Part 2 of 3 Part Series – ESL Boy Readers

Reading in a second language can be challenging for even the most eager readers. Boys who are reluctant to read to begin with, may find reading in an unfamiliar language intimidating. By choosing the right texts, we can help make the task more welcoming and enjoyable for them.

Below I have compiled, from my experience, five elements to look for in books to appeal to ESL boys.

#1 Clear Language and Sentence Construction

Easy to read words and sentences help build boys’ confidence. Poor structure in the text will result in poor comprehension in reading. With simple sentence construction, the words flow easier for ESL readers. The sense of achievement they get from reading easily will encourage boys to continue reading.

Repetition is also a beneficial element for ESL readers. The reoccurring sounds, words and phrases help them predict the text. When they start to foresee and draw conclusions, boys begin to be independent readers.

#2 Obvious Pictures and Layout

The clarity of visuals in the book, will help boys organize their thoughts as they read. They are already struggling with an unfamiliar language and complicated images will confuse them even more. Since most boys are visual learners, they may depend on the pictures to help them make sense of the text.

#3 Straightforward, Predictable Plots

For ESL readers, the main effort should be reading words and understanding the text. Boys want action and concrete story development. Abstract concepts or stories with sub-plots, that may only indirectly relate to each other in the story, can be overwhelming as they try to make sense of a new language.

Predictable plots are great for beginning English readers. While boys will get bored with predictability after a while, simple stories are a good starting place to build their confidence.

#4 Engaging Stories or Topics

Simple does not mean boring. The topics still need to be interesting to boys! Consider the topics you already know appeal to boys in books – action, adventure, non-fiction, sports – and combine those interests with elements that are good for ESL readers. When boys are interested, they have a motivation to read.

#5 Cultural References

This is possibly one of the most important elements for ESL boys, in my experience. When texts include cultural references to which they can relate, boys feel more comfortable; they can bring prior knowledge to the task of reading. Books that honor their culture build self esteem, confidence, respect for their heritage and a sense of belonging.

Throughout the sessions with my learners, I have spent a lot of time explaining American or British phrases and cultural references. Occasionally my explanations have been good learning experiences for them, however the time may have been better spent with the boys sharing their South African culture with me, helping to boost their self-esteem.

The next and final part of this series will expand on the significance of cultural references in texts for boys who are ESL readers.


In the meantime, here is a list of books that will appeal to boys and ESL readers. This list is just a beginning. What are some other books you’ve found that are appropriate for second language readers? Or books that have been successful for you working with boys who ESL readers?


Picture Books

The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman

Lucky by Gus Clarke

Nothing in the Mailbox by Carolyn Ford

Sabertooth by Patrick O’Brien

My Soccer Book by Gail Gibbons

Dad, Jackie and Me by Myron Uhlberg


Chapter Books

Safe at Home by Sharon Robinson

Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate


Graphic Novels

The Arrival by Shaun Tan


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