Bringing a Course Book to Life

course book elt learner-centred pedagogy materials development Sep 22, 2021

By James Jenkin

Many language learners (and teachers) like having a course book.

Students feel a book gives a course direction, and makes it seem organized. They can review what they’ve covered. And many modern course books are well-written, attractive and interesting.

However, we can make even the best course book better.

I’d like to suggest three practical techniques that get the most from a course book – that ensure lessons are engaging, effective and memorable. All three ideas are fairly uncontroversial, but we often forget to do them!

1. Get students interested in the topic

In most current textbooks, each unit is based on a topic, such as transport, music or food.

The conventional approach is to start the lesson by saying, ‘Today we’re learning about X’. Instead, it’s much more engaging to bring to the classroom pictures and real objects related to the topic, and get students talking about them.

Imagine the unit we’re teaching is about food. We can bring cookbooks, and ask students in groups to browse through one, and decide what they like and don’t like. Or we can bring ingredients, let students taste and sniff them, and ask them to discuss what dishes they could make with them.

Then, after this lead-in activity, we can ask ‘What are we learning today?’, and elicit the topic from students.

Bringing real-life pictures and objects immediately creates a buzz. Students are happy to talk, and excited to learn more.

2. Get students to work together

Whenever possible, put students in pairs and groups.  It’s possible to do almost all course book activities, arguably other than some listening tasks, together.

If students are in pairs, tell one student to put their book away, so they need to communicate.  Similarly, if you’re giving handouts to groups, only give one handout to each group. And in a group writing activity, only have one student write, and ask the others to put their pens away.

Having students work together not only creates a more lively dynamic, but also significantly increases the amount of student practice – which is effective teaching.

3. Get students to change the content

This is a very effective technique, but perhaps the least familiar.

After students read a text, or complete an exercise, ask students to change the words so the language is relevant to them.

For example, students complete a grammar exercise like this:

a) Yesterday she (go) shopping.

b) Last week he (see) a movie with friends.

Now tell the class ‘Change the sentences to make them true about your partner’. In pairs students ask each other ‘What did you do yesterday/last week?’, and rewrite the sentences. They can then share what they found out with other pairs or the class.

You can use this technique for much of the course book content. After students read a story, ask them to write a new ending in pairs.

Or, after students practice a dialogue, get them to rewrite the script so they, or other people in the class, are the characters.

This gets so much more from the book.  But it’s not a ‘trick’ – it’s great teaching. The course book content is now personal and memorable, and you’ve created a lot more relevant practice.

James Jenkin has worked in the field of TESOL for over twenty years as a teacher, teacher trainer, curriculum designer and academic manager. He is an IELTS examiner and has an MA in Applied Linguistics from Monash University, Australia.

Image source: rodphan