Don’t you just wish that there was a guide for teaching English?
I have good news—there is! And I bet that’s why you’re here.
Unless you’re an all-knowing superhuman, what you need is a good ESL textbook.
A great ESL book can be a wonderful asset to help maximize class time.
It can help you brainstorm effective activities, set up games, create targeted lesson plans and give specialized assistance to different types of students.
Sounds great! But you might be having the best kind of problem: Too many options.
Between Amazon, teacher message boards and never-ending resource rooms, it can be hard to decide on just one or two textbooks to use.
And, hey, we teachers have to make our money go the distance.
Not to worry! I’ve compiled a list of some of the very best ESL textbooks for you to use in your classroom. Whether you’re teaching kids or adults, beginners or more advanced students, these books will help you make the most of your class time.
How Do You Choose a Good ESL Textbook?
When I was choosing the best ESL textbook for the classroom to include in this list, I took a few factors into consideration.
I’m sure you don’t want to be limited to just my choices. And so, I’ll share the three most important questions to consider when you’re choosing a textbook in the future!
Is the book written by professionals or experts?
You want to look for ESL books that were written by a professional (or multiple professionals) who’s been in the English teaching business for a long time.
They know their stuff and have lots to offer. They know the needs of both new teachers who are just getting started, and well-seasoned teachers who are looking for a way to spice up their existing curriculum.
How is this book specialized for children or for adults?
The list is broken down into two different categories: textbooks that were made with children in mind (or have characteristics that would work well with children), and textbooks that were designed to accommodate older and adult students.
The authors of these books understand that teaching to kids and teaching to adults have their unique challenges and therefore have created textbooks specializing in one group or the other.
Is this book flexible?
In today’s classroom, flexibility is a must. Gone are the days of teaching out of a textbook for the entire class period. Gone are the days where it’s believed that every student is at the same learning level. We know that teaching and learning are more rounded experiences that must be filled with activity and variety in order to maximize learning.
With that in mind, each of these textbooks is extra-flexible and meant to be used and consulted when needed in different situations. It’s not necessary to do every single chapter in order for them to be used effectively!
And if you want another effective tool for teaching students of all ages, why not give FluentU a try?
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
12 Best ESL Textbooks for Teaching Students Both Young and Old
Best ESL Textbooks for Teaching Children and Younger Students
“ESL Activities and Mini-Books for Every Classroom” by Kama Einhorn
At a Glance:
This textbook from Scholastic is jam-packed with activities and other fun resources that teachers can use to liven up their classrooms.
Whether you’re working with students who just need to brush up on their English skills or students who have never spoken the language before, there’s sure to be an activity in here that’ll benefit all levels and learning styles!
The book takes teachers from the first-day jitters of a brand new classroom, all the way through to different core concepts and vocabulary that kids should know by the end of the unit.
It’s jam-packed with useful information, sensitive to different levels of learners and potential cultural differences and comes with mini-books and flashcards that you can copy and use in class.
Before you purchase, be aware that this isn’t a book of activities, but rather is a great resource to get advice and information on how to teach to young children. The meat of the book consists of the aforementioned mini-books and flashcards, that can be used as supplementary activities for your main lesson plan.
- Mini-books for the classroom: One of the best features of this book is the not-so-mini collection of mini-books that it comes with. Accompanying each chapter of the textbook are books to help assist students in the early stages of literacy. These little booklets are patterned, predictable and filled with content that coincides with the chapter’s thematic content.
- Help with starting the class on the right foot: This book comes with an extremely useful section that has advice on how to run the first week of class. This section has tips on how to make students feel welcome and help usher students into the English language learning process.
For example, one piece of advice that this section of the book gives is to take a picture of the whole class on the first day and give each student a copy of the picture with everyone’s name labeled on the picture. This way, the students are able to grow familiar with each other and begin to build a foundation for socializing!
