The 100 publications that most changed TEFL

… by which I mean books, articles, papers, journals, magazines, websites, software, or even blogs and blog posts. As I have managed to read all the way through ELTJ a grand total of (ahem) three times in my life, my first draft is mainly books. I’d love to hear any and all other suggestions for things to include.

I’m going to try and make the final lists of the 100 biggest influences on the shape of TEFL in these stages

1. Brainstorm things for inclusion here

2. Decide which should and shouldn’t be included

3. Put them order by their influence (perhaps with a vote in a future blog post, if I can work out the technicalities) – THIS IDEA NOW SCRAPPED, SEE COMMENTS BELOW

4. Put up another version of the list with them in chronological order

I’m also planning to do lists of other things that have influenced TEFL, e.g. people and institutions, and then include all of them in a timeline of the history of ELT that I am working on

You can comment on any of those things now if you like, but this first blog post is mainly just for number one – the big brainstorm. The emphasis is on things that did actually change TEFL, but there are also lists at the bottom for close misses of various kinds.

Top candidates so far, in alphabetical order:

1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy

5 Minute Activities – Penny Ur and Andrew Wright

500 Activities for the Primary Classroom (Macmillan)

A Grammar of Contemporary English – Quirk, Leech, Greenbaum and Svartvik)

Applied Linguistics (journal)

Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching

Aspects of the Theory of Syntax – Chomsky

Basic English – Ogden

Breaking News English website

Cactus TEFL site

Children Learning English – Jayne Moon

Classroom Dynamics

Classroom Observation Tasks

Cohesion in English – Halliday and Hasan

Collins COBUILD Dictionary

Communication Games series

Cookie and Friends (a successful book for very very young learners, with virtually no writing in it- much copied since)

Dave’s ESL Café

Dictation – New Methods, New Possibilities – Rinvolucri

Discover English – Rod Bolitho and Brian Tomlinson (analysis of language for teachers)

Discussions that Work (although most of them didn’t, at least it got people trying)

EL Gazette (and probably some particular articles – any suggestions?)


English Grammar in Use – Murphy

English Language Teaching (journal from the British Council, first of its kind)

English Phonetics and Phonology

English Pronouncing Dictionary

English Teaching Professional magazine

English Vocabulary in Use

ESLPrintables (materials sharing site)

First Things First – LG Alexander

Founding paper on behaviourism – Watson

Free teachers’ books online from Cambridge

Genre Analysis – Swales

Google images

Graham Stanley’s blog

Grammar Dictation (OUP)

Grammar for English Language Teachers

Grammar Games – Rinvolucri

Grammar Practice Activities – Penny Ur

Guardian TEFL

Headway Pronunciation courses

hltmag website

How Languages are Learned

Instant IELTS (the first photocopiable exam book??)

Internet TEFL Journal (website that made online at least as respectable as on paper)

Jazz Chants

Kalinago English blog (for the many many other bloggers and Twitterers it spawned and encouraged)

Kernal Lesson – O’Neill, Kingsbury and Yeadon

Language – Bloomfield

LearnEnglishKids (British Council website with animated songs, online games etc)

Learner English – Swan and Smith (for cutting out the first six months of trying to get to grips with a new nationality)

Let’s Go

Lexical Syllabus – Dave Willis

Linguistic Imperialism

List of 2000 “general service” words – West

Macmillan Children’s Games (photocopiables)

Memory, Meaning and Method – Earl W Stevick

Modern English Teacher

New Method Readers – West

Notional Syllabuses – Wilkins

Onestopenglish (for being the main thing that made some teachers reach for their mouse rather than stride over to the bookshelves when preparing lessons)

Open Strategies – Longman

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Oxford English Course (first OUP EFL textbook)

Oxford English Dictionary online

Practical English Usage – Michael Swan

Primary Box (shame that its main effect was lots of clone books that were not nearly as good)

Pronunciation Games (for training up teachers while they were using the activities with students)

Recipes for Tired Teachers

Review of Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour – Chomsky

Reward Business Resource Packs

Reward Resource Packs

Roger Brown’s study of sequences in first language acquisition (natural order)

Ship and Sheep/ Tree and Three

Sociolinguistics – Trudghill

Something by David Graddol

Something by Krashen

Sound Foundations (Macmillan)


Streamline Departures (Harley and Viney)

Study Skills in English – Candlin

TeachEnglish (BBC and British Council website)

Teaching Language as Communication – Widdowson

Teaching Unplugged

TEFL Blacklist (website) (for job hunting)

TEFLtrade/ TEFL Tradesman blogs

The CELTA Course

The Communicative Approach to Language Teaching – Brumfit and Johnson

The first “short course” book for adults

The first book with double page spreads on a single language point was (for better or worse)

The first EFL dictionary iPhone app??

The first ELT Interactive Whiteboard Software??

The first graded reader with a cassette or CD included

The first graded readers

The first graded readers based on Hollywood movies

The first learner’s dictionary with a CD ROM included

The first Murphy-like Business grammar book

The first review of a self-published book in a major TEFL publication

The first review of an e-book in a major TEFL publication

The first review of software in a major TEFL publication

The first teachers’ book to have loads of photocopiable material at the back

The first TEFL blog by a TEFL celebrity

The founding article of Dogme ELT

The Language Instinct

The Lexical Approach – Michael Lewis

The Natural Approach

The Practice of English Language Teaching

The Practice of English Language Teaching with a DVD in the back cover (the moment when teacher development DVDs became mainstream)

The Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca – Jennifer Jenkins

Writing – Tricia Hedge


I’ve taken quite a lot of those from A History of English Language Teaching and don’t actually know them myself, so if it ain’t worthy, please let me know

Not sure if they changed anything or not (some because I don’t know much about them, but had heard that they might have, others because they are famous but don’t seem to have changed things much)



Cutting Edge

Cambridge English Course/ New Cambridge English Course

Business Builder

Mother Tongue – Bill Bryson (enough people have read it that you have to think it would have had some impact)

About Language – Scott Thornbury

Discussions A to Z

The Book of Days

The Internet and the Language Classroom (CUP)

Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers

TEFL Farm (now defunct website)

Project (teens books from Tom Hutchinson)

Business Objectives

Business Opportunities

Highly Recommended (for tourism industry)

Discourse – Guy Cook

Doing Task-Based Teaching

Storytelling with Children – Andrew Wright

Silent Way – Gattegno

Could have/ should have changed TEFL but didn’t

COBUILD textbooks

Business Matters

Conversation – from Description to Pedagogy – Thornbury

Challenge and Change in ELT

The English Verb

Oxford Basics

Taboos and Issues

Oxford Activity Books for Children (OABC- very simple and so I guess cheap but nicely designed young learner books)

The Language Teaching Matrix

Cross Dressing and Window Dressing in ELT – Scott Thornbury (right title????)

Pictures of English Tenses (because the publishers milked it for all they could get with totally pointless extra levels)

Collocations dictionaries

Other alternative dictionaries

Were meant to change the world but rightfully had little effect

Writing Games/ Reading Games (because they weren’t nearly as good as Communication Games, and anyway we’d moved on)

Panorama 1 and 2 (Advanced level textbooks with a genre based approach, for some reason)


Innovations (LTP – too idiomatic for anyone living outside the UK)

True to Life

Primary Curriculum Box (photocopiable book for CLIL)

The later Michael Lewis books on the Lexical Approach with more practical ideas

Decisionmaker (CUP)

Singing Grammar (CUP)

Lessons for Good Language Learners (all the conclusions either obvious or far from proven)

Rules Patterns and Words (trying too hard to tie things together reduced the impact of the good points)

Multiple Intelligences in EFL

Natural English (nice idea but crap content)

Potato Pals (because you can never beat Spot the Dog and Eric Carle)

EFL versions of Wallace and Gromit (because the voice over is horrible and you can do so many great things with the original videos anyway)

Open Sesame (OUP Sesame Street textbooks – they were pants, so we were saved TV ties ins for quite a few years after that)

Business Basics (because it wasn’t so basic and was generally no good, stopped low level Business books for ages)

International Express (though the idea of combining General and Business English was good, the content was rubbish and the listenings went on forever)

New Headway’s half-arsed attempt at TTT

Could change TEFL but haven’t yet

Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics

The Experience of Language Teaching – Rose M Senior

Business Start Up 1 (the first book to show that very low levels can usefully study Business English too)

Teaching with Bear (the first book that is really just an add on to the DVD in the back cover)

The first graded reader with a DVD

Teaching Chunks of Language

Primary Pronunciation Box

Psychology for Language Teachers

From Teacher to Manager

Business one:one (textbook for one to one classes)

Global (Macmillan)

Teaching Second Language Listening – Tony Lynch

Macmillan English (for international schools)

International English for Call Centres (Macmillan)

Uncovering Grammar

British Council blogs (for all and every teacher)

I’m going to need a lot of help before I get to the final list, so contributions below please!

