Reading Topics for ESL Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning how to read well and widely in English is an important task for all English language learners. This lesson offers some ideas for topics your students might like reading about.

Why Books and Topics Matter

Many ESL students are strong English speakers who struggle when it comes to reading and writing in English. One of the best things you can do to ensure that your ESL students grow as readers is to provide them with plenty of experience to practice reading. The more a student reads, the more confident and skilled he or she will become at decoding, fluency, and comprehension.

It is not always easy to get a student going as a reader! Some students who struggle develop a tendency to resist reading altogether. One of the best things you can do for these students is to find books and topics that appeal to them. By offering interesting topics and titles to students, you show that you care about them; you also show them that reading is something that can engage them as whole people with diverse passions and interests.

This lesson offers an overview of reading topics that are often of high interest to students. Each topic includes some book titles that might be appealing to your ESL students. Within each category, books are arranged in order from the easiest to most difficult reading level.


Many students keep animals as pets; those who were born in other parts of the world might know about animals that are very different from what they see on a daily basis in the United States. Animals can also be a great topic because they incorporate science and sometimes even ecology.

Some fiction books about animals with complex vocabulary and interesting story lines for ESL students include:

  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen: Yolen's poetic writing and lovely illustrations explain a child's experience going owling with his father in the wintertime.
  • Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon: This book tells the story about a bat that loses her family and has to figure out what species she belongs to.
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: Here, students get to read about a mistreated horse and the relationship between a child and a horse.

Some nonfiction books about animals that are good for children are:

  • Polar Bears by Maeve T. Sisk: Sisk's inspiring photographs and comprehensible text offer captivating and helpful facts about polar bears.
  • Saving the Endangered Gray Wolf by Shalini Saxena: This photographic book tells the story of the gray wolf and what people can do to protect its habitat.


Many students like to read about sports and athletic heroes. Whether students are learning the rules of sports, imagining themselves playing different games, or learning trivia about their favorite athletes, reading about this topic can offer windows into culture and recreation. Some fiction books about sports for ESL students include:

  • Eloise at the Ball Game by Hillary Night: This picture book about the well-known character of Eloise shows what it is like to attend a baseball game for the first time.
  • The Big Field by Mike Lupica: Lupica's emotional, awe-inspiring writing will help more advanced readers learn what it feels like to face a football field as a player and understand the various emotions that go into succeeding as an athlete.

Some great nonfiction sports books for children are:

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