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Choosing and evaluating coursebooks

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When teachers have the freedom to choose course materials, they need to take a
structured approach to coursebook evaluation and base their decision on certain
criteria that will help them judge whether the coursebook will be suitable for a
particular group of learners. Cunningsworth (1995:14) points out that coursebook
analysis and evaluation is useful in teacher development and helps teachers to gain
good and useful insights into the nature of the material. Similarly, in teacher training,
materials evaluation is a valuable component and serves the dual purpose of
sensitizing student teachers to some of the more important features to look for in
coursebooks and familiarizing them with a range of published materials.
It is very important to make the right decision concerning the choice of a coursebook
because the results of an evaluation will probably lead to a large investment of
money in a published course and from the moment such an investment is made, you
will probably have to live with the consequences of it for some time, even if it later
proves to have been a bad choice (Hutchinson & Waters 1987:96).
Hutchinson and Waters (ibid.: 97) describe the evaluation of a coursebook as a
matching process: matching needs to available solution. The first step in this
matching process is carrying out needs analysis which involves the assessment of
learners need and aims concerning the language they are going to learn. Other factors
that need to be considered are learners gender, nationalities and educational
backgrounds. Apart from learners, teachers need to think about themselves as well,
and various aspects of a learning teaching situation, such as the methodological
approach they tend to prefer, the level of personal initiative they bring to their
teaching, their freedom to diverge from the syllabus and whether they have the right
to adapt or supplement the standard coursebook (Cunningsworth, 1995).
The next step in evaluation a coursebook is considering the aims and objectives of the
course such as the language items, skills and functions that have to be covered (ibid.).
Not less important is the context in which the learning and the teaching
processes will take place such as the role and status of the target
language in learners home country, the intensity and length of the
course, the availability of technical and other resources, and so on.

General criteria for coursebook evaluation


Cunningsworth (1995: 14) suggests three types of material
evaluation:

Pre-use evaluation. This is the most difficult type of


evaluation as there is no actual experience of using the book

for us to draw on. In this case we are looking at future or


potential performance of the course-book.

In-use evaluation means that the material is evaluated


while one applies it in the current teaching-learning context.

Post-use evaluation involves a retrospective assessment of


a course-books performance and can be useful for identifying
strengths and weaknesses which emerge over a period of
continuous use.

Grant (1987: 120) also suggest a three-stage evaluation process


which includes initial evaluation, detailed evaluation and inuse evaluation. Initial evaluation functions as a filter with which
one can filter out obviously unsuitable materials. This filtering out is
best achieved by the application of the so-called CATALYST test. He
explains that a coursebook should act as a catalyst in the classroom
and as such, it should facilitate change. The letters of the acronym
CATALYST stand for the eight criteria by which we can decide
whether a textbook is suitable for our classroom:
C

stands for questioning whether the material is


communicative enough.
According to this criterion, learners should be able to
communicate in the
target language as a result of using the given book.

stands for aims. Teachers should investigate whether the


material fits in with
their aims and objectives, which may be laid down by the
authorities or set by
themselves.

refers to the courses teachability in terms of the clear layout


of the book and
its easy-to-use organisation.

stands for available add-ons, that is one should examine


whether additional
materials such as teachers books, workbooks, CDs and other
components are
available for classroom use.

refers to learners level as well as that of the book. They


should by all means
match.

stands for (y)our overall impressions of the material.

S
means the extent to which students are likely to find the
coursebook
interesting.

stands for the question whether the book has been tried and
tested in real
learning situations.

