Course books are great and no one can deny how helpful they have been to us especially during our first years of teaching.

I didn’t know much about methods and approaches when I first started so the course book did everything. However, after teaching for some time, you start making changes to the activities and make them more suitable for your specific context and you finally end up developing your own material from scratch.

Coursebooks didn’t use to be as abundant as they are now. The choices were very limited and you just had a couple of them to work on. A lot has changed in the world of material development and new books are being published rapidly and you always have a list of books to choose from no matter how specialist the area you are planning to work on is.
 
When it comes to coursebooks, I usually have to ask myself one of the following questions before the course begins:
  1. If I am free to decide what coursebook to work on, what criteria should I be checking the books against, in order to make my final decision?
  2. If I am forced to teach a specific coursebook and it doesn’t seem to the best option, how can I adapt things in it?
To address the first question, Jack C. Richards1 mentions the following coursebook evaluation criteria to think about:
  • Goals
  • Syllabus
  • Theoretical Framework
  • Methodology
  • Language Content
  • Other Content
  • Organisation
  • Teacher/Learner Appeal
  • Ancilliaries
  • Price
There is no right or wrong (good or bad) answers to any questions regarding the above-mentioned criteria to keep in mind before deciding which coursebook to work on but the answers to any evaluation questions should be analysed based on the context we are planning to use that coursebook in. I usually ask myself a series of questions and, based on the context, I make my final decision. These are the questions I ask:
 
 
 

Question

Comment

Is the subject matter intersting and up-to-date?

 

How are skills and language items dealt with?

 

What is the homework structure and what amount of self-study does the book require?

 

What supplementary materials does it have?

 

Do the students see ‘can-do’ statements in each lesson?

 

Is there any lesson revision in the book?

 

What does the teacher’s book provide me with? answer key to exercises, background methodology, the best approach in teaching this book, periodic tests, revision material, placement test, diagnostic test, CEFR mapping, cultural notes for the lessons, extra activities and exercises, etc.

 

Who is the target audience? Has the book been designed for a specific market or can it be used internationally?

 

Is the book attractive? Are there page margins? Are there more photographs or more pictures and cartoons?

 

How is grammar presented and taught? 

 

Does the book have any tech components? IWB softwares, PDF versions, interactive versions, etc.

 

Are there any companion websites? for teachers? for students?

 

Do the publisher and the authors have any background and reputation in keeping their books updated after some years of the orignal publishing?

 

 
 
Commenting on these questions about three or four books and then taking a step backwards to have a clearer overview on what is going to be the backbone of your course, will give you more decision-making power than simply flipping through pages not knowing what to look for!
 
This is not always the case and sometimes you have to teach a coursebook which doesn’t seem to contain what you actually need! Common problems might be:
 
  • Everything is old and boring and my students are not interested into the topics.
  • The book focuses on grammar presentation and my students know the rules well. We need more speaking practice in the book.
  • The activities don’t resemble real life.
  • The recordings are awful (quality and/or content)!
  • The book is exam-oriented and makes my students nervous all the time!
  • etc.
Fortunately, the online world has brought us several solutions to all of these problems and we can easily find alternatives to the lessons in the coursebooks. Costas Gabrielatos addressed all these issues in one of his articles2 published in the IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators SIG Newsletter in 2004. You can find his article here. He believes coursebook/lesson adaptation means we feel we have to:
  • omit
  • re-order
  • replace
  • change
  • combine
  • add
to make the lesson a more acceptable component to our teaching. 
 
To sum up, coursebook adaptation is sometimes inevitable but this does not, by any means, mean the coursebook authors have not spent enough time on developing the course; it just means ‘it is not fair to judge apples and oranges by the same criteria!’
 
 

  1. Richards, J.C. (2001) ‘Curriculum Development in Language Teaching’, Cambridge University Press
  2. Gabrielatos, C. (2004), 'The coursebook as a flexible tool.' IATEFL Teacher Trainers and Educators SIG Newsletter, 28-31

 

Comments

I would like to receive readings for teaching to my students.

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