Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


English File author Christina Latham-Koenig answers your questions!

English File third editionCo-author of English File third edition, Christina Latham-Koenig will be answering your questions in a live webinar on 27 May. You can register and send in your question now.

We are often asked where the idea for English File first came from. The truth is we felt that none of the coursebooks that we had used up to that point really provided what we needed as teachers. It seemed that these books were designed to work in a teaching environment that was very different from ours, and while there was a lot of imaginative, well-planned, and well-organised material to choose from, there was little to help us address the main challenges that we faced day-to-day.

How do you keep students motivated when they are fitting their class into the middle, or at the end, of a busy day at work? How do you maintain students’ attention when they have so many other things going on in their lives? And, what was always most important for us, how can you get students to talk to each other in English if they all speak the same first language, live in the same town, and have often shared many of the same experiences?

And so we needed to spend a huge amount of our preparation time adapting and supplementing the books we were using to make them more appropriate for our classes. We felt that we needed a greater variety of material to help change the focus and the pace of the lessons, we needed activities that helped to get the students’ heads out of their books, and we needed topics where students really would have something to say. The ideas that shaped the original English File series came directly from our own teaching experience and from talking to our friends and colleagues in the staff room about what worked and what didn’t work in the classroom.

Over the last twenty years in the course of researching and presenting English File, we have had the opportunity to go beyond the confines of our own staffroom and have met thousands of teachers from around the world (and had contact with thousands more via emails and questionnaires) and it has been truly enlightening to have been able to share experiences and to hear about the wide variety of challenges they face teaching English to their students as well as hearing their inspiring stories of success.

They have always been very honest in their feedback, telling us about English File lessons that they and their students have enjoyed, but also suggesting changes and improvements, anything from a text that never seemed to work with their group of students to an activity type that they find difficult to set up because of the arrangement of their desks or the acoustics of their classroom. They have shared their views on perennially divisive topics such as celebrities, sport, and fashion, pointed out why particular areas of grammar or pronunciation are especially difficult for their students, and given us a wide range of cultural insights from their countries.

This exchange of information has helped us to grow as writers and has been the inspiration for the second and third editions of English File. We are extremely grateful for the time teachers have taken to speak to us.

On Tuesday 27 May 2014, I will be hosting an English File Question and Answer webinar. If you would like to participate in this event, please visit the Registration Page. I will try to answer as many questions as I can in the time available – and I really look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Christina Latham-Koenig


Using outside materials in the classroom

Young adults in classMike Boyle has taught English to adult learners in Japan and the United States, and is now a materials writer in New York City. He is the co-author of the Starter level of American English File Second Edition. In this article, he shares his thoughts on using outside materials to make your lessons more relevant, effective, and memorable.

For the last two years, I’ve had the great privilege of working with Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig on the second edition of American English File. One of the best parts of this experience has been seeing firsthand how these great authors find and adapt outside texts, topics, and stories for the course.

I think Christina and Clive’s approach to outside materials not only makes for a great coursebook, but can also be helpful for teachers who use outside articles, videos, songs, and other materials in their lessons. Here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned.

The “train test” and the “wow factor”

Clive and Christina always say that the readings in a textbook must pass the “train test.” If you picked up the coursebook on a train, would you read the texts with interest?

We know that students are going to learn more, and retain more, if they are interested in what they’re studying. For the same reason, the best materials have memorable facts or characters which make your learners think, “Wow!” and which stay in their minds after the lesson has ended.

Very few texts truly pass this test, which is why so much of a writer’s time is spent reading newspapers, magazines, advertisements, news sites, social media, blogs – anything and everything – in search of the next great idea.

The “so what?” test

The best texts (or audio recordings, or videos) do more than grab your learners’ interest. They also lead to genuine speaking and communication. It’s vital to use texts that your learners would be stimulated to read and talk about in their own language. Because if they wouldn’t be, they certainly won’t be very motivated to do it in a foreign language.

The best topics are usually ones that you and your class have some experience of or an opinion about. A text about a totally unfamiliar topic (tornadoes in the American Midwest, for example) can be very interesting, but might go nowhere in class. It would be better to find a text that lets the class see something familiar in a fresh, new way.

For these reasons, when considering a text, a good test is whether you can think of three great discussion questions that would follow it. If you can’t, it might not work in class. Your learners might only shrug and think, “That’s interesting, but so what?”


We know how disappointing it can be when you Google the people in a text and discover the authors simply made them up. That’s why we’re very proud that the people, places, and stories in American English File are real. You can Google them and find out more about them – and maybe even find photos or videos of them to share with your students. In many cases, we’ve gone to great lengths to interview these people ourselves and get their stories firsthand.

Teachers can do the same to bring real, interesting people and their stories into the classroom. Blogs are a great place to look. Bloggers who are doing interesting things are often quite easy to reach and happy to be interviewed over email or even Skype. Knowing that they’re hearing from a “real” person will make your lessons much more motivating and rewarding for your learners.

Humor and suspense

Anything that makes your class laugh (or even smile) can be a huge benefit in the classroom. Laughter creates a relaxed, stress-free classroom, and this will make everyone more comfortable about speaking English and participating in the lesson. Humor can also be a great check of comprehension – if they didn’t understand, they won’t laugh.

Another great way to engage a class and keep their attention is to use texts and stories that have surprising endings or unexpected results. Give the class everything but the ending and have them guess before you reveal it to them.

The text comes first, and the target language follows

Some writers and teachers begin their search for a text by thinking: “This is the simple past unit, so let’s find a text with lots of regular -ed verbs.” The problem with this approach is that it often leads to texts that don’t get your learners’ attention and don’t get them talking.

It’s more effective to find something truly interesting and then dig into the text for the appropriate vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation points. When your learners are eager to discuss the text they will be much more motivated to master the new language that’s already in it.

To hear more from Mike on using outside materials in the classroom, sign up for one of the following webinars:

24 October 2013: 02:00 BST / 10:00 Japan / 23:00 Brazil / 21:00 New York (-1 day)
25 October 2013: 16:00 BST / 11:00 New York / 12:00 Brazil / 00:00 Japan (+1 day)

Register for the webinar now!