ERIC Identifier: ED427557
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Smallwood, Betty Ansin
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC., Adjunct ERIC
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Using Multicultural Children's Literature in Adult ESL Classes.
Researchers and practitioners have documented the importance of children's
literature in elementary and middle schools for developing language and literacy
skills and content knowledge (Rudman, 1993; Smallwood, 1996). Because high
quality children's literature is characterized by economy of words, stunning
illustrations, captivating but quickly moving plots, and universal themes,
carefully chosen books can offer educational benefits for adult English language
learners as well as for children. In addition, multicultural books honor
diversity among writers and artists, give literary voice to underrepresented
groups, and stimulate cross-cultural appreciation. This digest provides book
selection criteria, literature-based teaching strategies, and an annotated book
list for five English proficiency levels.
BOOK SELECTION CRITERIA FOR THE ADULT ESL
Picture books are particularly useful in adult ESL classes
because they provide clear and interesting illustrations along with the reading
text. Their length (typically around 30 pages) allows them to be read in one
class period. Selection is critical, as not all books are equally successful
with English learners, and those appropriate for adults learning English form an
even smaller subset. Teachers should use the following questions as a guide to
evaluate a book's appropriateness for adult learners.
* Does it relate to your curricular objectives? These can include a focus on
social, cultural, or political topics; life skills; thematic vocabulary; or
* Does it feature adults? Does it have some adult protagonists, address
mature themes, or convey universal messages?
* Are there clear illustrations that help tell the story?
* Does it contain repeated, predictable language patterns? Language patterns
can include rhyming as well as repetition of words, refrains, or entire
* Does it use language that is slightly beyond the level of the learners?
Both the amount of text and the level of syntactic complexity should be
* Is there authentic cultural content?
The reading process can be divided into
three stages (before, during, and after the reading) that can easily fit into a
Before/Prereading. The teacher may need to first explain and justify the use
of children's books. The story is then briefly introduced, key vocabulary is
previewed, and some key illustrations or characters may be highlighted. Learners
are invited to predict the story from the cover and other clues. The teacher
poses specific listening tasks, such as identifying a particular theme or the
use of specific structures. These motivational strategies involve learners in
the book and help connect it to other experiences, literary or real-life.
During/Reading aloud. The way to engage a class in a book is to read to aloud
with expression. The teacher can also use the following strategies: move slowly
around the room; take time to show the pictures; modify the language of the text
as needed to facilitate comprehension; and pause occasionally for dramatic
effect, to highlight new words or concepts, or to check for comprehension.
After/Discussion and Review. At the completion of the oral reading, the
teacher should allow ample time for reflection and discussion. To encourage
spontaneous reactions ask, "What do you think?" or pose more specific questions
to focus the discussion. It is also important to discuss the theme or structures
identified in the prereading stage. An oral comprehension check can serve as a
review of the story and as an informal assessment.
To build the reading-writing connection, students can record their
reflections in a journal. They can copy the title, author, and date at the top
of the page and then write briefly about their favorite part, how the story made
them feel, something they learned from the story, or a similar incident that
happened to them. They can share these reflections orally, as appropriate.
Learner-centered literacy activities,
from round robin story telling, to rewriting book endings, to composing stories
stimulated by the book, can follow the initial reading (Smallwood, 1991;
Tomlinson & McGraw, 1997). For example, with 26 Letters and 99 Cents (Hoban,
1987), a basic literacy class can practice sound/letter associations (phonics)
in student-made concentration games. After reading A Flag for My Country
(Spenser, 1993), a low-intermediate class can sequence the story with sentence
strips and play Bingo using past tense verbs from the book. A high-intermediate
class that has read Fly Away Home (Bunting, 1991), a story about a boy and his
father who are homeless and living in an airport, might rewrite the story from
the father's perspective and then discuss or role play the various conflicts in
Multicultural children's literature can be
effectively integrated into family literacy and adult ESL programs to develop
English language oral proficiency, literacy, and content skills and to build
cross-generational collaboration and appreciation of other cultures. Nonfiction
picture books that are presented in a mature style can provide factual
information and valuable curricular material. Stories with themes of
intergenerational conflict, emigration, and immigration will interest adult
learners who can also share them with their children.
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR ADULT ESL CLASSES
This book list was
developed from the six selection criteria for adult learners described above. To
help teachers effectively integrate literature in their classrooms, an English
proficiency level was identified for each book, based on grammatical structures
in the California standards for adult ESL education programs (California
Department of Education, 1992). The proficiency levels also reflect the amount
of text per page, overall complexity of language and vocabulary, and level of
the story's concreteness (vs. abstractness). These levels are meant to guide
teachers, not limit them; therefore, teachers are encouraged to try any of these
books with any group of students, editing, simplifying, or amplifying as needed.
Hoban, T. (1987). "26 letters and 99 cents." New York: Greenwillow Books. This book is useful for basic literacy focusing on
numbers and money, letters, and pictures. Its large, clear pictures suggest many
teaching applications. See also other basic concept books by the author (e.g., I
Read Signs, 1983).
Hoban, T. (1997). "Construction zone." New York: Greenwillow Books. This book
is simple and clear. There is a picture of one piece of construction machinery
and one word per two-page spread. More vocabulary for construction workers is
provided at the back of the book.
Pomeroy, D. (1996). "One potato." A counting book of potato prints. New York:
Harcourt Brace. Each number (1-10, 20, 30, etc.) is associated with attractive
food, and each two-page spread is illustrated by an appetizing potato print.