Another three-stage procedure that will allow teachers to assess books on basis of
their own beliefs and their assessment of their students needs and circumstances is
suggested by Harmer (2001: 301-302):

Selecting areas for assessment: we first need to list the features we wish to
look at in the coursebook(s) under consideration, as in the following example:
Price (of coursebook components)
Availability
Layout and design
Instructions
Methodology
Syllabus type, selection and grading
Language study activities
Language skill activities
Topics
Cultural acceptability
Usability
Teachers guide

Stating beliefs: we are now in a position to make belief statements about any
or all of the areas we have decided to concentrate on. Thus can be done by a
group of teachers writing their individual beliefs and then combining them an
agreed set such as the following statements about layout:
The page should look clean and uncluttered
The lesson sequence should be easy to follow
The illustrations should be attractive and appropriate
The instructions should be easy to read

Using statements for assessment: we are now ready to use our statements of
belief as assessment items. This means that for each of our areas we list our
statements, and can then use a simple tick and cross system to compare
different books, as in this layout and design checklist:
Area

Assessment statements

Coursebook Coursebook Coursebook


1
2
3

Layout The page is uncluttered.


and
design The lesson sequence is
easy to follow.
The illustrations are
attractive/ appropriate
for the age group.

The instructions
easy to read.

are

A more precise evaluation of a coursebook can be carried out by applying


Cunningsworths guidelines (1995: 15):

Guideline One conveys the message that a course-book should correspond to


its users that is the learners needs, which means that they should match the
aims and objectives of the language-learning programme.

Guideline Two emphasises the importance of engaging students interest and


challenging their intellect, which will motivate them to become more
independent in their learning and in their use of English. This can be done by
including interesting, stimulating topics and by encouraging learners to think
for themselves around these topics and discuss them with others.

Guideline Three directs ones attention to course-books that are interesting


for our learners and contain lively and well presented topics and activities
aiming at the strengthening of learners motivation. Helping students to
realize how much progress they have made and encouraging them to review
their achievement will also add to motivation and enhance learning.

Guideline Four suggests that the course-book should not only support
learning but it should also provide a methodology.

There are a number of checklists that may help teachers make the right choice of
coursebook materials. They usually contain key categories and a number of questions
for each of them. Hedge (2000: 358) gives an example of such a checklist:
Category
The view of language

Questions
What levels of language receive attention?
How is the language system categorized?
Are social aspects of language as communication taken
into account, e.g. level of formality?
The view of language Is there explicit reference to grammatical terms and
learning
concepts?
Is there an appropriate balance of accuracy and fluency
activities?
Is there a balance of modes of language use, i.e. listening,
speaking, reading and writing?
Does the first language have a role in the materials?
Learners
What age group do the materials have in mind?
How does the book relate to the needs of learners?
Is the content interesting and challenging to the learners?
The view of education Does the book have general educational goals?
Are these appropriate to the learners?
Do they fit the national curriculum?
Do the materials encourage learner independence?
The environment of Does the teachers role in the book fit in with local

learning

perceptions?
Is the cultural content accessible/appropriate?
Is the grading and sequencing appropriate to the amount
and intensity of time available?

Grants questionnaires (1987: 122-127) can also be very helpful for teachers when
they have to choose and evaluate coursebooks:
Questionnaire - Part 1: Does the book suit to your students?
1. Is it attractive? Given the average age of your students, would they enjoy using it?
2. Is it culturally acceptable?
3. Does it reflect what you know about your students' needs and interests?
4. Is it about the right level of difficulty?
5. Is it about the right length?
6. Are the course's physical characteristics appropriate?
7. Are there enough authentic materials, so that the students can see that the book
is relevant to real life?
8. Does it achieve an acceptable balance between knowledge about the language, and
practice in using the language?
9. Does it achieve an acceptable balance between the relevant language skills, and
integrate them so that work in one skill area helps the others?
10. Does the book contain enough communicative activities to enable the students to
use the language independently?
Questionnaire - Part 2: Does the book suit the teacher?
1. Is your overall impression of the contents and layout of the course favourable?
2. Is there a good, clear teacher's guide with answers and help on methods and
additional activities?
3. Can one use the book in the classroom without constantly having to turn to the
teacher's guide?
4. Are the recommended methods and approaches suitable for you, your students
and your classroom?
5. Are the approaches easily adaptable if necessary?
6. Does using the course require little or no time-consuming preparation?
7. Are useful ancillary materials such as tapes, workbooks and visuals provided?
8. Is there sufficient provision made for tests and revision?
9. Does the book use a 'spiral' approach, so that items are regularly revised and
used again in different contexts?
10. Is the course appropriate for, and liked by, colleagues?
Questionnaire - Part 3: Does the textbook suit the syllabus and examination?
1. Has the book been recommended or approved by the authorities?
2. Does the book follow the official syllabus in a creative manner?
3. Is the course well-graded, so that it gives well-structured and systematic
coverage of the language?

