beach reading

So the Summer holidays are upon us and it’s time for some R + R.  But what should dedicated ELT professionals be loading onto their Kindles or packing into their beach bags?  This is a time when the teacher can step back and think about the big picture, rather than worrying about the materials for the next lesson. Here’s my take on some essential Summer reading…

Grammar GamesGrammar Games, Mario Rinvolucri

This is a classic, and I’m sure a lot of readers here have got this on their bookshelf already, but it’s a book that rewards re-reading.  It was one of the first books that I bought and I remember how it really helped me as I was starting out with new classes.  One of the best things you can do with this book is pick it up again after a year or so – you are sure to find some new ideas.  Some of the games which didn’t really fit in with your programme then are bound to be just what you are looking for now.

Online teachers can save themselves a lot of time taking these approaches and adapting them for their current courses.  Think of how some could be used with BigBlueButton or Adobe Connect, or maybe a Hangout with some learners.  Some of the games could even be set as forum topics in Moodle.

a-game-of-thronesA Game of Thrones, George Martin

For those of you who have been teaching English on one of Saturn’s moons for the past few years, Game of Thrones is quite big on Planet Earth at the moment.  That makes it excellent material for the language teacher and at the same time gives you bragging rights for actually reading the book of a popular TV series!

For intermediate learners, just pick out any of the descriptive passages.  Cloze tests or synonym work on the adjectives can provide a welcome break from the standard coursebook.  If you have got a course with a lot of fans, then the passage can be a springboard for some great discussions.

If you are running a Moodle course, then why not set up a Game of Thrones forum and get your learners discussing a different passage or character each week?  If you have more advanced learners, then you could pick out the specialist vocabulary and look at the origins of the words.  Maybe make a crossword of them, or get the learners to create a glossary.

going_dutch_front_coverGoing Dutch in Beijing, Mark McCrum

Frankly, every ELT course should include an exam on the contents of this book.  It’s crammed full with snippets of culture and language that every language teacher should know (especially when dealing with a mixed-nationality class!)  The author has used a Gatling gun approach to take on as many of the world’s nationalities as possible and so there are a few points which come across as rather sweeping generalisations, but it’s interesting to note that many of the comments on the Internet follow the format, “Great book, but he got my country wrong!”  Hey, the truth can be painful at times!

The short sections lend themselves to warm ups, guess the endings, and discussion springboard exercises.  They also make great fillers which the teacher can use to break up the lesson.  You could leave out references to the country and get the learners to identify the nationality from clues in the text.  Or you could pick out those applying to the nationality of the class and get them talking about it.  Business English learners in particular like doing this.

Book CoverPerfect Phrases for Customer Service, Robert Bacal

This is one that isn’t just for Business English teachers – it<#s really useful for any teachers as it gives some really clever insights into how language works.  Freelance teachers will find some good ideas in keeping their paymasters happy, but obviously this book is a goldmine of dialogue practice for teachers who specialise in 1 to 1 teaching.

For those who teaching Business English who aren’t necessarily experts in the business world, this book fills in the gaps left by most coursebooks.  There are proper explanations of the scenarios, and the clear signposting of the objectives in each of the dialogues.  The section on strategies is particularly interesting and lists some practical concepts which can also be used in classroom management,

Teaching UnpluggedTeaching Unplugged, Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury

If you are the sort of teacher who gets frustrated by coursebooks, or finds that materials are somehow unrealistic, then this might just be the book for you.  Subtitled Dogme in English Language Teaching, this book looks at a method of teaching using very few materials.  Scott Thornbury, who coined the phrase “Dogme ELT” likens the style of teaching to that of the Danish Dogme cinematic style, using no props or special effects.

The aim is to create a style of teaching lead by communication between student and teacher, and driven by the student’s needs.  In many schools such an approach is unrealistic, but any teacher has ample opportunities to exploit this technique at various stages during the lesson.  It’s even possible to introduce Dogme moments into an online teaching course.  In short, the techniques here can benefit every teacher, no matter what style they prefer to employ.

cbx01A new coursebook, A.N. Other

For the last book there is a huge choice…

There are hundreds of coursebooks out there and teachers mostly go through life just using a handful.  Whatever level you’re teaching or whatever your focus is, there are many options available and, even if it’s not immediately possible to change your coursebook, you will certainly find some good ideas in another approach.  Even online teachers can benefit from this, as there is always something to learn.

Check out some of the publishers websites, or do a search on Amazon.  If you are on Twitter, throw out a post with the hashtag #TEFL or #ELT asking for suggestions.  Pick out something that catches your eye and see what you can learn.

A final thought

It can be easy for ELT professionals to live in a bubble – going from lesson to lesson, course to course.  Checking out other sources of inspiration can set your lessons apart from the crowd.  As the Starks frequently warn us, “Winter is coming!”  We need to be prepared for it!

(Clicking on all of the above images will take you to the Amazon page for the respective book.  The last image will take you to a selection of coursebooks.)

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