TEFL Lessons Learned – course books

Since I often write about using course books in my classes, I should probably discuss their value.

At BTL you are expected to use them – as part of their course, the students are entitled to a book, so you should use it. I’ve had a couple of students complain about not liking the books or finding them boring and, in those cases, I’ve stopped using the books. Most of the time, however, I use the books about two thirds of the time (about 60 minutes of a 90 minute class, as well as in two of every three classes – for more advanced students, I just use the book in one of every three classes).

For private students I also use the books, but not as much. If I do use it, I’ll generally just photocopy some grammar exercises.

Here are some pictures taken from one of my favourite books, Market Leader Intermediate.

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

© Pearson Education Ltd - Market Leader; Cotton, Falvey and Kent

This is how I’d use this extract –

1.      Conversation about brands. I wouldn’t have them open their books (or give them a copy of the first page), but would leave mine open for conversation prompts, if needed. My questions would include:

a.       Do you buy brands? Which ones?

b.      Do you like brands? Why, why not?

c.       Why do you think people buy brands?

d.      Branded items are often more expensive than unbranded items – do you think there is an increase in value when you buy a brand? Do you think that value justifies the price? (use an example of a branded bag costing €300 more than an unbranded bag – is it really €300 better, or do people just want the name?)

e.       What are some examples of good brands?

f.       I’ve heard that there are no school uniforms here, and sometimes children can get bullied because they don’t wear branded clothes? Is this true? Has this happened to your children/anyone you know? (this is a France-specific issue)

2.      Listening activity C – I would verbally ask what reasons the speakers give for liking/disliking brands, and talk about it afterwards. Do the students agree?

3.      Vocabulary exercises A and B – may need to teach words like ‘stretching’, ‘awareness’ and ‘endorsement’, and use process of elimination to find the right definitions.

4.      Listening activities A – C. This interview discusses how important it is for brands to arouse emotions and create loyalty, and uses the examples of Apple and Orange (the computer and telecoms companies, not the fruits :p ) as being companies that create fierce loyalty because they have a personality. Ask if the students agree and if they have any other examples.

5.      Grammar – the present simple vs. the present continuous.

a.       Explain the structure

i. Present simple – Regular verbs use the infinitive form and take an ‘s’ for the third-person singular – I do, I go, I walk, etc.

ii. Present continuous – Be + verb-ing – I am doing, I am going, I am walking, etc.

b.      Explain the usage and give examples

i. Present simple – routine activities

– permanent situations or factual information

ii. Present continuous – temporary situations

– continuing actions

– things happening at the time of speaking/writing

– future plans

c.       Do exercises A – C

And that will generally take an hour to 90 minutes – the rest of the lesson is made up of homework correction, a vocab quiz, conversation, and maybe a card activity if there is time. If I’m doing a part of the book that doesn’t have a grammar focus, I might bring in some grammar exercises revising what we did the previous week as well. In the third part of a first lesson I would just do the first two pages, so steps 1-4.

And for homework I would set page 3 – the students would need to read the article and do exercises C and D.

I like this book because the units (Brands, Travel, Advertising, Culture, etc.) are quite generic, so you can do them with most students of this level. Some of the higher level books have more specific business topics, which can be really dry (Public Private Partnerships, Takeovers and Mergers, Building Business Relationships). It might be one of the reasons why I use the books less frequently with more advanced students . . .

So, do course books have any value?

For me, yes, because:

1.      This is my first teaching position and, when I started, I wouldn’t have known where to start without some structure in place. Although now I could manage without them, I still enjoy how much material they put at my fingertips, including audio files and DVD-ROMs. They also give me a lot of material which is at the same level – when I use external material, sometimes it ends up being too easy or difficult for a student.

2.      They save preparation time – on €16.50 an hour you don’t want to spend 30 minutes preparing for every class. Now I know the books and my favourite activities so well that I can plan a class in a couple of minutes.

3.      I think they are good for the students – a course book is something tangible they can take away from the course when they’re finished and continue using. It also gives them a measurable way to mark their progress.

However, I have some criticisms:

1.      Grammar is often not explained very well, (look at page 4 of the extract for example), and some of it is introduced too late in the book. I have so many students who make tense mistakes and, if I followed Market Leader Pre-Intermediate in order, they wouldn’t start doing tenses until the end of their course (it covers the Present Simple and Continuous in Unit 3, the Past Simple and Continuous in Unit 4 and the Past Simple and Present Perfect in Unit 5 – in a 20-hour course, I usually only get through three units).

2.      I know I’m supposed to be teaching Business English, but some of the topics are so dry! And business doesn’t have to be boring – talking about Brands, Advertising, Media and Communication, and Business Ethics are interesting (to me, at least).

3.      If the course book is all the teacher uses, it can be boring. I was shocked when I discovered that Berlitz literally goes through the course books page by page.

In conclusion, I think course books are valuable when used wisely. They provide a good basis, but please use other materials too – there are a wealth of podcasts, news stories and ESL activities available with a quick Google search, and often your life experience is the most important thing when you want to create conversation. Especially if you’re an expat learning about your students’ culture/s.

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