“Children’s ESL Curriculum: Learning English with Laughter” by Ms. Daisy A. Stocker M.Ed. & Dr. George A. Stocker D.D.S.
At a Glance:
Laughter is a universal language. In this textbook, the authors know the power of a good laugh and they use it to help children learn.
This book is part of a set, and each book is comprised of a student book to introduce students to new concepts with your guidance, a practice workbook for independent work and a teacher’s guide to help you along and provide more tips. It’s suggested that you purchase all three, but if you want just one, I recommend going with the student book or the workbook.
These books are designed for students under seven years of age, who have never been introduced to the English language before. The student book and practice book are loaded with exercises and activities that are designed to let kids have fun while learning English.
Help your youngest students learn the basics of the English language through coloring activities, rhymes, mazes, puzzles and other fun English learning experiences for kids.
- Specially designed with very small kids in mind: The letters in these books are very large in order to suit younger learners. Inside the book are lots of tracing worksheets to help guide younger learners through writing their first English words.
- Fun worksheets with elements of a coloring book: Because this book is focused on younger learners, it comes with a lot of entertaining worksheets that have oral directions to help students with listening to the English language along the way.
For example, a coloring worksheet might have specific directions that the teacher should read aloud to students. Another instructs students to color two balls out of the three illustrated balls in orange.
“Assessment and ESL: An Alternative Approach” by Barbara Law
At a Glance:
Assessment is necessary in order for teachers to know where their students are in the learning process, but traditional test-taking may not always yield the most accurate results. While this bestselling book isn’t a traditional textbook to be used in the classroom, it’s a great resource for teachers who work with ESL students and are looking for an alternative way of assessing their students’ progress.
In this book, the authors focus on giving teachers methods of documenting and tracking the learning process of English learners. The book contains many example stories of students and their unique struggles to illustrate key points.
Written in a friendly and engaging way, this book will help you implement assessment strategies that are realistic, contextual and allow for errors—which, the authors maintain, are an important part of the learning process.
- Focuses on four themes of learning a language: This book discusses the themes of real language, integrated and whole language, a facilitating environment and a learning continuum.
The authors demonstrate the different types of assessment that go alongside these four themes. Here’s a quick snippet to help you get a sense of the authors’ realistic approach to assessment:
“Real Language is referring to language that has a realistic purpose. Students are learning the language for more reasons than just to please the teacher.”
“ESL Teacher’s Activities Kit” by Elizabeth Claire
At a Glance:
Don’t be misled by the fact that this book was written in 1998. It still has tons to offer and is perfect for ESL teachers who are just starting out in the classroom.
This ESL book includes simple yet highly effective language activities that are engaging for kids of all ages.
It’s chock-full of activities for kids in an ESL classroom, starting with a set of Total Physical Response activities, which will get them active and learning with their whole bodies.
The book follows a logical progression, organized from the very first vocabulary kids will need to learn (like basic teacher commands and verbs they’ll use around the classroom) all the way up to games, activities, crafts, English integrated into other content areas, even social and cultural activities and so much more—with an emphasis throughout on physical activity.
- Thorough, with clear instruction: This book is incredibly thorough, and provides step-by-step guidance and very clear instructions for each activity. Each activity clearly states the age group that it’ll work best with, the items that the teacher may need and the learning level that it’s appropriate with.
- Contains many different kinds of activities: There’s an absolutely huge range of activities in this book, which vary from worksheets to outside playground games. All are really great for helping shy students to get outside of their comfort zones and begin to speak English!
- Includes additional tools and tips for teachers: This book also comes with a convenient checklist of grammatical and language structures along with tips on how to run an ESL classroom as smoothly and effectively as possible.
“Let’s Go” series by Ritsuko Nakata, Karen Frazier, Barbara Hoskins & Carolyn Graham
At a Glance: Adding some fun and color can always make studies far less tedious for young learners. The “Let’s Go” series appeals to the K-6 group with bright, engaging visuals and an accompanying audio CD.
