Great [extra] books for A level English course

There is no secret that the coursebook for any A Level is not enough. I don’t know about other courses, but English Language the mark scheme clearly states that to achieve a high mark the students need to include material from their wider study. It won’t be a big deal if not for the vast amount of books in linguistics which cover the topics from which we have to pick the most relevant and interesting.

In this article, I am going to share the printed materials I have been using for my classes. It is important to remember that the course itself is going at a really swift pace and is truly content-heavy (just like other A-Levels our students take alongside) so giving a laundry list of the books will never work.

Fiction books

We do not look at them from the perspective of literature or style; this year all I want is to look at the language as a tool for reflecting one’s identity. Additionally, they call for big questions which are really fun to discuss with the students who are already adults and have their opinions on each.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The very first feedback I get when in the last few minutes of the lesson I distribute the books and ask my students to start reading is “My book is broken!”.

A beautiful representation of how we express ourselves through language and how it changes with time. Also, you can ask students to find the spoken language features and compare how different characters speak and if it tells about their level of education or social circle (yes, it does).

Goodreads link

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This is a relatively thick book which many students start reluctantly and then get absorbed in the story to finish within a few days. Why do we read it in the first place? It gives excellent examples of (and thought upon) the use of language in professional areas (medical and legal English) as well as political correctness and how we hurt each other with words.
This book is also a great starter for a big discussion about equality, psychology and twists of fate.
Goodreads link

Non-fiction books (in no particular order)

I would like to clarify that the books listed below are additional materials which I came across in my own wider reading and I fell in love with them for different reasons. They in no way can replace the traditional golden list of A Level English Language reading with such names as David Crystal, Steven Pinker or official revision guides from the exam boards. Yet, I prefer limiting my students’ reading of those texts as their ideas are already generally in the coursebook and instead suggesting less common handpicked sources.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

Gretchen McCulloch created a true must-read for the A Level English Language course. Some extracts already made their way to the actual exam papers and there is no guarantee that more will not appear.

As follows from the title, it is a compulsory text to read for Language change. It can also appear as a part of Child Language Acquisition and Language and the Self, so versatile the content is.

Goodreads link

Wordcrime: Solving Crime Through Forensic Linguistics

The book written by John Olsson can get curious even those who do not consider themselves big fans of language studies.

It goes well with the topic of idiolect, language online and language systems in general.

The stories from the book can be converted into riddles for the students to solve. If you have some time on your hands till the end of the year, it can be a fun opportunity to play detectives.

Goodreads link

Linguanomics: What is the Market Potential of Multilingualism?

Finding engaging books for Language in the World can be a tough task. They are either very technical, ungodly outdated or give language just a fraction of attention. Here is an example of a book which can be that extra source for the topic.

Gabrielle Hogan-Brun discusses the historical connection between languages and trade, talks about the role of language in politics, education, and business, touches on the role of translation in different fields all provided with statistics – just what the examiners may like to see in responses.

Goodreads link

My notes

The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages

The book’s author K. David Harrison went to different remote places to learn (about) vanishing languages. The book is nicely placed at the crossroads of a travelogue and linguistics. It also turns the global language-extinction crisis from an abstract concept to something anyone can relate to. You can also find here plenty of examples for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to finally move away from the clichéd snow.

Goodreads link

Language in Our Brain: The Origins of a Uniquely Human Capacity

Jokes aside, let’s talk science.

Do not expect any students, even with a deep interest in neuroscience, to read the whole book, but the parts which describe the principles of language processing and production are great.

I use the material from this book a lot when we start Child Language Acquisition as it sets a solid ground for further discussion about learning languages.

Goodreads link

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

When sociology meets language, you get this fascination read from Kate Fox which is a modern classic. It perfectly matches with a humorous serious “Very British Problems” be it in a form of tweets or a TV show. My personal favourite chapters are about small talk and gossip.

Use it in the Language and the Self part of the course.

Goodreads link

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know

The name Malcolm Gladwell is not likely to make it into the lists of prominent linguists, right. But! I do recommend this book to my AL English students and everyone else. This is clearly one of the most disturbing books I ever read and it talks about human communication and misunderstandings which can be minor or can cost a life. It is at times brutally honest, but the book is absolutely worth the time.

I use the dialogue script from the very beginning of the book to show that words alone are not enough for us to understand each other. I give some examples and we discuss how culture, personal perceptions and experience form us as communicators. It goes well with Language and the Self, in the introductory units about how we communicate, fail and how we repair it.

Goodreads link

There is no such thing as a final list but this one can give you a nice starting point to look at language and how it works from a new perspective.