My top 10 EFL coursebooks and resource books ever! Can you add number 10?
Every teacher has a selection of favourite coursebook and resource book lessons, the ones you repeat again and again. These lessons seem to engage a plethora of interests found amongst your learners and it’s these lessons that, due to your familiarity and enthusiasm for them, always seem to strike gold, silver or at the very least bronze on a late friday afternoon.
I have supplemented most, if not all of the examples below with other published materials and some of my own ideas over the years. They’ve grown into better lessons over time but their origins still come from a good starting point. I love good materials when they’re good, however it’s like when people ask you what genre of music you’re into and you say anything that’s good – for me that’s not an answer with a self-conscious subtext, it’s an honest answer. I do like any music that I think works and the same applies for materials.
Good training, good salaries, good methods, good ideas, good communication skills, confidence, charm, charisma, kindness, empathy, intelligence, awareness and so on are all vital aspects of good teaching, however, you could be lacking a little in some of these categories but still, kind of be saved, by the content of the materials you’re using. I say ‘kind of’, because if you’re not cut out to be a teacher, then relying entirely on someone else’s materials will not help you in the end, but can provide a temporary smoke screen. Good materials are needed and in the hands of a good teacher, can often be fashioned into something great.
One of my first Line Managers (who was my Line Manager for all of one hour) told me with a churlish arrogance that all great teachers have one lesson that always wins and followed that by saying he wouldn’t show me his! I don’t agree with him – I think great teachers need more than one lesson that always wins, and that they should share this knowledge with their peers – let’s help each other out folks – ‘teaching’ and not ‘teacher’ should be the winner!
So without wasting anymore of your precious time let me share my top 10 (we’ll 9 actually, but we’ll get to that) EFL coursebooks and resource books that I have used again and again and again! So in no apparent order here they are:
This is not one lesson but a resource book of 40 conversation lessons. On the front cover it says: ‘Straightforward, easy to use materials for busy teachers’ and that sums it up nicely. The lessons, although sometimes lacking in clear language aims, are always stimulating and cause great debate and discussion. From taboo subjects ranging from designer babies, gay marriage, prostitution to legalising drugs, there is something here for most. Do, of course, be careful and conscious of your learners. I didn’t use this book when teaching a group of Mexican Nuns, for example!
2. Inside Out (Upper Intermediate – Kay & Jones – Macmillan) – original edition
I can’t put my finger directly on why I like this coursebook so much but I dip in and out of it all the time. From the first page of Unit 1 (Images) we see four photos – The Berlin Wall coming down, the first man on the moon, Nelson Mandela being freed from prison and the Sex Pistols playing live. It’s an epic start with an attached listening focus of people talking about memorable moments followed by a personalised speaking task asking learners to do the same. It’s a good, clean, cross-cultural, relevant opener and the rest of the book is of equal quality. The four in a row in Review 1 (Unit 7) on verbs & adjectives + prepositions is a favourite of mine. This is a good coursebook! End of.
As above this is a book I dip in and out of… A lot! There’s loads of great stuff in here, particularly like Unit 3 – City. Page 26 ‘Where in the world’ has texts taken from Lonely Planet publications and the language is rich, authentic and ends in a clever little interactive writing task where learners get to consolidate the lexical focus – always works a treat! Unit 11 – Stories is also brilliant with listening plus a creative group writing task called the Glass Elevator (page 107). All through the book there are lots of anecdote tasks that I use in my one to one lessons frequently for extended speaking and fluency practice. This book is getting old and falling apart which is the best review of all.
4. Outcomes series (Dellar & Walkley – Heinle ELT)
This series of coursebooks is a definite favourite, although I’ve only ever used the Elementary coursebook once. My favourite element in all the books is the range of regional and international (non-native accents/ dialects) in the listening materials. The reality that our students are now going to come into a range of accents is an important factor often overlooked in other coursebooks. I remember a Liverpool FC fanatical South Korean student I once taught in an advanced class. He spent months trying to buy tickets to a big game and finally landed some tickets to see Liverpool at home to Chelsea. When he came back the following week he looked shell shocked and explained to me that although he had a great time at Anfield, his trip to Liverpool in general had been a harsh reality check as he couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. The class roared with laughter when he retold how he had struggled to understand directions, but I could see that this had actually knocked his confidence! Of course even English speakers struggle with strong accents, but at the very least to help prepare our learners, we can encourage an awareness of different accents by presenting them alongside RP.