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97 Responses to The 100 publications that most changed TEFL

  1. LOL, it looks you’re really covered all your bases here Alex. I did a six most influential people in TEFL and got a lot of stick for it back in the day… but I wish you the best with this.

    To help you with a couple of titles.

    First teacher’s book with loads of photocopiables in the back – English File.

    BUT I would say that the idea of photocopiables as part of a coursebook goes back to the Reward resource packs. Those really did change things (partly because they sounded the death knell for many photocopiable books, as publishers would now start to sell these with much more profitable coursebooks).

    First ELT dictionary iPhone app was Longman’s I think.

    Can’t think of more, and good luck with your list. I notice you put blogs like Graham Stanley’s and Kalinago English. Don’t forget to include yourself on there in that case! (as it’s my understanding that your blog influenced Kalinago)

  2. TEFLista says:

    Graddol, David (2006). English Next. London: British Council.

  3. English Raven says:

    I rather object to Potato Pals being put in your “Were meant to change the world but rightfully had little effect”.

    That is a good, creative series for YLs that was developed based on years of application and development in real classroom contexts. Kids I’ve used it enjoyed it a lot.


    – Jason

  4. Potato Pals rock my world!

  5. Alex Case says:

    More than Where’s Spot? We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? Blue Hat Green Hat? etc etc etc? I gave Potato Pals One a pretty good review when they first came out and used them on and off for a couple of years, but I didn’t know “real” books for kids very well back then. It’s like kids’ songs, the originals are almost always the best. The only EFL ones that compare are Apricot Picture Books:

    I must admit that I’ve spent many tens of hours in bookshops browsing for the best authentic texts for EFL very young learner classes, though, so Potato Pals is a good time saver and perhaps good for those with little experience with that age group. Still don’t think it changed TEFL at all though

  6. Alex Case says:

    Thanks Lindsay and TEFLista

    No other suggestions for the list? Something by Paul Nation perhaps??

  7. Dennis Newson says:

    As I’ve just written on Scott’s A-Z (books that have changed your life) I’d add: Lionel Billows, The Techniques of Language Teaching, Longman, 1961.

    I also add: Maryanne Wolf Proust and the Squid – The story and Science of the Reading Brain, Icon 2008.

    Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury : Teaching Unplugged – Dogme in English Language Teaching Delta 2009.

    And a key book when it was published in 1964, though now of mainly historical interest, I guess) M.K.Halliday, Angus McIntosh and Peter Strevens: The Linguisitic Sciences nd Language Teaching. Longmans 1964

  8. Alex Case says:

    Thanks. My question and Scott’s are slightly different. Do you think all those books have (already) had a major impact on the field as a whole? I do think Teaching Unplugged is already up there in the top 100, so it’s already in the list

  9. Who wouldnt be thrilled to find two of his books topping the whole blooming list! Slight dampener is the alphabetism in listing Penny’s name and not mine as well, as author of Five Minute Activities.
    As my books do top the list perhaps it is OK to express unease. Perhaps I would have preferred you to have asked people which books they found were most influential on them instead of asking the much grander question which books have been most influential on everybody in the TEFL world.
    Dennis, as a representative of fifty years ago, remembers the power of Lionel Billows. Lionel was one of your great grandparents, young man! In my opinion, traces of what Lionel did and shared are to be found in us all even if we do not know who the hell he was and if his name were never to be listed.
    Blowing my own trumpet again, my one and only course for children called Kaleidoscope in the 1970s was the first course to to have any claim to be ‘topic based’ and a father of CLIL. Tom Hutchinson kindly acknowledged the influence of Kaleidoscope on his own Project English course. Many people went on to do a better job of topic based courses but Kaleidoscope most certainly had a significant influence. There is no reason why anybody should know this unless they are asserting a general observation about influence on other people.
    It is time to put my trumpet down…so, thrilled to have two of my books at the top albeit unacknowledged but concerned that none of us are qualified to represent the history of language teaching however widely read we might be or however old.

  10. Trying again as my comment didn’t come out first time round for some reason…

    I’m honoured by the mention, but don’t think my blog is worthy :) I know the focus here is on individual works, but I think as far as blogs are concerned, the ELT blogosphere should be taken as a whole. It’s certainly had an impact on TEFL and has led to so much resource-sharing, teacher reflection and helps teachers feel a real sense of belonging to a community. You can add the ‘ELT Twittersphere¡ to this I suppose too.

    I’d like to suggest a few more for your list:

    1) the British Council’s Teaching English website – there are few other publications I know dedicated to helping NNESTs with development, etc, and its reach is amazing

    2) Another collective effort – the TESOL EVO (Electronic Village Online) session artefacts, which I think (mainly through the part they play in courses) has done wonders for many teachers.

    3) The Webheads in Action Yahoo mailing list – although again, you could argue it’s ephemeral and doesn’t belong here, I think it’s an example of a new type of dynamic ‘publication’ co-created by lots of teachers (like all mailing lists) and which has had an impact on tefl – certainly, there’ll be few efl teachers who use technology who haven’t benefitted from it.

  11. Peter Medgyes says:

    I’d recommend the following titles in addition:
    C. E. Eckersley: Essential English
    L. G. Alexander: New Concept English
    L.G. Alexander: For and Against
    Colin Mortimer: Dramatic Monologues
    Andrew Wright et al.: Kaleidoscope
    Alan Maley & Alan Duff: Drama Techniques in Language Teaching
    Earl Stevick: Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways
    H. G. Widdowson: Teaching Language as Communication
    Pit Corder: Introducing Applied Linguistics
    H. H. Stern: Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching

  12. Alex Case says:

    Thanks Graham and Peter. Quite a few there that I expect to make it into the final list. Am leaving groups for my next list, though, which will be (somewhat copying Lindsay) “The 100 most influential institutions and people in TEFL today”

  13. Alex Case says:

    Perhaps I should point out more clearly that the list is only in alphabetical order at the moment and am mainly brainstorming more possibilities. Voting and putting in order, if it happens, will come later

  14. On further thinking about this I agree with Graham Stanley about the blogs. As much as I enjoy reading individual blogs like Graham’s and Karenne’s I don’t know if any one or two of them “changed” TEFL in the same way as for example Streamlines or Headway (for coursebooks), or Chomsky’s attack on Skinner (for articles) or the Oxford dictionary. It just doesn’t feel right to have them in the same list (apples and oranges).

    I would say this for Six Things equally by the way!

    Plus if you start mentioning blogs as which one has the most impact you open yourself to all kinds of finger wagging and agonizing. I mean, we already have Onestopblogs ranking, the Top 100 blogs for language teachers, the Edublogs awards. And isn’t early to tell about their impact?

    But don’t pay me much mind, I’m just happy to take a pot shot at someone else’s “best of” list…

    Love the Potato Pals vs Where’s Spot fight above by the way. You see Alex, you just can’t win these things, and if you’ve got the Raven against you then look out!

  15. Alex Case says:

    Although I’ll probably just stoke the flames, here goes explaining my reasoning with Potato Pals.

    I did think twice about including that one in the list, for one thing because Patrick is probably the nicest man in TEFL – and there genuinely is a lot of competition for the title. However, I saw it when I was flicking through the online catalogues (all but Pearson, because the online catalogue is a mess and I gave up on it) to work on this list, it was something I’d been meaning to comment on for a while, and it struck me as fitting this post because it was ambitious but, in my opinion, didn’t come off nor have the impact I’d expected when it first came out.

    The reason I wanted to comment on it was because it was something that I’d changed my mind about since I reviewed it (also a reason why Natural English gets a much more serious and regular slash of the whip here), and because I think there is a real danger that authors who have an online presence get off a lot more lightly than those who don’t. No lack of slagging off of Headway, but when did you last see a blogger lay into PELT, Global or Ken Wilson’s latest? So, being far from the nicest person in TEFL myself, I took it upon myself to bite the bullet and go for it.

    My basic question with Potato Pals is- would you read it to native speaker kids? That seems a bit unfair, as I don’t expect Business English or General English textbooks to be fascinating enough for me to pick up at break time for a good read (though it would be nice), but when it is so easy to use Go Away Big Green Monster in class, why use an EFL pretender unless it is exactly as good? Same with songs – some Super Simple Songs, LearnEnglishKids and Let’s Go originals are good enough to sing with my daughter and so also make it into my classes. Genki English songs are not (although the site might well be influential enough to make it into this list, or perhaps Richard Graham should make it into my next one), therefore I use them neither in my classes nor in my living room.

    While I’m annoying Jason, I also completely and utterly don’t get Widgets.

