Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Coursebook requests

This is not a post about whether coursebooks are a good idea or not.

This is a post from somebody who uses coursebooks every day.

This is a post from somebody who regular says ‘Why?! Why would they do that?’

It’s written to publishers and materials writers.

It’s a request for minor tweaks that would make using coursebooks just that tiny bit smoother.

And for occasional major changes that would make me more likely to use your coursebook (series) again and recommend it to other people.

I don’t believe many of them should cost that much extra money, just a little more thought. Do tell me which things might not work because they would be too expensive. It’s important for those of us who use your books to understand why certain things are or are not done/included.

They are borne out of both my own experience, and comments I have heard from colleagues over the years.

They are also inspired by some of the best coursebooks I’ve used, though none have ever been ‘perfect’ (what is?).

They are my opinions, and should be taken as such. No specific coursebooks will be mentioned.

(Though I completely agree with Kyle Dugan about the kind of coursebook I may want, I’m pretty sure it will never happen because I don’t believe it’s financially viable.)

Coursebooks

Image taken by Sue Annan, from ELTpics (shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence)

Coursebooks

Introducing 20-30 out of context new items (which may be tangentially linked to the topic of the unit if you’re lucky) on a single page is not useful. Introducing them purely and simply through putting them into three exercises is even less useful. Doing this twice in a unit, giving 50-60 new items is just far too much. It overwhelms both the students and the teacher and is basically a waste of time. Choose your items carefully, contextualise them, and provide support in understanding the meaning, or show teachers how to do this in the teacher’s book.

Exam tasks are only helpful if you know which exam they’re for. Having an entire book where all of the skills tasks are ‘exam’ tasks without a clearly labelled exam that they relate to is just plain depressing.

Check that the reading and listening tasks are at a similar level of challenge to the grammar points and writing tasks that are being introduced. Reading and listening is often much easier, and occasionally much more challenging (though this may be because of the next point…) This gives students a false idea of their ability.

Include examples of more authentic sounding listening, plus listening skills work (this is thankfully already starting to change).

Provide editable versions of tapescripts and reading texts so that teachers can adapt them for their class, for example changing the formatting for students with dyslexia or creating gapfills from tapescripts. Even better, provide dyslexia-friendly versions of them yourself (I know this does cost money).

Don’t just list linking words, ask students to categorise them by function (adding, contrasting etc. – words the students don’t necessarily know either!), and assume they will understand the words and be able to use them. They are really important, really challenging, and I don’t think I’ve yet seen a coursebook which treats them in enough depth. (Feel free to prove me wrong).

Leave a bit of space on the page. I know it costs you a bit more to print like that, but thinking space is important, and avoids students feeling overwhelmed. They’re more likely to open your book (or I would be as a student!)

Label coursebook audio as clearly as possible in the book, preferably with the CD number and track if you’re using CDs, or the track number if it’s downloadable. Format CDs so that when you use them on a computer, the files are labelled in the same way, so you don’t have to spend ages trying to work out which track(s) you need or relabelling them all.

Consider using diagrams and infographics to explain grammar instead of massive long paragraphs of text whenever possible.

Check that gender is represented fairly and equally in both text and images. The same goes for race, sexuality, disability, and any other area where discrimination is a concern. Representation matters.

Make sure that book has been near a professional editor or team thereof, with enough time to do their job properly. Then listen to what they say. That should hopefully sort out some/most/all of the above problems.

Teacher’s book

A list of answers around the outside of a copy of the student’s book is not a teacher’s book, it’s an answer key. If that’s your approach, save paper and print it in the same way as the answer key for a workbook.

Give us ideas for how to adapt the activities on the page to suit our students. Tell us what typical problems students might have with the grammar or vocabulary. Offer ideas for games to play, especially for young learners and teens, but adults need them too. If you’re feeling really adventurous, provide ideas for homework that aren’t just the page from the workbook.

Suggest how to mark writing tasks – what criteria could I use? How do I know if the students have met these criteria?

If there are extra resources, like communicative activities for the students, and you hide them on a CD or a website, put very clear links in the teacher’s book to tell us to look for them.

Remember that the main people who use teacher’s books are probably new teachers, or teachers who are new to your series/style of book. Make the books as accessible and clear as possible. Explain any jargon you use, or provide a glossary.

Supporting tests

Thank you for creating tests that I can adapt for my classroom. They do make my life easier, most of the time. But…

Please don’t use random file formats. What is .tgd anyway?