The book is targeted at children who are just starting to learn the language, and so the content focuses primarily on sparking their interest to engage and interact with English. The main purpose is to have your students speaking and participating in conversations. The reading and writing activities and exercises are simple and direct, formatted to promote your students’ confidence.
Each workbook includes an audio CD featuring read-alouds and songs. These can be used to supplement lessons or as stand-alone group activities. They can surely get your students up and moving and chanting along!
You might find the CD recordings somewhat dated or too simple for your students—if that’s the case, you can easily pair the book with YouTube videos or music, for a more modern option.
Be sure that you’re purchasing a new copy of the book, as some reviewers have complained of receiving a secondhand workbook or of not getting the accompanying CD. No worries, though—there are additional resources online for your students to use, including a downloadable version of the CD that comes with the book.
You can also find a colorful online dictionary and downloadable extras like coloring pages, videos and more!
- Audio content: The audio CD works to improve learner’s listening skills and encourage vocal use of the language. Songs, chants and drum tracks are used to keep studies invigorating and practice pronunciation and intonation.
The authors base the significance of this resource on the belief that children can apply their “natural skills of music and movement” to language learning.
“Oxford Discover” series by Lesley Koustaff & Susan Rivers
At a Glance: Striving to make learning both interesting and relatable for children, this fun six-book series can certainly make English learning more compelling. It can be particularly appealing for the deep thinkers in your class.
Like most other ESL books targeted at kids, these books also teach concepts in a concise manner while offering plenty of practice with varied exercises. The content also includes information concerning the world outside the classroom, from the environment to modern technology.
The books also provide plenty of critical thinking questions to spur children’s natural curiosity. Such thought-provoking questions are frequently included to promote students’ intrigue; if used as a general classroom activity, they can also boost willingness to speak in the classroom.
The teacher’s pack includes a teaching guidebook, audio CDs for classroom use and visual materials such as posters.
Besides offering tips and strategies for lesson plans, the guidebook also includes resources such as phonics worksheets and assessment charts. You also get access to an electronically accessible classroom presentation tool that you can project on a screen.
- Includes valuable teacher resources: The teacher’s pack can make a big difference in your lessons. There’s a lot provided, primarily for your comfort, that makes it much easier to navigate through the book and track your students’ progress.
- Promotes critical thinking: There are plenty of fun questions included within the pages that’ll have the gears turning in your students’ heads. They’re also great icebreakers and conversation points, as the students will be able to share their personal insight. Questions include:
“How can we make music?”
“What do different cultures give the world?”
Best ESL Textbooks for Teaching Adults
“ESL Classroom Activities for Teens and Adults” by Shelley Ann Vernon
At a Glance:
Classroom activities aren’t just for kids, they’re for adults too! Just like younger learners, teens and adults learn better and more effectively when they’re engaged, interested and having fun.
This book focuses on fluency and grammar, and its pages are packed with 175 activities, games, quizzes and exercises that have been formulated specifically for more mature students.
The first thing you’ll notice about this book is the wide variety of exercises and games which would be overwhelming if they weren’t so perfectly organized. The author of this book believes that games and fun have a place in the adult ESL classroom just as much as they do in a children’s class.
The key point of this book isn’t just to make lessons fun for the students, it’s to make lessons fun for you to teach, too! It aims to imbue your lessons with energy and motivation that’ll get students talking, even the ones who may normally be more hesitant to engage.
- Sensitive to the many types of students: The author gives detailed advice about taking into account the students’ cultural backgrounds, personalities and different learning styles. The book even gives different activities specific to those different types of students!
- Flexible options for more advanced students: Hands down, some of my favorite parts of this book are the creative writing prompts and games that it offers for working with advanced students.
