After teaching for some time, you may have noticed that you have the same gut reaction to many ESL teaching books.
These are some common thoughts to have while skimming through the various books your school offers:
“I definitely don’t have time to do all of this in class.”
“I’m not going to teach this, it’s not worth the class time.”
“What is this? I won’t be teaching this!”
And then, finally, you find yourself thinking:
“This looks good, I’ll use this.”
It is normal to have these thoughts. All classes are different, and no one ESL book can be a perfect fit for every single classroom.
But what if there was a way to know what to teach and what to skip so you can save time planning? It could also trim down your lesson planning time, shortening the time you spend reading and rereading your textbook to pick and choose what to use and what to lose. A strategy like that might allow you to teach efficient and effective classes where everybody is happy, and do so without busting your brain.
Teach This, Skip That
Well, with the Teach This/Skip That concept I will present to you here, you could easily know what works best in any teaching book, depending on your class and teaching style.
The Teach This/Skip That (TT/ST) tactic was inspired by a book I glanced at in an airport while waiting for a flight. It was a book called “Eat This, Not That,” and it simply showed the reader what food choices are best and which should be avoided. For example, in the cheese section it would show different brands of cheeses that were healthier and small tidbits on why, while on the next page it would show some other brands of cheese and why those were comparatively bad for you. It was a very simple yet widely applicable approach to knowing what you should be eating and what you should be passing on.
As it turns out, this works just as well when discussing the material in your books for teaching! Now, as a disclaimer, I don’t mean that you need to always skip anything completely. The skip designation doesn’t mean that the part is totally without value. The skipped parts in a book could be used for homework, extra credit, stickers, time filler or just free practice for the students. But since class time is precious and scarce, I have set up this guide to help you utilize each book to its fullest potential and teach the best classes you possibly can.
For this guide, I will be covering five popular and reputable English book series.
In my last school we had a closet full of different books, every publisher you could imagine. So what I did one slow day was glance through these books for what I called the “gold” activities. These golden ones were the ones I could use with (almost) any skill level, class size, energy level or anything else. They were usually very engaging speaking activities, games or something of the like. This is how I’ve learned to pick and choose the most successful elements of textbooks—and these choices are tried and true.
Moving forward, you will find your own gold activities in the recommended books below and beyond. Here is what you can do when you stumble across them, so you never lose that inspiration:
- Write down the name of the book, the page of the activity and a 1-sentence description of what it is in a journal. (I have a composition journal on me all the time, full of important stuff.) Alternatively, you can photocopy the pages and keep these in a binder, so you don’t need to dig up the books later.
- Keep this notebook or binder handy during class time so you can bust the activity out in class and change things up. When class is dragging, you’ll be grateful.
Now, here come the books!
5 Superb Series of English Teaching Books and How to Use Them
Overview: These books are intended for small classes, and for that reason they have short units that are around two to four pages long. Each section opens with a “speak for yourself” warm-up section and a vocabulary section, along with an “English in use” section which features either a reading or listening section plus an accompanying speaking section at the end to practice speaking with what was just covered.
There is no workbook for homework but there is an extra practice section in the back that does not include the answers. There are also parts in the back for writing activities and additional material. This is the format for all levels in the series, from elementary to advanced.
Teach This: Definitely utilize all the speaking sections, despite the class size and time constraints you may have. They are simple and get the mind working from the get-go. The vocabulary and “English in use” sections really help make things simple with fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice activities and are perfect for big or small classes alike. They work especially well with beginners, but each book is nicely geared towards a different skill level. The material in the back is good for homework if you have the class more often than once a week.
Skip That: Unless these are total beginners who have listening issues, the listening section can be written off (unless the student requests it). It is good to be used at home since the tape script is included. The reading is best for bigger classes so you can go around the class and read together (a la popcorn reading style) but it can be harmlessly skipped (perhaps assigned as homework) if it is just one student.
This all depends on how long the class period is, of course. If time is of the essence and students want to focus on speaking, it is best to skip the reading and listening activities during class time.
Overview: These books are intended for bigger, longer classes based on the length of each unit (eight pages) and cover literally everything you could imagine teaching at any skill level. Each unit has a section for grammar, vocabulary, everyday English, reading, speaking, listening and writing. There is quite a lot packed into each unit with no blank, wasted space on any pages. They encourage independent student work as they include tons of games, puzzles and other fun exercises. Another plus is that there is a workbook for homework.
Teach This: If your class is using this series of books, then chances are your classes are big (more than 20 students) and long (at least 2 hours per class). If that is the case then everything should be touched upon, especially the everyday English parts since they are quite aptly named and benefit the students greatly. The vocabulary, grammar and speaking are worth teaching as well, depending on the aim of the class. You can pick and choose the parts that your students need to work on most.
Skip That: Unless your classes are frequent (at least three times a week) or long (around two hours) then the listening can be skipped and used for homework. The writing can also be easily set aside for homework, unless the exercise is meant for groups or partners. Many exercises can be done individually, so these are always good homework assignments.
