What to Read with Your ESL Class: 10 Best Books for Beginners

Books are awesome!

C’mon, you don’t have to be a bookworm to love books.

Everyone you know can name his or her favorite childhood book.

That’s because books change lives.

In the case of your ESL students, books are gateways to information, imagination and English immersion.

The best reading activities cover all of the aspects of learning English: speaking, listening, reading and writing. The best reading activities also involve the best books.

As an ESL teacher, you have to be especially purposeful in choosing just the right books for your students.

You need to consider what type of book to use, the level of your students’ English comprehension and the expected outcomes of the lesson.

Finding the best books for beginning ESL students can be especially tough. You want to empower your students as English readers and not scare them away with difficult texts. But you also want books to be meaningful.

Never fear. We’ve found 10 amazing books for beginning ESL students, and we’re dying to share them with you.

Check out these titles and you won’t be disappointed!

The 10 Best ESL Books That’ll Inspire Beginners to Love Reading

Word Books

Using these highly visual books allows students to make one-to-one connections between English words and images. While these books aren’t usually “read” in the strict sense of the word, they do allow beginning ESL students the opportunity to learn new vocabulary words.

Because there’s no plot to follow in a word book, beginning ESL students will feel less pressure. Instead of being worried about comprehending a full story, students can enjoy the engaging images and expand their vocabulary.

National Geographic Little Kids Word Book: Learning the Words in Your World (National Geographic Little Kids (Hardcover))

For younger ESL students, check out “National Geographic Little Kids Word Book.” This book groups related words, for example, a photograph of a car has the car’s parts labeled. Students can see the connections between new vocabulary words.

For adult ESL students, try “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever.” This book takes the word book genre to the next level and includes a few sentences per page. The images are drawings, rather than photographs, allowing adult learners to make inferences about the scenes.

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Easy Readers

Easy readers are written using simple, repeating words. Oftentimes they include rhyming words, which can help your beginning ESL students to practice word families and phonics patterns.

As the point of these books is to draw in early readers, they contain predictable plots. Your beginning ESL students won’t feel too overwhelmed trying to keep track of a complex story. Easy readers are also illustrated to help guide comprehension.

Green Eggs and Ham

For younger ESL readers, give Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” a try. This classic book is a great example of an easy reader. It sticks to one basic word family (rhyming with -am) and repeats words often enough to build confidence in children just learning English.

For your adult ESL students, consider “Easy Reader Classics: The Story of Dr. Doolittle #1: Animal Talk.” Hugh Lofting’s classic story of a doctor who speaks with animals is adapted in this 32-page version. There are six books total in this series, so if your ESL students get hooked on the first one, there are plenty more to read!

Picture Books

Picture books are generally short. The manageable length isn’t overwhelming to beginning ESL students. In addition, the illustrations tell much of the story, so ESL students have an alternative way to gather information beyond just the text.

Though picture books are illustrated, the language of the text tends to be richer and more complex than that of Easy Readers. You can use picture books to incorporate grammar lessons on adjectives, adverbs, imagery and even figurative language.

Goodnight Moon

For younger ESL students, use “Good Night Moon.” This book by Margaret Wise Brown is short and sweetly engaging. It’s perfect for beginning ESL students because of the simple vocabulary and illustrations. This book can be used as an introduction to labeling the classroom. When students leave the room for the day they can choose three or four objects to say goodbye or goodnight to, just like in the story.

Curious George

For adult ELS students, start with the original “Curious George” by H.A. Rey. The book chronicles the story of how a mischievous and curious monkey named George comes to live in the city with The Man with The Yellow Hat. George gets into a series of silly situations. The humor should appeal to adults. Again, there are a number of books featuring Curious George, so if this book is a hit, there’s more where it came from!

Simple Chapter Books

Listening to a native speaker read aloud from simple chapter books can be a powerful language learning tool. When you read aloud, you’re teaching your beginning ESL students important fluency skills. Your students will pick up cues about pacing, pronunciation and intonation.

For a great resource that introduces your students to spoken English, be sure to check out FluentU.

You can explore the platform by requesting a free trial to see all of the fantastic ways FluentU can help your students with authentic materials. 

Longer books allow the class to dive into deeper analyses of characters and dialogue. Chapter books will help students learn words to describe personality traits and behaviors. They also include extended dialogue, which students can practice reading aloud like reader’s theater.

Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!

For younger ESL students, the “Flat Stanley” series by Jeff Brown is a great place to start with simple chapter books. There are several books in this series featuring Stanley, a normal boy who one day wakes up flat. The series is so popular with teachers that an entire website is devoted to Flat Stanley and related projects, worksheets and educational apps.

For adult ESL students, “Sarah, Plain and Tall” by Patricia MacLachlan is a wonderful, historical fiction chapter book to start with. The book won the Newbery Award in 1986, so the plot and theme are more complex than your traditional simple chapter book. The story of a woman leaving her home to try something new and make a better life for herself may resonate with some of your ESL students.

Wordless Picture Books

Wordless picture books may seem simplistic and out of place in a class designed to teach language. However, wordless picture books can encourage speaking and writing skills in beginning ESL students. Students can make up the story to accompany the pictures, either by telling the story orally or by putting it all down in writing.

Wordless picture books offer a low-pressure entry into storytelling because there’s no right or wrong. Your beginning ESL students can be as creative and imaginative as possible when interacting with the beautifully illustrated images.

The Lion & the Mouse

For young ESL students, “The Lion and the Mouse” by Jerry Pinkney is a great wordless picture book to start with. This book retells the famous Aesop’s fable about the mouse who saves the lion from a hunter’s net. Students may already be familiar with the story, but the vividly detailed illustrations will help beginning ESL students practice animal and setting related vocabulary and make up their own tales as they flip through the pages.


Adults ESL students will love “Tuesday” by David Wiesner. In this wordless picture book, frogs take flight on lily pads every Tuesday at 8PM. Adult ESL students will enjoy the beautiful illustrations—the books won the Caldecott medal in 1991—as well as the whimsical fantasy of the plot. Encourage your students to write dialogue between the frogs as they float through the sky. Imagine the creativity and humor a lesson like that will bring to your classroom.

In Sum

Books offer an escape from the day-to-day tasks that otherwise suck our energy and drain our creativity.

They also offer your beginning ESL students a seamless entry into the world and nuances of the English language.

Reading lessons engage students in reading, writing, speaking and listening in English. They’ll see their language skills grow by leaps and bounds, all while enjoying excellent literature.

Most of us remember the first book we learned to read. Imagine the feeling of pride and accomplishment when your students hold up a book and say, “this is the first book I learned to read in English.”

And One More Thing...

If you're looking for creative ways to teach English, then you'll love using FluentU in your classroom!

It's got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch regularly. There are tons of great choices there when you're looking for songs for in-class activities.

You'll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids' singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.


On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students.

Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.


For example, if a student taps on the word "searching," they'll see this:


Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like "fill in the blank."


It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it's guaranteed to get your students excited about learning English!

Sign up for a free trial and bring FluentU to your classroom today.

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