New Teacher Searches for Books about Teaching

T. L. Tensai

Welcome to “Dear TLT”

During our annual Pubs retreat last fall, the idea of creating a “Dear Abby”-style advice column came up as we discussed various ways of improving this journal. We were really attracted to this idea for several reasons. First, it could provide a forum for addressing specific issues our readers have in a light yet substantive manner. In addition, it would give us the flexibility to cover topics we’d normally not be able to via our regular columns. Our aim is to cover issues of interest and offer up our collective experience in an effort to provide practical ideas and solutions to common challenges we all face in our working lives. Some topics will be light, while others may not, but all in all we hope the shared wisdom of our TLT community can be of service to the larger JALT community. To get things going, we’ll put forward a few topics, starting with this month’s focus on great books on teaching for new teachers. We hope to eventually deal with issues submitted by you, our readers. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see us address, please get in touch! The email is: <>. So, on with our first rendition of “Dear TLT”…

Dear TLT,

I’m starting out as a new face in Japan with very little experience of teaching English. Being very interested in improving my craft, I want to know where to start reading so that I can do a better job. What books about teaching English have really influenced you, and why?

Sincerely, Starting Out in Saitama

Dear Starting Out, 

Thanks a lot for your letter, and congratulations on your new life and career here in Japan! You’re in for quite the adventure. We really applaud your desire to improve your teaching skills. Your question is an excellent one, but it’s also quite challenging to answer! There are so many great books on teaching out there… Hmmm… well, after some thought, we’ve come up with a list of excellent books that will surely get your career off to a good start. These are so good that you’ll want to refer to them from time to time as you grow and develop professionally. You’ll get more out of them over time as your skills and experience grow. This has surely been our experience… 

When we were starting out, one of the biggest struggles we had was answering questions about grammar from our students and colleagues. Not being able to do so was a big source of frustration. This is why picking up a copy of The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher’s Course 2nd Edition by Marianne Celce-Murcia and Diane Larsen-Freeman (1999, Heinle & Heinle) was such a godsend. This one will surely give you confidence just knowing it’s on your shelf, and who knows? It may even help you win an argument or two in the teacher’s room during breaks! We hear a 3rd Edition of this classic tome is due out in 2016. 

Another book we wish we had when we were fresh off the boat is What Should Every EFL Teacher Should Know? by Paul Nation (2013, Compass Publishing). Reading it has had the effect of confirming lots of things about teaching we have learned over the years. What if we’d had that book at the beginning of our careers? It would have saved us a lot of stress. Paul Nation’s rock solid rep helps A LOT. We find this practical and easy-to-read book brings us comfort and inspiration even now, after teaching in Japan all these years. 

We also recommend two other books by Nation: Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing (2008, Routledge) and Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking (2009, Routledge, with Jonathan Newton). Both are quite comprehensive, practical, and provide an in-depth overview on how to teach each of the four basic language skills. 

Another great resource to have on your shelf is Teacher’s Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction by Judith Shrum & Eileen Glisan (2009, Cengage Learning). It gives background information on language learning as well as specific guidelines and suggestions for teaching each language skill in an engaging and active way. It also has recommendations for integrating technology into your lessons.

Similarly, Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language by Celce-Murcia, Brinton, & Snow, Eds. (2014, Heinle ELT, 4th Edition) is also an excellent resource as it provides a wide variety of papers on the foundations of ESL teaching methods, guides for teaching each skill, and very detailed information about professional development for new teachers, such as improving lesson plans, adding more tools to your kit, choosing textbooks, dealing with culture in the classroom, and integrating digital tech). The book also discusses the learner and motivation issues.

Finally, Content-based Second Language Teaching and Learning by Marjorie Hall Haley & Theresa Austin (2013, Pearson) is a more work-book style text that guides the reader to consider how to make their lessons more engaging and interactive. It discusses methodologies and how to choose one’s preferred teaching method, how to plan and implement a standards-based program, how to create content-based language courses that help improve all four language skills, and how to integrate technology into the classroom. We have lots of pages flagged in this book for continual reference, and we highly recommend it for new teachers such as yourself.

So, Starting Out, that’s our list of recommended books for new teachers. There is more than enough practical information here to get you going. You’ll learn a lot from these books, for sure. And, as you grow in experience and skill, you’ll be able to get even more out of them still. Good luck!  

T. L. Tensai