A Quick Guide to Choosing Books for EFL Learners

A Quick Guide to Choosing Books for EFL Learners

“Can you recommend a book for my students?”

Then I spend the next twenty minutes figuring out exactly what it is the teacher needs. So I decided to write this guide to help clear things up a little.

First, which type of book are you looking for?

  • Textbook – used in classrooms or private lessons
  • Workbook/Activity Books – usually combined with textbooks to provide writing practice
  • Leveled Readers – for reading by the student, increasing in difficulty, a bit boring
  • Storybook/Picture book – for reading TO the student then WITH the student
  • Comic Books/Graphic Novel – high level of interest and easier for EFL learners
  • Board Books – best for ages 1-4 to read WITH teachers/parents
  • Novels – for upper primary and up, difficult because EFL students don’t read at native speaker levels and may have trouble finding a suitable topic at their current reading level.


Text books are a combination of vocabulary lists, grammar explanations, dialogues, and reading passages with review questions. Information is presented in a systematic way and follows standards set by publishers or educational institutions.

In China, EFL textbooks are used in public schools, private schools, training centers and private tutors. Some parents have started to request textbooks from overseas, but we think this is quite impractical as the materials are not designed for EFL learners and the content will not match their current developmental phase.

When choosing a textbook think about these main things:

  1. How often will you be using in the classroom? Or is for extra at-home study? Is it for large classes or one-to-one?
  2. What’s your budget?
  3. How important is it that you use a well-recognized publisher like Oxford, Scholastic, Longman, etc?
  4. Does the content match the age level and English language level of your students?
  5. Do you prefer British English or American English?
  6. Does it include extras like flashcards, workbooks, audio materials, etc?

Workbooks & Activity Books

These are books where students can write inside or color. Some textbooks offer them as a set, others are sold individually to practice certain skills. If you are buying these, make sure the topics and levels are suitable for a non-native learner.

ex. Adult learners may not know the alphabet, but they probably wouldn’t be comfortable with a workbook designed for children.

Leveled Readers

A leveled book is a large set of books organized in levels of difficulty from the easy books that an beginning reader might begin to the longer, complex books that advanced readers will select.

These books might offer some reflection questions or vocabulary review at the end, but most don’t. They are usually not very long. They usually have bright colorful pictures in the earlier levels to help students infer and guess meaning by looking at the pictures.

In leveled reading, a teacher listens as her student reads a piece of text at a given reading level. If the child makes two-to-five mistakes per one hundred words, that is considered the “instructional” level. Zero or one mistakes means the book is too easy; six or more mistakes and that level is deemed her “frustration” level. Children are then offered lots of books at their “just right” level on the theory that if they read extensively and independently, language growth and reading proficiency will follow, setting the child on a slow and steady climb through higher reading levels.

They are very different from story books because they lack the natural and native language that parents or teachers would use for native children.

There are also readers that are based on Sight Words lists or Phonics.

Storybooks (also known as Picture books)

These type of books are usually read by a teacher or parent to a student or child. For younger learners from ages 2-5 the contents are usually based on daily objects, colors, numbers, animals, alphabet, opposites, etc. For ages 4-8, the content starts to include stories. This level of storybooks still include pictures but may also begin to include longer sections of text.

Board Books

These are picture books printed on hard cardboard for younger learners (ages 1-3) So that the child can hold the book and learn how to turn pages without much damage to the pages.

Novel (Paperback or Hardback)

A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, normally in prose, which is typically published as a book. They are general sorted by genre.

Fiction, Non-Fiction, Classic, Young Adult, Etc.

Comic Books & Graphic Novels

Comic books are like a magazine that tells a story in several parts in the form of a comic strip, typically featuring the adventures of a superhero. Some are for younger kids, but most are not! Graphic novels tell more complex stories but using a comic strip format and aren’t necessarily about superheros.

No matter which type of book you’re looking for, we’re more than happy to help you find exactly what you’re looking for! 

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