Resources for teaching ESOL students in composition courses

Having been an instructor of English for speakers of other languages at a community college in New Hampshire, and having had many students in my class whose first language is not English, I have decided to compile a list of resources for composition instructors with the hope of better serving our ESOL students, both intellectually and emotionally, in the composition classroom and beyond.


Altbach, P. G. Comparative higher education: Knowledge, the university and development. Greenwich, CT: Ablex. 1998.

Arthur, N. (2004). Counseling international students: Clients from around the world. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. 2004.

Bailey, K. M., & Santos, M. G. Research on ESL in U. S. community colleges. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2009.

Carroll, J., & Ryan, J. Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All. New York, NY: Routledge. 2005.

 The essays in this book speak to the inevitable institutional changes and
adjustments that institutions, and concomitantly instructors, need to make if they are to be responsive to the experiences, needs, interests, expectations and aspirations of international students, particularly if international students are to feel welcome, and not seen as mere income meeting the growing fi nancial needs of “Western institutions.” The culture, then, of these institutions must be accommodative of these students, and as Schmitt writes, “add diversity to university classrooms because they bring with them an assortment of previous learning experiences, diverse views of the world and, in many cases, experiences of communicating and studying in more than one language” (63).

In speaking to the accommodation and integration of international students into institutions, the contributors raise crucial questions and issues with which institutions and instructors must grapple. For instance, Janette Ryan and Jude Carroll point out, that the “presence of international students, with their diverse paradigms and life experiences, provides us with an opportunity to ask who the university is there to serve and to what end. Are we as teachers in universities custodians of convention and a defined body of wisdom, or do we believe that we have a duty to forge new traditions and epistemologies? Is our role transformative or reproductive?” In attempting to address such questions and issues, the contributors provide useful and practical suggestions and examples of things to avoid as well as activities and actions that have worked for them.

Casanave, C. P. Writing games: Multicultural case studies of academic literacy practices in higher education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 2002.

Casanave’s text provides a means of assisting ESOL writers who are struggling with first-year writing in collegiate environments by providing personal narratives from students themselves. Her text is thus especially useful for composition instructors teaching ESOL students writing as it provides detailed first-person accounts of what it feels like to be an ESOL student in the composition classroom, offering instructors insight into what thier ESOL students may be feeling as they enter an American college classroom for the first time. Casanave moves through a series of developing ESOL student writing so that instructors can assist in the shaping of these respective student identitites and voices by fostering a participatory enivornment in the classroom.

Flaitz, J. (Ed.). Understanding your international students: An educational, cultural, and linguistic guide. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2003.

Harklau, L., Losey, K. M., Siegal, M. (Eds.). Generation 1.5 meets college composition issues in the teaching of writing to U.S.-educated learners of ESL. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1999.

Hinkel, E. Second language writers’ text: Linguistic and rhetorical features. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 2002.

Jordan, R. R. English for academic purposes: A guide and resource book for teachers. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. 1997.

This volume offers exceptional material to help students to distinguish between General English and English for specific purposes. English for Academic Purposes provides a comprehensive perspective onthe theory and practice of English for academic purposes (EAP), basedon the specification of learners’ needs and study skills that fit theirneeds. The book is informative, not dogmatic, drawing on a variety of viewpoints and methods, as the author says in the introduction. It isintended for teachers working toward degrees and certificates in teach-ing English and for those who want to remain abreast of developments inthe field.

Kasper, L. F. (with Babbitt, M., et al.). Content-based college ESL instruction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 2000.

Kasper’s text discusses the necessary paradigm changes in English as a second language (ESL) education from an oral English proficiency orientation to an academic English proficiency orientation. English learners face difficult challenges when asked to perform academic tasks in their less developed language. Content-based ESL instruction, which integrates language instruction with content areas, can meet both the linguistic and academic needs of English learners. Thus content-based ESL instruction offers a more meaningful path to academic language acquisition. The article presents theoretical, pedagogical, and empirical reasons why content-based instruction is more beneficial for English learners.

Palmer, S. (Ed.). Multicultural counseling: A reader. London, England: Sage. 2002.

Multicultural counseling: A reader provides an exhaustive list of articles written by ESOL and composition and rhetoric scholars that is useful for instructors in assisting ESOL students emotionally. Often times, the emotional burdens of being in a classroom with predominantly native English speakers has a negative emotional impact on students, as they feel that their voices cannot be heard. Many of the essays in the book offer suggestions on how to cultivate ESOL student confidence through means of counseling or meeting with instructors. It is particulalry important to recognize these emotional barriers for the successs of our ESOL students and to appropriately respond to them outside of the classroom in a conference or other such setting if needed to provide encouragement and continued emotional support with the hopes that these students will develop confidence in their English language speaking and writing abilities. Palmer’s reader presents an invaluable resource for breaking down these emotional barriers through intervening practices such as one-to-one meetings in which instructors go step-by-step through student writing by focusing on content and the thrust of ideas rather than grammatical and syntactical mistakes.

