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Read Alouds for High School ELLs

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Read alouds are one of the single most effective strategies for modeling reading fluency, generating interest in reading, improving listening skills and providing a platform for discussing story structure and other literary elements. Read alouds for high school ELLs are as important as they are for younger students.

If you aren’t reading aloud a novel to your ELLs daily you need to start. These 12 books to read aloud to ELLs I choose vary from class to class, depending on general student interests, ages and gender mixes in specific classes, but I always, ALWAYS have a good book that we are reading together.

Here are some suggestions for books to read aloud. I’ve also provided the Lexile levels. I usually calculate the average Lexile of kids in the class based on individual reading test scores (see more of how I assess reading in this post) of my students and then shoot for books that aren’t too far above that range.

I’m going to break these down by grades: upper elementary, middle school, or high school and do one post for each level.

Before I begin,
The best book, by far, that I have ever read aloud for upper elementary, middle school or high school and that works for all language levels is Alabama Moon by Watt Key. This is a truly terrific book. Moon is the best, most interesting protagonist of maybe any book. It’s amazing because he is only 10 in the book, but even high school kids like him and really get into this book. You can also watch the movie afterward. There is rarely a student that dislikes this book. It’s truly great.

12 Great Books to Read aloud to High School ELLs:

Book Lexile and Language Level Teachers Notes
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson** 780


Intermediate to advanced

This is great for simultaneously teaching about slavery and American history two topics most ELL students will not have a lot of exposure to. Persevere through the beginning couple chapters and the kids will be totally hooked because Isabel is a really wonderful narrator and her struggle connects with kids.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake 670L


Beginner to advanced

Works well in urban environments, especially if you have a mix of ESL and native speakers.
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales** HL720


Beginner to intermediate

This is a great read-aloud for a group of kids that feel like they don’t fit in. Does better with a class of mainly girls, although has a lot of general appeal as the main character is a DJ.
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton HL630



Though this is listed as high-low it is pretty tricky. It’s an engaging mystery with a super interesting main character and a twist. There is a lot to keep track of as far as clues throughout so recommended for advanced classes. Though tough I’ve had multiple kids come back to me after leaving ESL to tell me how much they liked this book.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman** HL740



Sci-fi is a really difficult genre because of the world building. However, this one poses some interesting points for debate that with a real-world application so I like it, but you have to a CONSIDERABLE amount of pre-teaching the vocabulary and the fictional world in the first few chapters.
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper 820L


intermediate to advanced

Thematically great for high schools. Tough stuff, the story is very engaging and pretty visceral story which gets kids thinking- despite a lot of the language they might not understand—provided you heavily scaffold and support the vocabulary and the background information. Pre-teaching about the slave trade is critical for success.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie 600L


Beginner to advanced

On the banned book list, so depending on where you are teaching you may need permission for this. Hilarious and poignant. Kids literally go crazy for this book. Reading it aloud means there are some parts that you will want to skip/edit so be prepared.
Boy21 by Matthew Quick 830L



Good for boy heavy groups as it deals with basketball.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson 690L


Intermediate to advanced

Tough themes. This is a powerful book and easy for the kids to understand, but make sure your group is up to the challenge of tackling the issue of rape before starting. Audiobook is also AMAZING.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King 830L


Intermediate to advanced

King is one of my favorites. This book deaths with grief and friendship and abuse, but it is incredibly moving. It would work with a mixed group, but they need to be mature enough to handle it. The narrator is a girl.
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi** HL580



Lots of pre-teaching about the world but after about five chapters you will be off and running. Kids who are really into dystopian will like this.
Looking for Alaska by John Green 930L



Another amazing read with tough themes about loss and grief. Green is the master of getting you to care. It’s a love story, so it will hit home with girls more, but the narrator is a boy. Green is pretty poetic you need a more advanced group and enough time to break down the text when there are comprehension issues.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell HL580



Great, low-level read. Pure romance, good for groups of girls.
Ashes by Isla J. Blick HL730



Join the zombie craze. I liked this one because it is a lower level read, but hits on those “hot” topics that all the kids are interested in reading about.
Alabama Moon by Watt Key** 720L


Beginner to advanced

See note at the start of post.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins** 810L



I feel like this book isn’t getting as much love now that the movies are huge. This remains a great read aloud, very fast paced and engaging. Since the movies are so popular you probably wouldn’t even need to pre-teach about the world that Collins created too much for kids to understand. It is also translated into many languages.
Dirt Road Home by Watt Key** 540L


beginner to advanced

See note in middle school.

**Part of a series or duology.

You will note that the majority of these books are realistic or historical fiction. I personally love fantasy, dystopian and science fiction, and I think there are a ton of great books for kids in those genres.

Unfortunately, anything “fake” is difficult for ELLs to comprehend. Not only are they trying to comprehend the “real” in English, but throw in a made up world, with strange words and ideas, and it all gets very confusing. It is easier to get engagement from the get-go with books that are based in this world, and this reality. Not that you can’t teach the fantastic, but the schema building you have to do in order for ESL students to “get it” is much more intensive.

So pick a book and start reading aloud! It only takes 5 to 10 minutes every day and it will give you a common literature base to work off as a class as well as provide a platform for many different types of instruction including literary terms and vocabulary.

Have a look at part 2: Great Books to Read Alouds to Middle Grade ELLs

Happy teaching!



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