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Teaching Abroad Made Simple with 10 Classic Titles

Teaching Abroad Made Simple with 10 Classic Titles

I’ve taught English for over five years. During my TEFL training course, I’ve taught in South Korea, Thailand, a little bit in Laos, and a bit in Mexico. Based on my experience and my extensive reading on the subject, I will attempt to give you 10 of the best, accessible books on the topic of teaching English as a foreign language.

Not to be confused with English as a Second Language (ESL), English as a foreign language (EFL) refers to the field where you’re teaching English in a foreign country to non-native speakers. Teaching ESL, on the other hand, is when you teach English in your home country to students whose native language is not English.

I’ve done a lot of extensive reading from authors with a lot of experience in teaching English. And they have developed quite an impressive array of strategies and activities that you can use in your own classes to make your teaching more fun, exciting, and enlivening. They will also help you reduce the amount of time in planning and teaching your lessons. I want to list these 10 terrific books I have found to be the most helpful in my entire experience as a teacher, with the sole purpose of helping you, an aspiring or current teacher, to live a more stress-free life.

These books were immense in their helpfulness, reassuring me at times when I doubted my own competence and expertise. They gave me a peace of mind. If you read these 10 books, I can assure you that you will be more prepared than ever to tackle a career in EFL. Irrespective of whether you only have a TEFL certificate, a more advanced degree in teaching, or if you have none of those things and you’re just teaching for volunteer purposes, these books can benefit you.

Whatever your experience level, if you even a hold of these books, whether online or offline, you will be seriously happy that you made the investment. Again, what’s in them? Activities, strategies, tactics, and ideas for making your teaching more effective, both for you and the students and also for the administrators who need to see evidence that they hired the right person for the job.

These 10 books are the answer to your prayers as far as I’m concerned.

A small word of caution though: For a lot of these books, the Cambridge ones especially, you won’t be able to just memorize and retrieve the activities from the top of your head like most activity-books seem to imply. In the books I will recommend, there is so much knowledge that you will not be able to remember all the activities. Thus, I recommend you keep them around as reference guides, scan in a few of the pages if you purchased a physical copy or download and keep your highlights handy, so that you can employ them more like dictionaries.

A lot of the authors will tell you how you should read their book. For the Cambridge series, I often didn’t go page to page, cover to cover. I just usually went to the page that had certain activities that I was searching for. With Larry Ferlazzo’s book, I read cover to cover. For S.P. Lee’s book, I also read cover-to-cover. With the Cambridge series, I tend to just flip around. Still, for some of the Cambridge books, like the Teaching Large Multilevel Classes and Planning Lessons and Courses, I read these cover-to-cover, wholly happy to have done that. So just keep this in mind. Some books recommended here are meant more as reference guides while others are meant to be read cover-to-cover for the full context and breadth of what is actually being conveyed.  

So, without further ado…

1. Teaching English in Korean Public Schools: A Practical Guide

S.P. Lee

This first book is really more local to the area you’re teaching in. It’s not necessarily number one on anyone’s list, which is perhaps why I’m mentioning it first before the other more helpful ones. And yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to having used this book on a variety of occasions in a variety of settings.

It is certainly one that I have found highly, highly effective, and one you’re likely to view as impactful too, especially if you’re teaching in Asia, especially in South Korea. However, this book can serve in several locations because 95% of the activities mentioned in this book can be applied just about anywhere, in any country, culture, and setting. This book was published in 2014 but is still very relevant today. It has strategies for all different levels, games and lesson ideas.

It also has tips and strategies on how you can go about searching for jobs and it also gives you some valuable tips on dealing with culture and politics in South Korean public and private schools. It teaches you the difference between the private schools in South Korea, which are called Hagwons, versus the public schools.

In addition, it gives you the benefits of each as well as the disadvantages. It also provides you with advice based on the Korean culture that could really help you get more acclimated once you land in this country for the first time. The book also has certain recommendations on working collaboratively with your co-teacher.

Unlike many other countries, South Korea has a co-teacher system where, typically, you’ll be assigned a class with another teacher who will co-teach with you. They are usually there to basically translate some of the words that you’re saying. Or in better case scenarios, they help you with lessons, lesson planning, and strategy. Sometimes they’ll even be your supervisor or they’ll help you prepare an evaluation for yourself or for other students. This system is most common in Asia, generally speaking.

