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

Posts tagged ‘coursebooks’

Richer Speaking – my first book

I’m very excited to announce that I have written and published my very first ebook:

Richer Speaking cover

Cover designed by Luke Meddings at the round

Here’s the blurb:

Are you tired of your students running out of things to say? This book will show you 12 different ways to adapt a wide range of speaking activities to get more out of them in the classroom, divided into four categories:
– Preparing to speak
– Adding repetition
– Extending speech
– Having a reason to listen
There is a full index showing you what kind of activities the techniques work particularly well with, as well as worked examples of each technique in action. All of them are ready to take into the classroom with the minimum of preparation.

Richer Speaking is available to purchase at Smashwords and Amazon [affiliate links] and costs less than 1USD. It’s part of the round minis series, all of which you can spot on their titles page by looking for similar covers to mine, and all available at the same bargain price.

I could never have done this without the help and encouragement of Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings at the round and editor Karen White, as well as the people who helped me come up with some of the ideas included in the book. Thank you so much!

I hope you find Richer Speaking useful, and I would of course appreciate any and all feedback which you have.



I’ll try to collect any reviews that I see here. Thanks to everyone who has said such nice things about the book!

A review in the English Australia journal, Vol. 32 number 2 (p82-83)


What do I think about coursebooks?

The short answer is: I have no idea, particularly since reading all the things written on various blogs over the last month or so, triggered by Geoff Jordan’s talk at the Innovate ELT conference.

I started writing a very rambling comment on his post about materials banks, and decided that I’d share it as a post instead as I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say with it, it’s late, and I don’t want to add such a rambling contribution with no clear point to such an in-depth discussion. Instead I’m posting it here, since I’m allowed to ramble on my own blog! Can anyone enlighten me on what I think?!


Image taken by Sue Annan, from the ELTpics collection and shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence

“[In one of the comments] Patrick said: “I’ve discussed this a lot with learners and they seem generally to agree that working with language that has emerged in their daily lives is more useful and more engaging than studying something simply because that’s what’s next in the coursebook.”

This is exactly how I was studying Russian. I told my teacher what experiences I’d had with Russian in the time since my previous lesson, and she gave me words and phrases I could use next time round. However, I was living in the country so had plenty of opportunities to experiment with the language, I’m very motivated, I’m an experienced language learner and teacher and like to think I know a fair amount about how I learn (in terms of what works for me), it was mostly mediated through English, the class was 121, and my teacher was good at coming up with things on the spot. When I didn’t have anything I wanted to cover, I’d tell her which bit of grammar I wanted her to show me so that I could start to notice it if I came across it. I was at A2-ish level by the end of a year, having already had Czech to build on. I’d learnt Czech by following a coursebook at my own speed, then having classes from my second year, mostly based on continuing the same coursebook, with some ad hoc lessons based on my immediate needs. It wasn’t as fast, but it did help me to know what I could study next, especially for a language with not many materials out there. If any of the conditions for my Russian classes hadn’t been fulfilled, I doubt it would have been anywhere near as useful for me, but I have to say I learnt it 3 times as fast as I did Czech as I got to the same level in a third of the time (I did a lot more self-study too though!)

I wish I could have lessons like that with all of my students, but when I was teaching last year my students had almost no exposure to English in their daily lives unless they actively sought out things on the Internet – it was hard to get ‘real’ books, films, etc in English where I was living. When they came to class with something different, we always looked at that rather than coursebook, and we often went off on tangents. They’d bought coursebooks though and in some of the bigger groups it was a unifying factor, with me adapting, extending and rejecting bits as I thought necessary.

I also showed them ways of extending their learning outside the classroom through the use of tools like Quizlet, offering them pre-vetted sets of vocabulary (vetted for accuracy, level of challenge, appropriacy etc.) which they could choose from, and shared my experience of learning languages to attempt to encourage them to try different methods out. Despite repeatedly demonstrating and encouraging them to use these techniques, they pretty much all defaulted back to lists of translations, with the occasional outlier of a student who actually tried to e.g. record vocabulary with a picture/English definition/collocations etc. When I tried to find out what they were interested in or what they wanted to study, I had the same experience as one of the commenters above, with them telling me I was the teacher and should decide. I’m not attempting to argue that the coursebook was the best answer in this situation, just describing my experience.

