Where to get free ELT & education-related books … legally

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Many of the teachers I work with often ask me for recommendations for books to help them with lesson planning, activities, methodology, research and general professional development. I can suggest titles by the dozens but they are often not really affordable – a topic I’ve written about before.

So here’s a list of sites where you can get free ELT and education related books.

1. British Council’s Teacher Development Publications 

There are loads here but my favourites in no particular order include the following:

2. Chris Watkins’ publications

A veritable treasure trove. I could spend a year rummaging through all the free stuff and not even make a dent. Note that many of the files are articles or excerpts. However, the complete version of Effective Learning in Classrooms is available as a free download. This is a very accessible book for getting started on the journey to reflective teaching. I also found Classrooms as Learning Communities very inspiring.

3. ELT Council Publications 

This site currently hosts three free books: The image in English Language Teaching by (Ed. Kieran Donaghy and Daniel Xerri) -definitely worth a dekko, Creativity in English Language Teaching and The Learning ELT Professional.

4. Quick Cups of COCA by Mura Nava

If you’ve started using corpora, explore Mura’s useful little book on different searches you can run in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (CoCA). You can read my review of this book here.

5. Nik Peachey’s free digital books

Nik is always giving away free stuff. While the publications he’s well known for such as Digital Tools for Teachers aren’t free, he often offers huge discounts on these books and you might end up paying something between ₹50 and ₹100 which is an absolute steal for a book stuffed with practical ideas. You can get updates about discounts and free goodies from his Edtech & ELT Newsletter – to subscribe, go to his blog, scroll down and enter your email address in the box on the right that says “My free newsletter”.

6. 50 tips for ELT materials writers by ITDI (ed. Katherine Bilsborough)

7You are the coursebook – Lesson plans by Matt Purland

8. Phil Wade’s books on SmashWords – Lots of ESP and Business English booklets.

9. Free chapters by Zoltan Dornyei has written in a range of books. Dornyei is well known for his writing on motivation and dynamics in the language classroom.

10. Contributions to Creative Classrooms – a collection of activities put together by teachers who attended an ELTA-British Council workshop  in Serbia.

11. Enjoying books together: a guide for teachers on the use of books in the classroom by Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly – a beautifully illustrated book from the Rwandan Children’s Initiative

12. Publications from IATEFL’s Research Special Interest Group – I found Developing as an EFL Researcher: Stories from the field particularly interesting.

13. Articles by Jack C. Richard (suggested by Matthew Noble). While these aren’t books, there are excerpts and papers from books.

14. The Lexical Approach by Dave Ellis thanks to the University of Birmingham.

15. Books by Stephen Krashen including The Natural Approach, Second Language Acquisition and Second Language LearningPrinciples and Practice
in Second Language Acquisition and Summer Reading program and evidence. Many thanks to Marisa Constantinides for sharing these links.

16. Some free books on management and leadership from OReilly – potentially useful for Business English and ESP trainers. There are two titles – The secret behind great one-to-one meetings and Build to lead: how Lego bricks can make you a better leader, which might be interesting for a wider audience.

17. Teaching and Learning Languages: a guide is a free ebook funded by the Australian Department of Education.

18. Flipping the System is a free book from Routledge that explores ways of replacing top-down accountability with bottom-up support for teachers.

19. Getting started with Virtual Reality Guide by Monica Burns, the founder of  ClassTechTips.com

Suggestions for additions to my list are highly appreciated as long as they are related to ELT or education and of course legitimately free!

Image attribution: Free by Foomandoonian – Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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500 Grammar based conversation questions | Book review

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Title: 500 Grammar based conversation questions with explanations of grammar points

Authors: Larry Pitts

Publisher: ESL Conversation Questions Publishing

Year of publication: 2015

Companion resources: NA

Source: Print copy bought from Amazon India

What really attracted to this book was the caption “Conversation questions designed to elicit the thirty most common grammar points”. I increasingly find myself in situations where I need to answer the question “how can I elicit this target language?’

500 Grammar based conversation questions is a large book in terms of dimensions but it’s fairly slim both in terms of its page count and contents.  It has lists of questions prefaced by a brief explanation of the target language. In principle, this could still be invaluable to new teachers. However, almost every single question includes the target language.

As … as : Are cats as fun as dogs?

Present perfect: What are some good restaurants you’ve eaten at?

Used to: Who did you use to play with in elementary school?

Will : What will happen to privacy  in the future?

This is consistent throughout the book with the exception of the section on imperatives which has scenarios that would prompt the use of the target language:

Imperatives: What’s a card game from your country? How do I play it?

So I gather that the author’s interpretation of the word ‘elicit’ is different from how I see it. I think by elicit, he means targeted practice and he’s got some commentary at the back about using these questions in the classroom. He’s essentially describing a stage of the lesson where we provide practice with language that’s been taught as opposed to the language presentation stage which is what I had in mind.

