Imagination in ELT: Resource Books

In 2009, I carried out a small survey on ELT materials that aimed at working on aspects of imagination to promote language learning as part of my MEd dissertation. I have now updated this survey and will be publishing what I have found here in three parts.

My stating point was the catalogue of the major international publishers. ELT publishing is a profitable and thriving industry with hundreds of titles already published and with new book launches on regular basis. The market is largely dominated by major international publishers, which in the UK are often associated with traditional universities and in the US are divisions of major publishing companies. Teachers all over the world have access to ELT publications, from textbooks to resource books and books for teachers, and use such material as course syllabuses, sources of practical ideas and professional development reading. Thanks to vigorous marketing, a widespread network of representatives and a system of sponsorships for Teachers Associations (TAs) events and conferences, major publishing houses make their products available to a large number of teachers and schools all over the world and dominate the ELT publishing market. Such dominance and the market forces that determine the sort of material published are seen by some ELT educators as factors that lead, particularly in the case of coursebooks, to the dissemination of predetermined cultural and educational values (Canagarajah, 1999: 104), a certain determinism of goals and content (Allwright, 1990: 133-5) and a process of reproduction of content where originality is frequently lost (Thornbury and Meddings, 2001: 12). Although coursebooks are not the focus of this survey, it does not seem implausible to extend the same critical view to other kinds of ELT publications. Nonetheless, because of their significant influence with both language teachers and teacher trainers, and their well-established international reputation, the examination of the catalogue of major ELT publishers can give us an idea of the current status and state of imagination and creativity in ELT circles.

This entry deals with resource books for teachers. Although books with ready-to-use activities, or resource books, are considered as ‘supplementary’ material – and therefore devoid of the status of ‘essential’ publications enjoyed by mainstream coursebooks – they are by and large very popular among publishers and EFL practitioners. There is plenty of material available for teachers who want to use activities that explore the imaginative, creative side of their English language learners. Eight out of thirty titles in the very popular Oxford University Press (OUP) series of Resource Books for Teachers are devoted to poetry, drama and improvisation, film, images, music, role-play and story-telling. Ten out of the forty-nine titles in the Cambridge University Press (CUP) series Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers cover topics such as drama, extensive reading, literature, poetry, folktales, humour, games and images. The CUP photocopiable series also brings titles on grammar and vocabulary games, multimedia, imaginative projects and metaphors. The Resourceful Teacher Series published by Helbling has titles on teaching English through art, writing stories, creative writing and the use of mental imagery.

Some titles can serve as examples of how imagination and creativity seem to be considered important elements in language learning. An early example is Bassnett and Grundy’s (1993) Language Through Literature, brings a series of activities based on the awareness of differences in language and literary genres. Exercises experiment with a wide variety of reading approaches to text, for instance, predicting, grouping, assessing, translating, visualising, associating text and personal experience. Writing activities include shape poems, collaborative writing, text creative rewriting and performance of texts created by learners themselves. Also pioneers were Duff and Maley’s (1989) with The Inward Ear, a series of activities to use poetry in the language classroom. It advocates for the universality, non-triviality, motivation and tolerance to error and ambiguity developed by poetry readers. Activities are based on personal associations, use of pictures, creative writing and speaking. More recently, Grundy, Bociek and Parker (Eds) (2011) English Through Art ‘brings together 100 highly varied, original, ready-to-use activities to foster real communication in English through imaginative responses to both artistic images and easy-to-do creative work.’ Also worth mentioning is Wright and A. Hill’s (2008) Writing Stories which is ‘based on the basic assumption that storytelling is a fundamental need for all people of every age and in every society.’

If you know of any other good resource books with ready-to-use activities that engage learners’ imagination and creativity, please post a comment and let me know.


  • Allright, R.L. (1990) What do we want teaching materials for? In Rossner, R. and R. Bolitho (eds) Currents of Change in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bassnett, S and P. Grundy (1993) Language through Literature. Harlow: Longman.
  • Canagarajah, A.S. (1999a) Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Duff, A. and A. Maley (1989) The Inward Ear. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Grundy, P., Bociek, H., & Parker, K. (2011). English Through Art. London: Helbling Languages.
  • Thornbury, S. and L. Meddings (2001) Coursebooks. The roaring in the chimney. Modern English Teacher, 10/3.
  • Hill, D. A., & Wright, A. (2008). Writing Stories. London: Helbling Languages .