Choosing a coursebook

It’s now, the middle of a semester and we start having our minds set into finding different and new materials for our groups. In fact, sometimes it’s simply time to change.

A friend normally says “the book is the slave, not the master”, but some teachers end up relying so much on the coursebook that choosing it is one of the most important features in “teaching”.

Wether or not you are involved in the material selection project, there’s a lot to be thought when analysing materials to avoid judging the book by its cover. Having in mind Tomlinson (2001, p.66) definition of materials as “anything which can be used to facilitate the learning of a language”, there are several issues to consider:

  1. Level;
  2. Content related to school syllabus;
  3. Method applied; Skills involved;
  4. Proposed number of hours related to the school structure;
  5. Timetable fit related to other materials already in use;
  6. Components;
  7. Appearance –  the lay-out, the design, illustrations – are they catchy? Or maybe too packed?
  8. Availability in the market as well as affordable;
  9. Year of publication – how updated it is.
  10.  and so more…

So, when you come across a book and you have a positive answer for the issues above, you start having a closer look at it in terms of the unit structure itself and the work to be done with students.

Littlejohn (2011, 179-211), in The Analysis of language teaching materials: inside the Trojan Horse, presents a comprehensive table to help us visualise the features of the materials.

His idea is to start focusing on “what the learner is expected to do” in each task/exercise, taking into account turn-taking (initiation, scripted responses), focus (language systems, meaning, the relationship between meaning and form), mental operation (application of general rule, expansion, decoding, formulating item into larger units and so many more).

Then, the analysis goes to patterns of interaction – “who with”. Is the task learner centred? Will students do it individually simultaneously? Pairs? Groups? Whole class? In fact, how language will be used and with whom. Is there variety of patterns?

The analysis comes to “with what content” – form (extended discourse, written or aural, words/phrases/sentences), source (materials, teacher, learners, outside the class?), nature, in terms of metalinguistic comment, linguistic item, fiction, personal information…).

So, we have already concentrated our studies in terms of what the input is and the students work, but now, what language is expected from the learners, the “expected outcome” and again, he concentrates on the analysis of form, source and nature, as mentioned before.

After a deep analysis of any the material, we should be able to answer questions such as:

  1. What are the main strengths & weaknesses of the material?
  2. Is there the right balance of functional language, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, skills?
  3. Is there sufficient variety of activity types and patterns of interaction?

So, based on your beliefs and the structure of the school you work at, I hope the ideas above can help you choose a good coursebook.




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Beatriz Meneguetti

Mª Beatriz Magalhães Silva Meneguetti Teacher, teacher trainer, school director and sworn translator with over 30 years’ experience, graduated in English, post graduated in methodology, linguistics, school management and marketing. Holder of major proficiency certificates from Cambridge and Michigan Universities and holder of the DELTA and MA in Professional Development for Language Education from Chichester University. Academic director of ABCI - Brazilian Association of Culturas Inglesas.

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