What are the best books for teaching ESL?

The market for ESL teaching books is very large and all the major publishers have some form of involvement in the production and selling of these resources. There are many different types of books and resources that are used in ESL teaching and we will consider three main categories.

1) Book series

2) General teaching theory books

3) Activity resources

Book Series

There are a number of well known book series. These are specifically written for the ESL teaching market and are generally set at the five levels most often taught. These levels are Starter or Beginner, Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, and Upper-Intermediate.

A typical book series at each level will contain three books. These are the teacher book, student book and resources book (or similar names). The teacher book gives an outline of the syllabus covered by the book and generally breaks each topic down into a series of lessons. Each lesson topic in the teacher book references the two other books where the teacher can draw the materials needed such as worksheets and activity ideas.

The student book breaks down each lesson into the grammar and vocabulary knowledge to be covered and the resource book contains all the worksheets and activity sheets the students will need to complete the lesson.

Typical examples of book series of this type which cover CEFR levels A1-C2 are:

  • New Headway Series
  • New English Series
  • Inside Out Series
  • English Unlimited Series
  • Cutting Edge Series
  • New Total English

It is worth doing an internet search on each of these titles, where you will be able to find examples from each part of the series to see how the books work and what type of style they use.

General Teaching Theory Books

The two main areas you should be able to cover in your classroom are those of English grammar and student activities. A selection of books that cover these aspects very well are given below:

  • Raymond Murphy, English Grammar in Use
  • Michael Swan, Practical English Usage
  • Jeremy Harmer, How to teach English
  • Penny Ur, Grammar Practice Activities
  • Peter Watcyn-Jones, Grammar Games and Activities

Activity Resources

There are far too many resources available nowadays to give a comprehensive list, but we would suggest your first search should be for ‘free ESL teaching resources’ of which there are many.

Some examples given by such a search are below;

These resources have been specifically designed to be at a certain ESL level, but you should always look carefully through any such resource to ensure that it matches your students’ needs.

Also be aware that some information that may be culturally acceptable in one country may not be the same in your country, so be careful with any information presented.

Also keep in mind that the worksheets should be considered as a basis of an activity sheet and you can adapt and personalize them for your situation and your classes as needed.