Some EFL teachers in South Korea actually don’t have them and they just work without them, but in my teaching experience, I definitely did have co-teachers and they had very different levels of involvement in my classes. It was up to me to kind of interact with them and figure out ways to make them feel comfortable working with me in their own way. I also had to convey what I was feeling to make sure that they fully understood where I was coming from so that we could collaborate on mutually agreeable terms. SP Lee’s book helped me out a lot with this.

At the end of the book, he also gives very valuable, relevant resources and links that you can use to find jobs or to find PowerPoints, different lectures, resources, and tools for your teaching. These resources will definitely add to your classes.


2. Planning Lessons and Courses: Designing Sequences of Work for the Language Classroom

Tessa Woodward

This book was super helpful and I used it constantly. It gave me peace of mind and reassurance that what I was doing was, in fact, the right thing to do because many times I interacted with other teachers and supervisors and administrators who had a different teaching experience, different education, a different life story, a different culture, and very often as a result I felt disoriented because other people had different beliefs from mine about the way teaching was supposed to be “performed.” This book however really helped me get oriented again because it reassured me that the things that I was doing were in fact the right things to be done at that time; that the things that I had learned in my TEFL course were indeed in fact valid and that I could use them all over the world, especially in South Korea.

South Korea and many of the other Asian countries do tend to stress lesson planning a lot. They use lesson plans as administrative tools and objective evidence that the teacher is doing the work that they’re supposed to be doing. In South Korea, there are examinations for guest teachers called “open classes” where a foreign teacher is meant to demonstrate his teaching competency before a board of evaluators and very often those same evaluators will be looking at a lesson plan that you crafted from scratch. This experience can make some people nervous because people have different ideas about the way a lesson plan should be structured, the way it’s supposed to be carried out. But if you read this book, you’ll find that a lot of the things you already know, such as the practice of timing activities, making bullet points, keeping track of the different minutes that you spend on different portions of the lesson, presenting the lesson at the beginning, practicing the lesson, pair work, group work, discussion.

All this is mentioned quite extensively in this book and it will also give you really great activities that you can use and apply to your lessons that you craft with other teachers or just by yourself. Sometimes you actually really don’t need to use this book at all. You just realize that you know what you need to know already. However, if you are tasked with the responsibility of developing your own wholly unique and original lesson plan, then this book will really come in handy, guiding you point by point on how to structure a lesson plan from scratch. Ultimately, if you get observed by supervisors and administrators based on your lesson plans, you’ll feel grounded in your knowledge and take criticism more lightly. Again, peace of mind.

This book can boost your confidence about your ways of teaching because it is basically based on extensive research evidence, backed and supported by an entire industry. So I wholly recommend it. The publishers are Cambridge. Cambridge is nothing less than topmost authority on teaching EFL, so if they are saying that this is what you should be doing, then feel confident taking tips and strategies from them, irrespective of what those around you might say about your own teaching practices (and believe me, they WILL comment). So this is a great book. I really loved it a lot. I used a lot of activities in this book and I also used it to understand lesson planning more fully, what it entailed (and didn’t entail). Ultimately, the book prepared me for any type of scenario that involved me making lessons from scratch.


3. Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective, and Drama Activities for EFL Students

Mario Rinvolucri

Need grammar games? Then this book is for you because it contains a lot of them. However, I will admit that there are going to be times where you don’t have to teach grammar because the students will already know it and they’re just looking for interaction with the foreign teacher. This is especially true for teachers in some of the Asian countries. Sometimes students are just looking for conversation that’s casual, something that closely resembles the real world where they might have to engage with a foreigner in a high stakes situation or something where the rhythm is a lot faster and it tends to make the student feel disoriented or flustered. Even with these types of students, you can defer to games and activities to help break up a conversation a little bit, kind of making the lesson more varied and interesting by using plenty of games from this book to assist you in making your lessons dynamic, interesting, and unpredictable. They will just add color to your lessons that keep the students engaged with you versus if you do just a monotonous reading lesson where all you’re doing is reading.

You want to diversify your lessons with reading, writing, listening, speaking (“the four domains,” as some may call it in some TEFL training programs).  

With a grabber game from Mario Rinvolucri’s book, you have a really good chance of keeping the energy going for the full 40 minutes or an hour that you have with the students.

