Category: Blog
Essential TEFL Books – Techniques and Principles in English Language Teaching

As part of the preparation for taking my DELTA, I will be reviewing certain TEFL books in the hope of helping other teachers to sieve through the huge amount of literature on the market. These are not just recommended books, these are the ones I’ve been recommended that deserve to be seen as essential reading. All the books in this series have helped me in a significant way to better understand teaching English. I’m sure they can do the same for you!

– Anthony

Techniques and Principles in English Language Teaching – Diane Larsen-Freeman and Marti Anderson

This week I wanted to share another ‘classic’ TEFL book that crops up on countless reading lists. Techniques and Principles in ELT (TPELT from now on!) aims to give an overview all the influential teaching methods of the past hundred years or so in a concise, efficient volume.

What’s it about?

The book is essential a short, practical history of how we got here. When I say ‘here’, I’m referring to the current methods that we all use as teachers, i.e., the methods we learnt on CELTA or our original TEFL course.

The ‘communicative approach’ is a term banded around a lot, but really the way most modern language classes operate is by using a mix of various approaches rather than a stand-alone ‘method’. In this book you will get to read about those oft mocked methods such as ‘Grammar-Translation’, the ‘Audio-Lingual’ method and even ‘The Silent Way’.

Whilst it sounds a bit dry and heavy going, the book actually reads very logically. I was surprised to find that it is somewhat of a page-turner (as far as academic texts go) and the short, stand-alone chapters do a great job of breaking up the flow.

But those methods were all proved to be a bit crap weren’t they?

Well… yes and no.

The writers do a fantastic job of remaining completely neutral throughout their descriptions of the methods. They give you the theory behind it, how it works in practice and an example lesson observation. At the end of each chapter you get a short breakdown of the methodology used and are asked to question which parts you agree with or use in your own classrooms.

What was most surprising for me was that a lot of the methods we deride so freely today were actually created with the best intentions. Often they are also based on sound methodology that we still respect.

The main issue with most of them and the reason that we no longer subscribe to such methods (although many are still used in different parts of the world) is that they are mostly very restrictive. They follow their core belief almost obsessively and by rejecting other equally valid theories. This makes them ineffective for the majority of contexts and situations.

On the other hand, whilst alone they seem incredibly rigid and incompatible with what we know today, there is a lot to be learned from these old methods. It makes you question if the way we teach today will be looked upon in hindsight as dated and ineffective.

Who’s it for?

TPELT is for every teacher who wants to understand why we teach the way we do. Much like last week’s How Languages are Learned review, TPELT is essential for teachers who want to understand how we got here. If ‘How Languages are Learned’ shows us the theoretical studies that led us to the beliefs we have today, Techniques and Principles shows us the practical path we’ve taken.

So now, when a student asks you ‘what method do you use?’ and you have an opportunity to explain your approach, you’ll be in a real position to explain to them why you teach the way you do, why you use certain techniques and, most importantly why you don’t use use a ‘traditional method’.

A must read!

Useful Links

Techniques and Principles in ELT from Oxford University Press

Techniques and Principles in ELT from Amazon UK


Free 1-year subscription to English Teaching Professional PLUS free DimmiDeck!

It’s giveaway time!

To celebrate our returning to the classroom for a new term DimmiDeck are giving away a 1-year digital subscription to the excellent English Teaching Professional magazine.

Plus, the winner will also get a free DimmiDeck Standard Edition enabling them to use all our DimmiDeck activities in their classroom, plus add a few of their own! If you’re new to DimmiDeck, check out our about page for more information.

Click here to enter for free!

Entry is completely free – and by sharing your unique link with your teacher friends they will not only get a chance to win, but you will get an extra three chances to win for each friend who signs up!

What are you waiting for? Sign up for the contest today! Entries will close on Sunday evening and the winner will be announced the following week.

Thank you and good luck!

Anthony and Alessandra


Essential TEFL Books – ‘How Languages are Learned’

As part of the preparation for taking my DELTA, I will be reviewing certain TEFL books in the hope of helping other teachers sieve through the huge amount of literature on the market. These are not just recommended books, these are the ones I’ve been recommended that deserve to be seen as essential reading. All the books in this series have helped me in a significant way to better understand teaching English. I’m sure they can do the same for you!

– Anthony

How Languages are Learned – Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada

As teachers we are often seen as the experts of our profession in the eyes of both students and academic managers. There are certain truths to teaching that we’ve come to understand. Most of the time these come from our own experiences, but many have been engrained in us since our initial training course and have shaped the way we manage our classrooms ever since.

For example, is it more effective to explain a grammar concept to a learner, or is it better to show them? Should we simply give a text to a student and a set of questions for them to complete, or must we first build up a context around it and introduce the topic organically? Are adults as adept at language learning as children?