4. If it does more than the syllabus requires, is the result an improvement?


5. Are the activities, contents and methods used in the course well-planned and
executed?
6. Has it been prepared specifically for the target examination?
7. Do the course's methods help the students prepare for the exam?
8. Is there a good balance between what the examination requires, and what the
students need?
9. Is there enough examination practice?
10. Does the course contain useful hints on examination technique?
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) divide the evaluation process into four basic steps such
as defining criteria, subjective analysis, objective analysis and matching. The first
step involves our decision concerning the bases on which we will judge our materials.
It also requires us to decide which criteria we will consider important. Subjective
analysis means the analysis of our course, in terms of materials requirements whereas
objective analysis means the analysis of materials being evaluated. They give their
own checklist for objective analysis:
Category
Audience

Aims
Content

Questions
Who is the material intended for? (Learners ages,
gender,
nationality, study or work specialism, status/role with
respect to
specialism, knowledge of English, knowledge of
specialism,
knowledge of the world, educational backgrounds,
interests.)
What are the aims of the materials?
What type(s) of linguistic description is/are used in
the materials?
What language points do the materials cover? (What
particular
structures, functions, vocabulary areas?)
What is the proportion of work on each skill? Is there
skills
integrated work?
What micro-skills are covered in the material?
What kinds of texts are there in the materials? (For
example
manuals, letters, dialogues, reports, visual texts,
listening texts.)
What is/are the subject-matter area(s), assumed
level of knowledge,
and types of topics in the materials? What treatment
are the topics
given? (For example medicine, biology; secondary
school, first
year college, postgraduate level of knowledge;

hospital
organisation, medical technology as types of topics;
straightforward topic treatment, factual.)
How is the content organised throughout the
materials? (Around
language points, by subject-matter, by study skills,
by a
combination of means.)
How is the content organised within the units? (By a
set pattern of
components, by a variety of patterns.)
How is the content sequenced throughout the book?
(From easier to
more difficult, to create variety, to provide recycling,
for example.)
How is the content sequenced within a unit? (From
guided to free,
from comprehension to production.)
Methodology What theory/ies of learning are the materials based
on?
What attitudes to/expectations about learning
English are the
materials based on?
What kinds of exercises/tasks are included in the
materials? (For
example guided or free, comprehension-orientated or
production
orientated, ones that require one right answer or can
be given many
possible right answers, mechanical ones or problemsolving ones,
role plays, simulation, drama games.)
What teaching-learning techniques can be used with
the materials?
(Pair-work, small-group work, student presentations,
for instance.)
What aids do the materials require? (Cassette
recorders, overhead
projectors, realia, wall charts, video.)
What guidance do the materials provide? (Lists of
vocabulary and
language-skills points, technical information,
suggestions for
further work, tests, and methodological hints.)
In what ways are the materials flexible? (Can they be
begun at
different points? Can the units be used in different
orders? Can they
be linked to other materials? Can they be used

Others

without some of their


components?)
What is the price?
When and how readily can the materials be
obtained?

