esl learning books

5 Essential ESL Learning Books for Flourishing Students

Want your ESL students to love learning?

You need to plant seeds of enthusiasm to cultivate enthusiastic ESL students.

There are literally thousands of ESL books for you to choose from. So, the trick is just finding the right ones that benefit your students and allow you to develop quality lesson plans.

Not all ESL books are created equal.

Choosing the perfect material can often be a teacher’s greatest barrier. But it doesn’t have to be so.

Utilizing quality-driven ESL books and other essential language learning materials is the cornerstone to optimal teaching.

Methodology can differ between books. Material can be comprised of reading, listening, writing or grammar drills.

You’ll need to pick the book that pairs up best with your aims and objectives.

You can gear learning around pictures, everyday scenarios, listening practice, reading comprehension, grammar activities and music. The list goes on and on.

The sheer quantity of teaching material available on the internet can be enough to make your head spin at times. But fear not, you’re an exceptional ESL teacher with the knowledge to choose the best ESL books to fit your student’s needs and goals.

How do I know you’re exceptional? Because you’re here putting in the time and doing the research.

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Which ESL Books Should I Choose and Why?

One of the most important aspects of ESL is knowing your students. This knowledge will benefit you in the long run in almost everything you do, from developing your lesson plan to choosing class material. Understand your students’ goals, needs, ages, English levels and, most importantly, their interests.

Having all this information will allow you to choose the perfect ESL book. Meeting their needs builds their confidence and creates an encouraging learning environment.

Another great way to narrow down your choice for the perfect ESL book—think methodology.

There are multiple ESL books focusing on different aspects of language learning methodology. One book’s methodology may focus wholly on vocabulary while another ESL book may use music or audio clips to enhance a student’s listening comprehension skills.

A mechanic doesn’t have just one tool and neither should you. You can put together a sound ESL book set covering a vast range of methodologies, giving your students variety in material at the same time.

When considering your selection of ESL books, it’s also essential to think about what your students’ styles of learning might be. You may notice that some teachers flip through page after page of an ESL textbook, adding little to no extra spice to the learning or discussion.

Look for ESL Books that will allow you to break away from the content every so often and engage your students in discussion, writing or communication within a group or as a class. Keep it spicy—no one wants to go back to the restaurant that serves bland food!

Last but not least, think about cost versus longevity. ESL books are constantly publishing new editions and the prices may increase significantly each year.

You should also consider the financial situation of your students as well. If they want to purchase the book that they’re making so much progress in class with, will it be in their price range? Ask yourself, would I buy this book? Does it have value?

5 Essential ESL Books for Optimal Learning

1. Oxford Picture Dictionary Book (2nd Edition)

The “Oxford Picture Dictionary Book,” by authors Jamie Adelson-Goldstein and Norma Shapiro, is a wonderful collection of pictures and scenarios focused on beginner vocabulary. There are 12 vocabulary units ranging from everyday language to food, health and community.

The book also features over 4,000 words for beginner students to learn. As they turn each page, they’ll discover a new and enticing scenario that they’d find in everyday life.

The methodology is solely based on vocabulary and it has beginning language learners covered on this front. The “Oxford Picture Dictionary Book” may also be paired with a teacher workbook with helpful lesson plans and teaching strategies for you to optimize the learning experience of your students.

Though this one’s a beginner-oriented book, there are two more in the series that cover high-elementary and low-intermediate level vocabulary. All come paired with helpful audio CDs.

2. Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids

The “Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids” is the ultimate in vocabulary building for children learning English.

Like the “Oxford Picture Dictionary Book,” there’s a wide variety of pictures and scenarios for young learners to discover new vocabulary in a fun and easy way. As you know, it’s difficult to keep the attention of a child during your lessons. This book may allow you to do just that, with over 700 words waiting for students to discover them amongst colorful, artistic photos and illustrations. The “Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids” is based on K-12 curriculum and aims to meet the goals and needs of beginner to low-elementary level students.

There’s also a wide range of materials available for you and your students here, as you’ll get a student workbook, teacher’s book, reproducible collection, audio CDs and even a DVD-ROM for the interactive experience children love when learning. While playing with the DVD, they’ll be unaware that they’re even learning a new language.

With over 60 topics and multiple teaching materials available, the time spent not chasing inattentive young students around the classroom is worth the price. Various books available in the set may be a bit too pricey, so pick and choose what you need to make it effective in your unique classroom.

3. Cambridge face2face ESL Book Series

The “Cambridge face2face” book series is a great choice when it comes to the whole package. The methodology behind “Cambridge face2face” is a systematic progression of English material building on the previously taught sections.

The books have a formal textbook feel, yet offer a communicative component that focuses on all aspects of ESL learning. Your students will be able to develop grammar, reading, vocabulary building, and listening skills. This is mainly accomplished through interactive features like classroom games, group discussions and activities that pop up from section to section.

As a teacher, you’ll have all the resources you need to teach effectively while covering the key language your students will need to communicate and negotiate their surroundings in an English-speaking country. The grammar aspect of “Cambridge face2face” is about as subtle as it could be when choosing an ESL book. Students will learn the essential grammar needed for English testing without even knowing it.

There are 5 books available, ranging from elementary to advanced levels. This allows you to show your students their progress as they move from book to book. The “Cambridge face2face” comes with a DVD-ROM at no extra charge.

4. Cambridge Interchange (3rd Edition) Book Series

“Cambridge Interchange” is another hallmark in ESL books, similar to “Cambridge face2face,” but with more emphasis on speaking and listening. This book series does focus more on beginner to intermediate levels and allows students to continue on to more advanced levels of English utilizing “Cambridge Passages,” the follow up to “Interchange.”

The incredible focus this book puts on building skills and developing grammar through communicative exercises will not only ease your teaching time, but it will also leave you with more enthusiastic, English-hungry students.

The “Cambridge Interchange” Book Series can be paired with lots of fun teaching and learning material. There’s a student workbook, teacher’s book, audio CD’s, CD-ROM and even a multimedia package to keep your eager students learning class after class. As previously mentioned, think about what you need for your teaching toolkit first.

5. Jazz Chants Book Series

The “Jazz Chants” book series by author Carolyn Graham is a more unique, organic approach to ESL, combining jazz and language learning for optimal listening, speaking and reading. There are plenty of student workbooks and audio CDs for your students to enjoy, focusing primarily on American English speech and intonation. This could be a great way for you to spice up your classroom, enjoying music and English with your students as you take a break from the grammar and textbooks.

Utilizing the “Jazz Chants” books can allow you to also develop some exceptional lesson plans that’ll make your students excited for Jazz Tuesdays in the classroom.

This book series is intended for students up to an intermediate level of English. This unique spin on ESL, could be enjoyable for your students and you for years to come.

Build and Personalize Your ESL Book Series

No matter which ESL book you choose, always take into account your students’ English goals and needs first.

You could always build a toolkit utilizing different ESL books that focus on different variations of methodology and English learning skills. Knowing age, English level, interests and so on will give you the ability to ultimately develop quality lesson plans that’ll continue to inspire your students to learn.


Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. A world traveler and adventurer, Stephen continues his search for the next challenge to inspire him and his writing, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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