Friday, October 30, 2009

Boo! Celebrate Halloween

If you've been reading our INK blog lately, then you'll know that our theme for October has been using our books in the classroom. I was planning to write about using biographies, focusing on one of my own books, Helen's Eyes, perhaps, or Genius. But a couple of days ago Gretchen Woelfle wrote on this topic, so I thought I'd tackle something else, if I could come up with a new idea. Suddenly I had a craving for chocolate (not unusual), which made me think of Halloween, which reminded me of this past Monday. And then I knew what to write about.

On Monday mornings I teach level 4 ESL (English as a second language) to a class of 20 adults for a wonderful program called "New Neighbors" in Alexandria, Virginia. Most of the students come from Spanish-speaking countries, but Ethiopia, India, and Sudan are also represented in the class. I'm a first-time teacher, and I'm a volunteer, not a professional. Before every class I have to teach myself the subject of the day. This Monday's topic: the present perfect tense. Piece of cake, right? Hah! Thank goodness for the teacher's guide.

Anyway, toward the end of class on Monday, I pulled out a children's book to share with the students. "This book," I told them, "was written by a friend of mine. It's about Halloween, which is coming up on Saturday." As we paged through the book, students peppered me with questions. "What is the pumpkin with light inside it called?" "How do you make a jack-o'-lantern?" A photograph of a dog in a funny costume sparked lots of laughter and comments, including "I have made a rooster costume for my daughter." A picture of a brightly decorated home brought "I have bought pumpkin lights to hang up." (Note the use in both sentences of the present perfect tense!)

It was our best class so far, thanks in great part to this wonderful nonfiction children's book, Celebrate Halloween by Deborah Heiligman. It's part of her Holidays Around the World series. (Full disclosure: Not only is Deborah a friend of mine, I was her editor for several of these terrific books, including this one.) Aimed primarily at younger kids, these books can work with audiences of all ages (as I learned on Monday), thanks to their simple yet satisfying text, fabulous photographs, and extensive back matter.

I can't promise that the Holidays Around the World series will teach your students the present perfect tense, but I can confidently predict that students—whether they hail from India or Indiana—will enjoy these books and learn a lot from them. And remember, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas are just around the corner. Check out our new INK THINK TANK database to find books about these holidays!


Gretchen Woelfle said...

Marfé: What a great idea for your ESL class -- using Deb's book to teach them about American culture as well as English. (I lived in England long ago and though I knew the language (sort of), my English Culture 101 took the form of working in a pub for three months.)

Sue Macy said...

Those books were designed to be multicultural, so it's great that they work in an ESL setting. I hope the folks at National Geographic are reading this. There's a great idea for a new marketing avenue here.