Welcome to another issue of our magazine and this time we have chosen a topic which is important to all teachers; coursebooks and other teaching materials.
Ever since i started teaching, teachers have had a love-hate relationship with coursebooks. Some feel they cramp your teaching style, are too prescriptive and not always relevant. Others love the structure, framework and engaging content. Over the years, coursebook packages have got larger and larger with workbooks, videos, photocopiables and online exercises all added, making it impossible to use all the resources provided but at the same time, ensuring the teacher never runs out of material.
Sometimes, of course, a coursebook is inappropriate because the course is too short or too specific, or the level is simply too low or too high. At other times, we simply want a break from the regular textbook. At this point we have to rely on other resources for our classes and, again, there is no limit is to what is available. From the learners themselves you can use their experiences, the photos and music on their phones, different apps, academic or professional documents, and so on. It is not the materials which make the lesson, it is the interaction of the teacher, learners and resources. If one part of the triangle is not connected, the lesson will not work.
My classes are usually made up of a larger number of international students or teachers, in New Zealand for a period of time. As well as learning the language, it is important they develop an understanding of the culture, the history and the values of their current home. This is always a motivating way for them to learn the language as they are using English as a medium for acquiring other knowledge. As a newcomer to the country myself, I often feel we are learning this sort of thing together, whether it is about the endangered species, the environmental strategies or the geology of New Zealand. This also fits into the learning approaches of where I teach, where one of the key three principles is authenticity.
Whatever the coursebook or materials you are asked to use, you are not necessarily bound by the order or even the exercises or texts. You can decide how a particular language point or text is used by encouraging your learners to set their own questions or discover the rules for themselves., or activate new words as part of a communicative task. Encouraging, as often as possible, an inquiry-based approach means the materials can be used in different ways and the class develop higher order thinking skills.
Another benefit of coursebooks is the professionalism of the layout and the activities, but this should not discourage you from creating your own. Use the coursebooks as models so you can see the techniques behind the text and dialogue writing, and understand the structure of exercise types. With the software available these days it is quite straightforward to make your own audio material and turn up-to-date articles into abridged versions for your classes. So don't be dependent on the coursebook. Use it as much as you need to without feeling your creativity being crushed. However you use it, it is still you teaching the class, not the materials. Students sometimes don't even remember the name of the book - they rarely forget the teacher's name.
Lots of other interesting articles in this issue. One of the pleasures of my job is linking the various pieces together and seeing underlying trends, so i would draw your attention to the article about training teachers in a refugee camp as well as the one about a language learning website which pays for rice for developing countries in return for practising grammar and vocabulary. Surely that is a win-win for your learners: improve their English and help other people while doing it! Wherever you are teaching, enjoy this issue and, if you feel there is an area we should be looking at, or you wish to write an article on, let me know!
Editor: Robert McLarty
Robert McLarty has been involved in Business English teaching since 1979. He is a teacher and teacher trainer, and has run a number of RSA Diploma and teacher-training courses. From 1986 to 1997, Robert was the Director of ILC Paris. In 1998 he moved to Oxford to run OISE Oxford and in 2004 he joined Oxford University Press' ELT Division as Publishing Manager, Business English.
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