Specific criteria for coursebook evaluation


While general criteria may be applicable to any language teaching
coursebook, specific criteria refer to relevance and appropriateness
of the coursebook for a particular group of learners in a particular
context. Cunningsworth (1995) points out several aspects to check
in course materials such as language form and language use,
grammar, vocabulary, phonology, discourse, style and appropriacy.
Coursebooks focus selectively on different aspects of language form
and language use. Language is analysed and broken down into small
units for teaching purposes. An essential question for teachers and
material writers is how far a language can be analysed and
fragmented in this way without losing its nature and identity
(Cunningsworth, 1995:31). Here are some of Cunningsworths
criteria that might be taken into consideration when choosing a
coursebook:
Grammar
The grammar items included;
The presentation of grammar in small enough units for easy
learning;
The extense of emphasising language forms;
The extense of emphasising language use (meaning);
The balanced of the treatment of form and use;
The relation and contrast of newly introduced items and items
already familiar to the
learners;
The presentation of grammatical forms with more than one
meaning.
Vocabulary
The vocabulary-learning material included in its own right:
Evidence for its prominence;
Its relation to the course: central or peripheral;
The amount of vocabulary taught;
The basis for the selection of vocabulary;
The distinction between active and passive vocabulary, or
classroom vocabulary;
The ways of presenting vocabulary;

The sensitization of learners to the structure of the lexicon through


vocabularylearning exercises based on:
semantic relationships;
formal relationships;
collocations;
situation-based word groups;
The capacity of the material to enable students to expand their
own vocabularies
independently by helping them to develop their own learning
strategies.
Phonology
The extense of thorough and systematic coverage of each of the
following aspects of
the phonological system covered:
articulation of individual sounds;
words in contact (e.g. assimilation);
word stress;
weak forms;
sentence stress;
intonation;
The extense of emphasising areas of pronunciation that are
important to meet
learners needs and help avoid misunderstandings;
The relation of pronunciation work to other types of work, such as
listening,
dialogue practice etc.;
The extense of using terminology;
The comprehensibility of terminology used;
The extense of using phonemic alphabet;
The extense and ways of training students in learning phonemic
alphabet;
The extense of using a diagrammatic system to show stress and
intonation;
Availability of cassettes for pronunciation practice;
The provision of good models for learners of cassettes for
pronunciation practice;
Style and appropriacy
The reference to appropriacy;
The teaching of appropriacy with reference to:
choice of grammar;
choice of vocabulary;
discourse structure;
pronunciation;
Matching language style to social situation;
The identification of situations or areas of language use where
learners should be

particularly sensitive to using appropriate styles.


Skills development is another basic issue during a course evaluation
process, which means that we have to check to what extent the
materials concentrate on the development of and the balance
among all four skills. Cunningsworth (1995) implies that ideal
coursebooks include skills work that progresses in terms of
complexity and difficulty, in line with the grammatical and lexical
progression of the course. He also deals with the question of
authenticity and suggests checking whether the presentation and
practice activities include the integration of skills in realistic
contexts; whether we can find authentic materials in our
coursebook; whether the semi-authentic materials found in the
course-book can be regarded as representative of authentic
discourse.
Cunningsworths checklists for language skills development contain
the following points to take into consideration during the evaluation
process:
Listening skills
The type(s) and quality of listening material of the course;
The extense of integrating the listening part in dialogue and
conversation work;
Types of activities based on specific listening passages;
The extense and nature of the meaningful context the listening
material is set in;
Types of pre-listening tasks;
The quality of the recorded material in terms of:
sound quality;
speed of delivery;
accent;
authenticity.
Reading skills
The quantity of reading material;
The type of reading passages included;
The provision of reading passages introduced in a beginners
course;
The extense and quality of help given to learners in developing
good reading
strategies;
The nature and range of exercises and activities linked to the
reading passages;
The appropriacy of the subject matter;
The types (genres) of text used and their appropriacy;
The nature of texts in terms of their being complete or gapped;
The ways the material helps comprehension by:

