Find the Perfect Books for ELL Students of Any Level

I had that nightmare again last night.

The one where I’m standing in front of my ELL class with a huge, horribly dusty old textbook.

No one is paying attention. No one turned in any homework. I say to myself, “I’m supposed to make them care about learning English with this thing?”

Then I wake up, relieved that it was all just a dream.

Part of being an effective English teacher is having the ability to capture your students’ attention and make every lesson engaging. Cookie-cutter textbooks for ELL students that follow a generic learning approach tend to be boring and will turn your students into a bunch of zombies.

For this reason, you need a classroom filled with vibrant and exciting books for ELL students. But they’re not always easy to identify.

If you’re looking for some books that’ll make teaching English a dream, stay with me. We’ll explore some of the key qualities of great ELL books, plus some awesome options you can bring to your classroom, no matter what grade you teach.

What to Look for in a Great ELL Book

Are you one of those lucky teachers who’s able to choose the English books for your curriculum? If so, you’ll need to know what makes an ELL book great and how you can spot it.

Choose books for your students that offer the following:

  • A fun and creative approach to learning English
  • Elements that appeal to different learning styles
  • Meaningful information that’s relevant to students’ age groups, proficiency levels and interests

Another thing to consider, especially if you’re teaching students who share the same native language and background, is finding ELL books that relate to your pupils’ culture. Researchers have found that ELL students learn better through culturally relevant material, so use your material as a means of cultural exchange.

More than anything, the best books for ELL students are the ones that take a student-centered approach. Let’s face it, the traditional educational model is outdated, at least from a language learning perspective. Not everyone learns through reading passages and being asked scripted questions by the teacher.

To overcome this key issue, a useful strategy is to use books accompanied by film or media content. For example, in the FluentU library, you’ll find many clips of Harry Potter and other famous adapted works.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.

With a FluentU teacher account you’ll be able to set homework tasks and learning goals for your students. 

Give your students books filled with exciting, new information. Find books that are relevant in modern society and cover everything from recent social events to improvements in technology to celebrities. Leave those outdated ELL textbooks from 1999 where you found them, in the back of the school’s supply closet.

Properly Teaching Through ELL Books

Getting your hands on groundbreaking ELL books for students is only half the battle. You still need to present them in a way that students will appreciate. Here are some things to remember to help you get the most from your ELL books:

  • Books don’t teach themselves. Even the best ELL book requires a good teacher who knows how to create exciting lessons.
  • The themes covered in your ELL books are a good place to start, but you can dig much deeper. Expand upon your stories and content with activities, discussion time or related resources; it’ll really get your students thinking about the material.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Don’t think just because you teach with top-rated ELL books that you don’t have to do any lesson prep. Plan your lessons thoroughly and think about what supplemental material you can add to drive new concepts home.

Also, remember that almost any book can be used for dynamic ELL lessons, not just your run of the mill ELL textbook. Story and picture books, comics and even science books can all make successful books for ELL students when utilized properly. That’s why it’s important that you set aside enough prep time to become acquainted with the material before class.

9 Groundbreaking Books for ELL Students in Any Classroom

Now that you know a little bit about what makes a great ELL book, it’s time to shop around. Here are some of the top-ranked books that’ll help your ELL students take their English to the next level.

Exciting Books for ELL Students in Elementary School

The key to choosing books for this age group is to focus more on activities than actual content.

You’ll be teaching an elementary English class, not applied linguistics! Your goal should be to use ELL books that help your students get more comfortable reading and using English, rather than drilling the technical details.

1. “Let’s Go” Series

“Let’s Go” is a popular seven-level book series that’s excellent for ELL students from kindergarten up to sixth grade.

“Let’s Go” takes a simplified approach to learning English, which is why it’s perfect for young children. Instead of learning why specific grammar rules exist, students learn the right and wrong way of saying commonly used phrases and get question-and-answer practice. “Let’s Go” also incorporates music and movement.

This makes the books perfect for teaching English without overwhelming students. If you want an effective ELL book to use alongside your current elementary English program, this is the one for you.