Pintozzi, F. J., & Valeri-Gold, M. “Teaching English as a second language (ESL) students.” In F. Flippo & D. C. Caverly (Eds.), Handbook of college reading and study strategy research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 2000.

Pintozzi’s text offers a very practical guide for instructors teaching ESL students in the composition classroom. Pintozzi suggests offering visual content to students, engaging in group work among native speakers, communicating with composition instructors, honoring the silent periord (which usually lasts for a month or so), allowing some scaffolding with the native language, looking out for and valuing culturally unique vocabularies of ESL students, using sentence frames to give students practice with academic language, pre-teaching assignments to ESL students who are particularly struggling, learning about the cultual background of ESL students and using content in the classroom to foster acceptance and engagement with these backgrounds, not expecting ELL students to speak toward their entire culture and, lastly, asking ELL students to take themselves a little less seriously by juxtaposing native English papers from anonymous undergraduate peers to shed light on their competency as writers.

Rosenthal, J. W. “Teaching science to language minority students: Theory and practice.” Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 1996.

Sigsbee, D. L., Speck, B. W., Maylath, B. (Eds.). Approaches to teaching non-native English speakers across the curriculum. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1997.

This volume of New Directions for Teaching and Learning makes the knowledge and skills of academic specialists available to subject-area faculty who deal with the writing and oral communication styles of non-native users of English in their classrooms. The chapters offer information and much-needed advice in nontechnical language about ways to help these students improve their writing and speaking skills in content-area courses. The volume also considers the points of view of the students themselves and discusses their differing levels of intent about becoming proficient in English writing and speaking. The authors are specialists from institutions of higher education across the United States, and their academic fields included English as a Second Language, composition theory, editing, technical editing, interpersonal communication, oral communication, and linguistics. Faculty, especially those involved in writing-across-the-curriculum programs, will find this an invaluable help in dealing with the writing aspects of their courses, and those in charge of faculty development activities will particularly welcome this volume for use in their courses or seminars.

Singaravelu, H., & Pope, M. A handbook for counseling international students in the United States. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. 2007.

Smith, B. L. “Success for all: Learning communities in basic skills and English as a secondlanguage settings.” In B. L. Smith, Learning communities: Reforming undergraduate education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2004.

Speck, B. W., & Carmical, B. H. (Eds.). Internationalizing higher education: Building vital programs on campuses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2002.

Tucker, A. Decoding ESL: International students in the American college classroom.Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers. 1995.

Woolston, V. “International students: Leveraging learning.” In A. S. Pruitt-Logan & P. D.Isaac, (Eds.), Student services for the changing graduate student population. San Francisco, CA. 1995.

Woolston’s text speaks toward the difficulties many international students face as they attempt to adjust to higher education in the United States. Their difficulties are not only in the realm of academics, but include life issues, such as finances, housing, food, as well as social challenges. International students who are away from friends and relatives are in particular need of sufficient support in the realm of friendships and acceptance by various social groups . Their academic challenges require that they achieve a level of English-language proficiency necessary to complete various academic tasks and to understand American academic systems and expectations. What Woolston argues that traditional ESL class instruction mainly targets explicit grammar teaching through activities and drills. Consequently, it does not contribute to the acquisition of academic English. Since English learners acquire oral English in a short period of time, the focus of ESL education needs to be on helping ELL learners improve academic language proficiency.

Zamel, V., & Spack, R. (Eds.). Crossing the curriculum: multilingual learners in college classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 2004.

In Crossing the curriculum: multilingual learners in college classrooms, Zamel first posits that all work requires an engagement with knowledge, information, and communication in the post-Fordist economy. Therefore, the traditional notion of writing as an isolated and independent activity in ESP is limiting for ESOL students. While many people have celebrated the emergence of new media as a means of equalitarian communication, the author cautions us that the discourses and ideologies represented in cyberspace might disenfranchise multilingual writers. As ‘‘the disembodied and dislocated texts in the new media increasingly obscure the contexts and purposes of texts’’ (p. 223), the teacher should encourage students to critically engage with multimodal texts and computer-assisted pedagogy. Finally, the author concludes the chapter and the book by again inviting teachers to be critical researchers and to focus on the attitudinal changes required to practice critical education.