setting the scene


providing background information
giving pre-reading questions?
The types of comprehension questions;
The extense of the involvement of learners knowledge system in
the material.
Writing skills
How the materials deal with controlled writing, guided writing, free
or semi-free
writing;
The variety of writing tasks found in the course-book;
The extent to which the materials teach punctuation and spelling;
The emphasis on accuracy and different styles of written English;
How learners are encouraged to review and edit their written
work;
A possible readership to whom students produce different sorts of
texts.
In connection with speaking skills Cunningsworth remarks that
few courses treat speaking as a separate skill in the same way as
listening, reading and writing. Speaking practice takes place through
the oral presentation and practice of new language items, in
dialogue work and in role play (Cunningsworth 1995:69). However,
coursebooks can provide students with carefully selected topics for
discussion or communication activities, thus making students take
part in more or less realistic interactions. Teachers should also look
for specific strategies that help students manage their conversation.
Teaching the rules of communicative interactions should be
considered as another important function of course materials. In
order that students can best use their oral communicative skills,
they have to be aware of basic points such as how other speakers
can join a conversation, where a current speaker is most vulnerable
to interruption, how to appoint someone to speak next, how to use
and interpret the combination of linguistic, paralinguistic and kinetic
cues (the use of eye contact, for example). Course-books interested
in equipping learners communicatively could provide models of and
practice in turn-taking and interruption techniques (Cunningsworth,
1995:127-128). Cunningsworth suggests a number of points to look
at in connection with communicative interactions:
The elements of genuine communication present in the course
material:
unpredictability
opportunities to express real information, feelings, opinions etc.
opportunities for learners to structure their own discourse
need to formulate and use communication strategies

emphasis on co-operation between speakers in communicative


interaction?
At the appropriate level, does the course-book include material
that reflects the
nature of communicative interaction, in respect of:
structure of discourse in interactions (including openers,
confirmation checkers,
pre-closers etc.)
complexity of structure
range of appropriate lexis
features such as fillers and incomplete sentences
roles of speakers in interactions;
The extense the material helps learners in the skill of turn-taking
in conversations;
Examples of preferred sequences.
Cunningsworth (1995) states that coursebooks directly or indirectly
communicate sets of social and cultural values. They constitute the
so-called hidden curriculum, which is part of all educational
programmes, but is never explicitly articulated. He suggests that the
following points should be taken into account when cultural
considerations are concerned:
Are the social and cultural contexts in the course-book
comprehensible to the
learners?
Can learners interpret the relationships, behaviour, intentions etc.
of the characters
portrayed in the book?
Are women given equal prominence to men in all aspects of the
course-book?
What physical and character attributes are women given?
What professional and social positions are women shown as
occupying?
What do we learn about the inner lives of the characters?
To what extent is the language of feeling depicted?
Do the course-book characters exist in some kind of social setting,
within a social
network?
Are social relationships portrayed realistically?

End-of-course coursebook evaluation


The previous sections dealt with the evaluation of coursebooks for classroom use
before the beginning of the course. However, evaluation should be carried out at the
end of the course as well, in order to find out if the coursebook has met the

expectations of the course, and if necessary, what further steps we need to take.
Harmer (2001: 302-302) suggests three steps:

Teacher record: in order to evaluate materials we need to keep a record of


how successful different lessons and activities have been. One way of doing
this is to keep a diary of what happens in each lesson. A more formal version
of the same thing might involve detailed comments on each activity. There are
many other ways of keeping records: we could give each activity a score from
0-5; we could design a rating scale to measure students satisfaction with a
lesson or parts of a lesson. We could write reports at the end of every week
under headings such as recycling, reading progress, vocabulary work or
teachers guide. Some teachers write comments in the coursebook itself. But
in each case we will end up with something which is more useful than a mere
feeling.

Teacher discussion: when new books are being used it helps if the teachers
who are using the same book get together and compare their experience. This
may involve going through lessons (and exercises) one by one, or it may
centre around a discussion of the audio material and its related exercises.
Someone in the group should circulate a record of what is said, so that
teachers can review the discussions before coming to a conclusion.

Student response: as with teachers reactions, student responses can be


collected in a number of ways. One way is to ask them if they enjoyed the
material they have just been using. This kind of oral feedback can be
unreliable, however, since some students can dominate the conversation and
influence their colleagues. We may get better feedback by asking for a written
response to the materials with questions such as the following:
- What was your favourite lesson in the book during the last week? Why?
- What was your least favourite lesson from the book during the last
week? Why?
- What was your favourite activity during the last week?
- What was your least favourite activity during the last week? Why?

