"Must-have" books for teachers
What books should be on every English language teacher's bookshelf? Over the coming months we'll be adding titles to the list. If you'd like to recommend a book, click on the link below and complete the form.
How Languages Are Learned by Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada
Resource books and activity books are great assets for language teachers, but sometimes it’s good to have a book that looks at the bigger picture of what we do exactly. How do people learn their first language? How do they learn a second language? For any teacher who has ever wondered about this – and, let’s be frank, it’s something we should all be curious about, as it is the heart of our work – Lightbown and Spada’s How Languages Are Learned (Oxford University Press) is a must for your bookshelf.
Now in its third edition, the book is an extremely accessible and readable guide to everything we know about language learning. Dotted throughout with tasks for the reader, it covers the main theories of language learning in clear and simple language. Of particular interest are the quoted studies on second language acquisition, and the final chapter: “Popular Ideas about Language Learning Facts and Opinions”. Lightbown and Spada are very good at dispelling several popular ideas about language learning.
It might not be the answer for a neat activity on a Monday morning,
but in the long run this book will make you a better-informed professional,
which is always a good thing.
Five Minute Activities by Penny Ur and Andrew Wright
This is one of those books that just makes so much sense in English language teaching. Who hasn’t needed a little extra something at the beginning, middle or end of a lesson to change the focus? First published by Cambridge University Press in 1992, the book had its 22nd printing in 2008. This makes it a “Harry Potter” among resource books and certainly deserves to be listed as a must-have by us.
While many of the activities are fun and game-like, they are meant to be more than just "fillers". They cover a wide range of grammar and vocabulary points and most of them can be adapted to suit classes of different levels of ability, and in many cases there are additional suggestions for variations or extensions of the basic activity.
The only criticism we’ve heard about this book is that the activities might last more than five minutes, but who cares? The 100+ ideas in the book are short, require little or no preparation and are extremely flexible. A lot of the ideas will be familiar to most teachers but it's good to have them collected in one place. And there are enough 'new' activities to make it worth reading.
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan
It would be interesting to know how many books for teachers have the following words in the title: practical, English, use, usage and grammar. One really stands out among them as the granddaddy of all grammar books for English language teachers: Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage (Oxford University Press).
First published in 1980, the dark blue cover with the abstract purple and red flowering buds (at least we think that’s what they are) graces staffroom shelves all over the world. The book is organised in alphabetical order, outlining typical grammatical problems for English language learners and, let’s face it, for English teachers too. More than a few teachers have silently thanked Swan for helping them answer a tricky question from a student about, for example, the difference between big, great and large.
The explanations and examples in the third edition are now based on current corpus research, and it also boasts new entries on “Kinds of English”, covering standard English and dialects, correctness, spoken and written English, formality, and variation and change. It might be a bit heavy for your bag, but it’s oh-so-useful for your classes.
Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill
If you've ever seen an English teacher walking down the street muttering to themselves something like, "F ... f ... f ... th ... th ... th ... th ..." or "sue ... zoo ... sue ... zoo ... sue ...", don't panic! They aren't crazy, they've just been learning English phonology with the book Sound Foundations (Macmillan, 1994).
Sound Foundations was one of the earliest books in the Macmillan Books for Teachers series. Written by Adrian Underhill, it gives a systematic and practical approach to helping students improve their pronunciation. The book, a standard now on many training courses, features "discovery" activities, which are extremely useful for teachers who want to understand English pronunciation, and "classroom toolkits", which offer lots of good practical ideas. This is really a "learn by doing" book.
Additionally, the Sound Foundations phonemic chart is an extremely clever way of organising the main phonemes in English as to how and where they are produced. No wonder it appears on so many classroom walls around the world.
Macmillan have produced a new, updated version of this book with the welcome addition of a CD that contains examples, making the whole package a must-read, must-listen and must-have for any teacher's bookshelf.
The Practice of English Language Teaching, 4th edition Jeremy Harmer
This "big blue book" is really one of the few books on the market that has something about everything in ELT. The Practice of English Language Teaching (PELT) is now in it's fourth edition and has been going for more than twenty years. The author, Jeremy Harmer, is really an expert in the field and his descriptions and explanations of different aspects of language teaching are clear and readable. This is a book you can dip in and out of and learn something new each time.
PELT covers all the important issues, such as English as a world language, professional development, learner autonomy and teaching with technology. It also has a good amount of practical teaching ideas that reflect current methodological practice. Finally, there is a DVD showing extracts from real classes and discussions between the author and teachers. This is probably more useful for training purposes, but teachers who prefer a "show, don't tell" approach to learning something new will get a lot out of these clips.
It's no surprise that this book is obligatory reading on so many teacher-training courses around the world. However, we find its use extends beyond a course. It deserves to be a part of any self-respecting language teacher's library.
Grammar Games by Mario Rinvolucri
More Grammar Games by Mario Rinvolucri and Paul Davis
These days, teachers are spoilt for choice when it comes to games and other fun activities for teaching grammar. Many coursebooks feature photocopiable grammar activities, and there are lots of interesting grammar resource books on the market as well as oodles of stuff on the Internet. Twenty-five years ago, things were quite different. This is what made Grammar Games (Cambridge University Press, 1984) such a big hit in its day and put author Mario Rinvolucri on the map for a whole generation of English language teachers. The follow-up, More Grammar Games (Cambridge University Press, 1995), written with Paul Davis, is just as good.
Looking at these books today, it's still amazing how many of the activities stand the test of time and have become classics in the communicative classroom. Grammar auctions, noughts and crosses, grammar tennis - all the oldies and goodies are there. Activities that incorporate spatial and kinaesthetic intelligences as well as translation were very innovative at the time, and they still look fresh today. "Present Perfect Love Story", "Betting on Grammar Horses", "Verbs for Extroverts" ... these activities and more tend to be easy to do and light on preparation.
If you don't have these either of these books, they are well worth including on your bookshelf. If you already own them, take them down again and have a flick through. We're sure you'll rediscover an activity for tomorrow's class!