On top of this the coursebook has its roots dipped in the lexical approach of which I am a keen follower of and from my own experience I know that most learners benefit from simply building vocabulary and I like teaching it. It’s a joy to input expressions, phrases, collocations and there is an immediacy to learning lexis that learners really benefit from and enjoy.
Okay! What this books lacks in small, detailed and rich lesson ideas, it makes up for by having literally so many ideas (no less than 700 ) neatly divided into four sections: Conversation, functions, grammar and vocabulary. This is biblical in EFL terms. I use it for its activities, to trigger my own ideas and it’s great for fillers, warmers and extra practice of certain grammatical structures. I particularly like the vocabulary task (page 120) – someone who. This involves the teacher reading out (for example) ‘someone who always drops/breaks things’. The students confer in teams, rather like they do on University Challenge, then write their adj (e.g. clumsy and/or accident prone). When all 20 from the list are complete the teacher goes through the answers and then the students have to reconstruct the actual definitions (almost like a dictogloss). Simple, engaging and useful. This book lives in my bag and goes everywhere with me!
6. Check Your English Vocabulary for IELTS: All You Need to Pass Your Exams (Wyatt – Bloomsbury)
This makes the list because I’ve used page 44 more than any other lesson in my life. It’s titled interview expressions but is neatly divided into 8 conversation functions that can be used in any given context:
3) Asking somebody for their opinion
4) Giving yourself time to think
6) Asking for clarification
7) saying something in another way
8) Summing up
Here the language is relatively formal so to juxtapose it I created an informal, colloquial equivalent (which I’ll blog about soon) and also added the function of sounding interested with phrases like ‘really? ‘Seriously?’ ‘That’s interesting!’ ‘I had no idea!’ The rest of the units are all driven by the kind of subjects that crop up again in the IELTS test. It’s definitely a must if teaching IELTS, but it works in a more general sense too. It’s a goodun!
Again this book is falling apart too. It’s a little old but it’s brilliant. Great reading materials such as EAT SLEEP BUY DIE about the impact of mass consumerism and globalisation sure to vaguely politicise your learners or at least very quickly divide the class into left leaning and right leaning. If the class is full of wealthy, business obsessed teenagers I always try to balance things out by muttering badly remembered Marx quotes under my breath! Then we have the Cult of Celebrity adorned with a fitting photo of J Lo’s behind which is interesting and thought provoking (the article and not J Lo’s rear (although if you read OK magazine you might think otherwise)). In fact the whole coursebook is full of good reading material, I love Unit 6 – Newspeak, that looks at journalistic language found in headlines, puns, tabloids and broadsheets. A really good unit to look at before bringing newspapers into the classroom. Be warned though, it’s very advanced. Great writing section at the back that corresponds with each unit. The range of lessons is impressive and I dip into it for academic purposes and the colloquial everyday language sections at the end of each unit! I heart this coursebook from top to bottom!
I mostly use the Upper Intermediate edition and dip into it all the time. These books are divided into topic based lexis, but on top of that the sections on idiomatic expressions and varieties of English are really useful. Although it’s not always to be found in my bag, it’s definitely a regular! It’s just one of those resources that you can quickly photocopy and add to the mix depending on the context of your lesson.
Quite an obvious choice I know, but this book doesn’t contain any lesson plans so it’s kind of meant for a different list, however, if it was lighter it would always be in my bag. I occasionally get asked questions by students I can’t quite answer, mainly grammar ones and here you’ll find your answer. I have to thank this book for making me sound pretty clever over the years!
10. ________________________________________________________________ I’m going to leave this one blank as I’d like to hear about materials that you like. It would be wonderful if you could tweet or comment on your favourite coursebook or resource book and explain why…
Oh and FYI (heard a group of girls saying this on the bus, acronyms are creeping into speech too) I’m not a materials obsessed teacher. I actually think a lot materials are are a little dull, often unclear, rushed and certainly many now are dated. Often I don’t use any materials as I’ve been in the game a while but when I first began teaching I’m thankful that II had published materials to fall back on.
Right that was long blog, so well done if you made it this far. (Please insert appropriate emoticon such as a musical instrument and winking aciiiid face) O&O (Over and out!)