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  • Lynnea Elsasser

My Top 10 Books for TESOL

There may be a multitude of reasons you are reading this article. It may be that you are a teacher in mainstream education, and have a new ELL student. Some of you may have decided to try teaching overseas or switch to teaching adults in your own country. While others might just be veterans of the field or just curious! Well, hopefully my list has something for all of you.

These books have all been tremendously helpful on my teaching journey. Some of these books I encountered while I was just starting in BA in TESOL over 10 years ago while others I read during my graduate studies. These books have shaped who I am as a teacher, and offer a balance of theoretical and practical knowledge for teaching.

I do not have a book in this list dedicated to each language skill, but many of the books suggested cover every language skill. For example, Teaching by Principles by Brown and Lee talks about speaking skills. The books I have here are also geared towards more of my interest areas, which is reading, vocabulary and young learners. So, without futher ado, here is my list:


For the complete beginner to TESOL:

The Practice of English Language Teaching by Jeremy Harmer (2015):

This is the book (but older edition) I used in my Introduction to TESOL class over 10 years ago. I also referred to it constantly in my first few years of teaching. It does not cover any subject in depth, but it helps familiarize you with a lot of the terminology and core methodology within TESOL. It is also more practical as it gives activity and task suggestions as well.

Teaching by Principles by H. Douglas Brown and Heekyeong Lee (2015)

This is similar to Harmer's book as it is a TESOL 101-style book, but I do find that it covers topics in more detail. It is also more methodology and pedagogy focused, which is important as a good teachers are grounded in good teaching pedagogy.

The New A-Z of ELT by Scott Thornbury (2017)

As you may know, TESOL loves acronyms. These book is like an encyclopedia and helps you navigate the extensive terminology present with ELT and TESOL. It can be a great resource for new and experienced teachers alike.


For vocabulary:

Word Knowledge: A Vocabulary Teacher's Handbook by Cheryl Boyd Zimmerman (2009)

Zimmerman, C. B. (2009). Word knowledge: A vocabulary teacher’s handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-470393-2

As the title specifies, it is a handbook, which means it is concise and practical. It is also easy to read and to find the information you want. If you want to learn about the world of vocabulary learning but don't want a long read, I suggest giving this one a try.

How Vocabulary is Learned by Stuart Webb & Paul Nation (2017)

This is like the more in-depth version of Zimmerman's book. It discusses in-depth the principles of teaching and learning vocabulary. It also gives ideas for practical activities to help boost students' vocabulary acquisition.


For young learners:

Since this has been my context for the past 5 years, young learners has become one of my areas of interest with TESOL. I also find that in my studies for my BA and MA in TESOL, young learners weren't highly emphasized, so I needed to find other sources to supplement what I was learning in the class.

Teaching Young Learners English by Joan Kang Shin and Joan Crandall (2013)

Shin, J. K. & Crandall, J. (2013). Teaching young learners English. Boston: Heinle ELT. ISBN 978-1111771379

I am a fan girl of Joan Kang Shin's work, and this book was so helpful as I started to teach young learners. It covers a range of topic including the four language skills, assessment and even professional development. I think my favorite chapters though are Chapter 2: Basic Principles of Teaching English to Young Learners and Chapter 8: Classroom Management. These chapters I found the most helpful, especially if you already have experience with teaching adults.

Literacy Development in the Early Years: Helping Children Read and Write by Leslie Mandel Morrow (2019)

Morrow, L. M. (2019). Literacy development in the early years: Helping children read and write. New York: Pearson. 9th Edition. ISBN-13: 978-0134898230

This book is phenomenal, and I feel like essential if you want to teach young learners. While it doesn't cover all of the language skills, it gives a strong basis for literacy, which is emphasized in young learners. She explains well the principles and pedagogy of teaching literacy. What I really appreciated though was Morrow's suggestions for tasks and activities. A note though, this book is for mainstream education and not necessary ELT, even though the author does mention ELLs throughout.

The Routledge Handbook of Teaching English to Young Learners edited by Sue Garton and Fiona Copland (2019)

This 562-page edited book has entries from a variety of educators which gives a well-balance view of teaching young learners. What I also love is the variety of topics covered from macro issues like the age debate to young learner pedagogy and even regional perspectives like Europe, Latin America or East Asia. Most chapters include an introduction, historical perspectives, critical issues and topics, current research, recommendations for practice and future direction. They also have a section in each chapter of suggestions for further reading if you want to learn more about the topic.


For grammar:

While I lean more towards the descriptivist view of grammar, I do think it is important to have a reference book and be able to explain the rules whether that be a colleague, student or a parent, if you teach young learners. While

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan (2016)

A great reference book for all things related to grammar. It is useful, detailed, easy to understand and gives clear examples for each grammar point.

Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott (2010)

This book addresses common issues and errors language teachers may face in their classrooms. It is user-friendly with its clear explanations and examples. At the end of each chapter, it also has a set of questions to test a teacher's understanding of the topics covered.


Bonus: Book Series

How to Teach Series Published by Pearson

This series has a separate book for grammar, vocabulary, speaking, writing, listening, pronunciation, and reading. These books are not long, so they are great for busy teachers.

Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers

This series is a good blend of theory and practice and the variety of topics available are vast. There are books with titles like Putting CLIL into Practice and English for Academic Purposes to Designing and Analyzing Language Tests. I have used many of the books from this series for several research papers for my graduate studies.


Well, there you go! I hope you were able to find at least a book or two that was of interest to you. Do you have a book that you would recommend all TESOL teachers read? Let me know what it is in the comments!

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