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EAP Essentials: A teacher’s guide to principles and practice

Reviewed   by Andrew Scott, IH Journal Editor

‘EAP Essentials: A teacher’s guide to principles and practice’ by Olwyn Alexander, Sue Argent, Jenifer Spencer is a specialist handbook for English for Academic Purposes teachers. The book developed from the authors running a short professional development course for EAP teachers at Heriot-Watt University. It is written for new and experienced teachers of EAP and aims to provide both a thorough induction and on-going support for language teachers entering this specialist area.


Its ten chapters cover areas of relevance for the EAP teacher, and include the context of EAP, text analysis, course design, the four skills, vocabulary, critical thinking, student autonomy and assessment. Many of these areas will be familiar to the general English language teacher but the book examines them from the perspective of EAP. All the chapters are supported by research, identify the key issues and provide recommendations for further reading.


There are not many teacher training courses that just focus on EAP, although the new modular Delta allows specialisation (Module 3).  This book is different from other EAP books for teachers because it provides both an introduction to the area and also ongoing support for the EAP teacher. While it is full of practical ideas it is also grounded in the theory, which is appropriate for the academic nature of the work.


The first chapter, on the context of EAP, outlines academic purposes and expectations and examines the implications for both teachers and students. A table comparing EAP teaching to general English (GE) teaching is of particular interest to GE teachers, even if some of the generalisations are debatable. For example, the teacher student roles in general English teaching are ‘unequal: teachers are seen as language experts and students as language novices’ (Alexander, Argent and Spencer, 2008, p. 4).


Defining EAP by highlighting the differences with general English is common in ESP literature. Streven’s four characteristics of ESP (of which EAP is a part) are meeting specified needs, related in content to particular disciplines, centred on appropriate language and finally, in contrast to general English (cited in Flowerdew and Peacock, 2001, p. 13). Dudley-Evans and St John (1988) note, as their second variable characteristic of ESP, that it is possible for ESP to use methodologies different from those of general language teaching (depending on the specificity of the ESP classes). While the general English language teacher will find similarities and familiar activities in the EAP classroom, this book highlights the differences in a clear and comprehensive way.


I particularly liked how the authors introduced and defined academic discourse communities when outlining the context of EAP in Chapter 1:


An academic discourse community is a group if academic practitioners (teachers, researchers and students) who share a particular discourse or way of representing, thinking and talking about the world. The members of each academic community share a culture which may differ considerably from the cultures of other academic communities. For example, the Engineering and History departments in a university are very different in terms of the way they pursue and communicate knowledge and interact with the real world. The differences are driven by what is being studied and have profound effects on how the communities operate. (Alexander, Argent and Spencer, 2008, p. 6)


This is in keeping with the academic literacies approach to EAP, which sees the production of texts as a social practice shaped by reader-writer relationships, student-tutor relationships and the broader values and beliefs of the discipline.  To be successful at university, students must also engage in the social practices of the discourse community they seek to join. It is not enough for students to have knowledge of the mechanics of form. Writers must also know about content and practices, processes and products and the social context in which these exist (Johns, 1997, p. 2). It is in the EAP classroom that students can be helped towards this goal and EAP Essentials provides useful guidance to teachers.


While this is not a resource book to grab on your way to the EAP classroom (hopefully you wouldn’t be entering an EAP classroom unprepared), there are plenty of practical ideas and an accompanying CD, which contains materials for the classroom. The 47 activities are organised thematically and relate to the chapters in the book. My final evaluation is that this excellent book is essential reading for present and future EAP teachers.




Dudley Evans, T. & St John, M. (1998). Developments in English for Specific Purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


Flowerdew, J. & Peacock, M. (2001). Issues in EAP: A preliminary perspective. In Flowerdew, J. & Peacock, M. (Eds.), Research perspectives on English for academic purposes (8-24). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Johns, A. (1997) Text, role and context: Developing academic literacies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


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