Six kinds of books on a language teacher’s bookshelf

After a slight hiatus while I was in Harrogate for IATEFL and Russia for Macmillan conferences, business resumes here at Six Things. This week I am joined by Paola Lizares, a teacher based in Australia and a great story that could only happen in the ELT blogosphere. Paola was reorganizing her bookshelf and she discovered that she could neatly divide her books into six categories. She then did what any sane, self-respecting teacher and reader of this blog would do. She sent me a message asking to do a post about it! 🙂 Only too happy to oblige, I present you with the results of the experiment. And an invitation to share your reading lists at the end!

I was getting irritated by how messy and disorganized my bookshelf was looking, so I decided to sort out all of the books. Lo and behold, they can be classified into six different categories! Below is a description of the types of books I own, as well as some recommendations.

1. Language

Being a language teacher, I own quite a few books on the topic of language. I won’t focus on the Macmillans, Cambridges, Oxfords, Longmans, or Heinles; I’m sure you already know them. Instead, let me recommend a gem of a book entitled An Introduction to Language. It’s by Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams. I had to read this in first-year college, and it has provided me with more-than-basic knowledge in the different fields of linguistics, from phonetics to sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics or neurolinguistics. It is easy to understand and is illustrated with real comic strips (“For Better or for Worse,” “Family Circus,” “Dennis the Menace” to name but a few.) This book is a must for anyone with even a mild interest in the languages of the world.

2. Fiction

Are there any language teachers who don’t read fiction? Where I work, most teachers are extremely well read. I’m not going to recommend any novels because it would be pretty difficult to choose only one, but I can recommend a masterpiece which, again, is a must-have for anyone interested in culture: D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Published in 1962 by Ingrid and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, it is an illustrated children’s book containing so much detailed information that it is an excellent way for adults to act blasé when they hear names such as Asclepius, Sisyphus or Jocasta.

This book has allowed me to explain to my students the etymology of words like ‘panic,’ ‘syringe,’ or the Bosphorus. I have also dictated passages to my students and used them as a basis to share myths and legends in a multicultural classroom setting. This video can be used in conjunction with the texts as listening practice.

3. Humor

When fiction gets too dense, it’s a good idea to liven up the classroom with some humorous texts. One funny writer is Christian Lander, who published Stuff White People Like. I have a signed copy of his book, which consists of a selection of his blog entries. Of course, you can find them on the Internet (

I’ve had my students go to the computer room to simply read as many of his blog entries as they can in twenty minutes, then I’ve had them choose their favorite three and talk to their partners about them. Then, we’ve had group feedback and we’ve discussed what exactly Lander means with the term ‘white people.’ Last of all, I’ve had my students write their own blog entry in a similar style, focusing on stuff people from their own country like. Interesting results!

4. Traveling

Most language teachers are well-traveled. This is evident in the high turnover in many language schools. I myself have lived in and traveled to quite a few countries; consequently, I have a nice collection of travel guides, my favorite ones being the Lonely Planet series.

I currently live in Brisbane, Australia, so let’s focus on The Lonely Planet Guide to Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. I might show my students the information concerning the tourist attractions closest to Brisbane. I might get them to skim through the information and make the best travel itineraries for a group of senior citizens, a group of 20 eighteen-year-olds, a couple on their honeymoon, and a family with three kids. This activity is by no means original; still, it’s highly practical and potentially fun.

5. Cooking

Of course, all teachers must eat to survive. That’s, in fact, the main reason why we teach, right?

One of my favorite cookbooks is called 4 Ingredients, by Kim McKosker and Rachel Bermingham. It was written for beginner cooks, so it has brought me up to the pre-intermediate level of cooking. Yoohoo!

It’s a compilation of recipes involving no more than four ingredients. Published in Australia, it has some interesting recipes like Vegemite Twists. I could force my students to eat that the next time they get uncontrollable. They hate Vegemite!

6. Self-help

Yup, every once and a while a language teacher has to deal with rowdy, rude, picky, gloomy, uncooperative students. Many a situation has made me feel utterly depressed. I manage to push through by keeping a mood diary, visiting Lindsay’s website, and reading self-help books.

A book that’s been published here in Australia but that you can surely order online is the excellent Change your Thinking by Sarah Edelman. It focuses on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which, from what I understand, is a psychological school of thought which helps people overcome depression, stress, fear, or anger by challenging their core beliefs. For example, if a student gives negative feedback, an oversensitive person might believe that that means that he’s a bad teacher, ergo, a bad and stupid person. In fact, that’s nothing but irrational thinking. The book has really helped me a lot, so do add it to your library!

That’s my list. What about you? Could your books be organized in the same way? Or is there a category that you would include and that isn’t on my list?

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 8:23 am  Comments (37)  
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