Using coursebooks
In some situations teachers have to follow a set coursebook and are not allowed to
make any modifications. In other situations they are given a syllabus and they have to
choose and design the materials according to the needs of the learners and the
requirements of the programme. Probably the most likely situation is where teachers
use a coursebook, but they are free to use it selectively and to supplement it with other
materials.
Grant (1987: 7-8) maintains that perfect coursebooks do not exist,
but there is a best book available for every teacher and their
learners due to the wide range of published materials on the
market. According to him, the ideal coursebook should satisfy three
conditions: it should suit learners needs, interests and abilities, it
should suit the teachers, and it also has to meet the needs of official

public teaching syllabuses or examinations. Coursebooks have


various uses such as presenting language material, providing
learners with a wide range of activities, providing learners with
grammatical rules and exercises, vocabulary and phonetic
transcriptions; they can also stand for a given syllabus; they can
instigate autonomous learning; they may be considered as a set of
guidelines along which young, inexperienced teachers can manage
their lessons. On the other hand, teaching without a coursebook
would be very difficult for most teachers, and probably even more
difficult for learners: They find that a folder full of classroom
handouts fails to satisfy in ways that a textbook can. A folder is no
substitute for a textbook which offers a systematic revision of what
learners have done and functions as a guide to what they are going
to do (ibid.)
Harmer (1991: 257) mentions a number of obvious advantages of
coursebooks for both teachers and students
Good textbooks often contain lively and interesting material;
They provide a sensible progression of language items, clearly
showing what has to be learnt and in some cases summarising
what has been studied so that students can revise grammatical
and functional points that they have been concentrating on.
Textbooks can be systematic about the amount of vocabulary
presented to the student and allow student to study on his own
outside the class.
Good textbooks also relieve the teacher from the pressure of
having to think of original material for every class
Ur (1991: 184) lists the following points in favour of using a coursebook:
1. Framework
A coursebook provides a clear framework: teacher and learners know where they are
going and what is coming next, so that there is a sense o structure and progress.
2. Syllabus
In many places the coursebook serves as a syllabus: it is followed systematically, a
carefully planned and balanced selection of language content will be covered.
3. Ready-made texts and tasks
The coursebook provides texts and learning tasks which are likely to be of an
appropriate level for most of the class. This of course saves time for the teacher who
would otherwise have to prepare his or her own.
4. Economy
A book is the cheapest way of providing learning material for each learner;
alternatives, such as kits, sets of photocopied papers or computer software, are likely
to be more expensive relative to the amount of material provided.
5. Convenience
A book is a convenient package. It is bound, so that the components stick together and
stay in order; it is light and small enough to carry around easily; it is of a shape that is

easily packed and stacked; it does not depend for its use on hardware or a supply of
electricity.
6. Guidance
For teachers who are inexperienced or occasionally unsure of their knowledge of the
language, the coursebook can provide useful guidance and support.
7. Autonomy
The learner can use the coursebook to learn new material, review and monitor
progress with some degree of autonomy. A learner without a coursebook is more
teacher-dependent.
Despite the advantages of coursebooks for both teachers and learners, there are some
drawbacks as well. Because in a way coursebooks impose certain teaching
methodologies, it is advisable for teachers to change the coursebooks after certain
period of time so that they can have an opportunity to re-evaluate the coursebook they
have been using and to reflect on their beliefs about language learning and teaching.
Teachers should also be aware that they should not follow the coursebook rigidly if
they feel that it does not satisfy the learners needs or the program requirements.
Harmer (1991: 257) points out that coursebooks can have negative
effects on teaching
as well, since they tend to concentrate on introducing new language
and controlled work, which might result in teachers depending
heavily on the course-book. Since textbooks tend to follow the same
format from one unit to the next, each unit looks more or less alike.
Thus, a teacher who over-uses a textbook and thus repeatedly
follows the sequence in each unit may become boring over a period
of time for he will find himself teaching the same type of activities in
the same order again and again. In such a situation, even with good
textbooks, students may find the study of English becoming routine
and thus less and less motivating. Classes will start appearing
increasingly similar and the routine will become increasingly
monotonous.
Ur (1991: 185) adds other disadvantages of using coursebooks:
1. Inadequacy
Every class in fact, every learner has their own learning needs: no one coursebook
can possibly supply these satisfactorily.
2. Irrelevance, lack of interest
The topics dealt in the coursebook may not necessarily be relevant or interesting for
your class.
3. Limitation
A coursebook is confining: its set structure and sequence may inhibit a teachers
initiative and creativity, and lead to boredom and lack of motivation on the part of the
learners.
4. Homogeneity

