It was Friday, I had to cover a class at the last minute but had nothing prepared. I walked into class with a coursebook under my arm and asked the students which unit they were on.
A collective groan filled the room. I though for a few seconds, hoping inspiration would strike.
“OK, close the books.
A few tentative smiles appeared on faces.
I circled the class; dividing the students into Student A and Student B.
“Ok, student A, you are me, the Director of Studies at a language school. Student B, you are students.”
“Student As, your student won’t buy the coursebook. Convince them to buy it.
Student Bs, you don’t want to buy the course book. Explain why you don’t want to buy it.
Directors, you have 3 minutes to think of reasons why you should buy it. Students, you have 3 minutes to think of reasons why you shouldn’t.”
5 minutes later all of the students were lost in their roles. The classroom was filled with lively chatter and laughter. One voice broke through the general din.
Kaori was a quiet Japanese lady in her early 40s. Polite to a fault, she wasn’t a fluent speaker. She was far too concerned not to offend and to use correct grammar at all times, this meant her conversation was generally stilted. This time though, she was in the zone improvising as a student determined not to buy the book.
I hate coursebooks but almost all English teachers use them, Why? Because it is easy work for them. But they are so boring. You must to read about Madonna. Why do I want to read about Madonna? Or listen to two stupid English people who have too much money and go around the world in a yacht. What does that have to do with my life? Then, we have to talk about these people with a partner. Why? I don’t know them. I don’t like them. I want to talk about me and my life in Japan or my life in London. It’s crazy. I want to speak English for my work and to communicate with people from other countries. The books make learning English boring and useless.
By this point, all the other students had stopped talking. They were staring open-mouthed listening to the quietest student in the class ranting about her hatred for coursebooks. When she finished, a few of them applauded!
For the remainder of the lesson, we drew up a list of benefits and disadvantages of using coursebooks in class from the student’s perspective and the latter column was substantially longer than the former. We ended the class with an open discussion about coursebooks.
The students identified the following key points:
- Gap-fill exercises in the coursebook can be done at home and don’t need to be done in the classroom.
- Long reading texts with a British or American focus are often used to set the context or introduce new language. We don’t know and often aren’t interested in these things. We should talk about things which interest us!
- Why do we have to read grammar explanations from the book? I can do this at home.
- We should do much more speaking practise and correction in class. This is what I expect from a teacher because I can do everything else at home with a book or online.
It turns out that the teacher I was covering for was the kind of teacher who walked into class, asked the students to turn to p47, do the exercises and then he would check the answers before moving onto the next exercise in the book.
As we say in English, teaching from the coursebook way is money for old rope – an easy way of making money. I’m not bashing teachers who use coursebooks – there are good economic and pedagogical reasons why they are a useful resource in the language classroom. But that is all they are, one of the many resources we can use to create stimulating lessons in the classroom but we need to adapt them to meet our learners’ needs.
Think about how to use them effectively to maximise classroom learning opportunities.
Your students are the best resource in class, not the coursebooks.
Let me know what you think. Is there ever a case for systematically following coursebooks in class? How do your students react when you move away from the coursebook?