5+1 valuable tips to consider before choosing a course book

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Picking the right course book isn’t always an easy task. What you think may be the best choice, can prove to be a costly mistake for your class. However, no textbook can perfectly fit in each and every teaching situation and satisfy the needs of every group of learners or meet the requirements of every curriculum, or even suit every teacher. As Cunningsworth maintains: “…books are good servants but poor masters” (Cunningsworth, 1984, p.1). An evaluation process helps us as teachers assume control over our teaching, enabling us to judge the strengths and weaknesses of our ‘servant’ and decide if or how we could make the material more effective and appropriate for our students. This necessarily needs time commitment and considering several factors before you make up your mind and go for the right course material.

 

The course book should suit your teaching style.

It’s not always about our students’ tastes; we must also cater for what motivates us and help us deliver our lesson. There are so many books and publications to look around, so it’s natural to choose the materials that you already know about because there may not be much time to experiment or research. However, other teachers’ feedback may prove helpful. Make sure the coursebook matches your or your school’s philosophy. The content pages present the structure of the units/modules; take a look inside the book and ask yourself “Does the organization of each unit make sense to me? Does it appeal to my teaching preferences?” There are books that divide the unit into sub-lessons clearly stating on top the purpose of each one, be it reading, speaking, listening, writing, learning about other cultures, CLIL, vocabulary or grammar etc. To what extent do these reflect your approach and methodology to teaching? Are you satisfied with the way these are presented?

 

Appearance does count!

The appearance of the coursebook may influence your choice too. If it looks cheap, botched or dull, you won’t respond positively to it. Easy on the eyes books are always more stimulating to both teachers and learners. What appeals to us visually, may help in many ways the teaching and learning process. By experience, no few were the students who were helped by colorfully illustrated graphs and pages to retain the vocabulary items or grammar boxes in long-term memory. However, overwhelming and packed layout of units, bad distribution of sections, too bright or too pale colors and texture of pages are also factors that should be weighed carefully. Personally, I have had students commenting on how the glossy plastic pages make writing and erasing hard, or others saying that the regular black and white paper gives them goosebumps! So, I have rejected books because of the texture of paper or the appearance. But you may find yourself in a dilemma: “I don’t like this coursebook but the students like it. What should I do?” Well, in this case ask them to tell you more specifically what they like about that book, so that you can find another one sharing the same qualities they like but having the structure and order that fits your teaching goals.

 

Be tuned into your students’ needs

Making the selection task less daunting and intuitive, we need to analyze our teaching environment first by addressing our students’ needs and wants, taking into account their age, level, learning styles and difficulties, purpose for studying, to name just a few. The right course book ought to be suitable for the age and the average maturity level of our students, include interesting topics, have attractive illustrations, meaningful tasks and authentic language. Effective course material is also pitched at the right level of difficulty, graded and sequenced appropriately so that our students can work their way around the book easily performing manageable tasks which will boost their self-confidence, motivate and engage them further. A needs and attitudes analysis will also reveal learning styles, difficulties and immediate or long term purposes and goals in learning the language. Whether our students feel intimidated by writing and speaking tasks or whether they prefer to interact with their classmates in group and pair work instead of listening to the teacher are important pieces of information and play a pivotal role in the selection of the right course book. In the same vein, an informed choice of course material should take into account whether our students are learning the language in order to acquire a certificate, enhance a job search or communicate with English speaking people and travel abroad.

 

Choose a coursebook that realizes the goals of the official syllabus

Choosing a course book entails the investigation of the official syllabus and of the goals and objectives found therein. Therefore, we also need to check whether the course material which is to be adopted for a specific teaching context reflects the aims of the official syllabus and curriculum. A standard syllabus, for instance, will more often than not dictate the use of a book which covers all four skills, namely reading, writing, listening and speaking while an exam-based course requires material which trains and prepares the students to sit for a specific exam. The philosophy and the bias underlying the design and the content of a course book is another aspect which comes into play and influences our final selection. Most language courses try to strike a balance between the communicative use of the language and the correct usage of it, thus requiring course material which helps the students build up both their fluency and accuracy. The role of the teacher and the students is another element which can be detected while flicking through a course book and will help us decide between a learner-centred and a teacher-centred classroom reality.

 

Time restrictions

No teacher wants to be overwhelmed with activities and material when there isn’t enough time within one teaching hour or academic year to complete. So, when planning the syllabus of the year, it’s advisable to pick a coursebook that its modules/units are feasible to be finished by the end of it based on the course and learners’ objectives. Rushing and being stressed to cover everything, will not only affect your mood, but also your students’. Having a negative impact on their psychology, teachers’ agitation may create a high affective filter which will block their positive disposition towards learning. The worst scenario that we don’t wish for is a teacher going at the pace of strong students, leaving the weaker ones behind.

 

Choose a coursebook that can bear flexibility and adaptation

Time isn’t always on our side in other ways too. Many of us have found ourselves speeding to finish an exercise, explain homework, answer questions students may have and more. And all these, because no matter how well-planned our lesson is, something might come up and rock the boat. So, you’d better have a “boat” that can stand the rough waters! Choose a coursebook that can be adapted to your syllabus and daily plan. This may mean that you may want to skip parts because of lack of time or because you are keen to teach them alternatively. You may need to omit parts of the unit, add supplementary material, or use the internet to extend the possibilities in your class.

With all these coursebook out there, the ideal textbook may be difficult to find but at least you can experiment for a while and select the one which seems better for your class and remedy while using it. We should all have in mind that “great teachers can create great lessons with mediocre coursebooks but poor teachers are unlikely to give great lessons even when they are using great coursebooks” (Gates, 2016). •

Bibliography

Βeare,K. (2017) How to choose a coursebook and other classroom materials Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-choose-a-coursebook-1209072

Cunningsworth, A. (1984). Evaluating and selecting EFL Teaching materials. London: Heinemann.

Gates, D. (2016). Simple tips for choosing a coursebook for your EFL class. Retrieved from https://www.teachenglishspain.com/choosing-coursebooks-efl-class/

Mc Donough, J., & Shaw, C. (2003). Materials and Methods in ELT. Oxford: Blackwell

Stephens, H. How to choose a course book. Retrieved from. https://www.listenandlearn.org/the-teachers-handbook/how-to-choose-a-course-book/

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