  16. English Raven says:

    Well, only having spent about 15,000 teaching hours with YLs (and honestly not knowing how this compares with Mr. Case’s portfolio), I’m only game to add at this point that:

    – I don’t recall anyone anywhere suggesting Potato Pals was designed to change the TEFL world;

    – The best approach (or approach to approaches) with YLs in EFL contexts in particular is to have a blend of authentic versus specifically language-building (but also story-formatted) texts. Going all authentic texts is no guarantee of language accuracy and fluency even for YLs, and (of course) going all story+grammay syllabus isn’t either.

    – Given you gave Potato Pals a positive review at a time when you yourself were mainly in the market for a time saver for a teacher with little experience in the YL sector (hope I read that right, if not: apologies), I think you might have over-generalised its potential worth based on your own limited experience/skills at the time. I mean, I used it at a stage when I was 8 years into YL teaching, and found it was a great central course for that age sector (and that context). It may not have changed TEFL, but as I mentioned, I can’t for the life of me remember a time or place anyone claimed it was supposed to.

  17. Alex Case says:

    Hi Andrew

    Sorry, your comment got caught in the spam filter and have just seen it. I’d totally forgotten that Five Minute Activities was one of yours – if it makes it to the final list, I’ll be sure to correct it. Did know about 1000 pictures, but this list took me so long as is leading to something I want to have finished by Xmas that I just threw it up half finished.

    Although the “The 100 most…” does make it sound like a competition, in fact I don’t see much difference between the selection that would be going on to make this final list and what they had to do to include and exclude things from the timeline at the back of A History of English Language Teaching (and in fact the whole book). Ditto for any kind of history. I’m the typical midlife crisis TEFL blogger, so my memory does indeed not stretch as far back as Kaleidoscope. I’m also not particularly well read. That is why I am asking for everyone else’s here, and it is especially those kinds of gems that have become lost in time that I’m interested in. Any other suggestions? And do you think Project English should make it in?

  18. Alex Case says:

    It did occur to me as I was writing the last comment that we might be looking at Potato Pals differently – I only used it as supplementary storybooks, and I would perhaps have seen it differently if I’d used it as a course to replace a textbook. To start with, I wouldn’t have had to make that Spot the Dog/ Potato Pals choice that I did have to with usually 30 to 90 minutes a week per class.

  19. English Raven says:

    “While I’m annoying Jason, I also completely and utterly don’t get Widgets.”

    Right, I’ll admit it, that one disturbs me. Looking at such a comprehensive list of very good recommendations you’ve compiled here, showing you are nothing if not extremely well-read, and considering your extensive and varied teaching experience, to hear you completely and utterly don’t get Widgets is… well, just rather saddening, to be honest!

  20. Alex Case says:

    These are not recommendations, they are books which I think might have had a big impact. Some of them I have copied from A History of ELT because they describe it as influential in a way that I thought sounded convincing. Others, such as Ship or Sheep, I would recommend little if any use of. Although the words “changed TEFL” have to be somewhat subjective, I’m trying to keep my opinions out of this as much as I can. Not something I find easy, I must admit, least of all on my own blog!

  21. Alex Case says:

    Kind of on the subject, I’d love to do a whole MA on the history of ELT or language teaching. With the hundreds of MAs in TEFL/ TESOL/ Applied Linguistics around, there has to be one somewhere, doesn’t there??

  22. Alex Case says:

    I can see people’s points about including or not including blogs. The thing is that I’ve included whole magazines and journals (due to a lack of knowledge about the influence of individual pieces in them!), and websites, and one online article. It therefore seems silly to leave out blogs, unless of course none of them can (yet) compete with the top one hundred paper publications for influence.

    Here’s a talking point:

    An A-Z of ELT – which of the two (book or blog) has had more influence on TEFL?

  23. Alex Case says:

    Having thought about it (something I perhaps should have done while writing the post!), it would be idiotic to put them in any kind of order. I do still quite like the idea of a vote and a cut off point of 100, though, so that’s my provisional plan

  24. TEFLista says:

    Elementary Communication Games – Jill Hadfield
    Critical Applied Linguistics – Alastair Pennycook
    Training Foreign Language Teachers – Michael Wallace
    The Practice of English Language Teaching – Jeremy Harmer
    The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics – Jean Aitchison
    Side by Side – Bill Bliss and Steve Molinsky

  25. Jimmy says:

    I met Penny Ur way back in the 1980’s, when she came to talk on the RSA Cert course I was on. We didn’t stay in touch, but I remember her as a great TEFL expert, who fully deserves her ranking on this list.

  26. Um…

    you’re an absolute love Alex (my überguru) but um… my blog is um… a blog where I mess about and think through stuff about teaching…. Thank you heaps and multiply that a hundred times…

    But let me say before I sort of cower away and go back to drafting a post on one of Andrew Wright’s stories…

    YES and double YES to having that as your number one! (Even if that’s a numerical order thang)… Well chosen, that! Nodding re REWARD, forever I shall be indebted to Maestro Greenall… I wonder if he realizes his role in dogme teaching…

    Lemme see… lemme see who’s missing? Don’t forget David Seymour’s 700 Activities and the seriously wonderful The Standby book by Seth Lindstrombergh (much better than the Discussions that mostly didn’t work :-)).

    I’d be wary of saying “the first TEFL blog by a TEFL celebrity” as the first batch of these tended to be very “me, look-at-me, me” blogs and not… well you know about being in the blogosphere/sharing/teaching.

    (I think the next batch, maybe I’m date upside-down, but Nik – Seth -Graham came along with some really grand stuff… however later on, by the time Clandfield, Wilson, Thornbury and Harmer came on board with their knowledge the rest of us almost gave up from the shock!)

    …well, me, anyway!

    Right, I’d really better dash off with a few more (obvious) recommendations not on list (or I missed the four times I’ve read this)

    * Scott Thornbury’s How to Teach Speaking
    * Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching
    * Barbara Sakamoto’s Let’s Go

    (oh my god, am I ever going to finish commenting…)
    a book which should have had more influence, as I still use it and have done for over 15 years:

    Writing Games by Charles and Jill Hadfield.


    really, while I love you to bits for the vote there re KE and while yes, indeed, I am very intent on turning general language teaching practices on their head …along with the rest of the amazing community of edubloggers like yourself and shining a big bright light on to our students’ voices…

    I’ve, um, still some years before accomplishing that goal and getting a rightfully earned role on a list like this


  27. Oh, one more comment… oh, no, now I’ll look like I’m swinging back and forth – but just read your comment re Thornbury’s A-Z and I agree with you.

    Blogs should be a part of the list…

    Yours and Graham’s and don’t forget the first really, the most extraordinary Nik Peachey’s – and ELT Notebook – I mean you guys really dragged the rest of us online.


  28. Betty C. says:

    Am I missing “In at the Deep End” somewhere? When I started teaching business English, I was definitely in at the deep end and this book saved me. There’s something vaguely dogme-like about it, too, even though it’s a book. It’s certainly one of the few “oldies but goodies” that I go back to regularly.

    I don’t have much experience with YLs, but didn’t the “Muzzy” videos leave quite a mark? Maybe not…

  29. Wow. While I love the idea of doing a list of 100 most influential books, I think your execution here wasn’t really thought through very well, Alex. If you’re going to do any kind of thorough list, you need to look at each title in detail, which you obviously have not done. To just throw titles out there without being able to back up why you think some are good and others aren’t is just inviting trouble. At least, I suppose, you’ve ‘unranked’ them now. That’s a good step.

    But with all due respect, to say you “don’t get” Widgets, or that you think Potato Pals is but a variation on Eric Carle just means you haven’t looked at those titles in any detail at all. I’ve never used Potato Pals, but a 5-minute reading of the website showed me that it incorporates a very clever vocabulary building trick which IS innovative. Actually, if I were a YL teacher I might even be a bit offended at the apparent implication that YL teaching is so simplistic that any old book will do. (And See Spot Run? Really? Talk about dry, content-free, comically bland narratives!)

    In any case, I suppose you can argue Pals wasn’t influential, but that’s another matter. What you’re admitting here is that you haven’t looked at it. Fair enough, but then maybe you shouldn’t be taking it upon yourself to write such a list.

    And I’m certainly not going to claim that Widgets has been influential–but come on, really, what’s not to “get”? I’m really interested to know this for quite practical purposes, actually: If some teachers aren’t getting the point of the book, then perhaps we need to look at how we have presented it as we look towards a second edition. (Because yes, many teachers have gotten it.)