Coursebooks have their own rationale and chosen teaching/learning approach. They
do no usually cater for the variety of levels of ability and knowledge, or of learning
styles and strategies that exist in most classes.
5. Over-easiness
Teachers find it too easy to follow the coursebook uncritically instead of using their
initiative; they may find themselves functioning merely as mediators of its content
instead of as teachers in their own right.
Grant (1987: 13) compares traditional coursebooks to those
published under the influence of the communicative approach in
order to get a clearer picture of the differences between the two
types of materials and says that these days the word
communicative is on everyones lips. Almost every new textbook
claims to be communicative. He explains that traditional
coursebooks emphasise the grammatical aspect of language and
concentrate on accuracy rather than fluency. They contain more
reading and writing activities than speaking or listening ones, so
that students learning from such materials will probably find it
difficult to achieve successful oral communication. The main
problem with traditional textbooks is this: students work through
them, sometimes for years, and often conscientiously. However,
despite this, at the end of their studies they are still incapable of
using the language: they may 'know' its grammar - the system - but
they can't communicate in it (ibid.). Communicative coursebooks,
according to Grant, emphasise the importance of communicative
functions, contain activities centred around skills using, reflect the
authentic language of everyday life and encourage intensive
cooperation among students, and in that way they make heavier
demands on teachers organisational abilities. Students working with
such materials are more likely to produce fluent oral communication
than those learning from traditional course-books.
Harmer (1991: 258) claims that coursebooks rarely provide a
balanced selection of skills and activities and focus on presenting
language and controlled practice. The need for balance is a
methodological consideration since it is through this balance that
students are exposed to a variety of learning experiences that will
help them to acquire and learn English, and the best person to
achieve to achieve the correct balance is the teacher who knows the
students and can gauge the need for variety and what the balance
should be. He concludes that a coursebook should not be considered
as a sacred text but rather as an aid: Teachers will have to work out
the best way to use their books: they should never let the textbook
use them, or dictate the decisions they make about the activities in
which the students are going to be involved (ibid.).
Hutchinson and Waters (1987: 107-108) identify six main purposes
of course materials:

Materials provide a stimulus to learning. Good materials do not


teach: they encourage learners to learn.
Materials help to organise the teaching-learning process, by
providing a path through the complex mass of the language to
be learnt.
Materials embody a view of the nature of language and learning.
Materials should try to create a balanced outlook which both
reflects the complexity of the task, yet makes it appear
manageable.
Materials can have a very useful function in broadening the basis
of teacher training, by introducing teachers to new techniques.
Materials provide models of correct and appropriate language
use.

Cunningsworth summarises the roles of coursebooks by stating that they identify the
main role of the teacher as that of a guide or facilitator and a monitor. Essentially, the
teacher is seen as guiding learners through the learning process, with support from the
course-book, and monitoring student progress, correcting errors when this is useful for
the learning process (Cunningsworth 1995:110).

