The process of choosing the right course book is a serious task. More often than not the course book has been pre-selected by the Academic Director and we just have to make do with what we have. However, what we choose for our classrooms often shapes the syllabi, and sometimes even the entire language programme (Angell, DuBravac and Gonglewski, 2008; Byrnes, 1988). Sometimes it is based on our impressions and expectations of what teaching materials should look like. Some other times the choice relies solely on the visual appeal, how easy it is for the teacher to prepare or if the activities fit well into the timetable. However, all course books should be chosen based on its educational values and whether or not it meets the programme objectives.
The course book is, and should be, an integral element of any classroom syllabus. A good course book is the backbone of any classroom. It has clear structure, measurable achievement objectives which include what the learners are expected to be able to do and what to expect next. Publishers and their authors spend a considerable amount of time planning the steps that will expose the pupil to different language elements throughout an academic year. These steps contain carefully planned and balanced selection of language content that should be easily followed by teachers and students (Kayapinar, 2009). Second, when the teachers are teaching each unit in the course books, there is a consistency in the topics and genres in the four skills area (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). This allows for greater autonomy in the learning process. In addition, many inexperienced teachers may find ESL course books to be useful and practical because the ready-made activities and lessons are easy for the teacher to prepare. In many of the EFL course books, the designers even have prepared achievement tests for each units of study and a teacher’s manual to guide the teacher in their instruction. Finally, EFL course books are the cheapest and most convenient ways of providing learning materials to each student (Kayapinar, 2009). All of these reasons make using course books a very popular choice in teaching English or any other foreign language.
A course book will take you a long way
We often say to embrace change and be creative in the classroom. That does not mean that you have to reinvent the wheel every September. When your first use a course book you hopefully spend a considerable amount of time studying its content, making your own notes and handouts that supplement the learning process. Here is an analogy. The course book is like a cheese and tomato pizza. It is good enough to take you from point A to point B. But there are so many toppings that can spice up the activities in the classroom. All of the extras that you create, form and shape the quality of your teaching. In fact a carefully selected course book will be used for many years and publishers are aware of that. That is why coursebooks tend to be in the market for many years with “revised” editions being introduced every now and then. The saying “You do not change a winning team” fits perfectly in this case.
Why you should enrich a course book with your own material
Regardless of how good a course book is there are always issues to consider. Most course books contain a lot of activities where students do “questions and answers”. After a few lessons, students find the learning process boring and uninteresting. Jeremy Harmer (ELT Writer, teacher and trainer) has said that it may be relatively easy for students to be extrinsically motivated; however, the challenge is sustaining that motivation. Although motivation can be sustained through varied class activities, if the content of the course book is uninteresting and repetitive, then sustaining the motivation will be problematic for the teacher no matter how hard they try.
Finally, although most EFL course books are well organized with many different kinds of activities, however, they do not provide enough details in other aspects of language study. A good example would be in the study of grammar. The grammar section in each unit of the course book usually does not provide enough explanation or practice questions. Relying on the course book to provide the students with adequate knowledge of grammar would not be enough, especially when a teacher spends between two to three weeks to cover a single unit of the course book.
Using course books has its share of benefits and advantages such as having a well-organized content with a consistency in all four-skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). A course book will make a teacher’s life easier since most of the preparation, including the types of activities, audios and revision tests, are already done by the publisher. This would be a great help to those inexperienced teachers who are just getting started into teaching. However, nothing in the world is perfect and teachers need to somehow solve the issues and problems that may come with course books. These issues and problems include finding ways
- to enrich classroom activities that are not bound to CEFR’s can do statements but to what you expect your students to be able to do at the end of the school year.
- to motivate students and teaching students skills not found in the course books.
In this sense, the teacher’s job is not as easy as it seems. Many hours of planning and developing other activities are still required to complement the content of a course book and would be a shame to toss all these man-hours you have invested for a new course book. Study candidate course books before introducing them into the classroom. The amount of work you will put in shaping the content of a book to your individual needs and expectations will not only pay off in the following years (with ready and tested material) but will also set you apart from competitors using the same titles from the same publisher.•