Essential Teacher Knowledge

by Jeremy Harmer, Pearson - Reviewed by Jose Tapia, IH Santander

When you hear that Jeremy Harmer has published a new book it might feel like you have just hit the jackpot. But without sounding too biased, (though I must confess I have a few of his books), I am sure that Essential Teacher Knowledge will find a good number of fans.

ETK could be described as a hybrid between his previous bestsellers How to Teach English and The Practice of English Language Teaching, but perhaps more thorough than the former and more accessible than the latter and is divided into six different sections.

The section titled ‘Language’ covers the four main areas of the language system (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, text and discourse) and is simple, straightforward but detailed enough, thereby making it great for both newbies and those with some experience.  The truth is if you don’t use it, you lose it and these pages will serve as a great revision tool. As in its predecessors, theory is linked to practice so you are given information on the different types of conditionals but also suggestions on how to teach them. An original feature is that each language point is introduced with a short text or dialogue about the life of a teacher somewhere in the world. Therefore, it is contextualised around the topic of teaching making it relevant and appealing to the reader.

The chapter on ‘Background to Language Teaching Methodology’ is practical and relevant so there is theory and background but the focus is definitely on real issues e.g.  what types of mistakes students usually make. It addresses how teaching and learning might be different at different ages, contexts and levels rather than just concentrating on teaching adults alone.

The part on ‘Teaching Language and Language Skills’ follows a similar pattern in the sense that it gives you some input and then some practical ideas to use in the classroom. For instance, it introduces ways of presenting language such as PPP but also techniques linked to it e.g. using fingers to show language constructions.  There are also links to the DVD so that you can see these suggestions in real ‘teaching’ situations.

There are two other sections, ‘Managing Learning and Teaching and Planning’,’ Resources and Assessment’ which look at a number of different aspects of classroom management and planning from classroom set up to teaching without materials. These support and complement the other parts in the book and are appropriate to any teaching context.

Two especially important chapters are the ones on ‘Young Learners’ and ‘CLIL’. It is quite refreshing to see these focused on a book like this. The first one will be of great help to those new to YL and also to experienced teachers who have found themselves in this new territory for which they may have not received any formal training.  Similarly, the focus on CLIL (isn’t it where we are all heading anyway?) is useful and insightful.  It describes the sort of language often taught and how genre plays an important role in CLIL as well as it shows different types of materials and activities. I see this area being more in the spotlight in the next few years (especially with the increase of non-native students in mainstream schools in the UK and more schools becoming bilingual all around the world) and therefore very relevant.

Essential Teaching Knowledge is clearly organised and information can easily be found. The content is concise without making you feel overwhelmed, perfect for those of us who only have a few minutes to spare to satisfy a query. It is well signposted so you are constantly referred to related content should you want to know more about something. Perhaps the only downside is the level of detail so if you are looking for in depth analysis and description this is probably not the best book.

It comes with a number of additional perks. The accompanying DVD, mentioned above, contains 2 hours of video footage of teachers from around the world talking about their experiences and demonstrating key teaching techniques such as giving instructions. Oh, a CELTA trainee and trainer’s paradise! Needless to say, the clips could also be used for in-service CPD sessions.

There is a glossary or Glossdek which explains technical terms making it accessible and jargon-free.

Additionally, there are some links to the web which complement the pronunciation unit and provide a wide range of resources, one of which is called Revise, Research, Reflect.  Although it sounds like you might get a rash from its name, it is actually quite a simple and helpful tool to check your own learning with exercises and questions about each unit.

This book is appropriate for teachers who want to embark on an introductory course such as CELTA or TKT. It could be used by General English teachers as well as those teaching young learners and CLIL. It is suitable for native or non-native speakers, though apparently more targeted to the latter group.

There is no doubt that ETK will become a great addition to any EFL staffroom as a handbook for newly qualified teachers, for those with some experience and for ‘Deltees’ like myself who need a refresher.