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Educator Monthly


www.ef.com/teacher Issue 7

EF Educator Monthly
is distributed to teachers
Course books: friend or foe?
in a variety of institutions
and teaching environments; Most institutions today require us to use a particular Making the most of the course book
some will have a choice of course book with our classes. There are very good We adapt our course books for many reasons: perhaps
teaching materials, some will reasons for doing this. Primarily, the course book will the particular page we are working on doesn’t provide
have no choice, and yet act as the syllabus for the course we are teaching. enough practice for the class in question, or perhaps
others will have no course Syllabus design, with all the inherent concerns of the particular topic doesn’t excite the interest of the
books at all. This month we staging, grading, ordering and so on is a very group. Whatever the reason, the principles are the
look at the pros and cons of complicated and difficult process to get right, so same and can be distilled into the following advice.
using course books: how to having all of this provided for us by the course book
work with them and how to is a great comfort. 1. Supplement, don’t replace.
work without them. Supplementing means adding to the activities in the
However, as teachers, we worry about making our course book to better suit the needs of the learners. In
The EF Educator Monthly is lessons learner-centred and catering for the different principle, we should supplement to provide more than
designed by and for teachers; learning styles and attitudes of our students, so doesn’t what is in the course book, however, the course book
if you have any suggestions the requirement of using a fixed course book for all activities are there for a reason and so you should try to
for content or themes for classes fly in the face of this? Isn’t this trying to use a include them.
future newsletters, contact the ‘one size fits all’ solution to different groups of different
Editor chris.flint@ef.com. individuals, each with their own interests and needs? 2. Supplementing doesn’t always mean photocopying.
Many people think that supplementing means creating
Well, the short answer is ‘no’, but it depends on how or copying worksheets. This is not always the case.
you approach your course book. If you approach the Think of how you can include warmers, games, or even
book as a text to be followed religiously, each word to DIY exercises and (student-generated) worksheets to
be digested and followed in turn, never deviating from add to the book.
the prescribed course, then perhaps the answer would
Chris Flint be ‘yes’, but I would advocate a very different approach. 3. Don’t follow rubrics slavishly.
Editor Just because the course book tells you to do
London, UK something in one way, it doesn’t mean you have to.
Sometimes authors will miss the opportunity, particularly
for group and pair work. Doing an exercise in a new
and imaginative way can help to lift the book off
the page.

4. Have a good reason to do what you are doing.

Don’t supplement or adapt merely for the sake of it.
Make sure that you have a very good reason for what
In this issue: you are doing and that you are clear about the aims.
Not only will this make the activity easier to conduct,
 Course books: friend but it will make it more interesting for all.
or foe?
 No course book? 5. Change the content, not the exercise.
As a teacher, and more recently as a course book A practical idea for supplementing is to adapt exercises
No problem
developer and editor, I would argue that the course by changing or adding to the content but keeping the
Teacher tidbits
book should be seen as a framework on which to hang same exercise framework and aims. This helps to keep
your lessons and as a springboard for creating rich the flow of the course book syllabus intact, but will also
learning opportunities. It should suit your particular help to make the content more relevant to the group
students, in your particular learning environment and at and is particularly useful in an ESP context.
your particular time. And all this can be achieved
through the art of supplementing.

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EF Educator Monthly – Issue 7

6. Change the exercise, not the content. their work and answers to the rest of the class.
Of course, if the content is fine, but the exercise too This is very good for getting students to think about
hard, or not appropriate, then do the opposite and learning processes.
change the exercise not the content. The principle of
grading the exercise and not the content makes it easy Conclusion
to cope with multi-level classes. In conclusion, although the compulsory course book is Teacher Tidbits
a good thing, slavishly following it is not. As you gain
7. Be careful what you cut. experience of the particular book you will gain a
As we saw earlier, the course book is your syllabus. If sensitivity as to how it may be adapted and Student-generated role-plays
you are omitting an exercise make sure that it doesn’t supplemented to suit the needs of your learners and from grammar
present content which is required later. how you can move from the ‘one size fits all’ approach
to producing a more ‘tailored fit’. Even if you’re using a course
8. Not everyone has to do everything. book with plenty of grammar
An interesting way to adapt a course book is to divide Luca Marchiori examples, it’s nevertheless
the class into different groups working on different parts Development Editor (Efekta) valuable to create your own
of the book. When they have finished, they can present Bournemouth, UK realistic contexts in which the
grammar you are covering is
used. If you’re not, then
presumably that’s part of your
planning process anyway and
you’ve considered what language
No course book? No problem might come from the topics and
tasks you will set. But when
reviewing the work of the
Even the most militant advocates of a material-free Establish your students’ individual objectives previous weeks, what about
approach would accept the valuable role course books It will be important when you come to develop lesson handing the job to the students?
play in the initial stages of a teacher’s professional plans that you are aware of what the particular learning
development. However, there may eventually come a needs of your students are. If you are moving away Divide the class into small groups
time when you feel that the books you have at your from using a course book, you may as well use the giving each a grammar structure.
disposal are insufficient, either in their content, or even opportunity to tailor the lesson content to their unique Ask the groups to invent a role-
in their number. What are your options when, for one purposes: greater fluency, broader vocabulary or play – situation, characters and
reason or another, you have to go without the better pronunciation. tasks – which requires them to
course book. use their structure. The task can
Grammar / Vocabulary / Pronunciation be a simple description of a
Let your students find the topics Students will always appreciate the integration of clear situation or more sophisticated,
Most modern course books are structured around and defined language input within the topic-based with separate role cards for the
themes or tasks; themes and tasks which may or may lesson and without the structure of a course book various characters. Their role-
not suit your students at the time. Be bold and let the students are likely to look to you for specific guidance in plays can then be passed to
class establish the topics that will appear in their that regard. It is important to plan and signpost which another group to perform, without
syllabus. Use the first lesson to talk about their interests aspects of grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation work the aid of knowing the original
through questionnaire and survey tasks: from what they you intend to introduce in each lesson. structure.
do in their free-time and what’s in the news, to what will
affect their lives in the next ten or twenty years. It will be Differentiation and variety
clear from how animated they become, which will make Freeing yourself from the course book allows you to
successful lessons in the coming weeks. think more about differentiation in task objectives and to
incorporate more variety than might be offered in a
book’s lesson procedures. The springboards for
discussion and activities in course books tend to be
reading or listening stimuli created for the level; but
grading the task is more appropriate than grading
the material, so, within reason, seek out engaging
authentic materials.

Course book writers are always coming up with new There’s more than one way to
and inspiring ways of motivating teachers and students crack an egg, of course, and it
alike, and it always valuable to return to their books; not may be that the performers take
least to get ideas for your book-free lessons. As a different route in completing the
teachers running book-free lessons, we lay down an on- task than the writers had originally
going challenge to writers to make course books better envisaged; but that itself will
and more innovative. provide fertile ground for

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