Mario Rinvolucri actually is one of the top contributors to the Cambridge book series, so he presumably has a lot of support from the upper echelons of the EFL boards in Cambridge. Therefore, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the games in this book nor have a sense of guilt for executing these games as part of your lesson because they’re based on the authorities who have basically established the best practices in the field for native English teachers.

Another interesting fact about this book: There are board games you can print out and give to students in pairs and group work as well as many fun interactive lessons. One of my favorite is the “Marienbad exercise.” That’s basically like a poem that you read to the students. You write it on the board and then you erase the sentence and then the students have to read the poem again, but memorized. So it’s a memory game and a very good one because it can take upwards of 30 minutes to play! If you’re thinking about giving your students (or even yourself) a vacation from teaching, use this game!

There are many other creative games in this book, ones you might not even conceive of off the top of your head. If you’re new to EFL, these games will doubtless be very eye-opening to you and you’ll be eager to try them out on your classes. I used this book constantly in my teaching career. And if I were to go back into teaching today in the middle school or high school levels, in South Korea, I would most definitely carry this book around, using it liberally in most of my lessons.  


4. Recipes for Tired Teachers: Well-Seasoned Activities for the ESOL Classroom

Chris Sion

I admire this activity book because it reaches the core of all of my biggest complaints about the EFL industry and the way teachers are often exploited as factory laborers, overworked and exhausted.

This book totally understands the plight of many teachers who have an exhausting schedule where they’re at the mercy of working these long grueling hours. In reality, they don’t have to work those hours… if only they knew about this book. Obviously, working is a choice but I liked this book because it targets the demographic of teachers who don’t necessarily know that they’re working a lot but are working a lot anyway!

See, that’s the thing. If you know you’re working a lot, you have the ability to stop it, but teachers who don’t know that they’re working a lot, don’t tend to realize that there’s an easier way out. And thus, can use a book like this to help them find the way out. They can really pick up this book and get a lot of value from it because there are a lot of activities in this book that will help save energy, help a teacher talk less, help them interact less if they have to interact at all and it will keep the onus and responsibility for learning and language acquisition directly on the students, in a fun way. I find that learning is a very personal process and it’s very individual and depending on a person’s culture and individual makeup. The interaction you give with the student, of course, is a very complex process that you can’t be fully 100% in control of. But at the same time, there are ways that you can encourage the student to help themselves, which is the best way of helping a student learn English. Not to mention the fact that it is a great way of dealing with other people in your personal and professional life.

You can’t always change people, but you can foster an environment where change can happen and that’s really, I think, the crux of what an EFL teacher is really supposed to be doing. The activities in this book will actually help you create that environment that fosters intrigue and interest and excitement in learning a language because it has many games that challenge students to test the skills they already possess but don’t have a lot of confidence in using.  

Many of the activities in this book will run for 40 minutes or an hour so they can be used as lesson plans in and of themselves. And in fact, this book provides you with estimated times for how long these lessons are supposed to last. When I was teaching in South Korea, I used this book constantly, especially during winter and summer camps.

I printed out all these different lesson plans from the book, stuck them in a folder and literally they became the basis for most of the work that I would do for weeks on end. If I had a 40 hour work week where I was dealing with high school and tech students and middle school students, I devised these lesson plans based on this book and reduced my overall workload to just about the amount that was agreed upon when I actually signed the contract: 20 hours. Lesson planning shouldn’t be your second shift, so use this book to eliminate it from outside of your working hours! Thankfully, this book basically gave me everything that I needed for teaching for the whole week! Also, if you suspect that you are not making the class as fun as it could be, then using this book can really fix that.


5. Teaching Large Multilevel Classes

Natalie Hess

There was a moment in my first year of teaching when I was really getting stressed and anxious and burnt out. I was teaching 50 to 60 hours a week, teaching large classes with different fluency levels and different interests, very noisy rowdy seminars, with students of varying motivations for being in the class, mostly out of compulsion. And many of whom didn’t even want to be there. So what was my solution to that problem? This book.

This book is great because it contains activities directly suited for large classrooms of students who have varying levels of English (and motivations). When the administrators turn a blind eye to the chaos that ensues from a class such as the ones that I describe here, this book really has your back!

