Hot Summer Reads for ESL Teachers

In the Northern Hemisphere, summer is upon us and the sun is out! If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, it might be chilly and cold. Either way, it’s a great time of year to lay out by the pool or curl up by the fire with a good book. In their special report for the Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, Lily Wong-Fillmore and Catherine Snow (2000) detailed “What Teachers Need to Know about Language”. They outlined many of the different roles that teachers assume when they work with language learners: communicator, evaluator, educator, agent of socialization, and one I consider extremely important but sometimes overlooked—educated human being.

At times, we as teachers can be so focused on methodology, assessment, school requirements, and so on, that we do not have free time to consider what is really at the center of our teaching practice—the hearts and minds of our students, and the relationships we are able to create with them. That said, instead of picking up another “How To” teaching book this summer or winter, you might consider some of these highly readable books that highlight English learners’ life experiences as they navigate new school systems and/or learn a new language and culture. Hopefully, these texts and others can help you reflect on how you address some of these experiences in your classroom, and contribute to your important teaching role as an educated citizen of the world. Feel free to add your own book suggestions on related topics in the comments—I’d love to add books from around the globe to this list!

Stories of Immigration and Migration

New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigtant Teens, by Janet Bode

The Inner World of the Immigrant Child, by Cristina Igoa

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child, by Francisco Jimenez

Stories of the Latino Experience

How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay, by Julia Alvarez

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, by Richard Rodriguez

Pocho, by José Antonio Villarreal

Stories of the Asian Experience

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, by Bette Bao Lord

“My Trouble Is My English”: Asian Students and the American Dream, by Danling Fu

Stories of Refugees

Mogadishu on the Mississippi: Language, Racialized Identity, and Education in a New Land, by Martha Bigelow

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman


About Kristen Lindahl

Kristen Lindahl
Kristen Lindahl holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in L2 teacher education from the University of Utah. She is currently assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches pre-service ESL/TESOL educators at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Dr. Lindahl has taught K–12 and college ESL, and actively pursues consulting and coaching teachers of English learners in public and English language schools around the globe.
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4 Responses to Hot Summer Reads for ESL Teachers

  1. Cathleen Modlin-Jackson says:

    Thank you for the recommendations. So funny you should post this today, as I was just looking for something along these lines. Regarding “What Teachers Need to Know About Language,” do you know if it is accessible in hard copy? The online version is difficult to read. If it’s not too much trouble, could you please recommend at least one or two readings that deal specifically with teaching English? Ideally something that offers guidance on facilitating language acquisition while simultaneously encourages critical thinking, even for beginners. I am a have several years’ experience teaching EAP and writing but little experience teaching general ESL students, a group that I have just started teaching.

    Thanks again, and all the best!

    • Kristen Lindahl Kristen Lindahl says:

      Hi, Cathleen, and thank you for your comment. I am not aware of a hard copy version of “What Teachers Need to Know about Language;” have you checked out the version? The PDF is at: A source you might want to check out for English Learners and critical thinking are articles or books by Anna Uhl Chamot, one of the original authors of the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA). Her work tends to focus on teaching ELLs language, content, and learning strategies that promote critical thinking and autonomy. Good luck with your new ESL group!

  2. Kristen Schaub says:

    Dr. Lindahl,
    I am impressed with your focus on the human experience. I think it impresses the weight of the educator’s calling
    On the difficulty of the job they face daily- to present an educated citizenry.

  3. Jesse Schaub says:

    Dear Dr. Lindahl, I like to think that I had a lot to do with ‘The Education of Richard Rodriguez’. It is an excellent study.
    Your teachings and recommendations for out of the classroom resources have
    Provided many approaches that have strengthened my realization that I like you, have the greatest job in North
    America. Thank You for all you do to strengthen the Human Experience.

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