Course Book vs Authentic Materials

ESLLearninglesson planning

Course Book vs Authentic Materials

Playing it safe

Hmm… what to do what to do? When we start off we usually stick with that course book like it’s our holy bible.  When a language school hires us we walk in, pick up the appropriate level of English-File, Cutting edge, Speak out, Success, Total English and on and on and get down to that teaching we were trained for in our CELTA course.  It’s standard procedure and as far as I’m concerned totally fine.  We need to build up our confidence and familiarize ourselves with the language from our students’ perspectives(second language acquisition).  Being a new teacher can be quite stressful at the start.  We are navigating through a lot and worrying about every detail.  It’s a performance we haven’t mastered yet and so it’s natural to feel quite self-conscious about the whole endeavour.  On top of all that, we need to prepare a freaking lesson, step by step, with every detail covered and scrutinized thoroughly.  Pressure? You betcha!

The course books will always offer us that safety net in case we lack ideas.  They are based on a syllabus and on a chosen methodology by supposed professionals so we should feel reassured that when we prepare a lesson from a course book we are safe, knowing that we are providing exercises that are stamped and approved to deliver guaranteed results. Well, that’s what we think anyways.  However, as we gain experience we start to realize that not everything that has been put in a textbook is actually that reliable or effective with learning outcomes. Putting aside the topics that course books choose – some might not be appropriate for our students’ age – which can be boring and not challenging, what are some other drawbacks to the course book approach?  Let’s delve into it…

The comparison

Firstly, it’s important to remember that because students have the course book your lessons will turn out to be very predictable.  ESL students will know what to expect from you as the teacher, as well as what they will be doing each time they attend your class.  That’s a BIG drawback in my opinion, because students like to attend class and be surprised and engaged while learning.  If teachers are preparing their lessons going from one exercise to the next, the lessons will get dry very quickly and students will probably dread attending it, it won’t be a pleasure anymore but a chore, and language learning is first and foremost fun!  Secondly, course books are by definition built on some methodology, and that means that they will have a particular focus that that methodology stresses.  Sometimes it’s speaking, others focus on grammar, or project work.  Inevitably though, we teachers need to be aware that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning a language.  A classroom is composed of different individuals with different learning styles, as well as varied strengths and weaknesses in certain language learning skills.  With that said, we as teachers have an obligation to adapt and vary our lessons to accommodate these differences.  At the very least, we should want to anyways, to help our students improve and reach the goals they might have set at the outset of the course.

Authentic materials? You know their value!  It’s called authentic for a reason peeps.  It comes unedited and pure straight to your class via you.  You, the teacher, chooses it as you see fit and appropriate because as a native speaker you know that this material holds valuable language worthwhile to your students.  It’s natural, whether it’s a video or article, and that authenticity is what students really want, let’s not kid ourselves.  The downside is that we need to research and find that material, which can be time-consuming.  If you are teaching in a non-English speaking country it might be a bit harder to have access to these sources, though the internet has made up for this now, more or less.  A teacher will also have to prepare questions on comprehension or language, and that also requires precious time that many of us might not have.  With that said, the reward is immense!  Remember that after you’ve prepared it you have it archived for multiple uses in future lessons. Boom!

Combining the benefits of each

What I try and do is use a lot of the teacher’s resources from the course books.  They are generally well-thought out activities for students to practice and recycle language, grammar, vocabulary etc.  I have some favorites that I archive for later use and I have categorized them based on level.  Whenever you have a new class of any age and they have taken a placement test these activities can really help a teacher determine what their students know or not.  The teacher’s resources always require students to produce the language which is why students are there anyways, and gives them the practice they need and crave.  It also allows the teacher to hover and monitor in the background and let the students get on with it.  If teachers already know their students’ abilities they can prepare their own introduction to the target language(TL) the activity is meant to practice, and teach the TL using authentic materials or a combo from different resources.  When I go through a course book, the first thing I look at is the introduction to the modules/units.  These sections I find to be excellent for speaking and vocabulary because most of these course books start hot like that.  Then, instead of following the course book you introduce your authentic material on the topic you introduced.  A big NO NO is to just solely depend on the course book because your language school expects you to finish it and maybe even your students as well.  Find out from them if that’s what is important to them.  Inform that they won’t manage to finish it because you want to introduce some stuff that their books don’t have.  You can always give them the answer key at the end of the year/semester so they can finish the book on their own time.  By sharing your thoughts on the matter the teacher makes it clear that they have an approach they are confident in and that will offer their students the best results.  Students want that! They want to see a teacher in control, a teacher that has their best interests in mind.  And that is always a fine start.

Let’s make it happen.

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