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October 01, 2004

Selecting ELT Materials

Miriam Lavi

When I first starting teaching ESL in the 60's, the Israeli Board of Education was using short story books (This Wide World, New Horizons) as high school ESL textbooks. Each story was followed by comprehension questions, but no language exercises - teachers were expected to write their own! When I became a partner in an English language institute, the adult classes were using Robert Dixon's grammar books as course books, supplemented by photocopied dialogues (In The Bank, At The Post Office, etc.) ­ and these were considered conversation courses!

“I approach each new ELT catalogue with the delight of a child in a candy store!”

ELT publishing has come a long way in the past four decades: To meet the ever-increasing needs of a burgeoning industry, it has been turning out very professionally-done materials at an extraordinary pace. No wonder, then, that I approach each new ELT catalogue with the delight of a child in a candy store!

Nowadays, there is a vast selection of course books for every age group and ESL level to choose from - most of them accompanied by audiocassettes, some by videocassettes, CD's and, most recently, interactive material; there are ESP (English for Specific Purposes) course books for an incredibly wide range of particular needs; there is supplementary material ­ graded readers, music, word games ­ to complement almost any teaching style.

Selecting appropriate material is one of the crucial factors in the success of a course. Note that I said 'appropriate', not 'good'. Almost all of the material being produced nowadays is of high quality; the question is how to determine which EFL material is most suitable for your student/s. To best accomplish this, let me suggest the following:

  1. Familiarize yourself with what is available. Check out the online catalogues of ­
    1. Major ELT publishers:
      Oxford University Press (www.oup.com/elt)
      Longman Publishers (www.longman-elt.com)
      Cambridge University Press (www.cambridge.org/elt)
      Macmillan Heinemann (www.onestopenglish.com)
      Penguin graded readers (www.penguinreaders.com)
    2. Worldwide distributors:
      The English Book Centre (www.ebcoxford.co.uk)
      Alta - California (www.altaesl.com)
  2. Profile your student/s.
    1. If you are looking for a course book, what level is most suitable? Which skill/s do you want to concentrate on? General courses integrate the four language skills (listening comprehension, speaking, reading comprehension, writing) in an organized and carefully graded manner. Other types of course books are structured in such a way as to emphasize one particular skill.
    2. If your course book has already been selected, what kinds of supplementary material could enhance it?
  3. Get as much input as you possibly can before ordering.
    1. Publishers and distributors employ consultants for this purpose. Use them.
    2. Some ESL websites have teachers' forums. Ask others what their experience has been.
    3. Ask around locally. Teachers are very approachable on this issue - as are students.


Miriam Lavi is the author of the popular e-guide How to Become a Personal ESL Trainer. For more information, check out her website ­ www.esltrainers.com.

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