The 18 Best Books for English Language Learner (ELL) Students of Any Level
Books for English language learners can be an effective tool for engaging your class while providing structure to your lessons.
The best ELL books will make your lessons more interesting and enjoyable—for you and your students.
But if you choose the wrong ones, they can bore your students and discourage them from actively participating.
In this article, we’ll explore a few key qualities of great ELL books plus some excellent options for every age group.
So ditch those outdated, cookie-cutter textbooks that all follow the same generic learning approach and get ready to level up your English materials!
- What to Look for in an ELL Book
- ELL Books for Elementary School Students
- ELL Books for Middle School Students
- ELL Books for High School Students
- Tips for Teaching with ELL Books
What to Look for in an ELL Book
If you’re able to choose the English books for your curriculum, look for ones that offer the following:
- A fun and creative approach to learning English with elements that appeal to different learning styles.
- Meaningful information that’s relevant to students’ age groups, proficiency levels and interests. Researchers have found that ELL students learn better through culturally relevant material, so search for ELL books that also relate to your students’ culture.
- Exciting, new information. Find books that are relevant in modern society and cover everything from recent social events to improvements in technology to celebrity news.
More than anything, the best books for ELL students are the ones that take a student-centered approach. This means they encourage students to engage in active learning and work together to solve problems.
ELL Books for Elementary School Students
The key to choosing books for this age group is to focus more on activities than actual content. ELL books should help your young 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 in your elementary English class, this is a great option. Don’t forget to grab the accompanying workbook for practice exercises!
2. “Our World” Series
“Our World” is National Geographic’s best-selling, seven-level series of English textbooks designed for young learners.
This dynamic resource features a rich blend of interactive activities, vibrant visuals and real-world contexts to foster language learning in an enjoyable manner.
The curriculum covers essential language skills while also emphasizing cultural awareness and global themes.
With its student-centered approach, the book encourages active participation, critical thinking and collaborative learning, making it an ideal tool for English teachers to create lively and immersive language lessons.
It’s also available in British English.
3. “Oxford Picture Dictionary: Content Areas for Kids”
This is a comprehensive visual dictionary designed specifically for young learners of English. Featuring colorful illustrations and clear labels, the dictionary covers various content areas, such as science, math, social studies and everyday life topics.
It serves as an invaluable resource for English language learners, helping them expand their vocabulary, improve reading comprehension and gain a better understanding of the world around them.
Through engaging visuals and contextualized language, students can explore a wide range of subjects, making language learning a dynamic and enjoyable experience. There’s also an accompanying workbook for structured practice.
4. “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 excellent for a warm-up 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.
5. “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.
6. “Where the Wild Things Are” by
This is a classic children’s picture book that follows a young boy named Max who enters a wild and magical imaginary world inhabited by monstrous creatures known as the Wild Things.
Through this imaginative tale, English learners can explore vocabulary related to emotions, actions and nature while being drawn in by the story.
The book’s repetitive and simple language also helps reinforce sentence structure and storytelling skills, making it an engaging and effective tool for language development.
ELL Books for Middle School Students
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 and encourages that.
7. “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 adds a helpful digital element to your lessons and reinforces learning.
This series is a great choice for middle school ELL students who will benefit from learning material that strikes a balance between seriousness and fun.
8. “Coraline: The Graphic Novel” by Neil Gaiman
This is a visually stunning adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy tale, brought to life by P. Craig Russell’s remarkable illustrations.
The graphic novel follows Coraline Jones, a spirited young girl who discovers a mysterious door leading to an alternate world.
The graphic novel serves as an engaging English teaching tool, allowing students to explore descriptive language, character development and dialogue while honing their reading comprehension and storytelling abilities in an imaginative and captivating context.
10. “Smile: A Graphic Novel” by Raina Telgemeier
Here’s another easy-to-read graphic novel. It was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won the Eisner Award for Best Publication for Teens in 2011.
The book tells a heartwarming and relatable coming-of-age story that captures the challenges and triumphs of middle school life. It follows the author’s real-life experiences as she navigates through orthodontic mishaps, friendship dynamics and boy troubles.
