The book is divided into four major sections:
1. English language teaching today
2. Facilitating student learning
3. Language and the four skills
4. The teacher's environment
The 21 chapter titles include:
Second language learning
Approaches and methods
The language lesson
Testing and assessment
Chapters usually include an overview of the main theory and research in the area, practical ways of applying theory in the classroom, teacher testimonies, lesson plans and other resources.
For example, his chapter on listening discusses approaches to teaching listening, one-way and two-way listening, features of listening which cause difficulty, top-down and bottom-up processing and strategies, the listening lesson and assessing listening. He gives just the right amount of detail before rounding off, as with other chapters, with a handy summary of key points.
Richards has a very clear written style which is well suited to his target readership of teachers. Although he makes frequent reference to research, quoting the leading scholars in each area, e.g. Paul Nation for vocabulary and John Field for listening, the reader never feels overloaded with detailed references. The style is always easy and, no doubt, the result of some excellent editing.
His coverage of different approaches is balanced, allowing equal weight to audiolingualism, natural, communicative and oral-situational approaches, task-based teaching and project based learning. Trainee teachers would find this an excellent overview (even obviating the need to buy Richards' other excellent book on approaches and methods).
One way in which the book manages to avoid being dry is the inclusion of teacher testimonies - boxes where individual teachers talk about their own experience. there is a brief bio of each of these contributors at the back of the book. In addition, the lesson plans, while relating to ELT, could often be adapted for MFL teaching.
One chapter which may be less relevant to classroom MFL teachers is the final one on professional development, which specifically targets EFL teachers.
Overall I can thoroughly recommend this manual. It's a book you can dip in and out of and one which provides a firm theoretical and practical foundation for both novice and more experienced teachers who wish to deepen their understanding. At around £40 on Amazon it is not cheap, but the price is justified by the length of the book and the huge amount of work which went into it. Jack C. Richards is one of my favourite writers about second language learning and this might be his magnum opus.
Here is Jack talking about the book.