to the visuals provided. Yet, this genre may also frustrate them. Consider the page layout before purchasing graphic novels. Sometimes these titles include a whirlwind of dialog and thought-bubbles that can make learning the words more difficult. Look for a sparse amount of words accompanied by pictures.

For an overall list of graphic novels by age range, review:


Be sensitive.

Picture books may be on an eighth grader’s reading level, but offering only these for checkout may embarrass an English language learner. Search out high/low options through a variety of publishers that specialize in this reading approach. Books that look spot-on for the age group but contain easier reading will be welcomed.


Get the facts.

Nonfiction books and children’s magazines provide great illustrations/photographs and easier-to-read sidebars. They offer bite-size information instead of dense text.


A school library planned with English language learners in mind will enhance learning and also continue to be a positive place.

The Rourke Educational Media website is a great place to start your search if you are in need of Spanish fiction and nonfiction books and classroom resources. Check it out!

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