For starters, the book provides you with many different lessons that you can use to put the learning back on the student and to make the student more responsible for the class than just having you assume all the pressure and responsibility for making sure things go right.

At the beginning, taking on a large class like this was really difficult for me to keep track of—the progress, the attendance, the lessons learned, and the lessons needing repetition (while also keeping things fun, uplifting, and unique). With this book, I was onboard and able to manage my energy, to distress while giving value to the students even when there was not enough attention of me to go around to everyone (this easily happens even in just a classroom of 10 students! You just can’t be everywhere at once!).

When the students didn’t feel like they were getting much attention or involvement, I used the activities in this book to give them a sense that they were receiving my attention, partaking in the class and being actively involved in their own learning of the language. It also had interesting exercises that I could use to keep the class dynamic and engaged on top of all of the other lessons that I was introducing in the class based on the PowerPoints and worksheets that I had found off various EFL-specific teaching websites.

If you find yourself teaching huge classes of young people from middle school to high school, then you will find this book to be a great, immense savior. It will help you save your energy, de-stress, and you’ll never fear having to make new lesson plans again because you’ll always have this book to keep you company.

This book is not even a large one. It’s about 250 pages total, but it’s 250 pages of jam packed wisdom with the backing of Cambridge. I will also add that the students loved many of the activities from it, and I was able to continue the interest of my classes for months and months in these large auditorium-filled classes of rowdy students who had multiple levels of English proficiency. This book just as much applies to Mexico and Europe as it does to Asia and that’s what I really love about it.  Its applicability is virtually limitless, spanning countries and cultures all over the world. Read this one cover-to-cover, please.


6. Self-Driven Learning: Teaching Strategies for Student Motivation

Larry Ferlazzo

I really love this book, not so much for the activities since Larry is an ESL teacher who teaches in California, and I’m an EFL teacher, so there are different needs, but I will say that the thing I like most about Larry’s approach to teaching is that he encourages students at all times to take full control of their own learning and to be fully autonomous, which is exactly what I want to be teaching to my students at all times. His philosophy influences his lesson plans and strategies, and it is this same philosophy you can borrow from him to influence your own approach to teaching.

Autonomy has always been a quality of adults that I admire a lot, and I think that part of education should be to teach that level of autonomy because at the end of the day, you really cannot control other people. There are academic institutions and other businesses that will try to make you think otherwise, that you can in fact control other people and make them do what you want (i.e. coerce) and make them change. But at the end of the day, the life lesson that I’ve gotten from English and from life in general is that you really cannot change a person’s motivation for doing anything. You can only meet them where they are. If they don’t love English, they won’t learn English. It’s really that simple.

There’s not a whole lot more you can do with this. Look, I can’t even change my relatives, let alone the students that I’ve had in my life. Besides, you probably won’t be able to do a whole lot of talking and “persuading” in your classes anyway because of the language barrier. Most won’t have a clue what you’re saying if you start talking at normal speed, in a conversational manner. Better to optimize for minimal discussion and build an environment that’s conducive for self-learning.

What I like about this particular book is its emphasis on giving students activities where they take charge of their own learning and their own involvement and that they wholly experience the feeling that it is entirely up to them whether they’re going to have a good experience in the classroom or not. This runs counter to the way most students are taught, especially in Asia, where they are trained at an early age to view the teacher as the dispenser of wisdom. Even if at times they are rebellious anyway! So you are likely to encounter some resistance with incorporating this belief system into your lesson planning, but I say it’s worth it.

Realize this: Most of the education systems around the world are predicated on the idea that it is the teacher’s responsibility to be the disseminator of all that is holy and right, to teach students how to live in the world. My belief is that this is actually not their responsibility and I often feel like people get confused about teachers.

The reality is that I cannot control another human being. You, as your own sovereign being, can live any way you like, and it’s your choice how you want to build the world around you. Oftentimes all a teacher does is give information that other people told them to provide to a select demographic. But this gets exhausting because it demands so much of your time and attention, and it makes teaching more like babysitting. If this is what you signed up for, then that’s a different story. But if you’re genuinely trying to teach—which includes an element of socializing people into society—then teaching autonomy will certainly make your life a whole lot easier.