  30. Alex Case says:

    Hi Marcos

    First, I absolutely agree that the other Spot books are rubbish – only Where’s Spot reaches my ridiculously high standards. I’m not sure you’ve read the other things I wrote very carefully though. I didn’t say that Potato Pals is a variation on anything, I said that I prefer using classic children’s books, e.g. many Eric Carle titles, to using almost any EFL titles, e.g. Potato Pals (the one that caught my eye when I was browsing the online catalogue). As I clearly stated above, I wrote a review of Potato Pals (for MET I think) and used it for a couple of years, so I don’t know where you got the idea that I “haven’t looked at it”. Also, I didn’t take it upon myself to make this list, I gave a few ideas with the humble intention of hearing people’s more informed suggestions. Do you have any? Also, with the exception of dividing the books which didn’t have the impact into ones which should have and quite rightly didn’t (which seems to have been more of a distraction that I would have imagined, but I needed to keep myself amused somehow!), this list has nothing to do with which books are good, it is purely about influence.

    I’m surprised you’d say “What’s not to get?” If Widgets is in any way different from other books, of course there would be something that people couldn’t get. I haven’t had the chance to use it as a main course, but I’ve picked it up twice looking for ideas or materials to supplement classes and I’ve put it straight back down again. I’ve also seen other teachers have the same reaction. I’ve misplaced my copy again, so I can’t analyse why that is, could it just be the presentation putting me off? Or was there something about how I should use it that I didn’t understand (e.g. due to not having the teachers’ book)? I don’t know, hence the careful choice of the words “I don’t get it” – meaning that I generally trust yours and Jason’s judgements, so I really think I must be missing something here.

  31. Alex Case says:

    Also, I didn’t “unrank” them because they were always in alphabetical order. Maybe putting numbers next to them was a mistake, given how much people (myself included) skim and scan online, but the post always quite clearly explained that it was to brainstorm titles to be included. The numbers were just supposed to show how close I was to getting 100 titles to include

  32. Alex Case says:

    Have taken out the numbers, as they seemed to be confusing so many people. How a bunch of English teachers couldn’t spot that a list was alphabetical I really don’t know…

    Also added Andrew Wright’s name to 5 Minute Activities, and a few explanations of why those titles should be in the list

  33. One more spud follower here. At the risk of sounding like a blurb from the publisher, here are a bunch of things Potato Pals offers that classic picture book titles don’t (at least not always):

    1) Useful expressions that young children can use to talk about their lives. Kid’s may learn “Where…?” and animal names from “Where’s Spot?”, and maybe some parts of the face from “Go Away Big Green Monster”, but they don’t learn expressions that allow you to actually communicate with them about their daily expreriences.

    2) An affordable way for students to have a series of readers, with audio (spoken stories and songs) of their own which they can take home and (because of the CD) read with their parents who may or may not be comfortable reading in English with their kids. We use a lot of picture books in class to supplement our lessons (including our PP lessons), but we can’t buy a copy of each book for each student, so they can read them at home.

    3) A picture book that children can “read” on their own, no matter what level they are at in terms of reading. The pictogram system allows children with no reading experience to be able to turn the pages and tell the story as well as their classmate sitting next to them who may be reading at some level. An interesting challenge in teaching young learners these days is the mixed levels we see even from a very young age. We see 4 year olds in our classes who have been learning English since birth, and 4 year olds who have never learned English in their lives.

    A series like Potato Pals is really easy to adapt to the different levels in your classroom. There are a lot of little details and a wealth of vocabulary items in each unit to challenge the more advanced learners (in addition to being able to practice reading), or you can keep it really simple and focus on basics with the beginners. And you can do it in the same class with everyone together, and everyone feels great senses of completion upon reading their books.

    I should add here that I think the books and the songs in Potato Pals are appealing to very young native speakers as well. We’ve used it many times with young returnee students and have great success with it.

    I don’t think there is a another series like it. I’ve told Patrick that even after using it for 5 years I still find creative little touches in the illustrations, layout, and songs that I didn’t notice before.

    One reason Genki English and Learn English Kids and the like have succeeded is that we teachers all want to sing with our students as we know it’s a powerful tool, but found the materials created for native speakers (Wee Sing, Raffi, etc.) often just a little too difficult or a little too fast. Not a lot, just a little…but that little tiny bit is the bit where we lose our students and they tune out. So there is this frustration that we can’t always use these great songs that we’d like to. Good songs (including the songs on the PP CD) for non-native speakers address that.

    And Potato Pals addresses that same thing, but for books and reading. It’s at the right level for all of my young students…beginners to more advanced. Our students using Potato Pals each get a set of 6 books which provide them really, really useful phrases they can use to talk about their lives from the time they wake up ’til the time they go to bed. And they get to enjoy reading these books at home, with their parents, at their leisure, which is an incredibly powerful thing that I don’t think picture books as traditionally used in the classroom offer.

    My 2 cents :-). The disclaimer here is that the author is a friend, but we only became friends because I was such a big fan of the series.

  34. Alex: I get it that you’re inviting recommendations, which is definitely the way to go. I guess your dismissal of Potato Pals and Widgets seemed a bit off-hand and undeserved, but then again I’m an involved party, so maybe I’m biased.

    Widgets is different from other books, you’re right, but it’s different in a way that to me seems self evident: Instead of it being a sequence of discrete readings, listenings, and activities based on a grammar syllabus, it’s a semester-long simulation of a particular English speaking context. There *are* no stand-alone activities. All the tasks are interconnected; that’s kind of the point.

    But okay, I get it now how you could miss it. Going to Widgets to find a one-off task for the last 30 minutes of class on Thursday would be just as misguided as trying to build a full semester-long syllabus around 5 Minute Activities. But I would not say that this makes Widgets worthy of being dismissed. Actually, I would argue that the fact you can’t reduce it to one-off tasks–and I’m going to take the opportunity here to coin the term “meaning mcnuggets” ;-) –that actually makes it much more of a COURSEbook than most other stuff out there.

    OK, enough of sidetracking your thread. As for me, I would argue for Discussions that Work over other collections of discrete activities. It has certainly been extremely influential to me, despite the fact that, no, the discussions don’t always work as described. To me that’s kind of the point too–adapting them to one’s own student contexts helps teachers to focus on their greater outside-the-activity aims. But then, I’ve never been a fan of 101-activities-for-tired-teachers type books.

    They’ve had a big influence, no doubt–but mostly a negative one, by creating this idea that language teaching is about teaching little disconnected bits or presenting little standalone activities. I think course-level aims are much more important, and Discussions that Work gives us much more meat for big-picture thinking. While yes, also giving a few relatively easy to implement tasks.


  35. Ted O'Neill says:

    Not sure why I am commenting on a question that is such link bait, but here goes. I’ll blame Marcos for tweeting it.

    I have to agree with Peter Medgyes above on adding Earl Stevick’s “Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways”. And as long as I’m in the wayback machine, I’m kind of surprised that nobody has yet mentioned Wilga Rivers yet. I bought a copy of “A Practical Guide to the Teaching of English as a Second Language” ages ago when I took her course at Harvard Extension. It was the first thing I’d ever read on language teaching. I’m sure plenty of other people got their start there too.

  36. Alex Case says:

    I hadn’t come across the expression “link bait” (always happy to learn new vocabulary), and I’ve certainly never been accused of it with any words and expressions. If I was so fussed about links, wouldn’t I perhaps be publicizing it myself on Twitter?? As I think I explained in the introduction, I made it a post because I wanted other people’s suggestions, and the original point of the list was to help me write a timeline of the history of ELT.

    Thanks for the Stevick vote, will make it into the list for sure. Hadn’t heard of Wilga Rivers.

    How about Teaching English Overseas by Jeff Mohammed?

  37. Alex Case says:

    Hi Marcos

    Thanks for commenting further. That does partly explain it. As I said, I didn’t get it… Still doesn’t sound like it would suit either me nor my teaching situations when I looked at it, because I basically only use the reading and listening texts in the textbook (plus workbook for homework), and basically none of the speaking or other exercises as they are. For example, I got through New Cutting Edge Intermediate without doing one of the speaking tasks, Word Spots or grammar exercises. I also like to skip and switch things round a lot. Is that possible with Widgets?

    I agree with you on Discussions that Work – that’s why I put it in! Are there any other books on speaking that I’m missing? Conversation by Rob Nolasco? The Q Book?

  38. Alex Case says:

    Play Games with English?

  39. Alex Case says:

    Hi Devon. Thanks for your long and detailed comments.

    I didn’t have the songs when I reviewed and used the books (blame stingy publishers??) The fact that components like these keep getting mentioned at that you say “PP lessons” makes me think even more that Potato Pals sounds like a better replacement for a textbook (and actually quite similar to story based textbooks like Story Magic, which I also reviewed for MET, despite the difference in format), and still not something I would use if it didn’t leave time for The Secret Birthday Message or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. I certainly agree that not all books for native speaker kids are as good or as suitable for young learner classes though.