The book provides interesting prompts that are flexible to be as challenging or simple as they need to be depending on the student. Here’s an example activity description from the book:
“Call My Bluff Definitions: In this game, students write three different definitions for a word that they look up in the dictionary. Two of the definitions should be true and one of them should be fake. Once everyone in the class has done this, students should take turns reading their definitions aloud while the other students try and figure out the fake definition!”
“Compelling Conversations” by Eric H. Roth
At a Glance: One of the biggest differences in teaching kids and teaching adults is that adults need to not only learn the English language, they also need to be able to converse effectively with other English-speaking adults. In this book, the author helps students to improve their fluency and conversation skills by showing them how to share their own life experiences and reflections.
This book focuses primarily on the speaking and oral aspects of learning English for advanced ESL students. It aims to improve advanced students’ fluency through discussions of topics sure to remain relevant for a long time to come, like personal experiences, proverbs and quotations and more.
To that end, the textbook boasts 500 vocabulary words, 250 American proverbs and idioms and 500 quotations to discuss. It also includes over 1350 questions to get the conversation going, so you’ll never run out of things to discuss! Each chapter has a different theme ranging from exploring daily habits to pet peeves.
Best of all, this book isn’t just a how-to or a list of instructions for teachers. Instead, it’s a workbook for students to interact with each other and get conversing. There are instructions for interviewing your classmates, working in a group and engaging in authentic discussions.
- Promotes critical thinking: You’ll find no stock phrases or rote memorization in this book. Instead, it uses thematic chapters filled with proverbs and quotations to fuel discussion in the classroom.
- Supported by thematic quotations: After each activity, there’s a “the conversation continues” section with a list of quotations pertaining to the subject matter. Here are a few examples of quotes you’ll find in this book:
“Conversation means being able to disagree and still continue the conversation.” —Dwight MacDonald
“Keep it light, bright and polite.” —English Proverb
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” —Theodore Roosevelt
“Keep Talking” by Friederike Klippel
At a Glance: Having your students speak at all can be a monumental task all by itself, but it can be even more difficult to maintain their motivation to continue talking. In this “old but gold” guidebook for English language teachers, Friederike Klippel offers strategies and advice to keep your students active in conversation.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part describes a series of speaking exercises, ranging from interviews to miming, supplied with notes and explanations of their linguistic goals, their targeted level and the time and prep needed. The second part provides the worksheets that would accompany these activities, which can be used by the students to reinforce their skills.
This guidebook was first published in 1985, but (for good reason) it remains a valuable resource for instructors. The activities, grouped into 13 sections within the book, are diverse and are bound to promote activity from learners of all levels. The content is well-organized and easy to navigate, and the index denotes where you can find materials for different grammar concepts.
- Provides over 100 exercises: The variety in the exercises is quite impressive. They’re the kinds of activities that are just enough to be invigorating but not overly demanding to students. Plus, the book also suggests slight variations to spice things up a bit.
- Supplies accompanying worksheets: These can be easily photocopied and distributed to students to supplement their studies.
- Helpful tips: Advice and explanations are provided regarding how certain activities should be carried out and what students should know before participating in them. The author also describes what you may expect from your students. Here’s a quote explaining the reasoning for adding a personal level to some of the exercises:
“Since our language is closely linked with our personality and culture, why not use the process of acquiring a new language to gain further insights into our personality and culture?”
“English the American Way” by Sheila MacKechnie Murtha M.A., Jane Airey O’Connor M.Ed.
At a Glance: This bestselling textbook is divided into topical units with fun chapter titles like “Taking a Drive” and “Dining in Style.” Each unit covers topics that Americans encounter every day and uses these topics as a basis for learning English grammar.
For example, in the “Taking a Drive” chapter students will learn vocabulary surrounding cars, the DMV, police officers and overall driving while simultaneously learning the present simple tense, comparative words and superlatives.
The book contains many example dialogues and conversations, which you can also hear in the audio CD and MP3s that accompany the book. Unlike dialogues in other books, which can sound stilted and unnatural, the conversations in this textbook are natural and realistic, providing adult students with some excellent examples of what they might hear in real life.
