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Best Books for Older EAL Students with Low Literacy

My Top Picks for EAL Professional Reading

July 17, 2022 by Lauren Piovesan

I don’t know about you but I find it so difficult to find the time for professional reading while being a classroom teacher. By the time the school holidays roll around, I always have a huge stack of professional reading books taking over my bedside table. While they all look amazing and I feel excited about the teacher I could become post reading, I can hardly muster the energy or brain power to actually crack them open, let alone absorb the content! 

Given these challenges, I thought I would share 6 of my favourite professional reading materials that have helped me immensely with my EAL teaching in Australia. The EAL cohorts that I have taught were predominantly refugee background, some illiterate in first language, and ranged from grades 6 -12, including young adults 18-25. However, the material that I have chosen may give you ideas for slightly younger or older cohorts.

With this list in toe, you can choose the length, price and theme of the reading material that will have the greatest impact on your teaching. Happy reading!

1. Classrooms of Possibility: Supporting At-Risk EAL Students Jennifer Miller and Jennifer Hammond

 Why? A great general overview for working with EAL students in a mainstream school setting.

Who for? Primary or secondary teachers who are new to working with refugee background EAL students.

How long? 144 pages

Price? Approx. $29.95

Format? Hard copy or online e-book.

Image courtesy of: https://petaa.edu.au/w/Store/Item_Detail.aspx?iProductCode=PET107E&Category=DIGITAL

My take:
When I was in my final year of teaching studies, I still had absolutely no clue what I was supposed to do with my group of year 9 and 10 EAL students on placement. I certainly felt like a fish out of water! My supervising teacher at the time gave me this book and boy, what a lifesaver! I learnt so much from this book – it put my classroom context in perspective and clued me in to EAL pedagogy and practices fast! I recommend this book to teachers new to teaching an EAL refugee cohort. Please bypass if you are an EAL veteran. Click here to see the book.  

2. A Practical Guide to Teaching ESL Literacy
Bow Valley College

Why? A practical look at EAL literacy practices through a trauma-informed lens.

Who for? EAL/English Teachers of adults but those teaching upper secondary and young adults would also 


How long? 306 pages

Price? Free

Format? Downloadable PDF

Image courtesy of: https://globalaccess.bowvalleycollege.ca/our-resources/publications-resources/practical-guide-teaching-esl-literacy

My take:
If you have read my previous blog, you know how much I love Bow Valley. This book is no exception. It says it is a practical guide, and it means it! This book will give you tips, strategies, activities, pedagogy and ideas that are so clearly laid out in tables with examples. Best of all, it takes a careful approach to literacy that considers your students’ availability to learn given their traumatic backgrounds, histories and ongoing challenges. Encouragingly, this book will give you a pat on the back for the practices you already adopt, but even the most seasoned veteran should walk out with a few new ones up their sleeves! Don’t let the 306 pages scare you – use the contents page to find the section of literacy you want to direct your focus. Also available: Learning for Life and Financial Literacy books. Click here to see the book.  

3. Step by Step with Functional Grammar
Fiona Kettle-Muspratt

Why? A brilliant guide to introducing and using functional grammar with your students.

Who for? Written by a teacher teaching year 1-7 but any primary, secondary or adult EAL teachers could 

use this.

How long? 11 pages

Price? Free

Format? Downloadable PDF

Image courtesy of: https://lexised.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Step-by-Step-with-Functional-Grammar.pdf

My take:
In 11 pages, you will go from knowing little about functional grammar to being able to implement it in your classroom the next day. This PDF document, as the name suggests, walks you through introducing the concept of functional grammar to your students, to teaching them to write sentences with relative clauses and an array of prepositional phrases. Amazing! Fiona even describes what she says to the students and how they usually respond. If you have a narrative unit coming up, this is definitely worth the read! I have taught this exact course using the same images as Fiona over a term and I saw my students’ writing absolutely transform. Click here to see the book.  

4. Teaching Language in Context
Beverly Derewianka and Pauline Jones

Why? A functional language and genre bible.

Who for? Primary, secondary and adult EAL teachers.

How long? 368 pages

Price? Approx. $80.00

Format? Hard copy

Image courtesy of: https://www.booktopia.com.au/teaching-language-in-context-beverly-derewianka/book/9780190303686.html`

My take:
If you are looking for a light read, this is not the book for you. However, if you want to understand genre, language and text types in a lot more depth, I highly recommend this text. It is my language and genre bible and organises these topics by the way language functions.  For example, instead of saying here is the language for recounts, the section will be called, “Language for Recounting What Happened,” and will include several text types. You’ll get tips about text structure, grammar, vocabulary and activities suggestions for how to teach it. Click here to see the book.  

5. Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching English Language Learners in the English Classroom
Pauline Gibbons

Why?A book jam packed with practical literacy activities, strategies and pedagogy.

Who for? Primary and secondary EAL teachers and mainstream teachers.

How long? 272 pages

Price? Approx. $30.00

Format? Hard copy and downloadable PDF

Image courtesy of: https://www.heinemann.com/products/e05664.aspx

My take:
This book is practical and is divided into the modes of English (listening, speaking, reading and writing) for you to easily flip to the sections you need. I like this book because when I get stuck in using the same classroom activities, I can flip to the mode I am focussing on with my students and I can usually pick up a new activity to trial. I also like that there is a whole section on EAL learners and group work as I have always seen this as a challenge for the students I have worked with. You would definitely be using some of these strategies already, but sometimes it is nice to be reminded of oldies but goodies! Click here to see the book.  

6. Trauma-Informed EAL
Pacific Immigrant Resources Society

Why? A trauma-informed approach to relevant, hands-on learning activities and themes of work.  

Who for? Primary and secondary EAL teachers and mainstream teachers.

How long? 163 pages

Price? Free

Format? Downloadable PDF

Image courtesy of: https://pirs.bc.ca/

My take:
This book is written for teachers who are teaching refugee women with beginning levels of literacy. As a teacher of refugee adult young women, this book immediately resonated with me. In the first 10 pages, it takes you through the framework for teaching in a trauma-informed way. The rest of the book is split into 6 themes/units of work complete with photocopiable worksheets ready to go. This is for new arrival and beginner students of English but the themes and worksheets could easily be modified for your older cohorts, and could be used by males students too. Free resources – who doesn’t love that! Click here to see the book.  

I hope you find some tips and tricks in these books that help you and your students. Please feel free to leave a comment on what has worked well for you or any other recommendations you may have!

Please note: This is all based on my own research, recommendations from colleagues or my experiences in the classroom and is not endorsed by the authors, illustrators or companies that feature here. 

Cover image courtesy of: https://blog.gale.com/how-many-reading-styles-live-at-your-library/

3 thoughts on “My Top Picks for EAL Professional Reading”

  1. Thanks very much for sharing these books. Summer reading directly applicable to teaching the rest of the school year.

  2. Pingback: 5 Common Challenges for EAL Students #2 – ESL Reads

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