  40. Alex Case says:

    Someone has suggested Teaching Tenses and The Anti-Grammar Grammar Book. I suggested a campaign to revive the latter before someone told me that it was already back, but I’m not sure it was influential. It was so quirky that nothing similar could really come out, and the ideas weren’t very adaptable and so if you didn’t have the book you couldn’t really do anything similar. Grammar Games, More Grammar Games and Grammar Practice Activities had more impact, I reckon. They were (are?) also more ubiquitous in teachers’ rooms

  41. TEFLista says:

    I meant to mention Teaching Tenses, too. It was a real staple on CELTA courses for about a decade. BTW, it’s recently come back into print.

    Sound Foundations is another one to consider putting on the list.

  42. Alex Case says:

    Teaching Tenses it is then. Sound Foundations is already on there. Must be up to about 150 by now, any suggestions for ones which are on my list but shouldn’t be??

  43. Huw Jarvis says:

    I would think that something by Keith Johnson as one of the founding fathers of CLT ought to be included – for those that haven’t seen it has a keynote that he did a couple of years ago (there is also one by Paul Nation). Arguably something by Rod Ellis and David Nunan ought to be included in any such list?

  44. John Hughes says:

    Hi Alex. Great list – some of it I nodded along with and some of it made me scream – ‘you have to be joking’. Anyway without doubt The Lexical Approach by Lewis has had the biggest effect. After it came out every course book suddenly transformed what it did with vocabulary and so did every teacher – even if they’d never heard of the LA. It spawned all the anti-grammar debates currently going round the blogs etc. And conferences without Michael Lewis speaking have never been the same since.

  45. Alex Case says:

    Do tell us the ones that make you scream John – whether it be silly to suggest that they were influential or scream-inducing that they did influence us!

  46. Given the amount of comments here Alex it looks like you might end up doing the list of all publications (plus blogs, webpages, magazine articles, journal pieces) in TEFL…

    How does Modern English Teacher make it as a publication that most changed TEFL? Who still reads it? ;-)

  47. Alex Case says:

    Lucky I stumbled upon the cunning idea of limiting it to 100 then. Will narrow it down one way or the other for the second draft

    I still read MET, but then I’m usually in it… Remember that it is not necessarily which things are having an impact now. MET has always been in the Ts rooms that I’ve been in, but it could be that it’s always been a minority interest. I think you would have always chosen ETP or ELTJ if you wanted your article to really have an impact. What does anyone else think?

    Any ideas for specific articles or books from smaller publishers?

  48. Alex Case says:

    Thanks Huw. Any suggestions for the most influential publications by any of those people?

  49. TEFLista says:

    The Academic Word List –Averil Coxhead

  50. Alex I wish you hadnt started this whole thing I cant stop my mind ticking over…
    How could anyone omit David Wilkins description of language in terms of notions and functions? It was published by the Council of Europe and later Pergamon under the names of David Wilkins, Van Ek, John Trim and Louis Alexander but I always held the belief that it had to begin with one of them and it was probably David Wilkins. I actually possess a type written version, pre publication of the description by David Wilkins…like me it has rust gathering around its staples.
    If you a time line ask me about the sixties and seventies..I was there…I’m should be stuffed and kept in a glass box like Jeremy Benthem.

  51. you can see clear evidence of the rust affecting my writing in the last posting…though I must insist that the repeating of my name twice is only rusting and not intoxication.

  52. Alex Case says:

    If I get any more useful suggestions like that, may I wish you all a sleepless night and distracted day while you think of some more!

  53. Patrick says:

    Hi Alex,

    Thank you so much for this perfect storm. Thoroughly enjoyable and very flattering. Or flattening perhaps more like!

    1. If you DM me your address I’ll get OUP to send you a fresh set with the CD so you can do a proper review, with the songs. Can’t believe you wrote such a good review last time and you didn’t even have them. Actually they’re all on my YouTube channel too.

    2. If you’re going to go around calling me ‘The Nicest Man in EFL’ I expect a proper badge stating that in precisely those words for my blog. Failure to send immediately will result in legal action.

    3. My tips for this upsetting list:
    a. Best teacher resource book for YLs? Teaching with Bear. A one-off. Really beautiful.
    b. Most influential in Asia (YLs) Let’s Go (by a stretch).
    c. Breakthrough that opened the field for many others: Jazz Chants

    Warmest regards from the carbohydrates you hate to love.

  54. Anne Hodgson says:

    Some stuff missing:
    rhythmic stuff – Carolyn Graham: Jazz Chants (e.g. Small Talk, 1986)
    fun stuff – John Morgan & Mario Rinvolucri: Vocabulary (1986)
    communicative stuff – Vicki Hollett et al: In at the deep end (1989)
    photocopyable stuff – Adrian Wallwork: Discussions A-Z (photocopiable) (1997)
    Angela Lloyd/Anne Preier: Business Games (photocopiable) (1996)
    Derek Utley: Intercultural Resource Pack (photocopiable) (2004)
    inspiring stuff – Peter Wilberg: One to One. A Teacher’s Handbook (1987)
    free stuff –
    stuff my students actually want to borrow – Business Spotlight (magazine)

  55. Anne Hodgson says:

    Oops, sorry, almost all of those were already there … except …Peter Wilberg, an essential one.

  56. Alex Case says:

    Got these two comments from Andrew Wright by email (replying to notification emails Andrew??)

    You say you are ‘not very well read’…I feel the same…and that is why I dont mind talking about books which have been important to ME but that is seriously different to saying what has been important in TEFL for the whole world.
    Moskowitz’s Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Classroom influenced some key people who went on to influence many more…for example, Mario Rinvolucri was seriously influenced by Caring and Sharing.
    Alan Maley’s Drama Techniques in Language Learning was a pioneering book in bringing in actor training games into the language classroom.
    My own, ‘Games for Language Learning’ was the very first book in the whole of ELT to offer games through the cookbook technique which has, since that time, become standard practice. ie with materials require, time required, procedure and etc.
    Bill Lee’s book Language Teaching Games and Contests, Alans book on Drama Techniques and my book on Games were among the very first resource books for teachers. Since their publication there have been many, many more very useful books published.
    Louis Alexander who once dominated teh TEFL course book market and most certainly influenced millions of people around the world told me that his very first ideas for publishing ELT material came from a course called En Avant which was hte first audio visual course produced in the English speaking world for the teaching of French. I was in the En Avant team in the 1960s.
    When I begin to recall all the things which influenced me and my fellow writers in those years I really begin to feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the notion of influence. And for this reason, once more, I submit that it would be so much more reasonable to invite colleagues to say which books have been important for them rather than to invite people to assert something which noone is qualified to do…in my opinion.
    But what you are doing is interesting, gives people a poke and makes an old mole like me stick his head out.


    I am confused…if it is ‘publications which have changed TEFL’ then why ask, in the present tense, ‘who still reads it?’ I believe that Susan Holden and her long, long years running MET was a significant influence on what many teachers did…and those teachers are todays grandparent teachers…who in turn influenced younger teachers even if they dont know it.

  57. Alex Case says:

    Some more great suggestions there. I think we are up to about 200 now. Seems everyone else is too nice to eliminate any from my original list. Luckily that’s not a problem for me, so I’ll be ruthlessly chopping to make a second draft, maybe this weekend – so get your final nominations in now!

  58. Alex, you say you ‘will be ruthlessly chopping to make a second draft’. What will guide you in your chopping and in your ruthlessness?

  59. Alex Case says:

    I was hoping it would be people’s votes…

  60. Re: MET. Fair enough points made by Alex and Andrew. I concede. I shot that one from the hip! :-)

  61. Alex Case says:

    Another emailed comment, this time by Dennis Newson

    “My early morning sub-conscious is throwing up a couple of “What about” titles /authors to be accepted or chopped. Actually, books I still have that I found worth buying and reading over the years.

    What about something by:

    Peter Strevens,
    John M.Swales Academic Writing for Graduate Students
    Larry Selinker Rediscovering Interlanguage
    Eric Hawkins Awareness of Language An Introduction
    Brumfit and Johnson The Communicative Approach to Language Teaching
    J.C. Catford A Practical Introduction to Phonetics

    Admit I can no longer remember if this is supposed to be100 most influential books or me personally, or the TEFL community in general and whether it is is only supposed to be classroom-orienated publications or if theoretical, academic stuff is called for as well.

    The Collins Cobuild Dictionary
    Vocabulary Ronald Carter
    David Willis The Lexical Syllabus


  62. Alex Case says:

    To the list-haters, Warwick University has a TEFL hall of fame, which sounds kind of similar to what my next list is supposed to be to me:

    hattip to Scott Thornbury, whose latest post is what some would have wanted this to be (part of the reason I rushed this one up by tried to do something slightly different):

  63. Oh, hope I’m not too late!

    I came across an interesting blog post on a similar topic over at Peter Viney’s website ( where he was arguing that students’ books have much more impact than methodology books.

