One-size-fits all?

As I mentioned in my earlier post, we need to produce our own materials to offer students more up-to-date data , reinforce their learning and most importantly, meet  their needs. There seems to be a mismatch between what coursebooks include and learners need. This probably results from globally designed coursebooks trying to cater for different needs in one book.  If we regard learners as customers and continue to publish books for market purposes , how can we expect them to be satisfied  with a ‘one size-fits all’  product?

one size fits all

This cartoon shows a man holding a tee-shirt with the slogan “One size fits all”. The man asks his three colleagues, “Will this do for you”. One colleague replies, “No-that won’t fit Me”. Another says, “We are ALL unique with individual needs and requirements”. Similarly, one coursebook doesn’t fit all as every class is unique and has a different cultural background, needs, interests and abilities.

Using teacher-produced materials makes a number of valid points because they are relevant to students’ needs that reflect local content, issues and concerns. I have observed in my classrooms that students don’t only struggle  to learn English but also to understand the culture.  Most of them even don’t know famous singers,actors and actresses in the world.  At this point, teachers can make some adaptations, modify the content according to the learners’ needs or bring their own materials to the classroom. Students will probably be more interested in talking  about the people they know. I am also aware of the fact that learning a language requires gaining its culture but sometimes these adaptations are necessary to engage the learners.

On the other hand, I am not against of using coursebooks as they also offer many advantages both teachers and learners. Some advantages Richards (2001:255) notes are as follows. They help standardize instruction which is very important to ensure that the students in different classes receive similar content. I worked at a university where 200 teachers were working and there were nearly 50 classes. In such a big institution, not using a coursebook cannot be an option as students are tested in the same way. Another advantage is that they maintain quality because if a well-developed textbook is used, students are exposed to materials that have been tried and tested.  However, they can be supplemented by teacher-produced materials. Coursebooks can also train teachers who have limited teaching experience.  For example,if they are new in the profession, a coursebook together with the teacher’s manual can serve as a medium of initial teacher training.

This argument may raise the question whether to use coursebooks or teacher-produced materials in the EFL classroom. The point is surely rather that using materials that can cater the needs of learners. These needs can be met by coursebooks or teacher-produced materials depending on the unique nature of the classroom. Sometimes you can use both to reinforce the learning. For example, the teacher can create his/her worksheet to supplement the coursebook when it lacks appropriate exercises At this point, the teacher should be a good observer to analyze  the needs of the learners. If a coursebook is designed for market purposes, isn’t culturally appropriate and  has bland topics then it would be much more appropriate to use teacher-produced materials. On the contrary; if teachers are in the early stages of their careers and students are tested in the same way, coursebooks should be the primary source for teaching and could be supplemented by teacher-produced materials. Last but not least, teachers should be aware of the fact that ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ that’s why they should produce their own materials or make some adaptations where necessary regarding their learners’ needs.


Richards , J .C. (2001) Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Picture taken from



Filed under Materials

4 responses to “One-size-fits all?

  1. Cannot agree more with you, Esin, that it’s quite a rare situation when an international coursebook is appropriate for the particular course/ context/ group you are teaching, therefore adaptation is often simply necessary. And I was wondering – what’s the general situation in Turkey? Is there any special teacher training provided to show teachers can adapt the materials for their classes?

    • Esin

      Hi Yulia. Teachers who are graduated from ELT departments in Turkey should have known how to develop and adapt materials as they are in the curriculum. However, the effectiveness of these lessons can vary depending on the university. Another issue is that when recruiting English teachers, universities require a bachelor’s degree that can be from any English related department such as English literature, interpretation and translation and pedagogical formation is not sought for the departments that their major is not English Language Teaching. Teachers whose major aren’t ELT will probably have difficulties while adapting materials. At the moment, there is no special training for them but it is obvious that there is a need for teacher training programmes to have more qualified and confident teachers. The more they are qualified, the more they are expected to use and apply the knowledge they have. Thus, they can analyze the learners’ needs easily and make adaptations where necessary.

  2. Hey Esin, I really liked the picture you chose and your post of course. I am aware that this is the case with coursebooks. They cater for so many different learners that at some point it all seems really unrealistic. Producing materials has a lot to offer to both learners and teachers as it suggests tailor made lessons. However, as we both have learned, it is a really complicated process and for teacher produced materials to be really efficient, teachers need to invest a lot of time and effort. Like you’ve said, in some contexts there are so many teachers and students that coursebooks serve as a means to maintain unity and balance in the classrooms. Personally, I believe that designing materials is a great step for teachers and I am in favour of it. What can be done in many contexts like the one we’ve worked in, is probably to keep using the coursebook with supplementary materials produced by teachers who know their learners really well. Another idea is to create a materials bank where all teachers contribute in to designing the syllabus and producing the materials that will be used throughout the year without the use of a coursebook. At the end of the year, additional changes can be made by reviewing what has worked and what can be changed for better.

    • Esin

      Hi Zeynep. Thank you for sharing your opinions and suggestions. They are really important as you are also familiar with the context. I completely agree with you that leaving a coursebook cannot be an option in the context that we’we worked in that’s why teacher-produced materials can be used as supplementary materials to facilitate the language learning. Your suggestion of creating a materials bank is really interesting but I think it needs time, training and professionalim. However, once they are met, there is no doubt that a materials bank will be more beneficial than globally designed coursebooks as they are designed regarding learners’ needs and most importantly, teachers won’t feel like technicians whose primary fuction is to present materials produced by others. Therefore, it is worth trying that when necessary conditions are met.

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