Coursebooks are extensively used in the TEFL classroom and also big business with the ELT publishing industry worth billions every year who churn out books by the dozen to make money.
There are many different coursebooks available to the teacher, however it must always be remembered that there is no single coursebook which is ideal for a class.
The debate on whether to use a coursebook or not has been going on for years. Supporters claim it provides a good, well developed properly prepared framework of English for a class and for new teachers, they can provide a valuable and useful tool for the classroom without which you may feel abandoned and somewhat on your own.
Detractors, on the other hand, say it is constricting and too general and lulls the teacher into a false sense of security and stifles experiment and precise lesson planning.
Whatever the truth, most schools do use coursebooks and the chances are that as a teacher you will be required to use one, too.
Choosing a TEFL Coursebook
Every class is different. The students will have different needs and goals in the course and students will have different issues with learning English.
One student, for example, may have problems with pronunciation whilst their classmate may have problems with prepositions and no coursebook will be perfect for both.
The best a teacher can do is find a decent coursebook which will suit most of the students and provide them with a good framework of English. And while using a coursebook, the teacher must always be prepared to deviate from it to tailor the lessons specifically to the class – it’s NEVER a matter of tailoring the class to the book!
The first step in choosing a good coursebook is a needs analysis. You need to work out exactly what level your class is now and what it is they need to learn. You also need to know the class makeup and what interests them, and have a good idea of the kind of material which will work well in the class.
With the needs analysis done, you should look at the books which are available to you, get a general list together of those which suit the age and level of the class. Email the ELT publishers and see if you can get sample copies sent over to evaluate (if the publishers are too mean to do this, you might want to forget the book and move on). And then go through each one, asking specific questions about them, in no particular order:
- Is there a teacher’s book with additional ideas, answers and ideas on how to present the lessons?
- Are the topics appropriate to the age/level of my students?
- Is the material appropriate for the class?
- Is equal time given to the 4 language skills?
- Can we use all the DVDs, CDs, etc, which come with the book?
- Is the language authentic?
- Is it interesting? Do I like the book? Will my students like the book?
- How expensive is it? Will the school/parents be happy to shell out for it?
Using a TEFL Coursebook
Once you have selected a suitable coursebook, the next step is to use it. Most courses are generally well written and have been carefully graded, reviewed and planned. For a new teacher this is invaluable as you can start on page 1 and move through the coursebook methodically. However, never be afraid of skipping boring or unnecessary exercises and inserting your own material for the class.
In fact, this final suggestion is invaluable. You should always be prepared to tailor the exercises for your class and offer your students extra work and activities on certain language elements. Quite simply, the coursebooks are general approaches to English and if your class are having problems with, for example, the use of the past perfect simple then be prepared to offer them plenty more instruction, practice and activities on the subject and leave the coursebook unopened till the class are happy with the grammar!
Often, as well, you will find coursebooks offer multiple units, each of which is laid out the same and following the same pattern of instruction. Again, feel free to vary this not only to liven up the class but to provide extra practice where it is needed and less practice where it is not.
On a practical level:
- Keep the books shut if you can and get the class communicating without the book open.
- Raise expectations before opening the book. If the first activity is a discussion on a particular topic then raise that topic with desks cleared and go through it with the class before you open the book and tackle the exercises.
- Where possible, use realia and local material. If the coursebook, for example, has an activity where students study a timetable, rather than use some constructed timetable from the book, bring in the timetable for your local bus company. This makes the language more relevant to your students and increases their stake and involvement in the learning process.
- If you think an exercise is boring and/or bad, skip it.
- Don’t use the coursebook for the whole lesson. Vary things.
Don’t forget also that the average coursebook is full of banal stereotypes and “safe” subjects. The ELT publishers want to sell as many copies as possible and don’t want to upset anyone therefore you will see, for example, no mention of gay topics or religion or slightly sensitive subjects in coursebooks. This is because these kinds of books won’t sell in more repressive regimes and the big publishers don’t like that!
So feel free – where appropriate – to expand on the content of your coursebook to include issues which the class may need to know but which the coursebook is too afraid to speak about!
TEFL Materials for TEFL Teachers – including coursebooks, of course!