Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

The Best Books For Teaching & Learning ESL/EFL


Though I still recommend and use all the books on this list, you might also want to explore my more recent post, The Best Non-Web Resources, Online Tools, & Websites I Use Most Often With My Students.

Here’s another of my “The Best…” lists, this time sharing my picks for The Best Books For Teaching & Learning ESL/EFL. These are the books that I have found to be most useful to my students and me in my straight language classes and also in my combination Social Studies and language-development classes.

I’m not going to be listing them in a ranked order since it really depends on the kinds of classes and the level of English Language Learners you have in class. Also, several people were kind enough to offer their book suggestions. If I didn’t include them on my list, I share them near the end of this post.

Where possible, I’ve included links for each book to their pages at the Alta Book Center site. I get most of my ESL/EFL books from Alta and, in fact, many of the books on this list are published by them.

Unfortunately, as of December, 2008, Alta began only distributing books they publish.  It seems pretty clear to me that there are two viable alternatives.  (The url addresses for those books are no longer working (I’ll replace them when I have time).  However, just copy and paste the title at Amazon and those will lead you to them there.)

One is Delta Publishing Company, which seems to have almost as much of a selection as Alta did in the past. Delta was recommended by several people in the ESL/EFL community.

Just ordering from Amazon was the other primary recommendation. And, for that, there’s nothing better than the EFL Classroom 2.0 Bookstore. One nice benefit of using this service is that the books listed there are actually recommended by ESL/EFL teachers, and you’re not buying them “cold.”

Here are, in my opinion, The Best Books For Teaching & Learning ESL/EFL:

I can’t not include my own book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work, as well as my two more recent books on teaching ELLs.

Andy in Thailand suggested, and I certainly agree, that Zero Prep:Ready-To-Go Activities For The Language Classroom by Laurel Pollard and Natalie Hess belongs on this list. It’s filled with easy-to-do, enjoyable, and effective class activities for Beginner and Intermediate English Language Learners.

I have questions about putting a whole lot of time into explicit phonics instruction, but I really like Sounds Easy: Phonics, Spelling and Pronunciation Practice by Sharron Bassano. As the title suggests, it’s more than just phonics instruction. Also, even though it’s not included in the book, it’s easy to convert the exercises into more higher-order categorization activities, too.

Community Spirit: A Practical Guide To Collaborative Language Learning by Sharron Bassano and Mary Ann Christison provides tons of ideas for developing a student-centered curriculum. I couldn’t find it in Alta’s catalogue anymore, but you can get it through Amazon.

I think Back and Forth: Photocopiable Cooperative Pair Activities For Language Development by Adrian S. Palmer and others is a great resource for conversation practice.

Look Again Pictures: For Language Development and Lifeskills by Judy Winn–Bell Olsen is a fun way for students to learn vocabulary. They’re themed “Spot The Difference” pictures that are connected to everyday life issues.

I really like the Saddleback Lifeskills Series: Workbooks With Real-Life Applications. This collection of ten workbooks hits many of the key challenges of living in the United States, including money management, driving, searching for a job, and health and safety issues.

I don’t think there’s a better text for English Language Learners to gain Geography knowledge than World View: A Global Study of Geography, History, and Culture by Susan Lubawy. This two volume set is not only very accessible, but my mainstream students who have acted as peer tutors in classes using this text say it’s harder than the one they use in regular classes!

A Festival Of Folktales: Stories For Language Learning by Jeanne B. Becijos is an excellent supplement to “World View” for geography and language instruction. Stories from around the world are combined with numerous language-development activities.

Citizenship: Passing The Test by Lynne Weintraub is an excellent book to prepare for the U.S. Citizenship test. I believe Lynne is working on a revision to reflect the upcoming new test, but this version is still very good.

America’s Story by Vivian Bernstein is an excellent text covering U.S. History. I can’t believe there’s another one that’s more engaging and accessible to English Language Learners.

I haven’t been able to find one book that is great for World History. Longman Social Studies is excellent for early history, but less so for more the more modern era. I combine it with Short Lessons In World History by E. Richard and Linda R. Churchill, which is stronger for that time period.

Even thought it’s not an actual textbook, I still say the units provided by The Write Institute provide an excellent guide for teaching writing to English Language Learners.

David Deubelbeiss has a great book, We Teach We Learn.

I have my Beginning and Intermediate students use books in the English In Action series.

Here are some other recommendations from readers:

Mathew Needleman suggests Making Content Comprehensible for English Language Learners: The SIOP Model.

Tom DeRosa recommends books by Gary Soto.

James Webber suggests Longman Language Activator.

Feel free to share your own preferences in the comments section.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Have you looked at “Compelling Conversations”? Best for teachers who want to get intermediate to advanced learners talking. For novice ESL/EFL instructors there’s a collection of practical ESL called “Highway to ESL.”

  2. Thanks for including my book, “Citizenship: Passing the Test” in your Best Books list. Yes, the third edition is in the works and will be available from New Readers Press in September ’08. This edition will incorporate all of the new test content in the same easily accessible format, and a new companion “Literacy Skills Workbook” will offer practice with the literacy components of the citizenship test for very low beginning readers (i.e. 0-2 NRS levels).

  3. Perhaps you’d consider adding books from ? It’s my own site, and there’s some great material there.


  4. what level of English learner are the social studies and history books you mentioned in this article for? i teach brand new all the way to college professor ESL speakers and love to work in culture, geography and history as this is a passion of mine and they love too when taught well. but i have a tough time finding interesting material esp. for beginners/intermediates.

  5. Hi, I came across your recommendations when doing some research on materials for a language learning center (tertiary level) in Asia. I’m curious if you would recommend the “World View, A Global Study of Geography, History, and Culture” books for an EFL language center? What English level is this book at? (Beginner, intermediate, etc?) We’re looking for materials to help prepare our students for the general IELTS test as well as general English skills. Sometimes our students are interested in studying abroad, and it sounds like it might have some interesting materials for them.
    Thanks in any case for your recommendations! I’ve now been browsing through Alta Book Center’s books, and they look great! Just what we’re looking for!

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