2. “Oceans of the World in Color”

Sometimes the best books for elementary ELL students aren’t textbooks or English books at all, but rather exciting picture books. After all, what child doesn’t love looking at vivid underwater photos? “Oceans of the World in Color” intersperses these photos with facts about the ocean.

This book is great for a warmup or icebreaker activity that’ll capture the attention of your young learners. Be sure to ask a lot of questions as you flip through the pages! This book also provides a nice opportunity for students to take turns reading aloud, as the pages with text are short and digestible.

3. “Super Silly Mad Libs Junior”

Mad Libs are fun, non-traditional books that’ll liven up any ELL elementary classroom. You may remember them from your childhood; there are stories with blanks left for nouns, adjectives and other words to be filled in. It’s a great way to boost your students’ vocabulary and get them more familiar with grammar and parts of speech, all while getting everyone laughing and encouraging creativity in the classroom.

Plus, since students draw upon their own English knowledge to fill in the story, you can re-use the same Mad Libs books and pages for multiple lessons.

Inspiring Books for ELL Students in Middle School

Remember, middle school students learn differently than their younger counterparts. They’re at the age where they can think critically and be challenged to tackle problems with different perspectives. You want to make sure to choose ELL material that enables that.

4. “Headway” Series

Headway is a popular series of ELL books covering a range of proficiency levels. It’s structured in a similar format to the “Let’s Go” series, except that the material in “Headway” feels a bit more mature. With “Headway” online, you’ll have access to interactive exercises, games and a “test builder” feature. This makes the series a perfect choice for middle school ELL students interested in books that strike a balance between seriousness and fun, and also adds a helpful digital element to your lessons.

5. “Fire on the Mountain”

Using children’s literature to teach ELL students is a great way to keep them engaged and thinking critically, provided the English level isn’t too difficult. This book is particularly interesting, as it touches on life in an Ethiopian village and deals with problem solving, conflict resolution and personal growth. It’s an excellent book to pair with writing or speaking activities!

6. “The Hunger Games”

Now that your students are at an age where they can appreciate complex stories, have them read the instant YA classic trilogy “The Hunger Games.” The series is centered on young characters, and the plot is easy to follow but also involves some complex themes to grapple with, all of which helps to draw budding readers in. You can read this trilogy together as a class, or assign individual books or chapters for independent reading.

Attention-grabbing Books for ELL Students in High School

Choosing the right material for high school ELL students is tough. You want to find resources that’ll set them up for success, but keep the elements that make learning English fun and enjoyable.

7. “Hampton-Brown EDGE” Series


Commonly referred to as “EDGE Reading,” this book series takes a multidisciplinary approach to learning English. Rather than a straightforward language textbook, think of “EDGE” as an educational book designed specifically for English learners. Every chapter is filled with quality photographs and interesting articles that you can easily use to help build a top-notch English lesson.

Plus, the “EDGE” series includes tons of helpful support packs and additional materials for teachers.

8. “face2face” Series


Your junior and senior classes will love “face2face” because of the way it approaches ELL education. The content is trendy, witty and most importantly, up to date—that means no articles talking about irrelevant singers from the ’90s and early 2000s!

Each “face2face” level includes about 80 hours of core teaching material, plus additional ideas in the supplementary teacher’s book. There’s also a CD with practice activities, recording capabilities and customizable tests, among other features.

9. “Great Debates”

It’s no surprise that teenagers love to argue, so why not have them argue in a way that builds their English skills?

“Great Debates” is an excellent way to have your students build their persuasive speaking and conversational skills. It’s designed specifically for ELL students and comes with a number of interesting topics to take a stand on. “Great Debates” covers everything from phone vs. email to love at first sight vs. love over time.


Try to take a creative approach to teaching as you choose books for your ELL classroom.

As we’ve covered here, some of the best books for building vocabulary or starting conversation aren’t traditional textbooks, but instead YA novels, picture books and more.

With the right books and preparation, you’ll have your ELL students reading and chatting in English in no time.

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