With this book, the more I applied different types of activities from this book, the less burdened I felt (an inverse relationship, which is what a great book can do for you). I felt less obliged to be constantly “on,” all the time and performing for the students because of the mentality that I got after reading this book which offered me a way out. And it’s a very empowering message. It’s not a negative approach to teaching at all if that’s what you’re thinking right now. It’s actually supposed to be a way of empowering students to learn for themselves, to be critical thinkers of their own lives. And although many of the lesson plans are geared more toward ESL teachers, I will say that Larry does have quite an impressive array of links and resources that he provides all throughout the book that you can definitely use as an EFL teacher. I know I did.

So, although I wouldn’t take most of the full lessons that he recommends, there were select resources and ideas and technology-driven thoughts that I used in certain aspects to make the classes more innovative and relevant, while also testing the boundaries of how much flexibility and involvement the students were willing to assume (and they often surprised me a great deal). It’s not necessarily for the lessons themselves that I used this book but rather for the resources that supplemented other types of activities that I was using from other books. So I guess you would say that this book is good for sub-activities where the EFL teacher is concerned (just as important a component of teaching effectively as any of the other activities you might introduce in your classes).

There is also a technology component to this book. Many of the books I’ve already mentioned are somewhat outdated, prescribing outmoded technology, such as a projector and cassette tapes. Larry Ferlazzo however prides himself on being an innovator and bringing the latest in advanced technology to his classes, so that students are not just getting an ESL lesson. They’re also getting real-world applicability and thinking more expansively about the ways their newfound English skills can be applied in our always-changing world. In a way, Ferlazzo teaches entrepreneurial creativity while also teaching English, ultimately going above and beyond the mandate of what most would consider an English teacher’s responsibilities.

So he also prepares students for the future, which is what I also like about this book. It gives you lessons, activities and resources that wholly involve the technology that’s being used today (e.g. social media, virtual reality); it’s forward-thinking, but it’s also teaching you that you should be teaching people to teach themselves which is probably one of the best gifts you can ever give as an English teacher.


7. Discussions that Work: Task Centered Fluency Practice

Penny Ur

Penny Ur has also written extensively on grammar. Grammar Practice Activities is another book that she has written. It’s fabulous. Both her Grammar Practice Activities book and this book are all from Cambridge.

I think the information in this book in particular has been incredibly helpful for the more fluent classes that I have taught in my career. A lot of the time when I was teaching students who were very fluent, I was at a loss for what to do and that scared me the most because I always liked having things planned out, meticulously, and knowing what came next.

I have a theater background and I have always appreciated rehearsing, having a script and being able to rehearse the script and being able to perform my sales choreography (or in this case, my lesson planning). When you’re working with students who are already beyond the basic lessons that you normally teach, like alphabet, grammar, colors, and basic greetings, then the task becomes a little bit more difficult, trickier, because if you’re working in a high school, the students probably won’t necessarily want to talk about really boring stuff that’s relating to philosophy or the psychology of the brain. They’re not quite there yet, but at the same time they are not below average intelligence either that you could talk to them about something more basic, like going to the post office or the weather.

There are many students in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan who fit this profile—they are so fluent that you have to move beyond what they know while also keeping the lessons fun—in a simple video-game like way—for people whose brains are still basically not as developed as a mature adult’s. It’s easy to get this mixed up. Bear in mind that this particular demographic doesn’t really know what it wants, doesn’t have a sense of what is right or wrong for itself. So you can’t really begin to have these heady conversations with them, even in high school, because they just won’t be able to process it (especially when they have all of this other work to do).

In comes this book to save your hide! The happy medium solution to the issue of what exactly to talk about.

This book really delivers above and beyond, providing conversations to use with more fluent students that will get them thinking. Furthermore, the book also supplies discussion-based activities and games you can give to the students to keep lessons fun and interesting. The activities keep the sense of play in the lesson, the same sense of play that you just naturally create when you’re teaching to students who are learning the language for the very first time. This book challenges the more fluent students to speak to their level of fluency and beyond.

Actually, many of these lessons I did develop into PowerPoints, which were once upon a time available on waygook.org if you signed up for their message boards. But since we no longer have Waygook, I am attaching them to this article. You’re welcome.

I found that these activities lasted the entire half-year, at least six months. Many of the lessons in this book I could give for five classes. That’s how long they lasted. Many of them were just one or two classes, but many of them could be strung out for many different lessons and they still managed to test and challenge the more fluent students. Another good thing was that when I made the PowerPoints using pictures and sometimes even audio, it made the discussions livelier and more accessible to the younger and less fluent students. Also, some students are more visually oriented so having a PowerPoint for some of these lessons made them that much more inclusive and accessible to a wider swath of the population of students I was teaching.

