Tuesday, 10 December 2013

What makes a good coursebook?

Robin Walker

This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Oxford University Press and presented by Robin Walker.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

What makes a good coursebook?

According to Tomlinson and Masuhara in an article published in the ELT Journal (67/2), a good coursebook must:
  • engage the learner effectively
  • engage learners cognitively
  • help learners to make discoveries about how English is typically used
  • help learners to use English after the course has finished
  • help learners to use English as a lingua franca
Four main criteria that make a good coursebook
  • Input texts (reading and listening)
  • Grammar syllabus
  • Pronunciation
  • Language as communication
1.  Input texts

Informative - a good coursebook tells you things that you don't know.  You are improving your general knowledge as well as learning English.

Engaging - good coursebooks have texts which are relevant to students.  Students are therefore engaged and want to listen and read.  Engagement should be way beyond a linguistic level.  Students must participate in the text and discuss the issues raised as they would do in their mother tongue.  Texts need to stimulate our students.

Authentically sourced - texts should be adapted from newspapers, magazines, etc.  Totally authentic texts, with no editing whatsoever, are often impenetrable for learners, so adapted texts are a perfect compromise.  They make the text accessible and introduce the quality learning we're looking for.

THINK ------------- READ -------------- (EXPLORE) -------------- REACT
2.  Grammar syllabus
Pedagogical - a good coursebook needs to bring existing grammar knowledge out.  Students need to be able to test themselves.  If the whole class already knows a particular aspect of grammar, the teacher doesn't need to waste time - he or she can go straight on to the output exercises.  If, on the other hand, students discover that they can't do the exercises, then the teacher can spend more time presenting the grammar.
Communicative - there need to be exercises that allow students to use the grammar in an engaging way - to generate genuine communication.  Learning grammar and using grammar need to go hand-in-hand.
3.  Pronunciation
Pronunciation should be integrated into a coursebook, so that students can communicate.  If students can't pronounce words correctly, they can't use them effectively.  The pronunciation part of a coursebook should lead on to a speaking activity.  It should be a facilitating tool to allow students to speak.  There should be good coverage of pronunciation in any coursebook.  From the lowest levels, we need to practise not just sounds, but linking, sentence stress, connected speech, etc.
The English File app
A good coursebook needs to deal with sounds in contrast.  For example, /ʊ/ versus /u:/.  Also, classifying sounds and associating sounds with different things - pictures, symbols, colours, etc. - are very useful ways of helping students to learn pronunciation.  New English File does these things very well.
A coursebook also needs software to help students practise pronunciation in their own time - particularly, in these days of mobile devices, an app.
4.  Language as communication
Personal - the output activities in coursebooks should be personal.  Students need to be able to talk about themselves and people they know.  Teachers need to be careful, though.  Some students, particularly teens or business people, may not want to talk openly about personal matters.  In these cases, teachers need to ensure that students work in pairs or small groups.
Possible - output tasks should be possible.  There needs to be enough structure so that students aren't intimidated about getting into the task - give them 'useful phrases' to use, for example.  There needs to be enough for them to say.  Don't give students a too open-ended task.
Purposeful - output tasks need to have an outcome.  If there's no end point, it's difficult to know when the task is finished!
  • Input texts - informative, engaging and authentically sourced.
  • Grammar - flexible, pedagogical, meaningful.
  • Pronunciation - integrated, thorough, varied, mobile.
  • Communication - personal, possible, purposeful.

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