Handbooks for students

Badke, W. B. Beyond the answer sheet: Academic success for international students.New York: IUniverse. 2003.

Garrod, A., & Davis, J. Crossing customs: International students write on U. S. college life and culture. New York, NY: Falmer Press. 1999.

Moore, H. L., Oliver, L. R., & Veady, D. L. Language, customs, and protocol: A guidebook for the international student and employee. Los Altos, CA: Crisp. 1992.

Rothman, J., & Kolko, S. R. “100 things every international student ought to know: A self-orientation guide with customs, practices, procedures, and advice to assist international students in adjusting to college” in the U.S. Williamsville, NY: Cambridge Stratford Study Skills Institute. 2004.

Shiraev, E., & Boyd, G. L. The accent of success: A practical guide for international students. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 2001.

Audiovisual Resources

Czarnawska, I. (Director), & International Office, Dartmouth College (Producer). Aliens: Being a foreign student [DVD]. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press. 2003.

Ogami, N. (Producer & Director) Cold water intercultural adjustment and values conflictof foreign students & scholars at an American university [DVD]. Boston, MA: Intercultural Press. 1988.

Journal Articles

Baker, T., & Clark, J. “Cooperative learning–A double-edged sword: A cooperative learning model for use with diverse student groups.” Intercultural Education, 21(3), 257- 268. 2010.

Baker, W., & Hansen Bricker, R. (2010). “The effects of direct and indirect speech acts on native English and ESL speakers’ perception of teacher written feedback.” System: An

International Journal of Educational Technology and Applied Linguistics, 38(1), 75-84. 2010. Barron, P., Gourlay, L., & Gannon-Leary, P. “International students in the higher education classroom: Initial findings from staff at two post-92 universities in the UK.” Journal of Further and Higher Education, 34(4), 475-489. 2010.

Bartram, B., & Bailey, C. “Different students, same difference? A comparison of UK and international students’ understandings of “effective teaching.” Active Learning in Higher Education, 10(2), 172-184. 2009.

Biktimirov, E., & Feng, J. “Different locks must be opened with different keys: Using Chinese proverbs for teaching finance to Chinese-speaking students.” Journal of Teaching in International Business, 17(3), 83-102. 2006.

Burnapp, D. “Trajectories of adjustment of international students: U-curve, learning curve, or third space.” Intercultural Education, 17(1), 81-93. 2006.

Cheng, L., Myles, J., & Curtis, A. “Targeting language support for non-native English-speaking graduate students at a Canadian university.” TESL Canada Journal, 21(2), 50-71. 2004.

Chou, P.-N., & Chen, W.-F. “Understanding online non-native English speakers: An acculturation approach.” Educational Technology Magazine: The Magazine for Managers of Change in Education, 49(6), 24-27. 2009.

Chou and Chen’s article addresses creating a culturally rair Learning environment in the composition classroom. This can be accomplished by modifying instructional style, lecture content, skill demonstration, and grading criteria to incorporate student cultural dimensions in the learning environment, specifically as it relates to language attainment. All students should have equal access to success. If instructional strategies and environmental climate are based on the needs of Euro-American learners, then linguistically different students will not have equal access. Therefore, instructors may need to move out of their comfort zone and differentiate their methods to be more inclusive of L2 learners. Accordingly, learning environment modifications should be conducted on an individual basis and should be dependent on each student’s English language abilities and other factors, such as their acculturation status.

Deakins, E. “Helping students value cultural diversity through research-based teaching.” Higher Education Research and Development, 28(2), 209-226. 2009.

Egege, S., & Kutieleh, S. “Critical thinking: Teaching foreign notions to foreign students.” International Education Journal, 4(4), 75-85. 2004

Gatfield, T. “Examining student satisfaction with group projects and peer assessment.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 24(4), 365-77. 1999.

Gomleksiz, M. (2007). “Effectiveness of cooperative learning (Jigsaw II) method in teaching English as a foreign language to engineering students (case of Firat University, Turkey)”. European Journal of Engineering Education, 32(5), 613-625. 2007.

Grey, M. “Ethnographers of difference in a critical EAP community-becoming.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 8(2), 121-133. 2009.

Hsieh, M.-H. “Challenges for international students in higher education: One student’s narrated story of invisibility and struggle.” College Student Journal, 41(2), 379-91. 2007.

Huang, L. (2007). “Practicing speaking for academic purposes using Aristotle’s ‘topics.’” Communication Teacher, 21(2), 62-67. 2007.

