In this day and age, we take the endless sea of useful (and sometimes less than useful) information available on the internet for granted. However, there are still times when having the right book at your fingertips will save you time and effort in terms of finding the exact answer to a students’ question or getting the key ideas for an upcoming lesson in a more efficient way. Here are a few such volumes that I always keep in a handy place on my desk or bookshelves.
1) While a good grammar book is a must-have, Practical English Usage by Michael Swan is much more than that. It gives answers to commonly asked questions about grammar in use with brief but useful explanations with good examples. See here for an interview with the author
2) Despite lots of online options, a good library should include both a dictionary and thesaurus as well. The best one(s) would depend on your context and needs, but my bookshelf contains both an Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus as well as a Dictionary of Canadian English. However, for students of ESL/EFL, one of these options might be best . This article also talks about different levels and types of dictionaries for students, so it is worth a look:
3) My next recommendation is for those who may not always have access to the internet but want a book that covers a lot of ground in terms of practical information for students and teachers. The ESL Miscellany was one of the first books I bought as a new teacher and has remained front and center on my bookshelf to this day. This article talks about exactly what it is and what it includes as well as discussing some of the pros and cons of this type of book.
4) Fourth, is the best grammar book for teachers (I am going to ignore students here since most people I know prefer this, and it is a great series of books), although and that may depend on what book you studied within teacher’s college or what book your colleagues use. Just as with number one on my list, it is probably more about how the book is organized than the actual content since there is obviously a lot of overlap in terms of what they cover. This website offers a very good list of the top contenders with links to the Amazon page for each one . Look for the list under Grammar Reference Books. I think this is the book where most of you are likely to have the strongest opinions, so I am taking the coward’s way out and not telling you which of these I have on my shelf other than the above-named titles. 😊
5) Another reference that can be helpful to both new and experienced teachers is the New A-Z Of ELT by Scott Thornbury. It is a clear and concise book of terminology within the field that has already been revised once. It is presumably inspired by his blog, but offers many more terms with more details and useful references as well.
6) The last book I would recommend for anyone in the field of English Language teaching is David Crystal’s The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (3rd Edition). This book from 2018 is a treasure trove of information on all aspects of teaching and learning English with great visuals and a detailed list of references for further reading on a wide variety of topics. A detailed overview of its contents can be found here
This list is by necessity a short one as educators in ESL and EFL live and work in diverse settings and have both very different and very similar needs in terms of reference books and tools to improve our ability to do our job to the best of our ability. I have tried to pare this list down to the books that have been most reliably of use to me in improving my craft and answering my students’ questions over the years. I would welcome any additional ideas you, the readers, may have for books I should have included on my list (and that I should add to my own bookshelf as well).