On the whole, the activities of this book were flexible and could be used for different levels. The learning exercises were generally fun, appealing, engaging, and kept the overall energy up, and I freely admit that I used these discussions extensively for different classes in different parts of the world, especially in most parts of Asia.  They’re challenging too, and challenging even for me, but the students enjoyed them.

This book provided a very big solution to an issue I was having, which was the question of how to create lesson plans for the more fluent students while keeping them equally as captivating and exciting as my more basic classrooms where students were just having a good time learning that “apple” starts with the letter “A.”

Honestly, this book helped me for most of my career. I was able to use it constantly.


8. Drama Techniques: A Resource Book of Communication Activities for Language Teachers

Alan Maley and Alan Duff

If you need a more active and energetic atmosphere in the classroom, then this book is perfect for you. It’s great because it incorporated drama, theater activities, and theater techniques—the ones I became familiar with in my years at musical theater conservatory school.

Many people often remark that an EFL teacher is an “edutainer.” And I think there’s part truth to that because, well, you’re a guest teacher and much of the time, in my own experience teaching, the mandate is to have fun. I mean, you should be having fun anywhere you are in the world, whatever you’re doing. But if you’re teaching EFL that’s a mandate, you better be having fun.

For me, what I liked most about this was that it combined the entertainment and teaching together to optimize for the “edutainment,” that was expected of me. I was already familiar with a lot of the techniques in this book but most I would have never considered using in an EFL context were it not for this book. Many of these activities I can vouch and tell you for certain were very much popular in South Korea, Laos and other countries in Asia. A lot of the activities also last the entire class as well so you don’t even need to make a lesson plan. This is one of those reference books that I mentioned in the introduction of this article. No need to read cover-to-cover, just pick up and flip through for different activities you find appealing. The authors also provide the estimated time for each activity.

Admittedly, if you’re more of a pedagogical person, if you’re teaching by the book and your mandate is to be more scholarly than goofy, maybe this book isn’t for you. But for those people who are teaching young kids from elementary all the way up to young high school, in an EFL class where you have more autonomy, this particular book will undoubtedly be a really useful guide. Even with just a cursory glance of this book, you will never be at a loss for what to do or how to plan a lesson since they will really show you how entertaining you can make your classes. Again, the support from the Cambridge community is behind this book, so it can’t be completely disregarded as something irrelevant.


9. Keep Talking: Communicative Fluency Activities for Language Learning

Dr. Friederike Klippel

Loved this book because it emphasizes everything that the EFL community emphasizes, which is student talk time. I remember when I was taking my TEFL course in Mexico, it was advised that teachers talk only 20% of the time. Can you imagine that? 20% of the time is less than a quarter of the time you get with your students, with 80 percent of the talking going to the students.

I find this interesting because most of the time I felt like I was talking more than the students were. It was always in the back of my head that students needed to be more active in the class to be doing more of the talking, and yet I was finding this challenging because many of the students oftentimes didn’t know what to talk about, especially in the more fluent and conversant classes I was assigned. Oftentimes, they didn’t know what to say because they didn’t have a lot of life experience. They don’t know what questions to ask. They just kind of take everything for granted. And a lot of the things that they’re exposed to are either in their school, in the textbook, or through video games in PC rooms or television. Their life experience isn’t as complete and comprehensive and dynamic and diverse as an adult’s life experience, so they don’t have that necessary background to just assume responsibility for initiating and sustaining conversations.

My breakthrough came when I read this book.

When there’s a silence that pervades the room, an impasse, if you will, and space between conversations when a student doesn’t know what to talk about and when you don’t know what to talk about either because you don’t know what would interest a student (you’re just drawing a blank), use this book to help solve that space problem. Just whip it out, turn to a random page, and take that lesson and use it. Literally. It will keep and sustain the class momentum when you start to find yourself at a loss for words and direction, and not to mention it will keep the students talking (as opposed to you).

