Friday, December 23, 2011

Wordless Books for ESL Students

In one of the classes I'm observing while working towards my Master's degree, there is a student from Japan who speaks almost no English. I am really fortunate that my cooperating teacher is letting me spend the entire period working with him, trying to build his English skills. I always feel a special affinity for Japanese students, as it was the first country I taught in and Japanese people were amazingly kind to me. I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay that generosity.

One activity that the student and I are doing is reading wordless books together. Because he is so shy, I am still uncovering his vocabulary level. Asking him to tell me what he can about the story helps me make words lists for him and requires that he speaks as much as possible.

The first book we enjoyed was Zoom by Istvan Bavai. Named as one of the best children's books of 1995 by the New York Times, the story starts with close illustration of red spikes with yellow dots, reminiscent of a starfish. When you turn the page, you find that it is actually the top of a rooster's head, which then zooms out to children watching through a window, and so on until you are viewing the planet as a speck in the universe. It's a deep idea for a picture book, but also provides many opportunities for simple vocabulary practice. You can preview most of the illustrations on this website. Our school library does not have the sequel, Re-Zoom, so I will search that out at the local library. A funny note: there is a Spanish version of this wordless book. I guess the back cover is en espanol?

 Robot Dreams by Sara Varon features more of a narrative that we can explore. It tells of a year in the life of a dog who builds a robot as a friend, then has to leave him behind at the beach when he rusts there. In the months that follow, they dream of each other while having their own humorous adventures with other animals. This book is packed with opportunities to review vocabulary and for the reader to add details to the story. Most of my job during Robot Dreams was to say, "And then what?"

In addition to having an interesting story, the illustrations in this book are fantastic. They are simple enough as to not distract, but very entertaining. I found the color palette to be soothing to the reader, and loved that wavy lines around the illustrations signalled that the character was dreaming. You can preview the first few pages of the book on this website. Robot Dreams is a book that I will definitely be adding to my own classroom library; this strangely wonderful book is essential.


  1. I love Zoom! I actually played a team-building game with it at camp once: each person in the group got a page from the book, and then we had to arrange ourselves in order without talking. It was such a neat way to see the story unfold. I had no idea there was a "Re-Zoom." Thanks for the heads up!

  2. I love Zoom too! The first time I read it, I was mesmerized! I've added Re-Zoom and Robot Dreams to my list.


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