My favourite approach is to take a book of an established publishing house (like Oxford, Cambridge or Pearson) appropriate for the level of the student and his/her goals and interests (as there is a great variety of coursebooks). We then exploit it to the maximum including the workbook, tests, supplementary activities and videos as long as the student stays engaged.
So why not use only videos and self-designed or freely downloadable worksheets? Many reasons! Let’s look at three mains points.
My favourite one. A lot of hard work and language analysis is done behind any coursebook. Language is picked for the level and is organised around a grammar-based syllabus. Every unit builds on top of the previous one, so this approach helps you make your speech more and more complex step by step. Plus any book helps balance various aspects of language (grammar, vocabulary, functions, reading, listening, writing and pronunciation), which is really hard to do without one. Finally, everything’s wrapped up in an eye-catching design with pictures and everything.
For example, first units of intermediate levels deal with the present tense because this is the base and is used in speech much more often that anything else. Once the student has mastered the present, they can move on to talk about the past or the future. So by the end of the book they will be practising hypothetical structures like conditionals to talk about imaginary present or past. But you will find it really difficult to do them if you’re not fluent with the present tense. The book helps you understand where you are within one level and what you can do to improve it. It’s a good guide.
Materials design is a specific skill. All teachers do it to some extent to supplement the course book. We often prepare worksheets for a specific cause, e.g. to prepare a lesson on revision or to practise a particular type of language. But it’s not the same as creating a course from scratch. So I trust professionals to design a book and do my job adapting it for a particular student.
Books are original in many ways. Every lesson may be a new discovery of the world with first class pictures or even videos. For the same reason I would always recommend having a paper version of the book instead of a digital one!
Most books include topical issues and are a good source of knowledge of English speaking counties and their culture. I remember being fascinated when I started teaching. Bright, colourful, and so many new things I never knew about! It’s also incredibly easy to jump from the book to do online research about something in the topic, even during the lesson. This really helps you improve your English faster because it keeps you engaged. So the book can easily be extended if there’s such a need.
At last, I’m sure that there’s something to discuss in every topic. You can either like it or, fair enough, be bored with it, or hate it for a good reason. Just explain why. Anything can be personalised. What’s more, when you don’t like the topic, you get an excellent opportunity to practise disagreeing and defending your point of view.
Revision and tests
Practice makes perfect, everyone knows that. Workbook, tests, progress checks and revision sections that come with the book make it easy to revise things and get feedback on the learning process. Yes, you have to revise the language regularly if you don’t want to get stuck, and the more the better.
How are revision exercises different from, say, Quizlet cards or repeating the word again and again? Big difference. With the book you get to practise the same language in various, albeit similar contexts, and with more context you understand the structure better and better. There will be at least four contexts for the word. It helps a lot, especially with totally new words at the higher levels. As an example, let’s take the word ‘arrogant’.
- In the unit, you’ll find that it describes someone who is ‘behaving in an unpleasant or rude way because they think they are more important than other people’ (taken from the Longman dictionary) and you will talk about arrogant people you know.
- In the workbook, you’ll do an exercise to see the difference between ‘arrogant’ and ‘assertive’:
- ‘He is a rude and arrogant/assertive young man’ – negative meaning.
- ‘The course helps women learn how to be more arrogant/assertive in the workplace’ – positive meaning.
- In the Progress check section, you will correct a spelling mistake:
- She’s so arogant, no one wants to work with her – ‘arrogant’.
- In the test, you’ll have to remember it to complete a sentence:
- ‘In reality, Eliza was more shy than cold, and she certainly wasn’t ______or haughty’. – ‘Haughty’ has a negative connotation, so we should use another negative characteristic close in its meaning, which is ‘arrogant’.
Some books, like English File or In-company, have desktop or online applications to make revision more fun. You can find additional exercises there and videos with interactive tasks. Many students neglect them, but they shouldn’t. It’s also convenient for those who prefer typing to writing in hand.
Coursebooks save me tons of time. I’ve done so many of them, I hardly need to prepare. That gives me more time to find or create the material to meet the student’s current needs, be it revision, extension of the book, a video they want to do, or a skill they need to practise for work. Coursebooks are a big help with any type of students, and especially with those who don’t do their homework. Even if all my lesson plans go wrong, I always know what to do with a good book! =)
Now we can find pdf versions of many coursebooks, which makes me very flexible. Not once have we chosen a book and started doing it right at the lesson (with individual students). Last but not least, we can help reduce paper waste and save trees on our planet! =) And the student doesn’t have to sort out heaps of handouts after each lesson.
Try taking a book and doing everything in it unit after unit including the workbook and progress tests (the good news is that you can even find all the keys for the book which makes it faster to learn). It’s the easiest way to succeed. And don’t be lazy to check out new concepts, names and ideas you come across there. The authors usually do their best to make the books reflect the world and its trends.