This can be used with really fluent students but also with the faculty who you might need to teach others English too. So in that moment when you’re kind of at a loss and you don’t know what to do and the conversation is just stilted, it’s not moving forward, you don’t know where to go with this, then you can use Keep Talking as a means of filling the space because this book has a lot of activities that are designed to get the students not only talking, but to continuously talk, hence the name of the book.

It has lesson plans too. It gives you the timing of each activity featured and many of these games and activities are fun, exciting and keep a forward momentum going while also keeping classes dynamic and interesting. Many of these games also come with worksheets that you can give to students. For example, I know there’s a crossword puzzle in this book and also cutouts for matching-based activities. There are also many thoughts and ideas on ways that you can use the printouts from this book to get your students to be provoked into speaking more. In addition to all that, it contains a lot of visual stimuli that will get the students to really be more engaged with the classroom dialogue.

So, the overall reason I enjoyed this book a lot is because it seriously does solve the issue of dead air that might happen in your class—that existential brush with death of where to go, what to do, when you ultimately don’t know where to go with your students—when you don’t want the energy to die and you have 25 more minutes left in the class, or 30, or even 2 hours, of the class remaining. This particular activity book can be used as a filler and save you from croaking. Literally. About 85% of these activities also will last the entire class, at least if you’re teaching in Asia.

I found many of the activities lasted at least an hour, so certainly, they will help you fill out your classes more and provide backup and support in the event that an activity that you were planning falls short of its promise or doesn’t deliver the way you thought it would deliver.

By using this book, I was able to get the students more engaged to the point where the 80/20 rule ultimately prevailed, where the students were speaking 80 percent of the time, and I just sat back and listened to them. So, if you want to do the same and you want to reserve your energy and not work as much as I did—and I really hope you will—then you will use this book. Satisfaction guaranteed!


10. ESL Classroom Activities for Teens and Adults: ESL Games, Fluency Activities and Grammar Drills for EFL and ESL Students

Shelley Ann Vernon

If you are teaching a variety of different age groups, then this book is for you.  It contains activities and games for basically just about any EFL or ESL student that you might ever encounter and have. It’s for very young students as well as for very old students. I find that many books don’t have quite as much breadth of applicability as this particular book.

Oftentimes, for example, many books only feature activities for young people, so many of the adults find it sometimes offensive that you would apply such activities designed for children to their own classes, showing little thought to the person you’re engaging with. They feel demeaned and rightly so. It can be very humiliating already not knowing English fluently, so using this particular book will really help solve the issue of not having activities for all ages.

Sometimes in my experience I found that I was at a loss for finding activities for adults and that activities for younger people seemed just easier to come by. I guess this is because younger people are just a more accessible demographic and a generally easier industry to help out because they are the neediest and most demanding of attention. Owning a business that teaches young people certainly isn’t the worst investment one could make. They have the best and most easily identifiable needs (perceived and otherwise). Not so with adults.  

When you start to get into teaching older people, way past college, that becomes a little trickier because your activities need to become more nuanced and more conversational. They need to have an air of sophistication and respect toward the person who’s learning English at the same time, need to be entertaining, encouraging, and motivating, while simultaneously being instructive. Such activities need to interest the adult students in learning the language and empowering them to continue their studies and to continue fighting for the fluency that they want.

Using this book can be an invaluable tool for just about all age groups.

I’ve also spoken personally with Shelley through email. She has a whole database of activities that she gives to readers of her book and she includes a coupon code in her book that you can apply to get access to all of the different learning materials and tools that Shelley has developed in her decades’ worth of experience as an English teacher. She freely gives this to you on the honor system and I have found them incredibly useful for my own teaching purposes. One of my favorite activities from this book that I really enjoyed a lot and which helped with my middle school classes was the tangram activity.

I made a PowerPoint based on it and I used other people’s PowerPoints with Shelley’s lesson plan from the book to give really engaging, incredibly interactive and involved lessons to my middle school students. Needless to say, the lesson was a runaway smash hit, lasting at least two classes because the students wanted to play the game again.

Shelley goes into this quite a bit in her book, so I won’t give all of the information away. I will however say that she provides tangram designs you can use from the database she provides, which is amazing of her in and of itself. As a matter of fact, her lessons I recall so fondly that I find myself reminiscing about the “good old days in South Korea,” even if much of the time I was stressed and worried. Go figure.

