Lately, a few parents have been asking me why I use so many picture books in my ESL lessons. Do the kids understand? And if they don't, what's the point?
I have always believed strongly in using picture books to teach. Even in my high school classroom, I often used picture books to grab students' interest and to scaffold learning. Because people of all ages (0-99) love picture books. Even kids who "hate" reading light up when being read to from a great picture book.
But at the preschool level, picture books are even more important. Do my 3-6 year olds "understand" the words? Most of them, no. But does a new, pre-verbal baby "understand" the words when a parent reads to them, speaks to them, sings to them? Not at first. However, listening lays the foundation for their language development. And the more they hear, the more they learn.
It's the same in the ESL classroom. That's why I'm happy to read, read, read. I believe the kids "understand" much more than we realize, and even if they don't, their brains are learning what English sounds like. Their brains are being wired to learn. And the more they hear, the more connections they will make.
And for those skeptics out there, here's a picture book (what else?) to prove my point.
This brilliant picture book tells the story of some bugs who discover a mysterious plant. As it grows and grows, they decide to make a tree fort. The clincher? The entire story is told in a made-up bug language. But thanks to the pictures (and a child's understanding of how language works) the story is easy to follow. And not just that, it's a joy to follow.
So read, read, read, whether the kids "get it" or not. Because you're doing something even more than teaching vocabulary. You're teaching "language".
Taa-taa for now!
In addition to being a writer, I have about the best job in the world. I teach 3-6 year olds English in an Italian preschool. I LOVE using picture books in my ESL lessons as introductions to my daily topics, and just because kids love books. My goal with this blog isn't to highlight the most "of-the-moment" picture books, but rather to present books that work well for ESL learners and that are accessible to teachers living all around the world. If you're an ESL teacher who loves books, then this blog is for you.