From that perspective, this book isn’t all that useful. It contains suggested topics along with the target language in the form of a question. These sorts of conversation prompts are more effective when they are aligned to learner interests and the context of the lesson. In How to Teach Speaking, Thornbury describes criteria for effective speaking tasks and there are two that I reckon are really critical: productivity and purposefulness. I doubt whether prompts like “Where should I go to buy electronics?” will achieve either criterion in the context of advice.

On the other hand, I suppose for new teachers, the questions could be a helpful starting point but I don’t see them dipping into 500 Grammar based conversation questions for too long.

How to write corporate training materials | Book review

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Title: How to write corporate training materials

Authors: Evan Frendo

Publisher: ELT Teacher 2 Writer | Smashwords edition

Year of publication: 2014

Companion resources: NA

Source: Complimentary ebook from the author

A couple of years ago, I met a teacher (let’s call her Meera) at a conference who’d been working with tertiary institutions on a freelance basis. Meera wanted to get into corporate training and was wondering if she could partner with me on a project. I didn’t really have anything for her at the time but a few months later I found myself on the phone with a client who desperately wanted a bespoke solution rolled out for an urgent need. My schedule was chock-a-block at the time and I didn’t have the bandwidth (as we say in corporate circles) to design the materials and deploy someone else to teach the course. So I asked them to take things forward with Meera (who I judged as fairly competent), which they did.

Little did I realise that I’d done them both a great injustice. Meera was utterly unprepared for the engagement and the client had assumed that she was on the ball because I’d recommended her. I know we often bandy about the bland encouragement to General English teachers that Business English and ESP courses don’t require them to be experts in business, management or a particular industry and that their expertise in language will help them sail through. I’m afraid it’s a claim that’s simultaneously true and false.

The uninitiated teacher or trainer risks missing the forest for the trees. Meera apparently did an intensive needs analysis but her focus was very narrow and the sorts of information she collected caused her churn out or select run of the mill language exercises with token nods to the business setting.  Her materials were completely divorced from the context that her learners worked in and required language for and the specific need that she had been called in to address.

Knowing what to look for and how to feed these insights into materials-design comes with experience, and it helps if you’ve spent time with a corporate setup in a business/operational role i.e., not training or teaching. In the absence of that kind of experience, Frendo’s How to write corporate training materials could be a useful primer.

A key strength of this book is the extent to which it aligns practices to what typically happens within organisations. The idea that we should “investigate discourse practices” instead of merely collecting language needs, strikes a chord with me. Beyond educating the practitioner about process and projects, and SOPs and SIPOC charts, Frendo offers a series of incisive tasks that raise awareness of language, strategies and issues we ought to consider when developing corporate training materials.

My favourites include task 6 which draws on research by Williams (1998) comparing the language prescribed by coursebooks for functions within meetings with actual usage.

Agreeing

Examples from contemporary textbooks:

  • You’ve got a point there.
  • I totally agree with you.
  • Absolutely. / Precisely. / Exactly.

Examples from real-life business meetings:

  • Mmm
  • implied by the function ‘accept (e.g., yes)
  • implied by not disagreeing
  • nods

Frendo goes on to state:

It is easy to see why St John described business English as ‘a material-led movement rather than a research-led movement’ (p15). It is writer’s intuition, rather than what we know about discourse, which has been leading the way. And many commentators feel that not much has changed since that article was written.

There are also several transcript-based tasks that draw attention to features of Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF) including “code-switching, ellipsis, silence, incomplete utterances, repetition, deviation from ‘standard’ English” all of which Frendo suggests as worth exploring in the training room.

I found the section on techniques for gathering this kind of evidence interesting. There were some that I was familiar with such as language snippets, recordings, corpus analysis, work shadowing and questionnaires and others that I’ve never actually used such as simulated conversations and anecdote circles (sort of like an FGD but more informal).

Task 11 is another interesting one. It asks the reader to analyse an annual report and identify authentic texts that could be used for different roles and needs. I wonder how many Business English trainers have actually read an annual report.

There are also case studies of training projects Frendo has worked on and the solutions he facilitated. Again, we see a strong integration of what actually happens in organizations such as scrum meetings and how this might unfold in a training programme.

How to write corporate training materials is a useful compilation of practices for someone who is making the transition from General English to Business English/ESP and it’s particularly relevant to those who are working as independent consultants. However, it’s also full of insights for practitioners who have been consulting in corporate contexts for a while because it questions some of our practices, especially when we rely on intuition, rather than observation and research to inform our design.

You can purchase the book from Amazon as a direct download or through the Kindle and you can read more about Frendo’s work at his site.