Jund, A. (2010). “Toward a pedagogy of intercultural understanding in teaching English for academic purposes.” TESL-EJ, 14(1), 1-13.

Kemp, L. (2010). “Teaching & learning for international students in a “learning community”: Creating, sharing and building knowledge.” InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 5, 63-74. 2010.

Kim, S. “Academic oral communication needs of East Asian international graduate students in non-science and non-engineering fields.” English for Specific Purposes, 25(4), 479-489. 2006.

Lee, A., Bei, L., & DeVaney, S. “Acculturation experiences of Taiwanese students during exchanges in the United States.” Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 99(4), 56-61. 2007.

Lee, G. “Speaking up: Six Korean students’ oral participation in class discussions in US graduate seminars.” English for Specific Purposes, 28(3), 142-156. 2009.

Leki, I. “Negotiating socioacademic relations: English learners’ reception by and reaction to college faculty.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 5(2), 136-152. 2006.

Major, E. M. “Co-national support, cultural therapy, and the adjustment of Asian students to an English-speaking university culture.” International Education Journal, 6(1), 84-95. 2005.

Marlina, R. “‘I don’t talk or I decide not to talk? Is it my culture?’:  International students’ experiences of tutorial participation.” International Journal of Educational Research, 48(4), 253-244. 2009.

Mason, K. “Cooperative learning and second language acquisition in first-year composition: Opportunities for authentic communication among English language learners”. Teaching English in the Two-Year College, 34(1), 52-58. 2006.

Morris, S., & Hudson, W. “International education and innovative approaches to university teaching.” Australian Universities’ Review, 38(2), 70-74. 1995.

Nowalk, T. “Solving the English-as-a-second language writers’ dilemma.” Inquiry, 15(1), 53-66. 2010.

Peelo, M., & Luxon, T. “Designing embedded courses to support international students’ cultural and academic adjustment in the UK.” Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31(1), 65-76. 2007.

Penrose, J. “Responding to the unique expectations and needs of graduate students who are nonnative speakers of English.” Business Communication Quarterly, 70(1), 47-50. 2007.

Poyrazli, S., & Grahame, K. M. “Barriers to adjustment: Needs of international students within a semi-urban campus community.” Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34(1), 28-45. 2007.

Ransdell, D. R. “Important events: Second-language students in the composition Classroom.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, 21(3), 217-223. 1994.

Remedios, L., Clarke, D., & Hawthorne, L. “The silent participant in small group collaborative learning contexts.”  Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(3), 201-216. 2008.

Ryan, J., & Viete, R. “Respectful interactions: Learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.” Teaching in Higher Education, 14(3), 303-314.  2009.

Sadykova, G., & Dautermann, J. “Crossing cultures and borders in international online distance higher education.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(2), 89-114. 2009.

Salies, T. “Simulation/gaming in the EAP writing class: Benefits and drawbacks.” Simulation & Gaming, 33(3), 316-329. 2002.

Skyrme, G. “Is this a stupid question? International undergraduate students seeking help from teachers during office hours.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 9(3), 211- 221. 2010.

Sloan, D., & Porter, E. “Changing international student and business staff perceptions of in-sessional EAP: Using the CEM model.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 9(3), 198-210. 2010.

South, J., Gabbitas, B., & Merrill, P. “Designing video narratives to contextualize content for ESL learners: A design process case study.” Interactive Learning Environments, 16(3), 231-243. 2008.

Storch, N., & Tapper, J. “The impact of an EAP course on postgraduate writing.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 8(3), 207-223. 2009.

Sweeney, A., Weaven, S., & Herington, C. “Multicultural influences on group learning: A qualitative higher education study.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 119-132. 2008.

Tavakol, M., & Dennick, R. “Are Asian international medical students just rote learners?” Advances in Health Sciences Education, 15(3), 369-377. 2010.

Valiente, C. (2008). “Are students using the ‘wrong’ style of learning?: A multicultural scrutiny for helping teachers to appreciate differences.” Active Learning in Higher Education, 9(1), 73-91. 2008.

Other Resources:

Note: These resources are intended to break down cultural barriers in the classroom in the hopes of shedding light on the commonality of peer interest. They are resources I have used in my classroom that have helped ELL students and native speakers connect and engage in fruitful dialogue about issues that matter to them.

Waking Life. Dir. Richard Linklater. Twentieth-century fox home entertainment, 2003.

Examined Life. Dir. Astra Taylor. Zeitgeist films, 2009.

Codes of Gender. Dir. Robin Hauser Reynolds, 2016.