I’m certain that most teachers will answer the same way to these questions. However, are we answering from experience and research or because that’s how we were trained?

What’s it about?

‘How Languages are Learned’ by Patsy M. Lightbrown and Nina Spada is the book that will help you bridge the gap between your own experiences and the research of those that came before you. The book contains summaries of all the research into second language acquisition that shapes the way we teach today and why we we hold these beliefs.

As well as a solid outline of all the major theories of second language acquisition both past and present,  the book’s real strength lies in its collection of case studies. These summaries provide the evidence behind the very cornerstones of modern language teaching that we use every day.

Who’s it for?

Will this book improve your teaching? Possibly, although most of the research here gives us the answers that we probably already learnt on our initial teacher training courses. However the aim of the book is not to necessarily make you a better teacher. How Languages are Learned aims to give you the evidence that supports your existing language beliefs and enable you to make better decisions on how you organise your classroom.

In summary there is really nothing else like this book on the market. If you’re serious about how languages are best taught, you should definitely read about how they are most effectively learned.

Useful Links

How Languages are Learned from Oxford University Press

How Language are Learned from Amazon UK


The End of the ‘Grammar-based Syllabus’?

Treetops Town

I recently had the pleasure of buying my first course books aimed at young learners. I say pleasure, but actually finding materials that I found both engaging and well illustrated was a much larger struggle than I’d anticipated.

Long story short I eventually settled on ‘New Treetops’ (Oxford Press), a cute EFL course aimed at Italian primary students. It focuses on teaching grammar through four modules based around the seasons. Each one tells stories of some little elves and animals who live together in ‘treetops town’.

The book is nicely illustrated, comes with loads of extra activities and is gives just enough new language and grammar in each module without overloading the students. So far I’m impressed and it has made my 121 students so much more engaged.

It got me thinking about where I stand on materials creation. Treetops does follow the CEF and definitely has clear ‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’ sections but, and this may just be because it’s aimed at kids, they are much less ‘in-your-face’ as in the more often used adult course books such as Cutting Edge or Headway.

I started to wonder – why are our adult course books always so blatant about their following of a grammar-based syllabus when it can be much more engaging to disguise language like this?

The Coursebook Dilemma

I’m a relatively recent graduate of CELTA so was frequently taught about the general love/hate attitude towards course books in our industry. In fact it was a crucial part of the syllabus. I do, however, find the problem quite perplexing.

On the one hand, the majority of teachers bemoan course book syllabuses as being too restrictive and uninspired, whilst on the other hand many of these same teachers continue to use them and are unable or unwilling to suggest alternatives – probably because this alternative may mean creating all our lessons from scratch!

Scott Thornbury’s talk at the end of the IATEFL conference last year talked about a similar thing. His words were along the lines of ‘we’ve been talking about moving away from a grammar-based syllabus for 30 years. We know the pitfalls of the grammar-based syllabus and we know the alternatives. So why are our course books still so rooted in the idea?’

Another teacher and blogger Peter Viney caused a stir last year with his post ‘The Dead Hand of The CEF’ which pointed the finger directly at the Common European Framework for this lack of creativity and desire to think outside the box. Again, many teachers agreed. So what now?

A Different Approach

I recently worked at one of the more modern school franchises in Italy called My English School. Their method utilises aspects of blended learning and positive psychology in SLA with a communicative focus. Their course breaks the CEFR into 13 individual levels where 80% of the lessons are based around a functional syllabus. This means they spend the majority of their lessons learning functional language (ordering a coffee, discussing recent events, describing your town) and the ‘grammar lessons’ are much shorter and spread less frequently throughout.

When grammar lessons do occur (five times per ‘level’) they are blended. The student completes a task online before the lesson. They practise the language during the lesson and do a final task online afterwards.

After every level there is a revision lesson reviewing all the grammar that they have covered and a final ‘test’. After passing this test the student can move onto the next level. If they fail, they simply repeat the lesson or lessons on which they need to focus while continuing their spoken practise with the multitude of functional language lessons through the week.

I have to say I liked the method and so did the students. It’s not perfect but it did show what can be achieved with a little creative thinking. I would love to see some research on it’s effectiveness over a longer term but generally it was just refreshing to see a different approach.

The Future

Now with DimmiDeck having reached it’s Kickstarter goal we’ve started to focus on the future. Downloadable materials and worksheets are absolutely part of this, but where do we start? Do we stick with grammar based activities? Should we look at functional language? Do we try a situational approach? Or do we take aspects of all three and create something totally new?

I guess over the next few months we will see. For now though, I can’t help wondering if there’s a good reason why course book writers are hesitant to change. The research is there. The information is out there for us all to find and we study it on just about every further development course we do.

So why are we still not doing it?

If you know of any course books or schools with an alternative and interesting syllabus structure please let us know in the comments!