Don't judge a book by its cover

Best English coursebooks - for teachers; Grammar and Vocabulary self-study books - for students; Personal Experience - Vera Buntman.

Disclaimer: the opinions provided in this newsletter are purely subjective and are based on the personal experiences of the editors.


The market is overflowing with fantastic teaching materials, and it can be hard to pick just one. If you work for a school, you may even have no say in choosing what book to use in your course, but if you are among the lucky ones, who are free to plan their own curriculum - read on!
Recently, we recommended books every educator should read, and we hope you found them useful and enlightening. If for some reason, you have missed the article, check it out here.
Now, let’s take a look at the top 5 coursebooks we recommend you to use and why.

№5 English File 4th edition

A new installment of all-time popular series, this one is modern, bright and full of interactive exercises. Some of the best features include a vocabulary bank, grammar bank, videos and progress tests, and a Teacher’s book can boast a fantastic collection of fun photocopiable materials. The one disadvantage we had with the book is that there is no logic that connects the topics, and at times it feels like you are hopping from one thing to another at random. The book is suitable for both teenagers and adults, although it is more common among adult students.

№4 Speakout 2 edition

The book uses communicative approach and is famous for interactive exercises and interesting topics. Every unit has two videos, one is an interview and another is an extract from a BBC program, which exposes students to authentic speech and culture. Another benefit of the interviews is that they have background noise and a variety of accents that train your students’ listening skills in the best way possible. The teacher’s book also has supplementary materials and even additional listening and reading exercises. The topics themselves are not always very engaging and may be boring for some students, but some are a real gem.

№3 New Total English

New Total English is coulourful, dynamic and focuses on the communicative approach. It is sure to get your students talking in no time, since the selection of topics will leave no one indifferent. The vocabulary is amazing and every unit provides students with collocations, idioms, phrasal verbs and simply great target vocabulary for the topic. Moreover, listening exercises and grammar are seamlessly incorporated into the fabric of the lesson. However, there aren’t many great texts for reading and the units are not really connected with each other.

№2 Outcomes

Based on the lexical approach coined by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley, the book will help your students advance their vocabulary in no time and expose them to natural speech patterns, utterances, hesitations and such. If your students’ main aim is to get fluent quickly and be able to easily understand native-speakers, this book is all you need. Be careful with the levels though, because even if you place your students at A2, the pre-intermediate level Outcomes book may pose a real challenge.

№1 Navigate

Navigate is like a beautiful child of English File and Speakout with a sprinkle of Outcomes. It really has it all - structure, style, it is up-to-date and relevant, there are interviews and extract from British programs, vocabulary lists, communicative tasks and so on. It even has a beautiful teacher’s resource file! We highly recommend you to check it out and see for yourself.

What is your favorite coursebook? Would you like us to review it next time?

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Best Books for Improving English Vocabulary

A very common way to learn a new word is to first think of the word in your native language and then search for its English translation (using Google or a dictionary app).

I can identify which students practice this bad habit, because they struggle to speak fluently – even after many years of English study.

When you hear about people learning English in 6 months, one reason is that they use good books to learn new words in English methodically.

English Vocabulary Builder (DK English for Everyone)

The fastest way to learn English (or any language) is by using pictures. After all, a large part of your brain is devoted to processing visual information. This is also how babies learn their first words. They see 🍕 hear the word pizza, and learn that they can say the word pizza when they want to talk about 🍕.There are many books that you can use with this picture-learning method. One of the best ones for learning English is DK's English for Everyone series.For adults, I recommend the English Vocabulary Builder, which includes 3,000+ words and phrases related to ordinary objects, actions, and situations. There are also volumes for learning grammaridioms, and business phrases.What makes DK’s books different from other picture books is that each section of the book includes listening and review exercises, and you can practice pronunciation on their website or using their free app.

English Collocations in Use (Cambridge)

Learning a new word can be difficult. You need to learn what it means, how to pronounce it, how to spell it, and how to use it in a sentence. But there is also the question of how to use the word naturally, like a native speaker.To speak natural English, you will need to spend some time studying collocations. Cambridge University (also famous for their English experts) has created a series of books that can help you learn these tricky phrases. They have similar books for learning Phrasal Verbs and Idioms, in case you want to expand your vocabulary even further.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD)

Oxford University is famous for creating one of the biggest English dictionaries (with 600,000 entries).More importantly, their experts have also created the Oxford 3000. This is a list of the most useful, and most-frequently used, words in English-speaking countries. According to these experts, once you learn these 3,000 words, you can understand 80-90% of English conversations, websites, newspapers, etc.These 3,000 words also allow you to understand every word in Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a special dictionary for students who wish to attend an English-speaking university. The newest edition includes 60,000 words and 109,000 examples.
The OALD includes a lot of special features that you can’t find in other dictionaries — like synonyms and collocations. You can also download an app version on your smartphone that allows you to speak the word you want to look up (in case you don’t know how to spell it — which is a common problem with English words).

