For the majority of English language teachers starting out in the TESOL industry, there is one aspect of the job that scares the pants off us – teaching grammar. I’m not sure about you, but when I went through primary and secondary school, we weren’t taught English grammar, so when I first became an English language teacher in Hungary, notions such as subjects, objects, and past participles were, forgive the pun, foreign. Not speaking a lick of Hungarian at the time, knowing that I needed to eat (and therefore make this teaching thing work), compelled me to set about teaching myself English grammar before I taught it to my students.
This week, I would like to share with you the grammar books that helped me at the various stages of my career. I don’t claim they are the best, as there are a lot of good reference books out there, but these are the ones I have used and still do use and so I can vouch for.
English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy – Cambridge University Press
This is a great book for new teachers with little grammar knowledge. The middle book in the series, this self-study reference book is pitched at intermediate level students. It consists of 145 two-page chapters covering the language structures that an intermediate student would need.
Each chapter starts with a page of ‘accessible’ presentations about the meaning, usage and form of the structures. I say ‘accessible’ because it is written for students, and therefore we teachers have a shot at understanding the content. This is a great starting point for new teachers. On top of this, the second page in each chapter has exercises for practice! No silly, not for you the teacher, but they are very handy for homework for your students. All in all, I would say this is a great book to get you started on your grammar teaching path and you will be able to refer to it and use it for years to come.
Notable mention – The Good Grammar Book by Michael Swan – Oxford University Press
Practical English Usage by Michael Swan – Oxford University Press
This book delves a little deeper into the English Language, providing fairly detailed information on grammar, vocabulary, idiom, style, pronunciation and spelling. I found I didn’t really appreciate this book until I had a slight grasp of the workings of the language. Sure I had used it in CELTA assignments, but that was about it. I found (and sometimes still find) that I used this book a lot more when dealing with students’ questions that were outside of what I was teaching in class that day. This is a great book that you will get years of use out of and it can (sorry, but I can’t promise more than that) sometimes stop you from looking silly in front of your class.
Notable mention – Grammar for English Language Teachers by Martin Parrott – Cambridge University Press
About Language by Scott Thornbury – Cambridge University Press
This is the book you turn to just before DELTA, to help bring out your inner grammar geek. The book consists of 28 ‘task’ units covering various aspects of the English language and looks at them in a high level of detail. The tasks really make you think about how English is used, and I must confess, when I began working through the book I had to look at the key and commentary a couple of times first to understand what exactly was being asked in each task. That brings me to the other great thing about this book – the commentary. It is easy to follow and a real eye opener. The way the language is analysed and applied to everyday usage is brilliant. It leaves you wondering a) just how smart is this Scott Thornbury bloke and b) surely he has better things to do. This is a must-have book for DELTA or MA level courses and a great source of PD for experienced teachers.
Anyway, that’s it for this week. Three grammar books to take you through your EFL teaching career, they have worked for me and I have a feeling they’ll work for you too.