The Importance of Selecting Appropriate Reading Materials – How to Help Learners Find the “Right” One

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Learners often come to me with questions about their English reading materials. They wonder if the books they’ve chosen are good for practicing English or why certain expressions differ from what they hear daily. For instance, one of my students asked why “you shall” was used in a text. This highlighted a common issue: many learners struggle to distinguish between reading for pleasure and reading to learn English as a second language. This leads to a vital question: How does one choose a book that benefits English learning? However, selecting the right materials involves more than just finding any English text—it requires careful consideration of the learner’s proficiency level and the regional variation of English they are exposed to. 

To support language learners effectively, it’s important to showcase how to pick a book that is appropriate to their needs and levels. For example, I set up a reading class once a month and bring books that I think might interest learners. They browse as many books as they can to find out what they like and whether they are good for them to learn and read, following these tips: 

Check the Author 

Investigate the author’s background to gauge the appropriateness of their work. 

1. Is the author still publishing? Contemporary authors are more likely to use modern, relevant language. 

2. Where was the author born and where do they live? This helps understand the regional dialect and cultural context. 

3. What is the author’s background? Knowing more about the author can provide insights into the themes and language used. 

Five Finger Rule 

Before committing to a book, have learners read the second page and hold up a finger for each word they are not sure of or do not know. If learners struggle with five or more vocabulary words, it may be too hard for their current level. Frequently encountering unfamiliar words can make reading frustrating. If they spend more time looking up words than reading, the book may be too advanced. 

Contemporary and Relevant Content 

Encourage participants to select a book and examine its first page or any page. Prompt them to discuss whether the excerpt they’ve read reflects modern language usage. With the instructor’s guidance, learners should discern the differences by the discussion’s conclusion. 

Regional Appropriateness 

Provide a variety of books from different regions and ask learners to identify expressions that may be either British or American. Record these on the board and stress the importance of understanding such distinctions to prevent confusion and promote familiarity with the specific conventions of the English variant they’re studying. 

Engaging and Motivating Texts 

Recognize that interest and motivation are crucial in language learning. Choose texts that align with learners’ interests, whether in mystery, science fiction, romance, or nonfiction genres. This approach enhances the enjoyment and effectiveness of reading sessions. At the class’s end, encourage learners to share their favorite genres and selections. 

ESL instructors understand the importance of choosing the right reading materials, but learners might not realize this. It’s essential to teach them how to select books that will help them learn effectively and enjoy their reading. Guiding beginners in selecting suitable books, especially contemporary, level-appropriate, and regionally consistent texts, can greatly improve their learning. By choosing materials that match their needs and interests, learners can enhance their proficiency, build confidence, and enjoy learning English. Additionally, learning to check the author and publication date can help them understand and appreciate older literature better. 

Hello, my name is Bei Zhang. I am delighted to be part of the team to share my ideas and experience. I am currently working at Huron University College as an English Language Learning specialist. My job there is to help international students with their academic English language skills. I also teach ESL and LINC at Thames Valley District School Board, and ESL at London Language Institute, a private language school in London. I graduated in 2018 with a master’s degree in Education Studies from Western University, focused on applied linguistics and teacher education. I also have a background in human resources management. I hope that my unique perspective of teaching ESL in different educational systems can benefit the TESL Ontario Blog and our members.


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