Best Books for Learning English Grammar

It’s true that English grammar is not simple. But a lot of books make the topic more difficult and confusing than necessary.The three books below are great because they make English grammar as simple as possible — and sometimes even fun. The best thing about these books, of course, is that they can help you learn English at home, and fast.(Note: If your goal is to review English grammar before taking the IELTS test, it’s better to get a specialized text.)

English Grammar in Use (Cambridge)

A great book for studying English at home is Raymond Murphy’s workbook, English Grammar in Use. (Make sure you get the version with answers.)It’s the most popular grammar book in the world, and for good reason. Each grammar topic is explained in simple terms, with lots of examples and practice exercises.At the back of the book, there is a test that you can take to identify which grammar topics are the most difficult for you.In fact, the best way to study this book is to start with the topics that you find most interesting or confusing. Do note, however, that the Intermediate book is written for B1/B2 learners, so if your English level is lower or higher, you should consider getting the Beginner or Advanced books instead.

Practical English Usage (Oxford)

A common problem with grammar books (in any language) is that they give the reader too much information. They are written by linguistics professors who are interested in the history, psychology, or science of language — so they don’t explain common problems for English learners.In contrast, Practical English Usage is designed specifically for readers who want to learn English. It was first published in 1980 and has been improved several times over the past 40 years.For intermediate and advanced students, it is a great resource to have. Do note, however, that there are no exercises. It only offers explanations and examples.

English Grammar: Understanding the Basics (Cambridge)

If you feel confused about terms like ‘transitive’ and ‘intransitive’ verbs or ‘demonstrative’ and ‘interrogative’ pronouns, then another book to consider is Cambridge University’s English Grammar: Understanding the Basics.Unlike the other two books above, this text explains English grammar step by step. It’s especially useful if you have to do a lot of writing in English, but also good to read if you want to reach an advanced level fast.With the other two books, you will how to fix your mistakes and build longer sentences, but this book helps you to understand ‘the big picture’ of English.In the excerpt below (explaining phrasal verbs), you get a ‘taste’ of how clear and simple the book is.

Full article here.

Personal Experience

Throughout three years that I have been teaching English as a second language, I have used various textbooks and I have formed some preferences. At Russian schools, coursebooks are usually quite bad in many ways—they are boring, sometimes overly complicated (especially in terms of grammar rules presentation), and they often include vocabulary which is not used anymore or which is used differently by native speakers. In comparison to that, almost every British or American textbook wins easily. 

However, it is no use to stick to one coursebook or programme, and the best way to suit one’s needs is to combine different sources in order to provide the students with rounded and more profound knowledge of the language. Still, I tend to base most of my teaching nowadays on two main books, adding other sources when these textbooks do not cover some topic or explain it not deeply enough.

The textbooks I use the most are Navigate and Outcomes; they share the approach towards language teaching with most foreign languages textbooks, combining vocabulary and grammar topics in one unit in a way that seems most natural to its authors. For example, the topic of work is often paired with modal verbs of obligation, permission, and possibility, as speaking about work responsibilities is almost impossible without this kind of grammar, and one’s work is a place where a lot of rules with different degrees of necessity appear. However, Outcomes and Navigate have some differences; the former is well-known for its primary focus on vocabulary and for providing more exquisite vocabulary units than other textbooks. The latter, on the other hand, consists of shorter topics, so that the students will not get bored with talking about the same thing for several lessons, and includes parts that focus specifically on developing some practical skills such as use of vocabulary, speaking, and writing. It also features videos with authentic speech, which might be challenging for students on lower levels, but which at the same time represent the real language as opposed to more sterile listening tasks provided in the main part of the lesson. Outcomes has the same section with videos and manages it differently, as it has exercises dedicated to these videos while Navigate does not include any in the main body of the textbook, making it harder to use on one’s own, without a teacher’s guidance.

That’s all for now!
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