If I were writing a coursebook…


Red-eyed Tree Frog - Litoria chloris edit1

I keep wondering about why so many coursebooks still  work on listening in one lesson and reading in another one.

I love the many-in-one approach. Not only is it economical in terms of time spent on lesson preparation – it is also a lot more effective than  the “one task – one skill” one.

Here you can download a TOEFL essay + vocabulary + noticing/editing lesson, which is not 100% related to this post 🙂 – but is one example of multiple benefits extracted from one text.
Most coursebooks still have one focus per text. There may be some superficial discussions preceding and following reading/listening. There may be some extra skills included – like grammar discovery based on a reading/listening or a short writing assignment as a follow – up. Still – most lessons in most coursebooks tend to be grammar-focused, or listening-focused, etc – which I find either rather unnatural or simply inefficient, and often ineffective.

Indeed:

  • we know that a word/ a structure is best retained and acquired when it is heard + uttered + seen + analysed +  written down + used (both in writing and in speaking) + (ideally) played around with (jokes, games, funny associacions, TPR etc).

Is it justifiable, then, to listen to one text, read another one and play games with a separate word list – even if it is one and the same topic? Different types of memory will be at work with different words – which will inevitably result in many words getting forgotten and others only recalled in a context similar to the one they were encountered in (i. e., if you only saw the word in a text – you are less likely to recognise it when it is heard).That means,  for aquisition to be effective you have to spend hours searching for listening to match your wordlist, and the right reading to fit the grammar topic.

Some coursebooks like Face 2 face try to solve this problem by using specially written reading and listening texts, making sure the key structures and vocabulary get heard as well as seen. However, these key structures are relatively few – so the approach, however helpful, is still the “grammar (an vocabulary) mc Nuggets” one.

My all-in-one treatment of coursebook materials began when I realized that some students desperately need to see the listening scripts before/while/after they were doing the listening tasks. Many of them  insisted that they MUST understand every single word and wanted me to explain every little bit of the dialogue/lecture. While teaching them to be able to immerse themselves in the listening and figure out meanings from the bits they managed to catch, I understood I have to respect the need for detailed analysis the communicative coursebook inevitably lacks.

So I began to give out the scripts after the main listening tasks were completed, to listen again and analyse the language. The next step was to turn the scripts into gapfills (closes) to ensure they focus and remember the many useful areas. And – as I feel I MUST finish every lesson with a freer speaking activity (no – not necessarily PPP ;)) – I started developing questions for discussion based on the same script. This resulted in many-in-1 classes based around one listening activity, where we discussed issues, learned vocabulary, developed listening skills,  analysed structures, reviewed some previously learned items, read the scripts, tested the knowledge obtained/reviewed, used the words and structures…

No – building the entire lesson around one listening was neither tiresome nor boring, as there was a lot of variety and the texts chosen + arousing discussions were interesting. I found it worked – I think- due to the following:

  • the same text is  seen, heard, analysed, played around with, written, discussed. All skills at work, all types of memory involved.
  • the text is revisited multiple times. Many bits of it get memorized by heart without cramming.
  • The learner is left with a feeling they can now understand every bit of what initially seemed so obscure, unwieldy and incomprehensible. Moreover – they can speak it! This is a sense of achievement and comfort.
  • The approach consistently works on filling the numerous gaps a conventional coursebook syllabus creates. You work on prepositions, articles, collocations consistently throughout the course – not over the few lessons it allocated to them.

The approach is holistic (as I see this term :)).  There is such a lot to “squeeze” out of a single 2- to 3-minute dialogue, and there’s so much less time for the teacher to spend preparing, with an increased effectiveness for a student, that if I were writing a coursebook, I’d definitely make it up of all-in-one lessons.

  • If you do the reading – why not record the text or read it aloud yourself before/while/after the reading – with a different task? (see the post on Reading aloud tackling this).
  • If your coursebook suggests you focus on the present perfect in the text – why limit yourself by this suggestion?  Focus on the prepositions, articles, collocations, idioms of the same text. You will findthat some of them will later on be treated in the book as a grammar point – and this will be a natural recycling then. By focusing, though, I mean that you analyse, drill, write and use the items rather than simply explain them.
  • Again – if it’s a grammar-based text (listening) – what about the vocabulary involved? And vise-versa.

Overwhelming? – Not – if managed well. Intensive? – Yes. Students like it, though, as it is a good value for their money :). Review and recycling will be necessary, as well as the ever-growing list of the words and structures. Not every lesson should be so thorough. Some must be light-hearted, language club-like.:)

Here you can download a TOEFL essay + vocabulary + noticing/editing lesson, which is not 100% related to this post 🙂 – but is one example of multiple benefits extracted from one text.

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4 comments on “If I were writing a coursebook…

  1. […] Free and useful GADGETS RSS ← If I were writing a coursebook… […]

  2. kylieliz says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I like your ideas. My school currently has students split up into listening class, then reading class, then grammar class . . . all with different types of curriculum – even some American English and some British English! I always feel bad for my students. I have repeaters this term . . . maybe I’ll see if I can help them cut some corners by combining things as I teach for them. Thanks!

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