- New English File (2/5)
- Empower (3.5/5)
- Speakout (4.5/5)
- Outcomes (4.5/5)
Generally, schools usually choose and provide coursebooks for adult groups, making things easier for you as a teacher. There are, however, times when you will need to source your own textbooks for specific purposes. Occasionally, schools may ask you to choose the book yourself, or if you have private students, you will need to choose a book that is appropriate for them. Here’s a look at some of the major adult English language coursebooks, their strengths and weaknesses, and some recommendations that might help you choose the right book for your given situation.
New English File 4th Edition (2/5 Stars)
Created and published by Oxford in 2019, New English File is currently into its fourth edition and has been providing teachers and students with adequate materials and communicative activities for quite some time. While the content inside may be a bit sparse and require teachers to work a bit harder to create full lessons, the coursebook is straightforward and nicely formatted. As well as this, the communicative materials included in the Teacher’s Book are some of the best-designed and engaging activities of all the English coursebooks.
Unfortunately, like many other courses, the conversations and situations on the audio files often feel quite inauthentic and sterile and don’t do enough to prepare students for real-world environments. Sometimes it feels like the course is more interested in giving the illusion of progress rather than actually giving progress, and this can be seen in the tests that accompany the course – the questions are often very simplistic, and not helpful for measuring a student’s real level, with a lack of focus being placed on understanding. Students who start at A1 and use only this book are likely to quickly end up outmatched. There are many students in C1 Advanced English File classes who are realistically, strong A2 students with some B1-B2 vocabulary.
It’s the vanilla of ESL coursebooks – certainly not a bad choice, but a little generic and it’s worth checking out other courses first.
Due to being light on content, it works well for courses with slightly shorter lessons (1-2 academic hours). Its excellent formatting and accessibility also make it a stronger choice for earlier levels, but for higher levels, the preference would be placed on other books with more content like Outcomes or Cutting Edge. In all honesty, it’s best used for communicative activities but will not function well as the main bread and butter of the course.
- Great Communicative Activities (some of the best in the industry). Whatever coursebook you end up choosing, it’s worth keeping English File in your inventory and using the communicative activities.
- Attractive design and formatting
- Sparse content that doesn’t really do much to challenge students
- Tests that give the illusion of progress rather than progress
- Inauthentic and forced situations and conversations in the audios
Empower (3.5/5 Stars)
Empower comes from Cambridge, and is one of their flagship products for adult ESL education. Created and published in 2015, Empower is starting to show its age a little, especially in units with pop culture references, but it is still a useful asset in a teacher’s inventory with a lot of great perks.
Like English File, Empower has a Teacher’s Resource package which is full to the brim with useful communicative, pronunciation, and vocabulary activities. The activities of these two books make up the majority of the material I use when it’s time for students to get speaking practice. Practically, it’s also an easy book to use with a clear structure and packs a little bit more into its cover than English File does.
The Empower coursebooks also have, like some other coursebooks, a series of video units, but what’s special about Empower’s is that the characters and story develop rather like a sitcom over the course of the book (English File’s does too, to an extent, but Empower’s is more compelling). The audio situations can still feel a bit forced and sterile at times but are better than average, and expose students to a wide range of accents.
The book is really suitable for lessons of any length, optimally between 2-4 academic hours long. Definitely utilise the communicative and other extra materials, regardless of which book you take, and the video units make for interesting one-off lessons with practical, situational English.
- Fantastic extra materials in the Teacher’s Resource package (communicative, pronunciation, vocabulary, etc)
- Well-structured and plenty of content to work with during lessons
- Engaging video lesson series
- Starting to age a little bit with its references
- Still doesn’t really offer as many real-world scenarios and practice as it could
Speakout 2nd Edition (4.5 Stars)
Published by Longman Pearson in conjunction with the BBC in 2018, Speakout is a good modern coursebook with lots of useful bits and bobs, and thanks to its podcasts filmed on the streets of London, students get exposure to a lot of natural English and different accents. It has sections with functional language that are better than a lot of the others, as well as a nice format and structure.
It feels like the creators of Speakout have seen what’s lacking in a lot of other courses and have addressed those points while keeping the book accessible and easy to work with. The books come with loads of extra materials that help teachers plan full-bodied lessons.
This is probably the book best chosen for a general adult’s class to accommodate the widest variety of students. In general, – it’s a good all-round coursebook.
- Lots of features including great video units made in conjunction with the BBC
- A great balance between form and function
- Useful in a wide range of classroom situations.
- It focuses primarily on functional and practical language (which is fine) but can often underemphasise some of the other valuable areas for students.
Outcomes 2nd Edition (4.5 Stars)
This coursebook series is published by National Geographic Learning in conjunction with Cengage, and as you might expect from a National Geographic production, you really cover a vast amount of interesting topics that really feel missing in other books. Like Speakout, Outcomes comes with dedicated video units, but in this case, the video quality is really top-tier, and they take students to all corners of the earth in search of the weird and wonderful – from engineering the skyscrapers of New York to the dietary habits of an indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest.
The real strength of Outcomes, though, is in the language they provide, and how much of it. With 16 units in each book, and each unit being 6 pages long, it really is a chunky coursebook, filled with authentic and everyday language that really makes sense and gives students a good idea of what English in real life really sounds like. Not only does the audio give you exposure to all the major English accents, but to less well-known ones too, as well as non-English accents like German, French, Chinese, or Arabic.
On top of all this, the flow of the units is really well structured, with each activity leading logically into the next, and repetition and revision happening every step of the way.
Unfortunately, due to the quantity of information, the book can feel quite exhausting for students if it’s relied on as the sole source of teaching material. It’s important that if teachers use this book, they occasionally take breaks from it and mix things up with a light and relaxing activity. Unfortunately, the book is significantly lacking in any sort of useful communicative, vocab, or grammar activities, and you’ll need to either make them yourself or draw from other books.
Still, the sheer weight of this book means it will last across long courses, or prop up long lesson durations with ease. It also means that students who finish this coursebook thoroughly are more likely to truly reach the next level than they are with other coursebooks.
Given its challenging and dense content, this book will work well as an “in-between” – for a class that has finished a course with another book but isn’t quite ready for the next level yet. It’s also great for highly motivated students, whether in a class or individually, and it’s possible to get two academic hours out of a single page if you really squeeze it.
- Top-tier video production, making for engaging videos that really improve students’ skills
- Authentic and practical language taught every step of the way – things people actually say in real conversations
- Wealth and density of material means a single book lasts for a long time (easy to get over 100 academic hours out of the book alone, not including extra materials or additional features)
- Oversaturated with information – it can be a bit exhausting for some students if not supplemented with something lighter now and again
- Lack of extra materials
Outcomes or Speakout are the best choices for adult education in general, though Speakout is better for classes and groups, whereas Outcomes really shines with individual lessons since you can go at a variable speed.
That said, New English File and Empower still offer a lot of value with their communicative and extra materials, and the coursebooks themselves may still be useful for the right situation. Hopefully, this little breakdown helps you get a better idea of which book to take into your next classroom!