Anyway, it’s 175 ideas, but it’s really more than that because there are many different sub-activitie–and spinoff ideas that you get!–that you can give from the activities themselves. It’s not just 175 activities, but its 175 springboard activities which springboard into other lessons and activities and games.

Shelley is an amazing teacher. She’ll always communicate with you and is generally very approachable and eager to help out any teacher who initiates contact. Whether you’re a veteran EFL teacher or a newbie, this book has any activity that you can use for wherever you are in your career. It just serves a lifelong purpose and that’s what I really like about it. Thank you, Shelley!



So that commences the 10.

In many of these books, you get lessons for your whole life and you learn a lot about yourself. The great thing is that these books take a lot of burden, pressure, and anxiety off of you as a teacher. There’s nothing you can do beyond improving yourself and giving yourself the best possible opportunity for success, giving yourself the answers to your own problems. You can’t will this in other people, heck you can barely ever even know other people. You can only promote an environment that supports positive change as defined as people looking to themselves for their own definition of personal growth and development. This is a radical idea slowly gaining acceptance. Be the change you seek!

Many of these books will do the heavy lifting for you. They will make the student more inspired to learn English just by implementing the activities and they will encourage self-motivation and self-learning just by virtue of the fact that you’re using them. You don’t have to communicate any of that to the students and why would you? There’s a language barrier so you won’t get very far by doing that. By using these games that promote cultural dialog and practice in a fun way, you can tackle all of the important responsibilities under one umbrella and cover all of your bases and responsibilities through these books.

I truly believe these books have been invaluable, indispensable tools, and I would use them again in a heartbeat if I were to teach English again. This article represents an investment of hours and hours and hours of my time pouring over these words when I could have just as easily been sitting home drinking a beer or going hiking or living my life and collecting food stamps. I could have been doing a lot of different things, but I chose to read all these books which took up a lot of time and now freely dispense of the most important ones that have served me well in this industry.

It was a very good investment on my part and it’s fortunate for you if you have read this far and taken down some of the titles. You are receiving undoubtedly the full benefits of all of the hard work that took me months of agonizing stress and focus to achieve. A lot of this work was really touch and go and really subject to experimentation. I had to learn what worked as I went along. Sometimes I failed and sometimes I succeeded. But at the end of the day with the books that I’ve given you here, I was able to become a more refined and more seasoned professional in the EFL industry. And that’s what these books can give to you too, and what I’m ultimately giving to you.

I’ve read many other books as well. But they’re not on this list for a reason. Most of the time they were monotonous or they were for one age group. Sometimes the activities fell flat. Sometimes they didn’t engage the students at all. Other times they weren’t relevant because they were more geared toward the ESL industry as opposed to the EFL industry (with the exception of Ferlazzo’s book mentioned in this article). Sometimes they were not detailed enough. Sometimes there wasn’t enough source material for me to use to implement them the correct way. There were many flaws in many of the books I read, but the 10 here in this article really stand on their own, are complete in themselves, and have really helped me to grow and become a more dynamic and interesting and engaging professional without necessarily having to put all of my life force into every class to eventually burn out, which was a very real threat at times, not just for me but for many of the EFL teachers teaching in Asia.  

Now these books can be your savior too because you will be able to teach with a sense of ease and freedom that you didn’t think possible. You’ll be able to live your life with ease and fun and watch it as a very elegant movie going by. This is not to say that you won’t be held responsible or accountable at times to other people, but you’ll be able to tackle those issues with a lighter sense of yourself and of your condition and of your responsibilities, and just a lighter sense of purpose being in the school and the community in general.

Whether they are in digital or physical format, get a hold of these books. Keep them with you at all times and you will not stray far. You will be able to do well in the EFL industry and enjoy yourself.

Thank you so much for reading this, and I wish you the best of luck in your teaching journey and travels.


Todd Squitieri holds a BFA in Musical Theater and an MA in Forensic Psychology. He is the author of several works: The Mariachis, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore: A Pop Opera, and The Job Opportunity Specialist. He has written several articles, some of which make use of his educational background in Criminology and Forensic Psychology while others speak more about his teaching experience outside of the United States. He is busily working on a series of 10-minute short plays that he will publish later this year while also promoting his pop opera, ‘Tis Pity, for an eventual performance. To sign up and receive updates on his pop opera, visit www.PityPop.com. To visit Todd personally, visit: www.ToddSquitieri.com .

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