5 YA Novels to Read with Your ESL Learners

Are you looking for engaging YA adult books for your ESL learners? Choosing high-interest novels for teens might be challenging, especially, when you are new to teaching a specific grade level. If you are already planning for next year, here is a list of my all-time favourite novels you should read with high school ESL students. 

Please note that I am not part of any affiliate marketing program, thus, I do not earn any commission by listing these novels below.  

1. Ghost by Jason Reynolds

This novel is ideal for Grade 9-11 ESL learners.

The book is about a tween calling himself Ghost who has a natural talent for speed, but he has to learn that being talented is not enough to be part of a track team. Castle Cranshaw, Ghost, learns that talent has to be harnessed through discipline and teamwork. To earn his place on the track team and to be successful, he needs to manage his anger, face his past, have self-discipline, and be a team-player. It is a beautiful coming-of-age story about coping with one's fears and embracing one's past instead of escaping it.

While reading this book, students may reflect on such themes as personal growth, talent, or facing and overcoming one's fears.

If you would love to teach this novel, please download a free Ghost novel study reading journal from my TpT store that you may use for independent reading: Reading Journal Accompanying the Novel GHOST Distance Learning/Compatible with Google Drive™.

This resource is also available in the free resources library. To gain access, please, subscribe to my mailing list.

2. Schooled by Gordon Korman

Your grade 8-9 ESL learners will enjoy this novel for sure.

The story revolves around Capricorn Anderson, a boy who has been homeschooled by his grandmother, Rain. Cap ends up in a public middle school where he learns about real school life. He is smart, innocent, kind, and weird which make him an easy target at Claverage Middle School (C Average). Zach Powers, a popular boy, gets him elected for class president that is in fact a title given to the biggest nerd in the school. When Zach is trying to fool and to turn the naive Cap into the biggest joke of the year, his plan backfires on him as the pure-hearted Capricorn will be loved by the entire school.

Gordon Korman, born in Montreal and raised in Toronto, never fails to maintain the reader's attention with his humorous, engaging voice and style that make this novel a real page turner. The plot twist at the end of the story is also remarkable as it leaves the reader in absolute awe.

3. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys

This novel is ideal for grade 9-10 ESL Learners.

It is a compelling story about acceptance and inclusion. If you wish to teach empathy, acceptance, and inclusion to your students, this book will melt their hearts for sure.

The story is about Charlie, an intellectually challenged man, who goes through an experimental surgery that would make him smart. As he becomes smarter over time and starts having flashbacks from his past, he realizes that people used to bully, reject, and outcast him. All the memories that were engraved in his ignorant mind as nice, cherished, and happy moments of his life turn out to be exactly the opposite. So, as the main character starts making sense to his past as an intelligent man, sudden feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and sadness take over him.

While reading the book, learners may explore such themes as bullying, mental illness, ignorance, intelligence, morality, and loneliness. It is also interesting to analyze the writing that becomes more sophisticated as the main character's intelligence expands. You may also use this book to teach character analysis as Charlie, a tragic hero, goes through a remarkable transformation in the novel.

4. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

This novel about "life's greatest lesson" is ideal for Grade 11-12 ESL learners.

This memoir makes the reader contemplate on such issues as:

  • the meaning of life

  • facing death

  • chasing the wrong things in life

  • sacrificing love and family for one's career

  • the value of small things in life

  • longing for spiritual wealth instead of material achievements

  • the importance of nurturing human relationships

  • the importance of family and friendship

  • loving and caring

  • giving back to the community

This book will help learners to reflect on the above issues while shaping their value system that will guide them in making the right decisions as adults.

5. Every Day by David Levithan

This novel will appeal to grade 11-12 ESL learners who enjoy love stories. However, this book is not just about a unique love story. It is about a 16 year-old teenager, A., who wakes up in the body of a different person every day.

Through A's eyes while being a different person every day, the reader has a glimpse at teens' lives as they deal with various issues:

  • being in an unhappy/unhealthy relationship

  • hardship

  • experiencing insecurity

  • dealing with mental illness

  • being average

  • being the child of controlling or loving parents

  • being poor or rich

  • staying in the closet

  • coming out

  • living with the consequences of one's actions

As the narrative progresses, a beautiful love story unfolds between A and Rhiannon. The two teenagers are trying to make their relationship work despite the challenges they have to face throughout A's journey in the body of a different boy or girl without knowing what the future holds the next day.

What novels do your students enjoy reading? Please share some titles in the comments section.

Kynga C. 

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