I’m still not really sure I could put together a personalised syllabus that would be very detailed at the beginning of a course if I didn’t already know a lot about a group of learners – this is the main area where I struggle, since if I’m not using a course book, I tend to work on a lesson-by-lesson basis. That’s fine if it’s low stakes, but as soon as you factor in exams or anything else high stakes, it puts a lot of added pressure on the teacher. I did once try to teach an intensive FCE course without a book by selecting materials from a range of places, but the students complained about the randomness of it and we ended up using an exam prep book instead. I think putting together a syllabus is a challenging skill, and not something I’ve ever found/had effective training in. I’ve never really found a readable, accessible guide to putting one together either (the ones I’ve seen have been pretty dry and I’ve never found them very helpful).

I guess I’m saying that although I know that coursebooks aren’t necessarily the best way, I’ve found them a useful support structure as a teacher, and I have learnt from them as a student, even though I know that it’s not been the fastest way for me to learn.”

Pre-teens aren’t stupid

A slightly depressing thought.

I spoke to my students yesterday about why we talk about a reading passage after reading it, and don’t just move on. There are 3 of them, aged 12-13, in that class.

Their comments, and the order they came out with them, were quite telling:

  • because we’re going to study future continuous (the grammar point on the facing page)
  • because we need it later (i.e. as adults)
  • just because
  • because it’s about the environment and we need to know about that

When I suggested it might be to help me see how much of the text and the ideas in it they understood, they seemed quite surprised. They certainly weren’t particularly engaged in the topic itself (changes a boy and his family were making to their life to be more environmentally friendly).

[And yes, I know I shouldn’t necessarily have just done the next page in the book, but I’d been at home all morning because there’d been a small fire in my flat!]

Challenges 4

The book in question, and by no means the only one at fault…


This morning my students spent over an hour discussing and debating their opinions of what a Utopia should be like. All of this was prompted by a single page from the Total English Intermediate teacher’s book.

On page 124 of the teacher’s book there is a list of rules about a possible Utopia, designed to revise modals of obligation and permission (must, have to, should). Students work alone to decide if they agree or disagree with the rules, then get together to debate a final version of their Utopia.

This single sheet prompted discussion about whether taxes were necessary, whether governments really need weapons, the benefits of living in a foreign country, and whether one language should be allowed to dominate the world.

Thank you very much Will Moreton and Kevin McNicholas!

Things I’ve learnt from English coursebooks

One of the ways you can identify an EFL teacher is by the amount of random information they can spew about all kinds of topics under the sun, much of which is gleaned from the coursebooks they use. Here is a small selection of the random things (I think) I have learnt about, which may or not be right!

  • The following things were invented by women: Kevlar, disposable nappies, windscreen wipers and the dishwasher (New English File Pre-Intermediate)
  • The people who invented Coca Cola and clothes hangars never made any money from their inventions (one of the New Headway books – can’t remember which)
  • A French artist created an exhibition based on the break-up email she received from her (ex-)boyfriend called ‘Prenez soin de vous‘ – ‘Take Care of Yourself’ (New English File Advanced)
  • Influenza+Affluence=Affluenza – being too affluent can make you ill (New English File Advanced)
  • The World’s Funniest Joke has been determined by science – and is only funny the first time you read it! (New English File Advanced, as well as in another book which I can’t remember
  • A man cheated in the New York Marathon in the 1920s by getting a lift for about 20 miles of the course (New English File Intermediate)
  • Slow living is much more satisfying – I first read about Slow Food and Slow Cities in English coursebooks, including New English File Intermediate and Advanced Expert CAE and have now read “In Praise of Slowness” which I really enjoyed too

So that’s my selection. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt from a coursebook?

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