The impact of non #ELT reading on my teaching and learning

Back in college I almost changed my major around 100 times. I actually only changed it once and only once. I changed it during my first week of college from Education to History. I guess that doesn’t make too much sense considering I am now a teacher. One major that I seriously considered changing to numerous times was International Affairs (also perhaps interesting to note that I am now an instructor in a graduate school of international studies). I didn’t change my major from History to International Affairs because I was scared of economics. All those graphs. Guns and butter. Math. I was kind of terrified so I just stuck with History. It strikes me as funny that all these years later, economics would become a personal interest of mine. To be honest, I am still not all that interested in or confident with the graphs but I have been reading books with some relation to economics in the last few years. Popular (or mostly popular? Well-known? Well-known in certain circles?) non-fiction books like Freakonomics, Super Freakonomics, The Logic of Life, The Undercover Economist,  What Money Can’t Buy, Justice, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism, and Wikinomics come to mind. I guess these are a bit more like pop-economics or something along those lines but I found them enjoyable and informative.

Other semi-related books that have caught my attention in the past few years include The Wisdom of CrowdsOutliers,  Blink,
[Health warning (for some of y’all): There is probably more than a bit of what some of you good people might consider “junk science” or pseudo-intellectualism  in some of these books!]

One thing I am especially interested in these days is change. Some books  I’ve enjoyed that address this are Adapt,  The Tipping Point and the exquisitely titled Nudge. I am not suggesting that “change” need to be a module on training courses but it strikes me as interesting that this has not been a common topic in most of my official training in the field. Perhaps this is another area that is deemed too complicated for beginning teachers? Roll on with the grammar then I suppose.

I thoroughly enjoyed the books listed above and I believe they have helped me think about the world in a slightly different way than I previously did.**That said, I don’t think I made much of a connection between my reading addiction and my teaching life until relatively recently. In this post over on the #iTDi blog I talk about one book that has helped me think about change and some of the factors to consider when trying to bring about change.

It wasn’t until I had been teaching for around 10 years before I ever saw the connection between my reading habit and the work that I do as a teacher and teacher trainer. I guess I just thought of them as separate worlds but lately I have been able to make some connections and draw some parallels and apply insights from “outside reading” to teaching, learning and the field. At this moment I am very much looking forward to the end of term when I can read more without guilt. I am also wondering if any readers would like to share book recommendations, stories related to how “outside reading” has impacted their teaching or anything else in between.

**I also think the reading habit has helped me build up my personal corpus so that I can respond better (but not perfectly of course) to students questions on usage. Also, considering that many of the speeches my interpreting students work on are related to economics I think I have appeared far less foolish than I otherwise would have.


  1. neillhufs

    A very interesting read. I have been through a similar process. In my teenage years and early twenties I thought that economics (and most serious reading for that matter) was for nerds. After my mid-twenties, however, something changed. I started to read the modern classics (Catch 22, 1984, Catcher in the rye etc) and this improved my vocab as well as writing. Then world events and economics became interesting. Michael Sandel was the catalyst and I have read most of the books you mentioned above. Ha Joon Chang was particularly enlightening. I hadn’t previously considered how the west countries used aid to strengthen their positions rather than help those in need. My reading has also influenced my teaching. I try to introduce ideas with my higher level classes. On the whole they seem to find it engaging. For example, the ideas mentioned in ‘What money cant buy’ have been great – paying to kill a rhino can help preserve the species, paying students to read books. Not only are the classes engaging but I hope that students become more aware of world events and have more opportunity to think critically. Now, I try to encourage my students to stay up to date with what is going on in the world. I may be naive but I hope that a bit of my passion in my current affairs class rubs of on the students.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for the comments.
      I am glad you found the post interesting. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure it would be interesting but decided to share it anyway.
      (I actually wrote most of it for the blog post I linked to but then realized it was too long).

      I guess I have always been into reading but it is funny that I actively avoided the classics we were supposed to read in high school. I remember reading and loving Great Gatsby five years after I was meant to read it in school.

