more than a native speakerIf you read 30,000 Teachers (or, of course, even if you haven’t and don’t intend to) and thought, how can I learn more about the nuts and bolts of teaching English? this section is for you! Or, if you are already involved in or moving toward teaching ESL at home or abroad, and are looking for good reference material, these links may be helpful.


For an overview of theory and practice in TESOL, my favorite all-in-one text is Penny Ur’s A Course in Language Teaching (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Ur draws on current research in applied linguistics and ESOL pedagogy to present language learning/acquisition theory and pedagogical strategies that are usually easy to understand and fun to apply! I recommend the updated (2012) version rather than the older (1991) version because the research is more current and the layout is easier to follow.

more than a native speaker


If Ur’s book is not enough, a supplemental book of a similar type but less rigorous style is Donald Snow’s More than a Native Speaker (TESOL, revised 2006). It also offers an overview of theory and practice in TESOL, but it is less in-depth and easier to read and digest. Snow also offers advice and insight into living and working overseas.


college teaching abroad

For an overview of topics particularly related to the post-secondary teacher working transnationally, I highly recommend College Teaching Abroad: A Handbook of Strategies for Successful Cross-Cultural Exchanges by Pamela Gale George. (Allyn and Bacon, 1995).  George draws on interview data from 87 transnational college teachers, 64 hours of documentary video recordings, and interviews with 72 national colleagues and students to distill themes that occur across transnational teaching experiences. She discusses these themes (including topics like classroom cultures, perceptions of teachers, teacher-student interactions, effective classroom instruction, negotiating teaching roles, using technology, and evaluating student performance) candidly, using real-life examples and offering tangible strategies to cope with overseas expectations. Although the book is dated, the material is timely and relevant to the current landscape of TESOL.


For an all-around excellent book about college teaching that is not speWhat the best college teachers docific to an overseas context but is worth the easy read, I like Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do. Bain interviewed and observed college teachers across the United States who were nominated by their students as the teachers who had the longest-lasting impact on their learning. The teachers share their strategies, challenges, thought-patterns, and teaching styles in this valuable little book.


For sESL Classroom activitesome quick ideas for classroom activities, there are lots of options like ESL Classroom Activities for Teens & Adults that have prefab activities that could be integrated into many lessons. This one includes some good discussion of how and when to integrate active learning strategies in the adult classroom. Most of the activities need adaptation. (I don’t recommend the kindle version—the paper version has photocopy-friendly hainterchangendouts and worksheets).



If you have the opportunity to choose your own learner texts, there are a zillion options, but only a few that are really well-researched and broadly used, including the Cambridge Interchange series and the Longman Side by Side series. Both of these popular texts take in integrated approach, which means they teach various related language elements in a single, communication-based lesson (some new vocabulary, some new grammar, some new pronunciation, etc), rather than having one vocabulary lesson followed by a grammar lesson, etc. Both are also corpus-based (which is important if you want to be sure you are teaching authentic English).side by side



in use

Regardless of which student texts I am using, I generally supplement with my favorite non-integrated series, Cambridge’s In Use texts (including Vocabulary in Use, Grammar in Use, and Idioms in Use. I find them very versatile and helpful when a learner is “stuck” and needs more help with a certain language element. Be sure to choose the American English versions.



A special note on working with refugees: If  you are going to teach English to refugees, immigrants, or other displaced peoples, you will have a lot of things to consider as you choose your materials. Most student texts are designed for full-time, traditional-aged students and so contain a lot of vocabulary and sociocultural information that is relevant to student life (and also affluence) and not particularly appropriate for older, nontraditional (not so affluent), learners. I was garage-saling one weekend in Phoenix (I LOVE garage saling! But I am not a junkie–I am terribly particular about what I buy) and found a fabulous cache of ESL books, including a set called Out and About by Owl Publishers.  I have not been able to find it online, but I have used my garage sale copies as the foundations for many lessons. I love that these books were designed for working adults. They contain very little “classroom” information and are packed instead with useful language for getting around, working in “blue collar” contexts, associating with colleagues, talking about nontraditional family situations, and the like. They are deliberate about teaching phrases like “I’m a single parent,” but on the downside, they are also deliberate about promoting non-biblical values, including same-sex relationships (which I always point out to my students when I teach those units–and use as a springboard to talk about cultural and spiritual values).

The internet has a glut of websites and pages of activities. Some that have helped me in a pinch include: –A site with an alphabetized list of fun games and activities. Don’t go here if you are planning a lesson late the night before and need to find something fast—it is not well-organized enough to help you find what you need in a hurry, but it makes for some inspiring and entertaining reading when you have leisurely planning time. –The famous Dave’s ESL Café is a delightful hodgepodge of eclectic and interesting teaching paraphernalia. There are activities and lessons sprinkled among job postings, chat rooms, forums, podcasts, and random ESL links. Always fun to explore. –An ESL activities site that has free, printable pdfs for most of their activities. Most of these need some personal adaptation and tweaking, but they are great idea seeds. And who doesn’t love pdfs? With two clicks you can download and print a good-looking worksheet or set of flashcards that is copyright-free and ready to go to class.

I have a “Teacher Box” in my closet. At the moment it is a classy, lime-colored fabric bin with a lid, but it has been a shoebox and an old flabby cardboard banker’s box. I upgrade to a larger box every so often, but mostly I try to keep it small. I often weed out things I don’t actually use and just keep my most versatile and useful tools in it. My teacher box contains:

A picture file of large (full magazine page) pictures I have cut out of magazines over the years, glued to cardstock and laminated (with clear contact paper). I choose my images carefully and with an eye to the cultural and religious diversity in my classes.

Three “ring for service” counter-top bells.

Three or four magnetic white boards about the size of an ipad, with some pens and an eraser.

Mr. Bean DVDs

The DVD Baraka

Gregory Stock’s The Book of Questions

You Are Special By Max Lucado, in English and Chinese.

Lots of blank 3/5 cards

White card stock

A roll of clear contact paper

Teaching American English Pronunciation by Peter W. Avery and Susan Ehrlich

Laminated and enlarged photocopies of all the place of articulation diagrams for every phoneme illustrated in Teaching American English Pronunciation

A pack of cards from the game Apples to Apples

English magnetic poetry (the basic set)

Blank postcards from Arizona (my home state) and Hawaii, the most recent place I have lived

A round squishy ball with the globe painted on it, a soft Frisbee suitable for indoor use, and three beanbags.

There are an abundance of books available related to TESOL and overseas teaching. To browse more, check out TESOL’s online bookstore. 

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