Adapting the coursebook


No matter how good a coursebook is, teachers often have to omit, change or adapt
certain sections in the coursebook they are using. Harmer (2001: 305-306) lists
several possible options. If a coursebook lesson does not teach anything
fundamentally necessary and is not especially interesting, teachers can either omit it
or replace it with their own alternative if they think that the language or topic area in
question is important. However, he warns that if it happens very often it may be
difficult for students to revise what they have learned because there will be many
handouts and additional materials and the course may lose overall coherence.
If, on the other hand teachers decide to use the coursebook lesson, they might change
it to make it more appropriate for their students.
If the material is not very substantial we might add something to it a role play
after a reading text, perhaps, or extra situations for language practice. We might
rewrite an exercise we do not especially like or replace one activity or text with
something else such as a download from the Internet, or any other home-grown
items. We could re-order the activities within a lesson, or even re-order lesson
(within reason). Finally we may wish to reduce the lesson by cutting out an
exercise or an activity. In all or decisions, however, it is important to remember
that students need to be able to see a coherent pattern to what we are doing and
understand our reasons for changes (Harmer, 2001: 306).

Using supplementary materials


Apart from adapting the coursebooks they are using, very often teachers need to use
additional materials in order to make the lesson more interesting, to enrich the
language input or to answer the needs of particular group of learners. There are
various supplementary materials from which teachers can choose. Ur (2001: 190-191)
describes some of them and discusses their advantages and disadvantages:
Computers
Computers are seen by many as an important teaching aid. These days learners need
to be computer literate, and since computers use language it would seem logical to
take advantage of them for language learning. They enable individual work, since
learners can progress at their own pace, and many programs include a self-check
facility. Also, younger and adolescent learners in particular find the use of computers
attractive and motivating. However, it takes time to train both teachers and students in
their use; and in practice a lot of time in a computer lesson often goes on setting up
programs, getting students into them, and then solving problems with moving from
one stage, or one program, to another.
For teachers who are familiar with their use, computers can be invaluable for
preparing materials such as worksheets or tests.
Books
Books are very user-friendly packages of material: they are light, easily scanned,
easily stacked and do not need hardware or electricity. They are still then most
convenient and popular method of packaging large texts, and a library of them is
arguably the best way for learners to acquire a wide experience of foreign language
learning.
It is very useful to have a collection of reference books, extra textbooks and teachers
handbooks easily available to the teaching staff; and regular reading of a professional
journal can inject new ideas and update teachers on current thinking.
Overhead projectors
These are useful for presenting visual or written material to classes: they are more
vivid and attention-catching than the black- or whiteboards. They also save lesson
time, since you can prepare the displays in advance. However, this does mean added
work in preparation! Another disadvantage is the need to carry the OHP from class to
class, unless each classroom has its own which is true of the more affluent
institutions. And of course, like any other electrical equipment, OHPs are vulnerable
to breakdowns: electricity failure or bulbs burning out.
Video equipment
Video is an excellent source of authentic spoken language material; it is also attractive
and motivating. It is flexible: you can start and stop it, run forward or back, freeze
frames in order to talk about them. And there are many good programs on the market.
A disadvantage is their lack of mobility: few video sets are portable, which means that
classes need to be especially scheduled for video rooms; and of course there is the

problem of occasional breakdowns and technical problems. When planning a video


lesson, always have a back-up alternative lesson ready!
Audio equipment
Cassette recorders and cassettes are relatively cheap and easy to use; and they are the
main source (other than the teacher) of spoken language texts in most classrooms.
They are more mobile and easier to use than video recorders, but lack, of course, the
visual content. Again there may be problems with electricity; on the other hand, most
portable cassette recorders unlike video and most computers also work on
batteries. When buying cassette recorders make sure that there is a counter, and then
us it to identify the desired entry-point; otherwise, if you want to replay during the
lesson, you may waste valuable time running the tape back and forth to find it.
Posters, pictures, games
Materials of this kind are invaluable particularly for younger learners, and teachers of
children find that they constantly use them. However, if you have time, this type of
material can be largely home-made: glossy magazines in particular are an excellent
source of pictures.

References
Cunnigsworht, A. (1995). Choosing your Course book. Oxford: Heinemann.
Grant, N. (1987). Making the Most of Your Textbook. London: Longman.
Harmer. J. (1991). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Longman.
Harmer, J. (2001). The Practice of English Language Teaching. (3rd ed.) Harlow:
Longman.
Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Hutchinson, T. and Waters, A. (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A learningcentered approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ur, P. (1991). A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.