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Reading English Storybooks with and without Illustrations: Performance and Experiences of Young ESL Chinese Children Open Access


Other title
ESL Reading
Reading English Storybooks
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Lei, Yu
Supervisor and department
Dr. Linda Phillips (Elementary Education)
Examining committee member and department
Dr. William Dunn (Secondary Education)
Dr. Lynne Wiltse (Elementary Education)
Dr. Jill McClay (Elementary Education)
Dr. Lee Gunderson (Language and Literacy Education)
Dr. Leila Ranta (Educational Psychology)
Department of Elementary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Illustrated books are often recommended for use in classrooms with ESL children to facilitate acquisition and learning of English. It is claimed that illustrations enable them to clarify and construct the meaning of print, and thus enhance understanding. However, extensive research with monolingual children shows that illustrations may either interfere with or enhance reading. The purpose of my study was to examine whether illustrations were beneficial to Grade 1 ESL Chinese children when reading storybooks in English. Eighty Chinese children were divided equally into two groups: more proficient and less proficient readers. For each reading proficiency group, the children were further equally divided into two illustration types: complementary and counterpoint. Within each illustration type, half of the children read the authentic storybook including words and illustrations and the other half read the same story without the illustrations. One-on-one data collection included running records of their oral reading, answers to comprehension questions, and responses to interview questions. Both qualitative and quantitative analyses of the running records and comprehension questions revealed neither the complementary illustrations nor the counterpoint illustrations helped the children to correctly decode and identify more words regardless of the children’s reading proficiency. Complementary illustrations enhanced the children’s reading comprehension only when the illustrations contain a minimum number of or no print-irrelevant details. Both the high and low proficient children’s reading comprehension was not affected by the counterpoint illustrations unless the relationship between the counterpoint illustrations and print was too complicated and thus beyond the children’s ability to understand. The children held a prevalent misconception that the function of the illustrations was to help with decoding unknown words. These results contribute to the empirical evidence on the role of illustrations and signal the need for better teaching of how to effectively use illustrations to assist with reading. Clear and precise instructions coupled with explanations to young children on the specific strategies to use to maximize the benefits of illustrations to reading are warranted. Future research to develop a more thorough and precise understanding of the role illustrations play in ESL reading comprehension is a logical next step.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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