Where to get free education-related books … legally

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A lot of trainers and teachers I work with often ask me for recommendations for books to help them with materials writing, activities, methodology, research and general professional development. I can suggest titles by the dozens but they are often not really affordable.

So here’s a list of sites where you can get free 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

Open Badges for CPD

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I’ve been a bit disingenuous in recommending digital badges for informal learning without properly investigating them. So I was truly surprised to discover that I’d already earned a badge for attending a webinar on speaking assessments.

What are badges? 

Think of them as alternatives to certificates. They’re proof that you’ve completed a learning activity or achieved some kind of outcome (such as a language level). Unlike a certificate which you download and which only sees the light of day when your supervisor demands evidence of CPD, the badge can be displayed in a gallery accessible by others.

I found my badge on speaking assessments at Open Badges passport which Cambridge uses.

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However, Mozilla Backpack appears to be a lot more popular.

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It’s also possible to display the badges in your LinkedIn profile.

How does it work? 

An organisation or institution designs and issues badges. They then allow participants who have completed an activity to add a particular badge. In practice, anyone can design badges using a site like Openbadges.me or Open Badge Factory. There is ostensibly some kind of quality control in place because the badge links back to the organisation or person who issued it.  Here’s a worksheet with some interesting questions for badge issuers to think through.

Badges for CPD 

Is there value in displaying the CPD activities you’ve completed or achieved? I think there might be. Beyond the obvious ‘feeling proud of yourself’, they can be useful in work contexts where performance appraisal systems require evidence of having completed a certain number of hours of professional development. I also think they provide an opportunity to members of a community of practice to check in on what other practitioners are doing and perhaps think about doing similar activities .

Badges in teacher training 

I was thinking about how badges might work for pre-service teacher training courses. Would we give badges (scout-like) for discrete skills like giving instructions or for achieving a certain number of hours of training practice or accomplishing criteria related to assignment? Or would that dilute the goals of a criterion-referenced course? It would be interesting to introduce new teachers to badges in a session like ICT where they could receive a badge on ‘Starting a class Wiki’ and encourage them to get more badges when they kick start their CPD plans.  Here’s a useful presentation on creating badges for your own course.

Badges & informal learning 

We know that a lot of learning happens informally through classroom practice, peer interactions among others. Digital badges perhaps imply that these informal learning activities don’t hold as much value because you can only earn badges for activities endorsed by someone else. I do see a link for ‘Apply for a badge’ in Open Badges Passport but I’m not sure why Cambridge or any other provider would let you have one of their badges if didn’t attend their event. And there’s always that danger of a learning provider subverting the system to serve its own interest which one major publisher has allegedly attempted.

Do you issue badges for your teachers or students? What has been your experience with using badges to promote CPD and learner autonomy?

Free language learning resources | Mandarin

This post is going to be a slight departure from my regular blogging content. I am fulfilling a request (albeit tardily) from Iwona who is a prolific Tweeter of useful and fascinating PLN-related things.

Learning Chinese

I started learning Mandarin in 2012. I took a 30 hour weekend beginner’s instructor-led course with Inchin Closer. The teacher was a native speaker from Chongqing. When the course got over, I didn’t sign up for the next level and after a gap of a few months, I enrolled in the level 1 Mandarin course at Somaiya College’s Centre of Buddhist Studies.  The teacher was an Indian lecturer who had a PhD from China. Although both the courses were meant for beginners, they were extremely different. The first was ostensibly focused on functional vocabulary that would be useful for a businessperson travelling to China and the second emphasised learning radicals and characters. I was not very happy with both courses pedagogically but I’d been using a variety of self-access resources all along to supplement my learning.

All of the following resources are free except a few which may have some premium content, and the books at the very end.


Busuu: Although significant parts of Busuu are paid, its Chinese course is still worth checking out for its peer-feedback feature. You record or write something and the output gets sent out to Chinese speakers on the platform who’ll give you feedback on it. In return, you provide feedback to learners of languages that you have declared proficiency in. Busuu can also be accessed through an app.

Confucius Institute Online: Confucius Institute is the PRC’s version of the British Council. Their site has lots of free courses.

Video-based courses

FluentU: A lot of the stuff on this engaging platform is paid but it’s a really neat idea. Each lesson in FluentU takes a YouTube clip and breaks it down (dare I say lexically) and helps you notice and internalize chunks (although I doubt they’ve read Michael Lewis).

BBC Learning Chinese: The Real Chinese section is free video-based course. The rest of the site contains other kinds of resources. The content is a bit shallow and basic but engaging nonetheless.


Chinese Grammar Wiki: Sequenced using the CEFR, this site’s a lifesaver when it comes to trying to get your head around the vague bits and bobs of Chinese grammar.


Chinese level: An online tool that helps you evaluate how much of a Chinese newspaper you can read.


Memrise: Uses a sort of flashcard mnemonic format with spaced repetition to help you learn vocabulary. However, I find the visual ‘mems’ far more useful in learning Chinese characters. In fact, a lot of my current skill with recognizing close to 800 characters comes from becoming addicted (it’s gamified) to planting and watering my memrise sets. It’s also available as an app for both Apple and Android.

Anki: A flashcard application which uses spaced repetition. You’ll have to download this one and set it up, and then download sets of flashcards.

Chineasy: A fun way to get started with Chinese characters. The only problem is that they’re traditional (what they use in Hong Kong & Taiwan), not simplified (what they use on the mainland).


Line dict: A fairly decent dictionary which always provides several examples of usage.

MDBG: Don’t be put off by the stodgy interface. This is actually a really rich resource … worth exploring.


Hacking Chinese: This is a brilliant site with excellent tips to help you make and sustain progress on Chinese language learning journey (or ordeal :-)) Sign up for the insightful newsletter and explore all the resources available on the site.

Fluent in 3 months: Whether you believe in Benny or not, his posts are really motivating when you are down in the dumps about not making any progress with Chinese.

Online Pinyin editor: Allows you to type stuff like “wǒ yě hěn hǎo”.

Google Pinyin input for PCs: Install this package and switch easily between English and Chinese while typing in any application.

HelloTalk: Practice your Chinese on this free mobile app by ‘bartering’ with native speakers who want to try out their English on you; supports both voice and text in a format that replicates Whatsapp.


  • Hanyu Jiaocheng series from Beijing Daxue
  • Integrated Chinese series by Cheng & Tsui
  • Fun with Chinese Characters by Tan Huay Peng
  • Experiencing Chinese series from Higher Education Press
  • New Practical Chinese Reader series by Liu Xun (This textbook series along with accompanying audio and video is available for free on the Chinese Culture Centre site – not sure why they would offer it for free but appears to be legit)

Image attribution: Flickr | The writing on the wall by Brian Yap (葉) | CC by 2.0