Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener

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Learning Teaching by Jim Scrivener
Buy Learning Teaching from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Learning Teaching from Amazon.com

Genre: Reference
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Page
Reviewed by Zoe Page
Summary: A very comprehensive introduction to the teaching of English as a Foreign or Second Language, this is an essential resource for all new teachers in this field. If you think you can go straight into a classroom, fail to rearrange the chairs and talk to your students for an hour without stopping, you need this book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: March 2005
Publisher: Macmillan ELT
ISBN: 978-1405013994

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It takes a year to do a PGCE. Some other people even do whole 3 year degrees in teaching. Not me. I did a 20 day course. Those other teachers may not need this sort of book, but gosh, did I, especially when a job offer came my way on day 7, and I was suddenly only a few short weeks away from having real live students at my mercy. There are two English as a Foreign Language (EFL) 'bibles'. One is this one, and the other is How To Teach English by Jeremy Harmer. Also known as the purple one and the blue one in our household. I like purple better, so it's this one that made it into my pathetic 20kg-for-a-year luggage allowance. Lucky for me, I chose well (and Amazon users agree... the purple one gets 5* customer reviews, the blue one only 2.5*)

They say you learn by doing, but they also say those who can do, and those who can't teach, so I wasn't too quick to dismiss a book that aims to be The essential guide for your first years as a language teacher and an invaluable resource for teacher training courses. The author is a teacher with many years' experience who has worked in many countries and currently works as Director of Education for a branch of the chain of language schools I work for.

The book is unusual because it has many different parts to it. There are technical parts on the theory of how to teach – how to arrange your classroom, the nuts and bolts of lesson planning, tests and exams – but there are also some much more practical chapters on ideas for fillers and games, with some photocopiable resources for use in class, and there's also a brief introduction to the parts of speech, for those teachers who can't quite remember the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

The book discusses a lot of ideas I was already familiar with from my course, but usefully includes the proper names for things – I've been using substitution tables for weeks without knowing they had an official name, for example. It's a chicken and egg thing to know which came first, this book or the widely used methods of teaching it discusses, but several chapters are word for word what we had in some of our input sessions, and therefore serve as a useful, permanent reminder now the course is over.

I liked this book because it was clearly written by someone familiar with the EFL classroom, and realistic about demands placed on teachers working in this arena. For example, on most TEFL courses you are taught, and expected to use, detailed lesson plans. My last one on the course was 3 pages long, for a 60 min lesson. Nice, but slightly impractical when you're teaching up to 6 hours per day, 5 days per week. This book acknowledges this, and though it mentions 'proper' lesson plans, it also details some more user-friendly alternatives such as flow charts or brief running orders, which make much more efficient use of planning time. I also appreciated the section on planning courses since I have a couple of open programs which means no text book to follow, just me planning a course for 20-30 lessons. Similarly, since our training course focused on language focus and receptive skills lessons, I benefitted from the section on conversation classes since they pop up on my schedule too, and I needed some advice on how to handle them.

I have found this book to be accessible and easy to read, as well as interesting. Yes, it is a text book, not a nice chick lit novel, but it isn't boring and the anecdotes keep it interesting. My favourite, because worryingly you can imagine it being true in some EFL classrooms, goes like this:

Student: I am feeling bad. My grandfather he die last week and I am...

Teacher: No, not 'die' – say 'died' because it's in the past.

Student: ...he died last week

Teacher: Excellent, now did anyone else's grandfather die last week?

The book is not perfect. For example, the section on English for Special Purposes is rather short, a shame for me since over half my classes are Business English ones. The reference guide at the back is slightly odd because it is split into two sections, key terminology and abbreviations, but some abbreviations such as STT (student talking time) come in the former section, not the latter. However on the whole the book is well organised with thorough contents and index, plus an additional 'help index', so it is easy to find the topic you're looking for – the only thing I would like to change in the help index is that it refers to chapter and sections, where page numbers would be a bit more useful.

The book has many uses – you could read it in lieu of doing a course, and you'd get all the theory you need, but with none of the useful teaching practice. You could use it as I currently do, when I'm stuck for inspiration, or need a new game for a class who are flagging, or just need to remember the correct spelling of 'cuisenaire rods' so I can Google them. However you use it, I guess learning teaching from a book is possible after all.

You can read more of Scrivener's tips here. The book touches on grammar but is not a thorough introduction to the subject, so I would recommend pairing this book with Murphy's English Grammar In Use which should be all you need to approach classes of most levels.

Zoë Page had a quarter-life crisis and gave up a thrilling and lucrative career as an NHS bureaucrat to move to Mexico. Her goals were to get a tan, learn some Spanish and teach English, in that precise order. This book only helped with the teaching, but that's funnily enough the one she's making most progress with.

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