This is our final post in this wonderful series of Ten Books that have inspired the teaching practices of various colleagues in the ELT community. Adam Simpson is our author for this elegant round up that echoes the work of all our other contributors as well. Adam teaches English at Sabancı University, on the outskirts of Istanbul. He is an award winning teacher and blogger.
The TDSIG is very proud to host this post, and we hope you have enjoyed the series. For those of you interested in having a list of all the books listed in this series, I will put together a bibliography at the end of the week of all the books that were mentioned by our contributors and put it up as a downloadable PDF. For now, enjoy reading Adam’s Round-Up.
Ten books that shaped my teaching
by Adam Simpson
When I think about teacher development, I think of the huge changes that have taken place in the past decade or so. Of course, we still have the old methods, by which I mean books, conferences and the like. To these fantastic resources we can now add the explosion of opportunities brought about through the technological developments of recent years; I’m thinking specifically of our ability to directly connect with our colleagues around the world, in the blink of an eye, through the likes of webinars and social media platforms. To this, I would of course add our ability to share our ideas with fellow professionals around the world through blogging, which brings me to the reason I’m writing this tenth and final post in what has been a fascinating and illuminating collection.
What a series of posts this has been! As a result of the aforementioned explosion in teacher development opportunities, I’m familiar with all those who have shared their favorite books with you in a way I would never have imagined: many I’ve met in person, all have served to inspire me in my career. With this in mind, it’s an honor to be able to round of this series with a collection of books that have not only proven invaluable in my own professional development, but also build on the suggestions made by the other nine.
A general rule of thumb when it comes to books about language teaching, but one well worth adhering to, is as follows: if it has the words ‘How to’ in the title and the name ‘Thornbury’ in there somewhere, it’s worth having. What I love about this book is that provides structured activities to get students speaking in class, as well as ideas for developing confidence in using English outside the classroom. This choice was inspired by Malu Sciamarelli, who chose The Language Teacher’s Voice by Alan Maley. Malu notes: ‘Just recently, I found out how important the voice is for language teachers, and it made aware of the valuable asset that we put to daily use.’ While the connection may appear tenuous at first, we can see that there is a connection between how we use our voice and how we teach speaking.
I work in an academic English setting and consider Hyland to be the king of EAP; he delivers in some style with this title. In the book he introduces the major theories, approaches and controversies in the field of EAP, gathers together influential readings from the other key names in the discipline, such as John Swales and Ann Johns, and provides numerous exercises as practical study tools that encourage in students a critical approach to this subject. Tyson Seburn inspired this choice, having selected EAP Essentials: A Teacher’s Guide to Principles and Practice by Alexander, Argent & Spencer and what an absolute belter of a book that is, too.
Another choice and another stone cold classic, this time from an one of the living legends of our profession. Ur delivers a work that is ideal either for initial teacher training or as a reference guide for practicing teachers. The book combines theory and practice, with each unit containing tasks that encourage reflection and discussion, as well as action tasks such as classroom observation and practice. In this case, Anthony Gaughan‘s choice of About Language: Tasks for Teachers of English by Scott Thornbury inspired my selection: ‘…for me Scott Thornbury is the person from whom I learnt that I could actually make sense of language as an academic subject, not just intuitively.’ Well said, Anthony.
Almond’s text offers guidance on how to teach English to language students with drama. It also covers a wide range of subjects for teachers including how to plan class work, choosing appropriate texts, working with students with theatrical techniques, modifying dialogue and lines for different levels of student, stage management, and how these all work together to improve language appreciation and learning. Anna Musielak‘s choice was similar; Drama by Charlyn Wessels. Anna had this to say about her selection: ‘I have always loved to use drama in the ELT classroom and that book showed me how to incorporate drama not only to improve spoken communication skills but also to teach literature and prepare various performances with my students.’
Dimitris Primalis had already bagged a classic in his choices, namely Implementing the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis: ‘As a non-native EFL teacher I have always looked for ways to help my students avoid translating word for word from L1 and help them build their confidence in speaking and writing skills. The books is full of practical ideas that have helped dozens of my students to become lexically richer.’ Fortunately, I was able to choose this other, equally excellent Lewis title for my ten. In The Lexical Approach he developed contemporary thinking, synthesized the best insights of previous theory, corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, while also discussing modern approaches to grammar. Although more than twenty years old now, it still makes for compelling reading.
The wonderful Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom by Jane Sherman, as chosen by Antonia Clare, inspired my selection. Although this book was only released earlier this year, it already warrants a place among the greats. Keddie’s text explores the principles, techniques and practical ideas for teaching English with video and includes suggestions for using and creating online video in the language classroom.
Hey, this is so obvious it shouldn’t be included here, I hear you say! Well, the fact is that this book, as much as any other, enabled me to get my head around grammar when I was starting out. I may no longer espouse the principles of compartmentalizing grammar in the way we see here, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I learned a great deal from this title. My decision to choose Murphy’s classic was inspired by James Taylor, who selected Grammar Practice Activities by Penny Ur. James had this to say: ‘I love resource books, and this one just might be the best. I can’t count how many times I’ve grabbed this so students can get some extra practice, and it’s never failed to provide me with exactly what I need.’ Both these titles have great merit as far as I’m concerned.
If you have a fairly fixed idea of what an activity book for language teachers should be like, this book will shatter those illusions. 52 asks the question: can one new teaching idea per week make a difference? This innovative book uses radical texts, subversive images and lateral thinking to suggest new ways of doing things inside the classroom and to prompt teachers and learners to think differently about the world outside the classroom. As such, it is a spiritual cousin of the title suggested by Chuck Sandy, Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner
Anyone who’s taken the DELTA course will be familiar with this practical reference guide which compares the relevant features of a learner’s own language with English, helping teachers to predict and understand the problems their students have. Learner English has chapters focusing on major problems of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and other errors. Dating back to the turn of the century, this classic title has stood the test of time! This selection was inspired by Ros Wright, who admittedly also included it in her list (sorry, I’m cheating a bit on this one).
So, finally we come to my selection! This is a book that I’ve been championing over the course of a decade since it was first released. Consider the following statements about second language vocabulary acquisition; which do you agree with?
- In learning another language, vocabulary is not as important as grammar or other areas.
- Using word lists to learn L2 vocabulary is unproductive.
- Presenting new vocabulary in semantic sets facilitates learning.
- The use of translations to learn new vocabulary should be discouraged.
- Guessing words from context is an excellent strategy for learning L2 vocabulary.
- The best vocabulary learners make use of one or two really specific vocabulary learning strategies.
- The best dictionary for L2 learners is a monolingual dictionary.
- Teachers, textbooks, and curricula cover L2 vocabulary adequately.
Regardless of what feelings you may have about each of these, you will no doubt have given each at least some thought during your time as a teacher. Personally, I regard my career as being split into two halves; before I read Vocabulary Myths by Keith S. Folse, and after. In this wonderful book Folse breaks down the teaching of second language vocabulary into the eight commonly held myths detailed above. Chapter by chapter, he debunks each myth, through a straightforward and easy to follow presentation of what empirical research has shown on the topic, followed by a list of what teachers can do in their classrooms to facilitate true vocabulary acquisition. Each chapter is beautifully couched in descriptions of Folse’s own classroom experiences, making what he says immediately relate to his audience. Whatever point you’re at in your language teaching, I can’t recommend this title strongly enough.