Tag Archives: coursebooks

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  http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/Web_2.0_Applications_and_Accessibility



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Catherine Walter on the #ELTJ Debate at #IATEFL Liverpool

Oxford University Press

Catherine WalterThe ELT Journal debate at IATEFL Liverpool was a lively and well-attended affair. Thanks to the British Council, you can see the whole event online on the IATEFL Liverpool website. Here, Catherine Walter, who opposed the motion, gives her round up of the debate.

Scott Thornbury claimed that Published course materials don’t reflect the lives or needs of learners. Surprisingly, he did not repeat what he’s been saying for years in his Dogme / Teaching Unplugged strand – that teachers should not bother with course materials. Instead, he started from the weaker premise that course materials need improvement. Scott began by showing images of early twentieth-century books – hardly germane to the discussion, as if the nutritional value of deep-fried Mars Bars gave a picture of the contemporary diet. He maintained that there is a prevalence of employed, white, heterosexual male middle class characters in current materials. This doesn’t…

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Theresa Clementon’s materials session

I have attended Theresa Clementson’ s materials session and I would like to share some notes which I found useful and interesting. She  is a lecturer at Brighton University  and has been teaching more than 20 years. She is  also  a materials writer and  one of the authors of the coursebook “English Unlimited” published by Cambridge University Press. Although she is a coursebook writer, her talk was about teachers creating their own materials not producing  or designing coursebooks. She has encouraged teachers to design their own materials by talking about  the early stages of her career.  She started designing her own materials before a long time ago where there wasn’t a coursebook at the school she taught. She taught by using set of good materials that played a crucial role on producing  her own materials.  According to her, materials are lessons that implies they don’t have to be a coursebook, they could be anything that can go well in the classroom. If a piece of material works , it is a good lesson for her.

Her session was like a seminar discussion with few activities and talking about our own materials. She has started her session by addressing two questions:

  1. How often do you produce your own worksheets for a class? ( She has explained that worksheets could be anything, they could be  a text taken from a magazine or newspaper or they could be listening where you want to use authentic  material).
  2. Why do you produce your own materials or why don’t you? ( One of the reasons of producing own materials could be for example, when teachers want to teach Present Perfect and they don’t like the way it is done in their coursebooks).

Having discussed these questions  with our groups, we have  all agreed that we don’t  produce our own materials much as they  take too much time. One of the teachers in my group says that she doesn’t produce her own worksheets as it requires a great deal of effort, she would rather produce questions for discussion. However, we are all aware of the fact that we need to produce our own materials to offer students more up-to-date data and reinforce their learning.

There are also other reasons emerged from a class discussion. Teachers should produce their own materials because they are:

  • culturally appropriate
  • easier for students to use teacher-produced materials ( teachers can grade the questions and make them more simple).
  • flexible in lots of ways
  • personalized
  • authentic
  • localized

In the session, teachers agree that they  should create their own materials when they think a language point or skill cannot be achieved through a coursebook. Another reason of creating their own material is resulted from bland topics coursebooks have. They believe that there are topics that coursebooks do not touch because of their being global. The last reason of producing their own materials  is that coursebooks are sometimes stretching learners which means they could be too easy or difficult for learners. On the other hand, they also underline the importance of published materials because they save a massive amount of time , offer a syllabus and tend to recycle important points.

After discussing teacher-generated and published materials, she has talked about implementation  of materials –  lesson plan –  and emphasized some points whilst preparing a lesson plan which are listed below.

  • its aims
  • class profile
  • learner outcome ( what will learners be able to do at the end of the lesson?).
  • syllabus fit and lesson fit
  • interaction
  • timing

She then asked us to create two templates for worksheets which we  have produced  for a language point and skills lesson. The worksheet I have prepared with my friend focuses on a language point whereas my partner’s worksheet is based on a developing a listening skill. Therefore, we could have analyzed two templates. While creating our templates, we have  considered some teaching points like questions about specific info, language forms and use, guessing meaning from context, a gist task, speaking practice, a discussion task, visuals etc.

Worksheet – Yuksel & Sag – This is the worksheet I have produced with my friend which aims to teach non-gradable adjectives-.

Our template for this worksheet is:

  • guessing meaning from context
  • prediction of target vocabulary
  • discussion with their partners
  • matching exercise to reinforce the vocabulary
  • gap-filling exercise  (more challenging than  the matching exercise)
  • end-up activity (writing)

You can find our ideal templates for a language point and skills lesson below. (Activities can vary depending on learners’ needs).

Templates for a language point and skill worksheet

At the end of the session, some questions were posed to her. I found one of them really interesting that was “what is the future of materials?” and wanted to learn her opinions as a professional materials writer. What will be the students’ reactions to coursebooks in 2025? Will it be like in the picture below?

student reactions to books in 2025

Her feelings about this issue is that there will always be a place something in our hands. It may be less but coursebooks won’t die. According to her, the market place will probably change. Global coursebooks will have smaller market than locally produced materials in the future. There will be a lot more culturally appropriate materials. For example, a coursebook called Total English Fame is being designed for Chinese learners which will exactly look like a global coursebook but cater to the needs of Chinese context.

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