What were the last 10 teaching books you used?

Last week my boss Martin Sketchley (eltexperiences) was sitting next to me compiling his list of recommended reading for the CELTA. It made me think about resource and reference books in general, and how I use them. I thought it would be an interesting self-development task to look at the last 10 ELT books I used, and explore what they tell me about my teaching.

I’ve listed the books below and written a short comment about how I’ve used them. After the list, there’s a bit of reflection. I thoroughly recommend this task to other teachers, I was surprised by what I noticed!

My last 10 books…


The Book of Pronunciation – J Marks and T Bowen

I talked about how good this book is in my recent post about phonology. The sooner you buy it, the sooner I can start talking about something else. It’s amazing, trust me.

How often do I use it? Daily if I could, but that would be overkill! As often as possible

The book in three words: BEST RESOURCE EVER

Illustrated Phrasal Verbs – A Betsis and L Mamas

This is a funny one. I use it to design ‘test-teach-test’ format lessons on phrasal verbs. Almost all the activities are gap fills or matching tasks. The illustrations are pretty good and you can put together a lesson from it quite quickly. It serves a purpose, but it’s underused in our staffroom.

How often do I use it? About once a month

The book in three words: TEST-TEACH-TEST

Teaching Grammar Creatively – G Gerngross and H Puchta

A fairly recent addition to the pile of books on my desk. I used to call upon Teaching English Grammar (Jim Scrivener) for simple grammar explanations, until I found this. It’s more versatile and provides a lot of pattern practice activities. I almost feel like I’m tricking students into doing grammar when I use this book as the focus is on using the grammar forms without the need to explicitly teach them.

How often do I use it? Twice a week (but I don’t use a text book so I have to find a lot of my own grammar related activities)

The book in three words: FUN, ORGANISED EFFECTIVELY

Grammar for English Language Teachers – M Parrott

This is my choice of grammar reference book because it was recommended by my DipTESOL tutor. I’d like to say that it’s helped me get to grips with the difference between phrasal and prepositional verbs, but I perpetually get this wrong. In fact I get a lot of grammar related things wrong, so this book is pretty indispensable! The best thing about it is that it gives some anticipated problems that learners might have when encountering certain grammar points. It got me through the DipTESOL written exam.

How often do I use it? Once a week I guess.

The book in three words: COMPREHENSIVE, COFFEE-STAINED

The Minimax Teacher – J Taylor

I used this a lot when I first started my current job. The lessons are 45 minutes in length, and some activities from Minimax can usually be extended to fit the time phrase. It’s full of low prep and personalised activities that get students engaged. Over the years I’ve given about half the activities in this book a go, a majority have gone down well.

How often do I use it? About once a month

The book in three words: CREATIVE, STUDENT INVOLVEMENT

Exploring British Culture – J Smith

There’s some great activities in this book, particularly for intermediate level and upwards. A great resource for explaining things like the UK education system, the welfare state, UK geography, etc.

How often do I use it? Once a week – but I normally teach groups of students for only 1-2 weeks IN England so it’s very relevant.

The book in three words: GOOD UK INTRODUCTION

Grammar dictation – R Wajnryb

I found this book tucked away on our grammar shelf, largely ignored. I had a crisis of confidence about 8 months ago when I realised just how little I’d taught grammar, especially as I was about a month away from finishing the DipTESOL! This book was a really quick fix. The simple dictation tasks provide a good context for the grammar forms, and you can build practice and production tasks around them quite easily.

How often do I use it? Not much recently, but it’s there for my next grammar anxiety attack!

The book in three words: A CONFIDENCE BOOSTER

Lessons with Laughter – G Woolard

There’s nothing like injecting a bit of humour into classes. The final 45 minute slot on a Friday is normally when I decide to torture my students with the British sense of humour. Here’s my personal favourite from this chortle-fest:

Q: Why is a banana like a jersey?

A: Because it’s easy to slip on…

I think students can get a bit of confidence from understanding humour, particularly puns.

How often do I use it? When I need cheering up. It’s more for my benefit than the students!

The book in three words: CHUCKLE-TEACH-CHUCKLE

Test your Idioms – P Watcyn-Jones

Idioms are by far my favourite thing to teach. This book has some great introductory activities, especially for a ‘test-teach-test’ format. It’s downside is that it’s not as organised as well it could be – often a group of random idioms with no connection to each other are taught on one page as ‘noun phrases’. Despite this, it’s still worth using and can be adapted.

How often do I use it? Every few months

The book in three words: GOOD FOR CHUNKS

Instant Lessons Elementary – D Howard-Williams

This Peter Watcyn-Jones guy is pretty good. He has these ‘test your vocabulary’ books and edits this ‘Instant Lessons’ series. I’d never actually heard of him until my current role, I like his stuff though. This book is a quick fix. It’s good for my last lessons of the day. Most of the ideas are pretty communicative and the tasks in the elementary level book work particularly well.

How often do I use it? I use one book from the series maybe once a month.


What does this list say about my teaching?

  1. I teach more grammar than I thought. I always kick myself for avoiding grammar, but on reflection it seems I make more of an effort than I realised in this area. Still a lot to improve on though.
  2. I don’t mind using older resources. There’s over 500 books in our staffroom, a majority of which are gathering dust. I’ve found some real gems, some are nearly 30 years old.
  3. I’ve learnt a lot from my DipTESOL. Pronunciation is an important aspect of my teaching these days.
  4. I like TEST-TEACH-TEST format a lot. I use it often when teaching vocabulary.
  5. I enjoy sharing my culture with learners.
  6. I’m reading less theory. These are all practical resources which help with planning, but maybe I’m neglecting the pedagogy that underpins practice. I do use books that bridge this, such as Swan’s ‘Learner English’, but my interest in ELT theory has decreased a bit since I finished the DipTESOL. This will probably change when I start my next job.
  7. I listen to advice from others. Three of my ten books were recommendations from other teachers. The Minimax Teacher has been perhaps the best of the lot.

I hope some of you will find time to compile your own lists. I’d love to read your reflections!

Categories: General, lists

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2 replies

  1. I love this list, Peter! As you know, I haven’t been in the ELT game for long, but as I am allowed to dip into the CELTA Resource Room at the Berlin School of English before I start working there, I have borrowed a few seriously vintage books, and find them just as helpful as the shiny, colourful ones from publishers like the one I used to work for!
    For example, I found a tiny Cornelsen book called ‘Business English for beginners’ and it’s full of bits and bobs which are great for filling the 5 or 10 minutes I seem to always have left at the end of my lessons at the moment… It’s also written specifically for the German market, so the German rubric is helpful for the lower-level learners in my class.
    I need to get digging in the main staff room once I start teaching at the Berlin School of English properly; I bet they also have some gems kicking around.
    In terms of improving my own knowledge about grammar, though (you scared me by mentioning phrasal and prepositional verbs, as I’m not sure I know the difference), one of our CELTA tutors recommended ‘About Language’ by Thornbury, so I am going to see how I get on with that. If it fails, I’ll be straight here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya! yeah, about language is great. DON’T GET SCARED! I’m still not sure there is a difference, they sound the same to me whenever I read about them… that Business English book sounds cool, I still haven’t had the chance to teach BE. Good luck with the first few weeks/months of teaching, I’m sure you’ll be awesome!


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