Overview: These books are much more academically-focused. The last two series were more focused on using everyday, real-world English. However, if you are using the books in this series, then it is safe to presume your classes are focused on more than just speaking. Your students will need to hone their reading and writing for academic and test-taking purposes.
These books cover every major skill area in every chapter with a reading, listening and creative writing section, along with various chapters containing interviews, word study, effective writing, grammar, speaking and pronunciation portions.
The key thing to note with these books is their brilliant “person symbol” system indicating which sections are best for pair work, group work, trio work (yes, in threes) and joining groups to form bigger groups. The back has a ton of communication activities for groups and there is a workbook intended for homework.
Teach This: Anything indicated with the “person symbol,” whether it is for partners or bigger groups, is well worth doing in class. These really involve the students in the material, getting them together to be creative and share their thoughts. The grammar and vocabulary exercises are short and sweet and are good to teach as well. The communication activities are good for involvement and sharing thoughts.
Skip That: The reading portions can be pretty long, depending on the level. Cambridge books focus more on the nitty-gritty of English, so unless your class must learn every aspect of grammar or are preparing for an exam, you could pass on the super specific stuff like the very long readings and the effective writing portions. These are better suited for homework since they are quite lengthy.
Overview: The books in the New English File series by Oxford are quite popular due to being so well-rounded and having a nice balance of everything. There aren’t many units (around 9-12 per level) so they cover a lot of ground and are each around 8-10 pages long.
Each unit includes GYP sections as they call them (Grammar, Vocabulary and Pronunciation) and a mix of reading, writing, listening, some speaking and some singing sections. There is even “revise and check” section at the end of each unit, which is great for review. The back of the book includes communication activities and there is a workbook.
Teach This: This book series works really well because each installment will have many mini-activities instead of a few normal-size activities. If your class is in the beginner range and is relatively large, then everything is worth covering, especially the revision section.
For smaller or more advanced classes I recommend using each activity but only touching a little on the pronunciation unless there seems to be some difficulty in the class. I definitely recommend the “revise and check” section for class time since it is like a smorgasbord check of everything that was just covered. This section is two pages long too, so it is quite thorough.
Skip That: The songs could be skipped since they just ask the students to listen and nothing else. I also recommend skipping the listening with smaller or shorter classes since they can be lengthy, but of course, your mileage will vary and if your students struggle a lot with listening then it may be worth doing. If not, it makes a good homework or extra credit—maybe even give them a gold star.
Overview: The Market Leader series is the leading name in business English books and it shows. The units in the books cover an array of skill areas and exercise types with warm-ups, vocabulary, discussion, reading, listening, skills and case studies in every unit, along with a review unit every three units.
I believe these books were written with business English classes of no more than eight people in mind. It seems to be less ideal for large classes and/or absolute beginners, but it can be made to work. However, keep in mind that it is mainly focused on honing existing English skills and building upon them with business-specific language. There is a workbook as well as some extra writing stuff in the back.
Teach This: This all depends on your students, and whether you are teaching a group or a private student. For groups, I recommend doing the skills sections (which cover grammar points) and do all the pair work activities. The case studies are ideal for classes with more students as they usually call for group or partner work, and they are quite useful practice for real-life business situations too!
For solo students, I would recommend all the language and grammar focused stuff like vocabulary, discussion, skills and any partner work where the teacher could work with the student. The review section is recommended for both groups and private sessions as it can refresh the mind and overview some tricky points but sometimes there are writing revision activities which can be translated to speaking activities.
Skip That: It all depends on your students’ needs. Most business English students have a reason they are studying English, whether it is for meetings, negotiations, conference calls or something else specific to their line of work. Knowing about their daily work and their career goals is very important because these students almost always have something more specific in mind that they are striving to learn.
I recommend finding out what it is they need exactly, then from that you could probably skip some things that are less relevant to their interests and needs. For example, if they have lots of conference calls to make, then it would behoove you to not skip the listening portions but instead assign reading and writing parts for homework.
The same goes for students who barely speak at work but must write lots of reports or emails. You can skip the listening and assign that for homework and have a larger focus on writing skills and reading activities. Case studies are specific so glance around and find out which ones your students could benefit from and skip all the others. It is a business book and since business is so broad there will be stuff that just won’t be worth teaching. Excellent book though, highly recommended!
As you can see, most books offer tons of great content, but what you choose to teach can be filtered out based on what’s time-consuming and what’s important to introduce during class time. Don’t just assume you need to teach every single letter written down in a teaching book, no matter how awesome the book is. They are meant to be a guiding force, but you can always tailor the content to your specifications!
By knowing the needs and skill levels of your students, you can weed through the content and sort out what can be best used for other purposes aside from introducing main lessons, yet still be beneficial to students in some way.
It all depends on what your students need, how many of them there are and what they struggle with. Once you know this, then it will be easy to decide what to teach and what to give as extra work.
There are many fine books out there, and knowing what to teach and what to skip can help make classes more productive, more engaging and—most importantly—more dedicated to teaching the key lessons that help students excel in English!
And One More Thing…
If you’re looking for great ESL resources, then you’ll love FluentU! FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities. You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.