      It is nice to see that reading the books I mentioned and keeping up with current events has been useful for you. I am thinking that I will try to incorporate some of these ideas in my classes.

      Thanks for reading and commenting and for the kind words!


      ps- Speaking of Sandel, I had the great pleasure to see him in Seoul last year. He was amazing. He did a group discussion with something like 5,000 people.

      pps- Bad Samaritans have been on my radar for a while. Perhaps this is just the nudge I needed.

  2. njport

    A good book to read that I mentioned in my previous comment (the West controlling developing countries with aid and loans) is Ha Joon Chang’s ‘Bad Samaritans’.

  3. Sandy Millin

    Hi Mike,
    Interesting read. I’ve always read a wide range of books, partly influenced by reading all of the management/self-help books my mum read as I was going through my teens. I find it a fascinating way to look at the world, as long as read them with a healthy dose of cynicism and don’t accept everything as gospel (which I know you don’t). One which really stuck with me, and which I think everyone should read, is ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’. It’s only about 70 pages, but as a metaphor for understanding change and how people react to it, it’s perfect – succinct and on the money. It’s one I regularly recommend.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • mikecorea

      Hi Sandy!
      I had to smile when I read your disclaimer about me not accepting everything as gospel! I like your point about self-help type books providing a fascinating way of looking at the world. “Who moved my cheese” is a great example! Especially, as you say as a metaphor for understanding people (and change and how people react to it.) Nice suggestion!

  4. Matt Halsdorff

    Nice post! One of the added advantages is that it makes your lessons, especially those 1-to-1 lessons, much more interesting for the learner. We automatically can get into deeper discussions and are better able to see the world from different points of view, which is so helpful when working with such a wide range of people. 🙂 They also make us better business people should we be freelancing…

    Storytelling in itself is a wonderful skill to have as a trainer of any kind… and so reading surely helps improve your own storytelling skills over time – another benefit for future students.

    • mikecorea

      Thank you very much for the comments, Matt.
      I really like your thoughts here about deeper discussions and seeing things from a different point of view.
      It is actually very exciting for me because as I mentioned in the post I didn’t see the connection between reading and teaching for so long.

      I also like your point on storytelling….perhaps something that is easily overlooked.

      Thanks again for the insightful comments!


  5. Tom Randolph (@TomTesol)

    Keep me posted on your “change” reading please — it’s my main theme, and why I named my website “Evolutions” — I welcome prospective students most semesters with a “Welcome, change” pep talk… it’s everything. Would love to know what you’re reading.


    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments, Tom.
      It has recently come to my attention that I am much more focused on change in my teacher training than in my regular English classes…interesting thought for me.

      In any case my best recommendations appear in the post. Most of my non-ELT reading at the moment is about Korean history and politics. Looking forward to vacation for a bit lighter reading.

      Though one book that I am reading in spare moments from time to time (which might be hard to find but can surely be related to Korea) is “The Tale That Wags”

  6. geoffjordan

    Good post – appealing to all “Top Ten” freaks. My suggestions in no ranked order!) :
    The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (1967)
    Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008)
    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
    The War against Cliché Martin Amis (2001)
    The Elegant Universe by Brian Grreene (2000)
    Hitchens Arguably by Christopher Hitchens (2011)
    The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (????)
    Homage to Cataluña by George Orwell (1938)
    V by Thomas Pynchon (1961)
    Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for commenting! Nice list.
      Some are new to me and some are old friends. I might have to dig up my old copy of The Devil’s Dictionary when I am back home in the states!

  7. María Colussa

    The last book I read was by a Swedish writer: Jonas Jonasson “The grandpa who jumped across the window and left” or something like that I read it in Spanish, my L1, very funny and entertaining! Then I read the Leopard´s eyes, a novel set in Zambia, a country I didn´t know anything about, also very interesting.

    • mikecorea

      Interesting! It seems like reading is giving you insights on things that might be far away otherwise!
      I just remembered this week that a common question for job interviews in the States is “What is the last book you read?” or “What are you reading now?”

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