    Peter has swayed me and I’d like to nominate ‘English in Situations – Robert O’Neill’

  64. Peter Viney says:

    I replied to Alex on my own blog, then thought it better to bring it into more open discussion here. Alex asked me what Headway had actually changed.

    MY REPLY (also on

    Phew, Alex! I meant to do a three line reply but got carried away.
    Headway? I said it had more influence on what happens in the classroom than Krashen. I didn’t say that was a good thing. There are a number of reasons. First, every publisher has spent the last twenty-five years trying to clone it, which means you can assemble a large pile of books that look superficially like Headway. Its approach is now dominant. So is its syllabus progression, which at the bottom two levels at least, is dubious to dedicated beginner specialists.
    I’m very reluctant to criticize rival textbooks, because only other coursebook writers appreciate the amount of careful work that goes into them. And Headway was obviously a principled textbook series written from the point of view of classroom experience.
    OK, but for me, Headway took ELT a step or three backwards. It played to the established prejudices of “what a course book looks like” to those who’d come from French and German teaching into ELT, and it swamped students with dense texts, vastly over-lengthy listenings, and vocabulary explanation. One teacher I used to work with told me she loved Headway passionately because “you never run out of vocabulary to explain.” Explaining lots of vocabulary is teacher-centred and dull, to my mind. It’s what authors like O’Neill and Alexander got ELT away from in the late 60s and early 70s. Headway took it back very much to “pre-Alexander and O’Neill” days.
    I like to think Bernie Hartley and I had carried on their torch into the 80s, with minimal texts, large proportions of mainly didactic illustration on the page, and the direction and methodology hidden away in the teachers book. This meant the path of the lesson was not pre-ordained. It wasn’t “Turn to page 37, unit five, Section A, exercise 4, sub-section c, point iii, pair work”. The teacher could adapt and extemporise. Even if the teacher stuck to the TB notes faithfully, to the class, the teacher was apparently making the decisions NOT the text book. When I was talking about Grapevine, I called this “Teacher Independence.” Streamline did this without balancing skills, but Grapevine balanced the skills and was a fuller and rounder course.
    The vocabulary in Headway (and most of its clones) is also not considered, in that it derives from the semi-authentic topics, meaning that a large proportion is outside what (say) a graded reader at the level would expect students to know. Thinner text books which motivated and left more to the teacher have always been my preference. I also find the choice of topics predictable, a fact emphasized because so many others have imitated it rather than originated. If you wish to avoid blandness and banality, you have to use humour, and you have to use fiction. You also have to be able to write dialogue that sounds realistic, even in a way-out situation.

  65. Peter Viney says:

    I’ll come back, if I may, on some of my own titles.

    But first, where’s the video? I know most ELT publishers have wiped out their video lists, but there was a period of about 15 years (1986 to 2001?) when video had a major influence, especially in those countries like France, Italy and Spain where it was used most heavily. The only video you mention is an adaptation, Wallace and Gromit (which is one of ours too). I’ll blow our own trumpet and nominate A Weekend Away and A Week By The Sea in that dozens of other videos followed the basic exploitation pattern that Karen and I established there. We did it way better later in Only in America and Grapevine Video and English Channel, but we were following our own pattern with refinements. So, just “A Weekend Away / A Week By The Sea” as influences.

    The BBC’s “Follow Me” video series has been shown regularly in China since the mid-70s and is still going strong (L.G. Alexander & Roy Kingsbury), making Francis Matthews who presents it one of the best-known faces on the planet. I’d add it to your list. Potentially, I’d add the BBC’s “On We Go” video series, with its sit-com style format, which we’d been using for years before we did our own.

    On Wallace and Gromit, the Wallace voiceover is by Peter Sallis who did the original Wallace voice. Peter was interested in the EFL version, because with animation you put down the soundtrack before you animate. With our version he was voicing to the finished animation which was different. The originals are indeed great, but inaccessible to low-level learners because of the quirky, unstructured language. That’s why we were brought in, and why we were asked to add a narrator.

    I think you’re absolutely correct in placing “Handshake” in the “Were meant to change the world but had little effect” section, though I object to the word “rightfully” before “had little effect.” We still think it’s the best book we ever did. And it retains a small, but dedicated following.

    Andrew Wright is correct about “The Threshold Level” (Van Ek, Alexander, Wilkins et al). Essential.

    On “Ship or Sheep” I mention it in my current talks, and am delighted that there are always people in the audience who still use it. That’s had a very long run.

    I’ll throw in another one. Access to English, by Coles and Lord. The first full-colour adult textbook series (most people think that was Streamline, but Access was there two or three years earlier). I didn’t like it much, but it was an innovation that within three or four years everyone had followed.

  66. Alex Case says:

    Thanks Peter. I was going to use the expression “Headway clones” myself, and then I just really couldn’t think of any. True to Life? Matters? Cutting Edge? They all seem pretty different to me.

    I was going to mention Grapevine video, actually, as it still has a dedicated following. I was wondering if it had affected later vids, though

  67. Peter, I really love these glimpses of TEFL through your eyes and from your huge experience. But Alex doesnt it make you feel overwhelmed what you have triggered?

  68. Alex Case says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think that Cutting Edge is probably the biggest Headway-clone of all. Strange, given its name and how it was supposed to be task-based and all…

  69. Alex Case says:

    Not at all, Andrew. Might take me months or even years to properly process, let alone get some kind of article out of it, but it will be a pleasure and worth it! As the first great wave of TEFLers are retiring about now and for the first time the internet is easily available to share their experiences, this couldn’t come at a better time!

  70. Alex Case says:

    Here are the ones since 1945 from the timeline in A History of ELT that I didn’t include in the top 100 for one reason or another. Any that I should?

    1995 – Spolsky’s Measured Words
    1983 – Stern’s Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching
    1978 – Munby’s Communicative Syllabus Design
    1975 – Jupp and Hodlin’s Industrial English
    1974 – Allen and Widdowson’s English in Focus
    1973 – Trim et al Systems Development in Adult Language Learning
    1973 – Allen and Corder (eds) Edinburgh Course in Applied Linguistics Vol. 1
    1972 – Sinclair et al. The English Used by Teachers and Pupils
    1969 – Ewer and Latorre’s A Course in Basic Scientific English
    1968 – Broughton et al’s Success with English
    1965 – Mackey’s Language Teaching Analysis
    1964 – Halliday, McIntosh and Streven’s Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching
    1963 – Nuffield Foreign Languages Teaching Materials Project
    1963 – Hayes report on language laboratories in America
    1961 – Lado’s Language Testing
    1961 – CREDIF audio-visual course Voix et Images de France
    1960 – Stack’s language laboratory guide
    1954 – Hornby’s Guide to Patterns and Usage in English
    1954 – Oxford Progressive English for Adult Learners
    1952 – Fries’s Structure of English
    1945 – Fries’s Teaching and Learning English as a Foreign Language

  71. rob clement says:

    the publication which has most changed my teaching is: Dialogue Journals by Joy Kreeft Payton. It has made my Ss more fluent writers and made me more aware of their written errors (i don’t correct them) and their lives and personalities. Wonderful teaching tool.

  72. Alex Case says:

    Thanks Rob. And would you say that it has been influential more generally?

  73. Peter Viney says:

    Gossip & Rumour: One reason why people might think “Cutting Edge” a Headway clone was that it was originally at OUP before going to Longman, and editors back in those days referred to it as “the replacement Headway.” The managing editor who commissioned it was the one who had also commissioned Headway, and she changed publishers, and the book went with her.

  74. Alex Case says:

    Nice gossip! More of that please (here or on your blog)!

    Whoever she is, she sure was in charge of two high selling courses.

    Someone told me that all mention of “task based” has now been dropped from New Cutting Edge marketing materials. Not that it ever really was, but I don’t think any of us expected the marketing cache of TBL to die away so quickly

  75. Alex
    Your list above…is such a mixture of things…and some key titles missing…Was Hayes report on ‘language laboratories in America’ more important than ‘Language Laboritories in Language Teaching’ by Julian Dakin and APR Howatt…at least in the British English speaking world?
    I darent start listing the other titles which I am sure were hugely influential…cant resist..what was Louis Alexnaders first course called…was it ‘First things First’…anyway it was huge in its impact world wide, whatever you might think of it now.
    Peter, am I right?

