Vicky Loras - Teaching with coursebooks: weaving a tapestry of activities
Coursebooks – a word that has divided the ELT world for quite a while. There are those who use them and feel secure using them, and there are those who do not and feel more confident producing their own materials, or using other types of resources.
When I had a language school in Greece for ten years, we did not use coursebooks as much, especially for adult courses. Not because we did not like them, but because our methodology was based on the materials we had produced ourselves.
I know people who do write coursebooks, and do a great job in doing so, and do a lot, and I mean a lot, of work on them. That is one reason I do not wish to dismiss them, ever. The other reason is that, a coursebook that seems great to me, may not seem so great to another educator – either due to the layout, or the students’ needs, or other factors. Or the opposite – books that others hail as well-written, have not worked for me.
When I moved to Switzerland and for the first three years, I had to work for other people’s schools and in all of them we had to usually specially-designated books. Some of them, I liked and worked well or very well; some just did not respond to the students’ needs. For instance, one of the series I had to use was clearly written for teenagers / young adults, but I was teaching adults in their 40s or 50s, or businesspeople with them. They were clearly disappointed in the choice of books, but I had to keep using them even after I asked my then employer to change them. So how could I keep everyone happy?
Use the book, but turn it around. Completely.
Not only bring in additional materials, but weave the existing activities into different ones.
Was there a whole unit on Johnny Depp, and how his appearance had changed over the years? We looked at the expressions describing appearance, and then described other people (we did not care about him – sorry Johnny!) We described ourselves too. We could create other tasks: how did a businessman have to look, when he accepted people in his office for appointments? How should a person’s appearance be when preparing for a job interview? We created other activities too, writing ones, speaking ones, anything we found that helped us. The students loved the fact that I was being flexible, and that I also welcomed them to take ownership of their learning experience – they would love to come up with their own activities and tasks for homework or to do in class, and what could be better than that?
That is why, regardless of the frustration I felt during that period, I promised myself never to do it again. The only way coursebooks worked and work for me and my students is when we see the various components as threads, or even better, balls of yarn, that we can weave into rich tapestries of learning and language – beautiful and colourful and made by us. Because that is what is important at the end of the day. That the students along with the teacher are all involved in the learning process.