I truly pride myself in finding books I think students will really enjoy, and mostly I’ve been very successful, though I think I’ve remarked in the past that when it comes to short stories, students always seem to enjoy the ones I’m not sure they’ll like. As for novels, I include some surefire hits: Persepolis, The Book Thief. Students almost universally enjoy these, and I am always pleasantly surprised by the comments I get during and after reading them.
ESL is a whole different story. First, I’ll be honest: it is super difficult to find material that works for them. ESL readers work according to vocabulary count, which I understand is similar in lower grade levels. Therefore, I cannot simply bring any book into the classroom and expect it to work. This means lots of rewriting articles and creating questions to go along with the readings.
When it comes to readers, I have a very limited supply so far, a bio of Martin Luther King, a couple of Oxford ESL original titles, a bio of Helen Keller, Swiss Family Robinson (a condensed and ESL version), and a very slim volume of Washington Irving stories. Let me tell you, I was worried. Big time. I knew traditional students would pitch royal fits when faced with these stories, and I have to say, I wouldn’t blame them. These aren’t particular favorites of mine, especially in these versions.
However, I couldn’t have been more off base. The most popular thus far? Swiss Family Robinson – by a vast majority. I never thought they would like it, but even my advanced class looks forward to reading it. In fact, these students who 100% told me they hate to read, ask frequently when we’ll be reading in class.
So this is a side note to me, as a teacher: Don’t be a naysayer. Don’t project your feelings on a book. Let the students decide, and they might just surprise you.
For you non teachers out there, the lesson is similar: Take a chance on a book. You might really enjoy it and wonder what took you so long to pick it up.
It’s such a basic lesson, but I think it’s one that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. It also brings up an interesting question: How do we build up these prejudices against certain books?