Through expressive illustrations and engaging dialogue, the book addresses themes of resilience, self-acceptance and finding one’s identity.
The relatable characters and compelling storyline make it an excellent resource to spark discussions and creative activities in the classroom.
9. “Fire on the Mountain” by
Using literature to teach ELL students is a great way to keep your students 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 in a lesson designed around exploring a different culture.
10. “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
This fictional book is perfect for middle school ELL students who can likely relate to the plot. It’s a great tool and discussion starter for pertinent issues that confront most middle schoolers such as bullying, friendship and empathy.
The book uses relatively simple language and can help your students understand a variety of grammar concepts while building their vocabulary.
You can have your students take turns reading out loud, assign sections for homework or play the audiobook version in class to practice listening skills.
11. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
Now that your students are at an age where they can appreciate complex stories, have them read the instant young adult 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.
ELL Books for High School Students
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.
13. “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.
14. “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 and practice exercises in the workbook.
There’s also a CD with practice activities, recording capabilities and customizable tests, among other features.
15. “1,000 Conversation Questions” by
This book is great for conversation practice with intermediate or advanced students.
It has over 1,000 conversation questions covering 100 different topics such as culture, technology, ethics and more. And you can easily photocopy or scan the pages to make handouts.
You can use it for quick warm-up conversations or build a whole discussion-based lesson around some of the questions.
At this age, it’s important to help students get past their fear of speaking and build their comfort and confidence using the language. This book is a great tool for encouraging meaningful discussions and debates on topics they’ll likely discuss in real life.
16. “Almost American Girl” by Robin Ha
This graphic novel will likely resonate with students who are living in or planning to move to an English-speaking country. It tells the autobiographical story of the author’s journey from South Korea to the United States.
Through captivating illustrations and poignant storytelling, Ha shares her experience as a teenage immigrant, navigating the challenges of adapting to a new culture and language.
The visual nature of the graphic novel enables students to engage with the story and context more easily, improving their reading comprehension and vocabulary. The book also offers valuable discussion points around identity, belonging and resilience.
17. “101 Conversations in Simple English” by
There are many ELL books that focus on grammar and vocabulary, but great books for practicing real-life conversation skills are harder to find.
This book is just that—it follows the story of two friends who come across some valuable paintings in an antique market while visiting London. With plenty of enticing drama and dialogue, your students can act out the conversations and improve their speaking skills.
The book provides an immersive experience that will help prepare your students to handle everyday scenarios such as ordering at a café or browsing a shop.
If your students are at an intermediate level, you can opt for “101 Conversations in Intermediate English.”
18. “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds
This is a compelling and emotionally charged young adult novel that follows the life of Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw, a young boy with a troubled past and a natural talent for speed. The story follows his journey to earn his place on the track team.
The novel’s accessible language and relatable characters make it an enjoyable read for English learners. It allows students to develop vocabulary, comprehension and critical thinking skills while connecting to the characters’ experiences.
This novel is ideal for 9th or 10th-grade ELL students or for weaker English learners in 11th grade.
Tips for Teaching with 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:
- Use your books as a source of inspiration, not the blueprint for your entire lesson. Choose which elements to cover and feel free to skip anything irrelevant to your class or too difficult for your students’ level.
- The themes covered in your ELL books are a good place to start, but you can dig much deeper. Expand upon the written 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.
- Remember that almost any book can be used for dynamic ELL lessons, not just your traditional ELL textbook. Story and picture books, comics and even science books can all make successful books for ELL students when utilized properly.
To further engage students, you can supplement ELL books with authentic video content from a language learning program like FluentU. In the FluentU library, you’ll find many authentic English clips from media like the Harry Potter films and other famous adapted works.
Every video comes with interactive subtitles to help your students grow their vocabulary. Plus, you can set homework tasks and learning goals for your students and track their progress.
Using a combination of different types of books for English language learners will help them build their language skills without losing interest.
So try to take a creative approach to teaching as you choose books for your ELL classroom. With the right materials and preparation, you’ll have your ELL students reading and chatting in English in no time!