Using Coursebooks Effectively

Using Coursebooks Effectively

How do you feel about the coursebooks you use in class? It probably goes without saying that you have your favourites, but have you ever asked yourself why you like particular coursebooks and not others? In this blog post, we’re going to think about how we use coursebooks and how we can make them as effective as possible in our lessons.

What affects how we feel about coursebooks?

There are many aspects that may affect how we feel about coursebooks from the images used to the interactive material that comes with it. According to a survey amongst our teachers, the most important factors for them were the variety of activity types and the grammar presentation. The survey also revealed that teachers don’t often base their opinions of coursebooks on length of reading texts or the songs and videos. Teachers also admit that they sometimes feel strongly about a coursebook without basing it on much concrete evidence, it just gives them an overwhelmingly positive or negative feeling when using it.

What should coursebooks do?

If there’s one thing a coursebook should do, it’s make a teacher’s life easier and should definitely be considered one of the most important teaching tools we have at our disposal. There is already so much to think about when teaching that the ‘what’ to teach shouldn’t be one of our worries, but rather the ‘how’. Coursebooks are designed to provide teachers with more than enough material to teach a certain level, and this can sometimes feel overwhelming for teachers, especially if they are not familiar with the format or layout of the coursebook.

Not only should a coursebook make your life easier, but also determine what your students need to learn at certain levels. Coursebook writers spend years developing the content of a book and this is based on the CEFR (Common European Framework) requirements along with the types of activity that students are expected to complete in the corresponding level exam. The beginning of the coursebook is designed to review language from the previous level, whereas the end of the coursebook starts to prepare students for the next level. It’s therefore important to follow this in class to avoid missing any essential language elements out and to ensure you are covering the topics that you need to with your students.

As well as considering what coursebooks should do, we need to be aware of what they shouldn’t do and that’s dominate the teacher or the lesson. Coursebooks shouldn’t make you feel restricted in any way, and you should still feel able to create lessons that are dynamic and enjoyable for both you and your students.

What questions should we ask ourselves when planning from a coursebook?

In order for us to be able to make the most out of the material we have been given to use in class (whether we’re big fans of it or not), we need to ask ourselves the correct questions when it comes to planning our lessons. Asking the right questions means that we understand the material better, with our learners in mind, and are therefore able to teach it more effectively.

But what questions should we be asking? By far the most important one is ‘What is this part of the book teaching?’ so that we know what our main lesson aims are going to be. Other questions could be:

  • Is there enough controlled practice?
  • Do my students know anything about the topic?
  • Are there going to be parts of the lesson that students will find difficult?
  • Where do I need to do feedback and how am I going to do it?
  • Do I need to pre-teach any language?
  • Are the examples clear enough for the students?

How can I adapt the coursebook I’m using?

Once we have asked ourselves the correct questions, we can decide whether we want to use the coursebook activities as they are, or whether we want to adapt them. However, it’s important to remember that we don’t have to adapt every activity when using a coursebook, especially if we have asked ourselves the correct questions and it doesn’t need to be changed in any way. However, there are times in which small adaptations, or just using the coursebook in a slightly different way, are going to make your (and your students’) relationship with the coursebook a much more positive one.

So, how can I adapt the coursebook to make it more effective? Here are our ten top tips on how to adapt your coursebook:

1. Just add visuals

Visuals can make any coursebook task more exciting for both teachers and students. Finding images or videos which relate to the topic, or the examples given in the book can bring the material to life and provide students with a window to the outside world which gives the language a real-life context.

2. Shorten reading tasks

Some reading tasks in coursebooks are very long, and it can be difficult to find the time in class to complete all the reading practice that you would like. To get around this, it can be a good idea to split up reading tasks, giving a different question to different students. They are still practising the skill of reading, but it’s going to take up less class time.

3. Make speaking tasks out of controlled practice

Controlled practice activities are great for practising the target language of a lesson, but they are often not exploited for other purposes. In order to bring the target language into a real context, create speaking questions or a speaking task out of the language students have just seen.

4. Reduce or increase number of questions

If you have a class that are working more quickly (or more slowly) than you expect, a good way to adapt the coursebook is to reduce or increase the number of questions. These could be controlled practice questions or even freer speaking questions after a reading or listening task.

5. Do controlled practice as a group

In most cases, controlled practice should be done individually so each student has the chance to assimilate the target language, however there are times in which it helps students to do this practice in pairs, small groups or as a whole class. This can save time and also give weaker students a little boost if they are working with other students who can help them.

6. Change the coursebook examples

Coursebook examples are great in that they use the target language in context, but this context may not always be very relevant to your students. Something as simple as changing the contextual examples may mean that the students are more engaged in the lesson and are able to use the target language in a more personal way.

7. Turn topics into exam-style speaking tasks

For our students in exam levels, the exam speaking tasks can seem quite daunting. In order to make this easier for them, it can be a good idea to use the topics in your coursebook to create exam-style speaking tasks. Use vocabulary from the unit to make the interactive speaking task at B1: Preliminary, for instance, or turn a simple lead-in to a 2-minute interactive discussion like in First and Advanced speaking exams.

8. Present the language in another format

Sometimes all you need to do is present the language from the book in a different way and the students will react better to it. Why not turn a controlled practice task into a Kahoot or a Baamboozle, for example? You can also present grammar on the board rather than getting students to read it in the book- heads up rather than heads down activities can make a big difference in students’ energy levels.

9. Get students to write using the language

Controlled practice activities are great, but some coursebooks don’t offer any practice in which the students have to write full sentences using the target language. So that students get into the habit of using the full structure (rather than just complete the gaps), create opportunities for students to do this in class, using the language they have learnt from the coursebook.

10. Act it out!

With younger learners, there is nothing they like more than a bit of acting! Books for primary-level learners are full of stories and characters, so use this to bring the language to life. You can even make masks or use some realia that you might have to hand.

 

So, there you have it, ten tips on how to use your coursebook more effectively. Consider them when you are next planning your classes from the coursebook and see how it goes in class. Remember, the coursebook is not your enemy, so use it in a way that complements your teaching rather than disregarding it completely.

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