Siddals, M. K. (1997). "Tell me a season." Illustrated by P. Mathers. The
vocabulary of seasons, colors, and nouns from nature comprises the minimal text
in this simple book. This book can also be used to introduce adjectives.
Linden, A.M. (1992). "One smiling grandma.
A Caribbean counting book." illustrated by L. Russell. New York: Dial. This is
an intergenerational story that would suit a family literacy class.
Low, W. (1997). "Chinatown." New York: Henry Holt. Simple sentences and
descriptive illustrations capture daily life in New York's Chinatown.
Celebration of Chinese New Year is highlighted. The author/artist is from
Miranda, A. (1997). "To market, to market." Illustrated by J. Stevens. New
York: Harcourt Brace. This adult spoof on the classic children's nursery rhyme
has a repeated refrain, rhyming words, and food and animal vocabulary.
Morris, A. (1992). "Houses and homes." Photographs by K. Heyman. New York:
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Stunning, color photographs and limited text present
homes around the world. See also Bread, bread, bread (1989), by the same author,
photographer, and publisher, done with the same mature style and multicultural
Cox, J. (1998). "Now we can have a
wedding." Illustrated by D. DiSalvo-Ryan. New York: Holiday House. An
inter-ethnic wedding is planned, and friends and fellow tenants in their
apartment building prepare food from around the world for the celebration.
Garland, S. (1993). "The lotus seed." Illustrated by T. Kiuchi. New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. A single lotus seed provides continuity for a
Vietnamese family. The granddaughter tells her grandmother's emotional and
traumatic story in one to two sentences per page in a semi-poetic format. Some
challenging language and vocabulary is included.
Garza. C.L. (1996). "In my family/En mi familia." San Francisco, CA:
Children's Book Press. These authentic vignettes of family life in south Texas,
by the author and illustrator, a famous Mexican-American artist, are simply
written, with one topic per page. This is the sequel to Family pictures (1989),
by the same author and publisher.
Sakai, K. (1990). "Sachiko means happiness." Illustrated by T. Arai.
Emeryville, CA: Children's Book Press. In this Japanese family, roles change, as
the grandmother begins to lose her memory and her granddaughter learns to accept
her as she now is.
Say, A. (1993). "Grandfather's journey." Boston: Houghton Mifflin. This story
is about the author's grandfather, who journeyed between his two
cultures--Japanese and American. The sparse text has some challenging vocabulary
Spenser, E. (1993). "A flag for our country." New York: Steck-Vaughn. This
simply told story of Betsy Ross and the making of the American flag has some
difficult grammatical patterns. It is good for citizenship and American history
Bartone, E. (1996). "American too."
Illustrated by T. Lewin. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. An
Italian-American adolescent girl bridges two cultures. New York City in the
early 20th century comes alive with Lewin's artistry. See also Peppe the
lamplighter (1993), by the same author and publisher, about an Italian-American
boy who proudly works in a menial job to help his family.
Bresnick-Perry, R. (1992). "Leaving for America." Illustrated by M. Reisberg.
San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press. Based on a true story, this
Russian-Jewish immigration saga highlights the trauma of leaving home. The
inter-generational story has a detailed story line and some complex sentence
Bunting, E. (1991). "Fly away home." Illustrated by R. Himler. New York:
Clarion Books. This story about homelessness has some grammatical complexity.
See also The wall (1990), by the same author, illustrator, and publisher, about
the Vietnam memorial.
Kurtz, J., & Kurtz, C. (1997). "Only a pigeon." New York: Simon &
Schuster. This journey into the urban life of modern Addis Ababa is told through
the eyes of an Ethiopian adolescent boy who works, goes to school, and proudly
raises pigeons. The prose is enhanced by realistic, soft watercolor paintings.
Lewin, T. (1997). "Fair!" New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Lewin's
large, colorful and detailed illustrations accompany text about an American
cultural experience, the county fair. This book introduces a lot of vocabulary
in a number of verb tenses.
Maestro, B. (1996). "Coming to America. The story of immigration."
Illustrated by S. Ryan. New York: Scholastic. This illustrated history of
immigration is historically accurate, yet simplified for a picture book format.
It provides additional information at the end of the book (e.g., a table of
Orr, K. (1990). "My grandpa and the sea." Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.
The wisdom of a simple fisherman is honored in this story, set on the Caribbean
island of St. Lucia. The intergenerational conflict lends itself to class
Ashabranner, B. (1993). "Still a nation of
immigrants." Photographs by J. Ashabranner. New York: Cobblehill/Dutton. This
125-page book explores the issues of immigration today. It is divided into
chapters and also smaller subsections, so a teacher can easily select a 3-5-page
passage for classroom use. It highlights successful immigrants from a range of
cultures. Black and white photographs enhance the text.
Nye, N. S. (1996). "The same sky. A collection of poems from around the
world." New York: Aladdin. This selection of short, original poems was written
by children and adults from all over the world. It is organized into topics
e.g., families, dreams, and dreamers). Marketed as a children's book, the poetry
has appeal for all ages.
California Department of Education. (1992). "English as a second language model standards for adult education programs." Sacramento, CA: Author.
Rudman, M.K. (Ed.). (1993). "Children's literature: Resources for the
classroom (2nd ed.)." Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Smallwood, B.A. (1991). "The literature connection: A read-aloud guide for
multicultural classrooms." Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Smallwood, B.A. (1996). "Multicultural children's literature: A
cross-cultural, thematic curricular approach for English as second language
learners in grades K-6." Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Fairfax, VA: George
Tomlinson, C., & McGraw, R. (1997) Children's literature in adult EFL
classes: Learning through response. "The Journal of the Imagination in Language
Learning IV," 50-57.