How to Plan a Successful ESL Teacher Book Study

Becoming an excellent ESL teacher entails continuous learning and growing as an educator of English language learners. A top-notch ESL teacher must be able to teach students in small groups and individually, collaborate, and offer professional development for an entire school. One way to improve and become great advocates is by leading ESL book studies.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of leading the ESL department in my school district as an ESL coordinator. I believe that each team member will agree that we have grown as a team in many ways. Part of our growth comes from a combination of different things.

Up until the pandemic, we attended local and/or national conferences and workshops that we look forward to attending each school year.  In addition to conferences, we have also held our own book studies as a team. In some ways, it feels like we become a book club. All ESOL educators in my district recognize that a book study is part of our ESL timeline each school year. 

Selecting a Platform

If you’re thinking about running a book study, you’ll want to figure out which platform is best to have engaging discussions. Up until today, our series of book studies are held online. An online platform allows everyone to participate at their own time without interrupting our daily responsibilities. Our teachers can participate during the day, such as planning time or after school on their own time. 

When we first began holding book studies, I opted to use schoology as the online platform. Although there are plenty of platforms you could choose from, I thought that schoology. I chose schoology because it is the online platform we use with students and the most known to us. 

Selecting the correct platform is huge when holding a book study. This is because you do not want to worry about learning a system as you learn new information. Using the platform we already had also allowed everyone to learn the platform even more as teachers. Note that if your district does not use Schoology, it is a platform that is also available free of charge.

If you already have an online learning platform other than schoology, it may be best to use that platform. Again, using a platform you already know helps because you already know it. It keeps everyone organized, allowing for multiple learnings in one place. 

Book Study Set-Up

To set up our book studies, I have an ESL Training Course where we hold professional learning sessions and book studies. We can create assignments, quizzes, assessments, and much more in a course, as shown below.


Our schoology book studies are set up in individual folders. The first folder is the “getting started” section. In this folder, participants find a purpose of the book study detailing how this learning will support our district’s work. Another page showcases the weekly schedule and assignments with due dates. Additionally, an academic honesty agreement provides participants an overview of our state’s rules and academic honesty policies.

Other folders contain additional resources such as videos, articles, links, or quizzes offered by the authors or related to the chapter of the week. 

Creating ESL book study questions 

The questions in a discussion are essential components of any book study to maintain engagement and foster a maximum learning level. This might be the most challenging part of running a book study. Each chapter discussion is a one time shot. I tend to feel the urgency to get the most out of each chapter.

All books tend to offer suggestions for each chapter, and sometimes they are great. However, there are times when the questions suggested by the authors might not align with your vision and the discussion you want to engage in. For this reason, I sometimes use the suggested questions, expand on their questions or come up with my own. 

To come up with questions, I read the chapter considering where we are as a team on such topics and what we need to tackle. For the most part, I like to connect the learning to what’s happening in our schools. At times I’ll ask teachers to connect the learning with their own experience, which prompts them to provide examples.

Teachers are also asked to submit a final assignment that reflects how they will implement new learning in schools and the classroom. A final assignment might be a PowerPoint presentation or a product that expands on the learning experience. 

Switching things up

Making the most our this learning experience is also exciting. We try to integrate interactive exercises or different ways to share and engage in learning to do this. During our most recent book study, I employed audio recording to switch things up. Teachers audio record themselves answering the prompt of the week. This allowed others to listen to the audio recording and reply to each other.

Participation and Grading a book study

As shown above, each folder ends with a discussion where teachers are asked to post to the main discussion and reply to three other members. Participation in the book study is a requirement that counts as professional development series in our district. Participants are grade using a participation rubric that accounts for their total engagement each week. 

RubricPossible Points
Answers prompt & reply to 3 other team members3
Answers prompt & reply to less than 3 members2
No post, or no response to others1
Book Study Grading Rubric

Although reviewing for participation can be time-consuming, I think it helps participants stay engaged in every discussion. If for any reason a member gets a score of 1, he/she is privately reminded to keep up with engagement.

Selecting a Book

Each school year, team members are welcome to suggest books or bring up a topic they may want to dive into each year. The book studies we’ve done made us stronger teacher leaders and improved our knowledge in reading development.

Books are selected to help prepare us as English language learners teachers, considering our district initiatives across elementary and secondary. Over the years we have done a number of book studies using 5 different ESL teacher books that I highly recommend.

For example, during the adoption of a new ELA elementary school, we conducted a book study that helped prepare us to collaborate and co-teach. The adoption of the new curriculum changed master scheduling and instruction during tier 2 and tier 3.

Foreseeing our needed participation in cycle review and co-teaching during ELA allowed us to prepare by engaging in a book study that showed us how to collaborate and co-plan with classroom teachers.  

The next step in selecting a book is finding a book that truly supports our vision. Not all books provide quality resources and guidance. A post titled 5 ESL books recommendation provides a review of 5 of the books that I have used in book studies.

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