Make the formatting as simple as possible./Ensure the person formatting your tests understands how to use Word (or whatever equivalent you use) fully! Embedded tables, random tabs or spaces all over the place, tasks that only go 2/3 of the way across the page so that when I try to edit the instructions it unnecessarily goes onto the next line when there’s 1/3 of the page left (that may not make sense, but I am happy to explain to any interested publishers!)…all of these things increase my stress levels unnecessarily.

Include a worked example for every exercise at every level, but especially for beginners, elementary and children.

Make them easy to find! Sometimes they’re on the website, sometimes they’re on a CD in the back of the teacher’s book, sometimes they’re on the software (which you may have to pay extra for – very annoying!)

Software

Remember that we live in a world of intuitive design. If yours isn’t, why bother? If I can’t learn how to use your software within 5 minutes, it’s not intuitive enough. I have better things to do with my time, and more useful websites I can use.

Don’t hide stuff in menus with loads of layers. Use icons.

If you include video, make sure it can be played full-screen.

Video and audio with clickable tapescripts is amazing!

Check that if you close the video/audio, you won’t close the software completely.

Make sure that your software adds value. If it’s just a glorified .pdf, just give me a .pdf instead of a whole separate piece of software!

Remember that we don’t all have interactive whiteboards. How easy is your software to use with just a projector? Can I use it on a Mac? Thus far I believe the answer to that is always no – what about making it .html instead of as specialist software, so that I’m not left out.

Random

I guess that most schools nowadays do not need one CD for every teacher’s set, so please don’t send them unless they are requested. My office has 3 or 4 sets of CDs for many books which are still in the plastic. This is a complete waste of resources: plastic, packaging, and time (yours and mine).

Remember that schools or students may not be able to afford the latest technology. Use the lowest common denominator for as long as possible, or offer alternative formats, or use a general format, like .pdf.

If you’re going to provide extra resources for students, make them as easy and intuitive to access as possible. If it takes too long, neither students nor teachers will bother, and it’s a waste of time and resources creating them. Remember that one or two well-placed and well-designed activities on a public website, preferably generative ones, can by used by teachers again and again, providing marketing for you if they keep recommending them to students too. This is perhaps a better use of your time and money than a super-complicated website hidden behind a paywall or a code.

Your turn

What would readers add to this list?

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Comments on: "Coursebook requests" (9)

  1. Important points, Sandy.
    Some of the money for the important stuff can be saved by not making the coursebook look like a glossy magazine. Photos are great but too many raise costs and are highly distracting due to visual overload.

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  2. Even though printing is non-eco, the ability to print would be extremely useful. Internet connection is not always available.
    THANK YOU FOR YOUR RELEVANT and ACCURATE COMMENTS , TIM!!!

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  3. You’ve hit so many of my textbook bugbears here, really insightful post. I agree 100% with the points you made about decontextualised vocab items: “here are 12 phrasal verbs, match them to their definition”. Also, all student’s books should have the tape script as a bare minimum, wouldn’t it be great if, like you said, they had gapped transcript exercises to work on connected speech, weak forms etc.

    When it comes to the teacher’s book, as you’ve mentioned, they offer newly-qualified teachers ideas about how to approach the content, but they really don’t go far enough. I think they should include the rationale behind each activity that the students are doing. When I’ve observed less experienced teachers, they quite often don’t see the aim of each activity. Even if it’s just a text box saying “the aim of this exercise is to guide students through the written form of the target language” or something like that. Another idea would be to include more flexible approaches, for example which activities can be skipped if students seem to have already “got it” or if time constraints don’t allow you to cover everything. This way teachers would be better able to react to the needs of their students. Also, in my opinion, where text books always fall down is in the inductive/guided discovery parts of introducing language. If the teacher’s book could include examples of guided questions and instructions to help teachers with this part, they would be far more useful.

    I’m interested to see other teachers’ comments on this topic too.

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    • Thanks for the comment Tim and adding your ideas. The teacher’s book showing more about how to adapt the pages could be useful too, as you say – what to drop and when.

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  4. […] This started as a reply to Sandy Millin’s post Coursebook Requests, which she posted on March 10, 2018. I have been following Sandy’s blog for some time, find […]

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  5. […] my recent post about coursebooks, Ian Parr asked on Twitter if a site existed for teachers to write reviews of coursebooks. As far […]

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  6. […] last couple of weeks I’ve written a couple of posts about coursebooks, the first describing my requests for publishers and writers to take into account, and the second a list of questions for anybody who […]

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