Review ~ A Course in English Language Teaching

A great book, especially for people taking initial teacher training, with lots of new ideas, old ideas revamped and extra activities.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Kaithe Greene
A Course in English Language Teaching

A Course in English Language Teaching

This book is a completely revised and updated edition of A Course in Language Teaching by Penny Ur (first published in 1996) and focuses on English Language Teaching rather than language teaching in general. Although it contains many extracts from the previous book it has been extensively rewritten in the light of research, experience and feedback from teachers and trainers.

This book is ideal for use on an initial teacher training course, such as CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL, for either self-study or as a course book for trainees, or by trainers who wish to supplement the core material. It is also a great book for the experienced teacher to dip in and out of when looking for ideas or just for the sheer pleasure of an interesting read.

There are twenty chapters and a three page glossary. The individual chapters are independent of each other, and the author suggests in the short Using this Book section that the reader look through the contents page to find a topic of interest.

So I did, and was amply rewarded. My favorites are the chapters entitled The Syllabus and Classroom Interaction. The syllabus defines syllabus and discusses different types of syllabus: grammatical, lexical, situational, topic-based, functional-notional, standards-based, and multi-strand; and finishes with a system for evaluating the syllabus. Classroom interaction is rather less theoretical and more practical. This chapter deals first with teacher questions, their purpose and efficacy. It then looks at the advantages and disadvantages of group and pair work, individual work and blended learning. It includes some practical guidelines on both topics. Why were these my favourite chapters? I think it’s because of the balance of theory and pragmatism – something that characterizes this book throughout.

Each chapter starts with an overview, followed by information and discussion. There are a number of practical tips throughout the text and some interesting and sometimes challenging tasks. The tasks come in two formats – some aim to stimulate thought and reflection and others suggest some action, for example observing a class with specific questions in mind, or initiating a discussion with colleagues on a particular topic. Some of these could be useful in an INSET or peer observation programme.

As a teacher I love the practical tips sprinkled liberally throughout. For example, “Occasionally, let students compose their own test”- now there’s an interesting idea! The chapter on teaching writing is very useful because, although there are a number of very good books on this theme, I’m sure to be too busy to read up on it when I need to refresh my ideas on this but will probably be able to manage one chapter. This chapter contains some helpful advice on teaching writing to students who are not familiar with the Latin alphabet, as well as a collection of tasks designed to promote fluent writing and some support for process writing, spelling and punctuation.

I also loved the chapter on Teacher Development – it focuses on the first year of teaching, lesson observation, ongoing development, development through reading and further study, and your own contribution to your further development.

As a trainer I was particularly pleased with the comment “It is essential to write down in advance what you plan to do in the lesson.” I also rather liked the section on materials which explored the advantages and disadvantages of course books and how to evaluate them, and gives some nice guidelines on adapting course materials and selecting and using supplementary materials.

This book contains a number of challenges to dinosaur thinking. For example, on error correction “Most teachers and students believe that it is a natural and necessary component of the teaching/learning process; however, it has some disadvantages and limitations…” which is followed by an interesting debate on the pros and cons of error correction together with a range of useful strategies.

What was I not so keen on? This book is somewhat larger than the average paperback and therefore not so easily carried around for reading on the bus or train. The overview, task and review boxes are pale mauve with purple print – this does not improve visibility under modern environmentally friendly lighting.

Overall this book is a great addition to any teachers’ room, training centre bookshelf or your own personal library.

Reviewed by Kaithe Greene for June 2012
Having been in the EFL industry for nearly twenty years Kaithe is currently working for Language Link Vietnam where she is Head of Teacher Training and Development. When not working she can be found grannying in Devon or Australia.

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