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Adventures in ESL (part 1): Picture book project

We’re trying something a little different with our ESL class this week.  The new semester brought us two new students from Korea with limited English.  We wanted to get to know them and encourage them to get to know us better.  So we thought we try picture books.

Our Picture Book activity asked learners to:

  • Select a book in your first language using one of the sites listed below
  • Read the book
  • Using the interactive whiteboard, read the book (or a 10 minute passage if it is longer) to the class in your first language
  • Retell the story to the class in English
  • Share with the class: What about the story is special or unique to your culture or to your language?

My student teacher Kathie and I were hoping for having some fun while practicing reading and speaking fluency. We were also hoping for some cultural sharing.

We introduced several picture book portals.

Of course we pointed them to the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL).

The ICDL is a research project funded primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and Microsoft Research to create a digital library of outstanding children’s books from all over the world. Rich with content, it’s a beautiful portal offering flexibility in search and reading options. It’s really the mother lode. Users can search by language, genre, reading level and keywords. Books are currently available in 61 languages, with many books available both in the original language and its English translation.

While these next portals do not compare in scope and features, we made them available to the students:

Big Universe Learning offers thousands of books–fiction, nonfiction, chapter books, foreign language titles–contributed by both publishers and members in 15 languages.  Some books have read aloud features.  The site also encourages student writing and publishing and the sharing of books and shelves.

Children’s Books Online from the Rosetta Project, offers antique books online in 41 languages. The titles, primarily western stories like The Ugly Duckling and Little Bo Peep, have been translated by volunteers. Select a book, and the languages available appear below the book.

Children’s Books Forever, offers picture books written and illustrated by Hans Wilhelm online in 12 languages.

The students urged us to add, what they called the Korean, offering books, eBooks, DVDs and general merchandise from Ugg boots to office chairs available for online purchase. (The site is completely in Korean.)

What we discovered:

It’s kinda easy to find stories written in French and Spanish and Chinese.

But, despite the international bounty–and they absolutely loved the International Children’s Digital Library–our students from Tibet, Ukraine, and Korea were a little disappointed. While they found a number of books translated into their first languages, few of the picture books they discovered were actually stories from their own cultures.  And June insisted on finding that famous Korean tale of the dutiful daughter and her blind father.

I explained that however rich these portals might be, they can only offer what authors and publishers make available to share.

And, this led us into a very rich exploration of the wonders of interlibrary loan, where we could order books from nearly any Pennsylvania library.  Searching the ACCESS PA portal, the students recognized so many of the titles they remembered from their childhood.  And we did find that famous Korean tale of the dutiful daughter and her blind father.

While they won’t be able to share those titles on our IWB, the combination of all these resources made everyone happy.

Another discovery, very few of these new students have basic library skills.  So, coming soon, the STHS ESL library skills Olympics!  We’ll be sure to report on the events.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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