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Literacy-and Beginning-Level Texts for Adult English Language Learners

Below are some of the books commonly used with literacy- and beginning- level adult English language learners. Most have a few brief comments about the content, aims, and lay-out of the texts. They are grouped by publisher.

Linmore Press

  • First Words in English. A literacy level ESL textbook. Thematically arranged and lifeskills focused. Variety of activities for speaking, listening, reading, writing, pair work, TPR, etc. Like all the Linmore books, there are pictures, but they aren't flashy or glossy. (The bonus is that their books are relatively cheap compared to many others.)

    Starting to Read. A beginning reading book. Text and reading activities. Controlled vocabulary. Topics such as family, home, school, daily activities.

  • Personal Stories Book 1. A reading and writing book with recurring characters. Short, one-sentence-per-line stories with comprehension, discussion, and writing activities afterward. For beginners who have literacy skills and some basic words and sentences in English.

Cambridge University Press

  • New Interchange Intro. Beginning level. Nice photos and drawings. Focuses on vocabulary building, grammar, conversations. Thematically arranged. Slightly more academic-oriented than most adult ESL texts, but popular in programs where students might be more interested in grammar and vocabulary building.

New Readers Press

  • LifePrints Literacy Level. Focus on reading and writing, but oral work and basics like sound-symbol correspondences are integrated in context. Simple drawings; not too "busy" in graphics or lay-out. Good teacher edition with reproducible . Thematic organization incorporates real-life literacy activities like reading street signs, a simple application, etc.

  • LifePrints Literacy and Lifeprints 1. Again, not flashy, but affordable. Both texts contain a variety of activities. Also have good teacher editions and teacher resource file books (overheads, reproducible exercises, etc). Thematically organized and focused on real-life English and lifeskills (reading prices, filling out forms, etc.).

Oxford University Press

  • The Oxford picture dictionaries are great resources to have available for learners. These include the Basic Oxford Picture Dictionary and the Oxford Picture Dictionary. Other than that, Oxford's ESL texts tend to focus on children or adults in more academic programs.

Pearson Education

  • Expressways 1. Beginning level. Very active text-lots of pictures, activities, very busy pages. Focus on speaking and interacting orally. Many dialogue and speaking activities. Lifeskills topics and language functions. Variety of ideas for activities like role-plays, group discussions, pair work, etc. Some grammar.

    Access. Literacy level text. Very basic. Focus on forming and recognizing letters, some basic words.

    Side by Side 1. Like Expressways , this one focuses largely on speaking, listening, and interacting. Again, it's thematically arranged and focuses on skills and language for everyday life. Lots of patterned dialogues that introduce and reinforce grammar and common structures.

    Navigator 1. Many different types of activities here. A balance between oral and literacy work (filling out forms, recording information in grids, etc). Lifeskills themes and functions. Some project-type activities. Lots of opportunities for learners to do things with language, not just learn about language. A lot of pictures and print on each page, so learners should be have some comfort level with English.

    Focus on Grammar 1. Not for the true beginner. Learners would need to have some comfort with basic English to tackle even book 1. Maybe more a high beginner. But a good grammar book, if that's what you want. Integrates listening and speaking and some variety in the activities.

    Word by Word picture dictionaries. These are very popular for the literacy levels. There is a basic version as well as a literacy version. There are also workbooks to use with them.

    Longman ESL Literacy. If you are working with learners who need to develop their literacy skills, the Longman book is an option. Focus on writing skills developments (writing the alphabet, numbers, etc.) Some conversation activities. Not glossy or colorful.

  • English for Adult Competencies 1. Targets adults. Black-and-white drawings. Thematically based, but not a wide range of topics (personal info and introductions, feelings, family, telling time, telephone communication). The limited scope could make it appealing if you're working with short course lengths. More text than pictures. Some variety in activities.

Heinle and Heinle

  • Collaborations Literacy and Beginning 1. Focuses on all four skills. More learner-centered than most beginning level texts. Text is derived from interviews with adult English language learners. Many communicative activities. Collaborations series may need more experienced teachers than some of the more traditional texts.

  • Literacy in Lifeskills 1 and 2. Focus on writing and reading. Some oral skills activities included. Book one focuses more on letters and words, while 2 continues and expands to sentences. Black-and-white drawings. Lifeskills themes. Very straightforward, no nonsense texts.

Dominie Press

  • English for Success 1 and 2. No-nonsense books that are thematically arranged and lifeskills oriented. Basically the same topics in both, but book one has slightly more pictures and moves more slowly/gradually through the topics. Incorporates forms, etc. that learners might encounter in real-life. Black-and-white line drawings-clear and engaging, but not glossy.


Other resources

Making it Real: Teaching Pre-Literate Adult Refugee Students

Alysan Croydan, the Tacoma Community House Training Project (now Literacy Network of Washington) and funded by the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Section of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, 2005 (available from

his free resource is of particular interest not only because it address the complexities of working with pre-literate adults learning English, but also because it focuses specifically on teaching refugees. This guide focuses on the teaching adults from cultures that don’t have a written language such as the Somali Bantu and the Hmong, but approaches, techniques, and activities described are useful for teaching other learners as well. Making it Real includes sections on teaching speaking and listening and teaching reading and writing. Within the first section, specific techniques such as grids, information gap, and dialogs and role plays are described. In the section on reading and writing, explores approaches to teaching reading and includes descriptions of literacy-level learners and a discussion of “Literacy Basics” (p. 53) such as direct