  76. Alex Case says:

    Hi Andrew

    Not my list, from the book by A P R Howatt with H G Widdowson. As I said in the original post, quite a lot of the ideas come from there in the hope of stretching back past my own limited knowledge. I was wondering if any of these should be in there too

    First Things First is in my original list, so I didn’t bother to list it again even though it is in the book

    Language Laboratories in Language Teaching was mentioned on Scott’s blog as well, so a strong contender for the final list

  77. Chris Jones says:

    I agree with a lot of what Peter Viney has said, Headway was/is indeed a backward step.It has enshrined tenses as the be all and end all of grammar teaching and is deeply conservative.It is popular largely ( I think) because it is so easy to teach from and the lessons will work for even the most inexperienced teacher. Students also know very clearly what they are getting from it.
    Alex, I think you are a bit tough on ‘Natural English’! It ‘s not had a huge impact but it’s not because of the content, I don’t think.At least they attempted to be innovative and the course design was based on a sound rationale: looking at the gaps between int/upper int learners and consulting corpora to find the chunks/structures most needed to fill those gaps. Its not perfect in this respect but it’s an improvement on the language syllabus of Headway and its clones and I applaud the authors for trying something different.The problem is perhaps the way it is structured – it seems bitty to new teachers and is harder to get to grips with than your average textbook, a problem the Cobuild English course also had.
    I would add Carter and McCarthy’s ‘Cambridge Grammar of English’ to your list.

  78. Jimmy says:

    The great thing about the BBC ‘Follow Me’ video course was that it used actors who were left over from episodes of Fawlty Towers. My students had hours of fun picking out the minor characters common to both – ‘Hey! There’s the Irish builder/the Portugese cook/the Australian girl’ and so on.
    Happy days at BC in Milan!
    Sadly, though, I once sat on a plane (coming back from IATEFL 1992) and found myself next to a very senior BBC EFL publishing person who was steadily working his way through the miniatures trolley. Every last drop funded by the licence fee.

  79. Peter Viney says:

    I have “First Things First” by L.G. Alexander on my list of five on my blog, but that’s also because of the TB introduction. Louis Alexander was at the root of so many things, from his pre-First Things First days when he did a book with short comprehension pieces (the title escapes me) to the Follow Me video. He was also among the best ELT speakers I saw over 30 plus years.

    One of the ones “designed to change the world of ELT that didn’t” is L.G. Alexander’s “Mainline” series, one of the early functional / notional courses and one of the strictest in applying a function syllabus at the time. It didn’t “change the world” but that’s because Strategies arrived at the same time which was much more teachable and much less crowded on the page.

    Which brings up a point that gets ignored. Mainline, like CoBuild, was ruined by overcrowded, plain bad page design. Part of Headway’s success (certainly by the 2nd edition) was due to good-looking layout, design and illustration (even if it was not fantastic didactically). A book won’t work (or sell) just because it’s well-designed, but most of the major successes were well-designed, at least for their era. The “Letraset” unit titles in Strategies look a bit naff now, but back in 1975 / 1976 they looked exciting.

  80. I hadn’t intended to get involved in this discussion, not least because any involvement might be construed as trying to “influence the judges’ decision”! Nevertheless, with peripheral discussions going on about the impact of certain coursebooks, on both my blog and on Peter Viney’s, it feels like bad manners not to participate in Alex’s too.

    Even if only to criticise it! A number of criticisms have already been made, but can I just summarise my own take on this?

    1. The “apples-and-oranges” thing — is there any point in including books/ articles, on the one hand, and a whole journal and all its issues, such as English Teaching Professional (with all its hundreds of articles) or ELT J on the other? This is not because I’ve got anything against ETP, only that, if it has changed ELT, it’s a different kind of change mechanism than, say, a key book or article. The same might be said for a blog.

    2. Direct change or indirect change? Chomsky’s ‘Aspects of the Theory of Syntax’ for example, has probably never been read by a practising ELT teacher, and in fact the whole edifice of transformational grammar has famously had zero effect on grammar description and coursebooks. Likewise Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour: has anyone here ever seen a copy of this? Has anyone ever read it? Certainly, it had an important effect on linguistic theory at the time, and linguistic theory informs the development of methods, and methods filter into coursebooks and eventually classroom practice, but if every breakthough in linguistic theory was eligible, then we would have to include Sapir and Whorf, and Firth, and Halliday, and the Prague School, and poor old Skinner himself. How far back up the food chain do you go before the influence on classroom teaching becomes just an echo of an echo? Likewise, a book like The Language Instinct can only have had an indirect effect on ELT (if at all), since it doesn’t mention second language teaching once, if I recall.

    3. Which leads to a related issue — how far back do you have to go? You don’t seem to stipulate any time period, e.g. the last hundred years, and yet English language teaching has a history going back several centuries. You include some titles from the 1930s, e.g. Bloomfield, Ogden, but if you’re going back that far you have to include publications by Harold Palmer, Michael West, A.S.Hornby, Eckersley, etc – who all had a huge influence on second language teaching both before and after World War II. And if you’re including those, what’s to stop you including publications by Berlitz, Jespersen, etc — i.e. those of the previous generation? My suggestion is that you set a time limit — 50 years would seem to be reasonable, since it still encompasses the working life of some of the more senior members of the profession (no names!)

    4. Not only is it a question of how far back you go, but how recent can you reasonably be? A book that came out last year is unlikely to qualify as a change agent, not at least until a decent time has elapsed in order to assess its effects. Flattered, as I am, that Teaching Unplugged gets a mention, it’s probably been read by not more than a couple of thousand people. Even if they told all their friends about it, who in turn told all THEIR friends, I find it hard to imagine that major changes in ELT teaching have resulted. I wish I was wrong!

    5. Finally, and crucially, how do you measure change (if these really are the publications that changed ELT)? A book or article may have changed my teaching. It may have changed the teaching of my colleagues in my institution. It may even have changed the teaching in a whole region. But is this enough? I get the impression that many of the books suggested by those commenting on your list may have been personal favourites, and may even have had a profound effect on the person recommending them, but did they have the same effect on a wide range of teachers in a wide range of contexts? And what sort of change was it? The introduction of a new technique? Or a whole methodological paradigm shift? How durable was the change? In the end, it seems to me that 100 titles is too ambitious. This implies that there have been 100 (significant) changes. But actually, changes have been few and far between. And, typically, they have been the kind of tectonic plate change that results from a textbook, like Headway or Interchange, dominating a huge sector of the market and imposing its particular methodological configuration on classroom teaching (e.g. inductive grammar presentations, or information gap activities etc). Moreover, most significant changes tend to have been precipitated by changes in technology rather than in publishing. Think of the language lab. And the advent of the cassette recorder, which had a profound effect on the quantity and quality of classroom listening activities. As podcasting is having now.

    So, how can I be less critical and more constructive? Because I do understand what you’re doing, and I think it’s laudable that you have encouraged a debate about the contribution that has been made of (often long forgotten) publications to our present situation — a project I am profoundly committed to as well. So what would I suggest? Well, for starters I would reduce the length of the list — to a more manageable 50, say; stipulate the time period — again 50 years seems fairly realistic, but draw a line at – say – 2000, so as to rule out current fads; and restrict candidates to single publications, whether a book, an article, or even a video (the Horizon video on second language acquisition that came out in the seventies, and featured Stephen Krashen, among others, was endlessly copied and used on teacher training courses, and I know in my professional circle, had a huge influence). And you’re wise to have dropped the ranking idea. Well, I wasn’t going to comment. But I sure as hell did!

  81. Chris Jones says:

    I think the point about design is very true as a book with fantastic content can put off busy teachers because it looks awful and/ or is hard to navigate. I think the Touchstone series is the first to bear this point in mind ;there is a shift in syllabus content but the design is easy to follow and accessible.I’m not sure how popular it is of course…
    I agree that the list would be better if you stuck to single books/articles/DVDs etc as the influence of something like YouTube is hard to measure.

  82. Alex Case says:

    Thanks for your long comment Scott. Although the first thing I thought while reading it is “Oh, Interchange, that might have to be added to the list too”, I did also agree with some of your major points…

    As not many articles have been mentioned either, I’ve been thinking that I’ll probably just narrow the list down to books. Might do similar list for other things later.

    Not sure about the past time limit as the whole point is to drag as many forgotten things out of the past as I can. Discussing whether recent things have already had an impact is also pretty interesting, I think, and of course I don’t want to exclude the many TEFLers who know nothing from ten years ago… Will ponder on that.

    As to narrowing it down to fifty- I might need some help, but everyone is just offering more and everyone is too nice to say some that shouldn’t be on the list. Even the Headway discussion makes it sound more influential (if even less popular than I had thought)

  83. Alex Case says:

    Talking of design, just because of what it looked like I always assumed that New Cambridge English Course was much older than Headway, but if Headway Intermediate came out in 1986 that must have been about the same time as (old) Cambridge English Course.

