Does coursebook design really facilitate learning?



Are modern coursebooks designed in the right way? It appears that most of them aren’t. This is a very timely issue raised by Jason Renshaw, plus a great analysis of a particular coursebook layout. A must-read.


Mirror, mirror on the wall… :)

File:Narcissus pseudonarcissus flower 300303.jpgOver the past few days, browsing the countless ELT blogs and tweets, not once did I run into the idea that bloggers are narcissist by nature… On reflecting about it, I cannot help agreeing 🙂

TOEFL biology: a topic-based cluster of materials

I find topic-based (not skill-based) approach to TOEFL the easiest to handle and the most beneficial for the students as the lack of vocabulary is the primary concern, as I feel it.

Provided you equip the students with the right inventory of words, they will be cracking reading and listening, as well as speaking questions 4 and 6, way better. However, planning your syllabus around a topic means you have to browse lots of materials as most TOEFL preparation coursebooks tend to me skill- and strategy- focused, which I find less effective. Hence, I’ll be sharing my “clusters” of links and materials I have already compiled to make some teacher’s life easier.

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There’s been an interesting discussion on the value of rules in teaching on Scott Thornbury’s blog. Here’s one of my comments…

Well, rules are only one part of explanation. They are the essence of the explanation, and whether or not they are a help or a hindrance depends on how good the whole explanation is. Rules simply should be as short, jargon-free and … “tangible”, as possible. Here’s one suggestion on how to facilitate learners’ understanding and retainment of the new material.

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The notorious rules. Thoughts on rule-based teaching.

File:Abandoned concrete factory mechanism.jpgHere’s the discussion that took place at Scott Thornbury’s blog. The brief summary of the majority of the comments is that rules are a hindrance rather than any help, preventing the students from freely using the language instead of facilitating acquisition.

It is interesting for a non-native English teacher like me to watch native teachers discuss this matter, since the non-native teacher’s way of thinking is often very different from that of a native. That is especially evident in the treatment of rules. It seems to me that non-native teachers are way beter at teaching English through rules (many of them achieving good results), whereas native speakers are much better at teaching their own language through situations and contexts.

My personal approach is somewhere in -between the two poles. I have summarized it in this short article I posted there as a comment:


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Polishing things up – the indispensable stage.

The common approach to listening and reading is as follows:

  • pre-teach the key vocabulary
  • set the scene
  • give a reason for listening/reading, set the task
  • listen for general gist
  • listen for detail
  • proceed to either grammar analysis or a general discussion.

While generally being  common-sensical and more or less effective, this approach lacks a very important, to my mind, stage I ALWAYS employ with VERY BENEFICIAL results –


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“peripheral listening”???


deceive their consciousness – and they will immediately hear better and undesrtand more. read on to find out how.

Listening comprehension appears to be one of the trickiest skills to teach. This is especially true about  Ukrainian and Russian natives as these languages are very different both phonologically and in terms of structure.


One reason why students often find it next to impossible to get the message even if they do hear separate words is they try to listen in a “linear” fashion just as they would read- that is, word-by-word. The problem is that they cannot think as fast as the recording goes, so while they are figuring out what the first part of a sentence means, the second part will have already gone – and they will have missed it. You may try to persuade learners to listen to the keywords ignoring the rest – and figure out the meanings based on those key words – but a lot of them will find this technique very uncomfortable. “I cannot do it”, they keep moaning, their conscious brain rebelling against the necessity to simply immerse themselves into the recording and let the unconscious mind do the decyphering for them.


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