Plus, both the dialogues and accompanying instructions are written in a friendly, often funny way that makes learning with this book easy and engaging!
- Uses authentic conversations that use slang and common phrases: This curriculum doesn’t shy away from teaching about American slang, idioms and other useful phrases that Americans use on daily basis.
- Discusses etiquette: Students are taught what type of English language is appropriate for a variety of surroundings.
- Provides tips for pronunciation: Throughout the book are “pronunciation pointers” that give students helpful hints on pronunciation. Here’s an example from unit one:
“In spoken English, we often drop the -ing ending of words. This means that how’s it going will sound like how’s it goin’. Nothing sounds like nothin’.”
“Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan
At a Glance: Grammar is one of those matters that’s always bound to cause confusion and struggle. It doesn’t help that it has a reputation of being both dry and overly technical. This reference guide, considered an important resource for English language teaching, outlines the grammatical issues that your students are likely to encounter.
The book prepares you for what to expect when you’re delving into grammar instruction. It also works to bolster your own confidence in your English grammar knowledge, so that you can provide clear and concise lessons. But besides explaining grammar rules, the text also gives tips on how to address common problem spots that can make the concepts difficult to grasp for students.
The content can apply to learners of any level, but if you want to really dive deep into grammar usage and potentially have your students themselves read from it, then you may want to reserve it for intermediate or advanced learners. Although the book was originally formatted for British English, there are also discussions of differences between that and American English.
- Prepares you for grammar instruction: Many English grammar concepts are meticulously organized and explained, giving you a stronger foundation for any planned grammar lessons.
- Great for targeted practice: Oftentimes, students struggle with a few select grammar rules but are otherwise adept in others. This book can help you tackle specific weak points without impeding other teachings. It can also help to ready you and your students for the instances in which English grammar seems to bend its own rules.
“American English File” by Christina Latham-Koenig & Clive Oxenden
At a Glance: This six-book series covers a comprehensive English curriculum. The first book is targeted for “starter” learners (roughly A1 level), with each book progressing in difficulty to the final book meant for advanced learners (roughly C1 level).
The books are very well organized. Within the first pages, you get a clear outline of every chapter (called a “file”) and the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation lessons to be learned in each. Every odd-numbered file ends with a “practical English” section that helps to put the learned concepts into real-life situations. Every even-numbered file ends with a review section.
Steps were certainly taken to make the book more appealing to adult learners. There are plenty of supporting illustrations and photographs that accompany each page. The texts and blurbs also detail information that’s relevant to students’ lives, whether it discusses family or scientific statistics.
You can also take advantage of the online practice resource and implement that within your students’ homework. The website houses interactive exercises and review questions that can reinforce the lessons learned.
- Focuses on students’ speaking ability: Overall, a primary goal of this textbook series is to “get students talking.” The lessons prepare students for speaking proficiency, whether in class or everywhere else.
- Made to have a more “modern” appearance: This can make the texts more approachable for adult learners. The organized format, filled with engaging content, can bolster your students’ willingness to use the books extensively.
Things to Keep in Mind for ESL Textbooks
The Textbook Doesn’t Make the Teacher
These books are fantastic but they’re nothing without a good teacher. Make sure, as a teacher, that the textbook is only used as a reference for material and activities and isn’t too heavily depended on to teach the students. Remember: The textbook doesn’t know your students, you do!
Supplemental Exercises Are Important
Don’t be afraid to mix and match textbooks with other supplemental materials! Listening activities and activities using TV shows and movies are always great ways to keep students engaged and learning. Don’t hesitate to solicit the help of a good app! It’s the 21st century!
Textbooks don’t have to be the bane of excitement within the classroom!
The right ESL textbook, paired with your steadfastness and creativity, can make English lessons both fun and comfortable for both you and your students.
Best of luck on your English teaching adventure!