    Talking of Headway, I think the pronunciation books and Making Headway, especially the phrasal verb ones, were pretty good and should go under the “Should have had an impact but didn’t”. Same for the Market Leader workbooks- the best part was the pron, but that was the bit all future biz books dropped

  84. Jimmy says:

    Scott Thornbury: Go easy on Sapir!
    My dad knew him in West Berlin around 1947/48, when times were tough and his few lectures had to generate a month’s money. On Friday nights they would all go down to a jazz bar (I think it was named ‘Der Osti Flug’ or something like that) and the local TEFL elite would take off their bow ties (that’s what it was like in those days) and lay down some cool sounds.
    A big influence in my own decision to become a TEFLer – he was a great man, and much missed.

  85. Alex Case says:

    I’ve received votes for Muzzy, Learn English with Osmo, and The Lost Secret

  86. Peter Viney says:

    Delighted to see more votes for video. Muzzy is slightly off, because most of its promotion was self-study, competing with Linguaphone and Berlitz with whole page colour adverts for highly-priced box sets. They also tried to sell it for teaching, but that was subsiduary to the main aim. I have to say, I bought the German version (they did it in four or five languages) for my kids, and they neither liked it, nor did it work well … in the self-study format, that is.

    But to me, (nearly) any video is better than no video.

  87. Alex Case says:

    I’ve had a nomination for Alan Maleys Drama Techniques in language learning, apparently one of the first ever resource books for teachers

  88. Peter Viney says:

    Is that a nomination for the book or the series? I’d say that drama teaching had a major effect, but not via any single book. A large number of teachers had (and have) drama backgrounds. Authors with drama training include Colin Granger, Robert O’Neill, Ken Wilson, Karen Viney, Terry Phillips … and a dozen more. I did Drama as a subsiduary. Drama techniques were common currency in the 70s, and on many booklists were Anna Scher & Charles Verrall’s “100+ Ideas for Drama” and “Another 100+ Ideas for Drama”. They were aimed at native speaker kids in mainstream schools, but were readily adaptable for ELT.

    Years before we’d heard the words “information gap” Colin Granger would take two roughly parallel classes, and each teacher would spend a lesson preparing their class to interact with the other class (in pairs, groups or whole class). Each class would have different information. Then in the next lesson, half of each class would swap over. Or the two classes would meet with two teachers. The alternative was to use two teachers in a class and split the students for coaching before an interaction.

    Drama training influenced pronunciation activities. A lot of drama courses involve a segment on speech / speech therapy. I remember assigning a Japanese group an extra language lab session rather than working in a classroom. Not for language lab activities, but because the enclosed booths gave students a sense of privacy while doing tongue exercises with small mirrors. Suggested by a drama teacher who had done a speech therapy option and who wanted to work on the mechanics of “l” and “r”.

  89. Peter, I very much appreciate your knowledge of so many aspects of TEFL which all goes to support my contention, I believe, that it would better to invite people to talk about people (including their books) and events that have influenced them rather than to embark on an attempt to reduce the worlds key influences to a list of 100 or 50.

    I am surprised you dont refer to Alan Maley’s book, Drama Techniques in Language Learning. It was surely the first major focus on drama in TEFL?

    With refereance to the idea of information gap…Have you heard of Concept 7-9? This was a mother tongue product in the 1960s published by EJ Arnold in which children in pairs sat opposite each other, each one equipped with different information. It was the first formal ‘information gap’ activity I ever came across. Which, once more, suggests to me that Alex’s aim is unachievable…the roots of influence are so diverse, so complicated and only known by chance…most of us may be fairly confident about who are fathers are but when it comes to grandfathers, really, who knows?

    The other bit of history I have about, ‘information gap’ is that the idea came from Pit Corder. Aren’t I right in attributing it to him?

    I dont have the width and depth of Peter in skimming over TEFL publications but I do have a few bits and pieces…my very first job with teachers was for Pit Corder in about 1968.
    Best wishes
    PS It makes me giddy to see two of my publications at the head of the present list even if I know the list is not ranked yet…but it peeves me that my name was not placed against either publication…now it has been added to Penny’s but what about 1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy? Surely I wrote it…I am having an identity crisis, Alex!

  90. Peter Viney says:

    Andrew, I’d guess Anna Scher was already well-known among drama teachers and ex-drama students for her work with the Children’s Theatre, and her book came out in 1975. Alan Maley & Alan Duff’s “Drama Techniques in Language Learning” is 1978 (CUP), at least on my copy. It’s an important book, but my point was that there were so many ex-drama students about in ELT in the early 70s, that it was summarising what was going on, rather than pointing a new direction.

    For example, I remember Doug Case and Ken Wilson ran an excellent ARELS course in drama techniques at IH in Shaftesbury Avenue, circa 1974, which I attended. We did another at Anglo-Continental in 1976 or 1977. In both courses, video cameras were used.

    I’m fascinated by your comments on information gap, Concept 7-9, and Pit Corder. I hadn’t seen it, but there is nothing new under the sun! Aelfric the Grammarian was using role-play dialogue to teach Latin a thousand years ago, as I remember about once a fortnight when I drive past Cerne Abbas, where he lived. I had a look on the shelf … Bill Lee’s “Language Teaching Games and Contests” (1965) had several group game activities and was considered an essential teacher’s library book ten years later.

    I think many teachers had worked out that interaction functioned quite differently if the participants didn’t know what was going to be communicated to them, but it was much later that I heard the term “information gap”. Then every book had to have an interaction appendix. I have no idea whose book was first with that in print … whoever it was should be on the influential list. I’ll look later.

    I agree with you completely about influential people. In the drama area, Doug Case, Ken Wilson and Colin Granger spring to mind. One of the first lessons I ever observed was Colin, handing out “good news” / “bad news” slips of paper to students. They were in a paired role play, and had to communicate their bit of news to their partner. January 1971.

  91. Jimmy says:

    Anna Scher was a lovely lady, she visited Finchley Grammar in 1978 when I was there and showed us how to breathe and move our eyes on stage, which is utterly different from the way you do it in ‘real life.’ That’s a TEFL lesson I remember to this day. I had a signed first edition of her book, but it was stolen from a wagon-lit in Belgium in about 1982. One of the greats.

  92. David says:

    As someone in Curriculum Development, there is no bigger book to me than Nunan’s – The Learner Centered Curriculum.

    Glad someone mentioned Jill Hadfield’s great books – I also recommend her work with Oxford Basics.

    EFL Classroom 2.0, though new, should be mentioned. Until us, there was no community using social media for professional development (at least effectively).

    Great stuff, bookmarked this post!


  93. Rina Khairina says:

    Dear: Jill Hadfield, Andrew Wright, and Alex Case

    nice day.. :)
    my name’s Rina. i come from Indonesia. i am a college student at teacher training and education faculty of english departement at one of the university in Indonesia.

    now i am doing a research at one of junior high school (for the first grade) in my village. i do this research to collect the data of my thesis.

    i have a problem in collecting review of literature of my thesis.
    it is about Language Game can improve the students’ speaking ability.

    i have read some of your articles via internet. and i interested to know more about the fill of your articles to collect my data.

    Hadfield, Wright, and Alex could you tell me about the definition, types, and kinds of language game?

    i hope you can help me. :)

    nice to see you and thank you.



  94. stevebrown70 says:

    Breaking news? Are you having a laugh?? Something by Zoltán Dornyei, maybe the one he did recently with Emma Ushioda, wouldn’t be out of place. How about Caring and Sharing in the Language Classroom? It’s all touchy-feely but even nowadays you can see the legacy of humanism in ELT. We tend to diss the headway series now, but if you look at what there was before headway it was really quite groundbreaking.

  95. yesielts says:

    “Creative Grammar Practice” by Günter Gerngross, Herbert Puchta

  96. yesielts says:

    First, thank you for the link about the TEFL Blacklist. I had (surprisingly) never seen that before. I can foresee hours of time being spend reading about scandals and warnings. The industry in Australia (where I have been since 2008) is so heavily monitored that these kinds of incidents are, thankfully, rare.

    I would like to suggest a book and two websites.

    Book: As a newbie TEFL teacher in London in 2002, I really enjoyed using “Creative Grammar Practice” by Günter Gerngross and Herbert Puchta (Pilgrams Longman, 1993). There was something really lovely about the activities and the book reminded me a lot of the teaching philosophies underpinning my primary teacher training in NZ in the mid 90s. I don’t know if it is sitll around.

    Website 1: Podcasts in English – great listening resources for different levels. I have used these in classroom and one-to-one teaching.

    Website 2: Dominic Cole’s IELTS Blog – this was invaluable to me when I first started teaching IELTS.

    I’d like to add that using (predominantly UK-based) resources like photocopiable (photocopyable?) pages and course books was so much easier in England than anywhere else I have taught. They just fitted so much more easily and smoothly. I have heard of “Headway Australia” but never seen it. Is it still in existence? Has anyone ever (successfully) used it?

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