15 Ways To Use Books When Teaching English to Young Learners And Kindergarten

Children love stories and books! They hold so much potential for teaching and learning but are often overlooked by teachers in favour of published course material and other resources.

In this article I’m going to share with you some of the ways you can use books and stories in your classroom with Young Learners, Very Young Learners and Kindergarten.

What kinds of books and stories can I use?

Whenever possible, and especially with Kindergarten / Very Young Learners, choose a story with clear illustrations for visual support. Stories with a lot of repetition, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, are especially good choices and encourage children to join in!

Stories that you can get through in one lesson are preferable. You can also choose slightly longer books and read a part in each lesson, but if possible keep these for children who have at least some understanding of English.

Here are 15 ideas on how you can use books to enhance your teaching and why they are a fantastic learning tool.

1. Just read!

Don’t overlook the basic joy that children get from sitting in front of you and having the book read out loud. It doesn’t matter if they don’t understand all the words – they will be exposed to repetition of structures, intonation patterns and new vocabulary, especially if your book has plenty of visuals and repetition.

2. Different Voices

If possible, invite someone else into your class to read to the children in English. This will enable them to hear a different accent, and how a story can differ depending on who is reading it. One idea is to invite older children from another class to come in and read to the younger children (as a group or individually). This is great for developing self-confidence in the older children, and the younger ones thrive on the individual attention they get.

3. Holistic development

When choosing a story book, think about how you can use it to enhance the children’s development in a holistic way. For example, with Goldilocks and The Three Bears you can work on the following areas:

  • Literacy, language and communication – Invite the children to listen to and join in with the story, with repeated refrains, building up new vocabulary and structures.
  • Personal/Emotional/Social – Children can become aware that some actions can hurt others: How did the bears feel? (See idea 4, “Ask Questions”, below).
  • Mathematics – In this story, the children are introduced to the language of size – big, medium and small.
  • Expressive Arts and Design – Have children construct something with a purpose in mind, using a variety of resources. For example, you can have them make bear puppets.
  • Understanding The World – Talk with the children about some of the things they have observed, for example where real bears might live.
  • Physical – Invite the children to act out the story or pretend to be the bears, moving in different ways.

4. Ask questions

Ask the children questions about the book you have read to them to develop their understanding of the story. Be sure to support and prompt as necessary. You can ask them who the main characters were and what happened, perhaps recreating the story with basic drawings on the board as you ask them! You can invite the children to think of a different ending or perhaps ask what their favourite part of the story was. Do think carefully about the questions you ask, depending on their English level.

5. Use Props

Props make the story really come alive and add an element of fun and engagement that children respond to. For example, use bowls and spoons for the porridge in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. You could choose three children to be the bears – think how much more memorable a story would become if you were in it! If you have a large class, then simply invite all the children to act ot the story, for example pretending they are eating the porridge from the bowls with a spoon.

6. Leave books out

Leave story books out for children to “read”/look at independently, for example at the beginning of each lesson. You will very likely hear the children attempting to retell the story to themselves or each other within a surprisingly short space of time.

7. Make your own books

Invite the children to make their own books. Even very young learners and children new to English can do this. Scribe for them if they cannot write. Or, make a class book together that is related to your teaching and invite the children to do a page each or divide it between two children/groups. You can make both fiction and non-fiction books, ABC books, books about animals, numbers or fruit, the list is endless! One great ideas is a “letter of the alphabet book” – make up an action story using words beginning with a letter of the alphabet that the children are currently learning.

8. Make a concertina book or a “letter of the alphabet” book

For variety, make a concertina book (again, about any subject relevant to your teaching). Simply take a strip of paper (join two pieces together if necessary) and fold it in half. Fold in half again, and then again, depending on the size you want each page to be.

9. Story sacks

Story sacks are a wonderful way to bring a book alive for the children. A story sack is simply a bag or a box with items in that are related to the particular book you are reading. For the main characters, puppets are easy to make, using a sock or piece of material. Just stick or sew on a face. You can make them yourself or make this into an activity with the children. Then, think outside of the box for other items if they aren’t easy to get hold of. For example, the bowls and spoons in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” could be paper or plastic ones brought in from home.

10. Make a display

Make a display of a particular story that the children have enjoyed. Allow the children to use their imagination when deciding what should go on the display. This develops their creativity and also helps their self-confidence. For example, you could include pictures or quotes and reviews from the children themselves.

11. Fiction and non-fiction books

Have some fiction and non-fiction books in a box or container for children to pick up and browse. If possible have these in a specific reading or quiet area.

12. Photographs

Take photos of the children and make a class book about them. Use simple sentences, for example:
– We can jump!
– We can run!
– We can hop!
Always ensure you have written permission from the parents (or from the parents via the school) to take and use any photographs of the children in your lessons.

Even if the children can’t read independently, the book will soon become familiar. They will quickly know it by heart and enjoy “reading” and sharing it together, learning how a book works, and seeing that the words in print tell a story. I can assure you this book will be chosen again and again!

13. Bring in books from home

Invite the children to bring in their favourite book from home to show everyone. Look at the books together and talk about the front cover, what the book might be about, the characters, and so on. Even if the children can’t understand everything, the illustrations will provide support. Look at the text and compare it with English – for example, ask the children if it looks the same or different.

14. Think outside the box (or book!)

You can watch stories online or read them from books – including Big Books (enlarged versions designed for shared reading) if you have any… or you can make them up without a book! For example, I sometimes “draw” a story as I tell it. The children get very excited if they are in the story, either using the class name (if there is one) or their individual names. Try it and see!

15. Make it fun!

If your lessons are interesting, with an element of surprise, it will keep the children on track with their learning. Make a story fun and memorable. For example, if you’re reading about the different planets and going to the moon, invite the children to act it out. Become rockets! 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,1… and blast off! The children won’t forget it! Being active learners is so important – it reinforces concepts and keeps the children engaged in their learning.

These 15 ideas will help the children in your classes develop a positive disposition for reading. Encouraging a love of books and reading is something special the children will have for life and how wonderful to think that YOU can be a big part of that process!

Susan Brown
Susan is an Early Years specialist teacher with a passion for teaching Young Learners for whom English is an additional language. Since gaining a distinction in her Education degree, she has taught both teachers and children in countries including Spain, the UK and the UAE, and has also volunteered in Mexico, Bangladesh and Nepal.

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