I like coursebooks, and after years of using them I’ve grown on some of them, but also I’ve never stopped looking for the perfect coursebook for me (alas! to no avail!). There are coursebooks that are decent enough to recommend to anyone, there are some that have some strong points, but require heavy supplementation in other areas, there are those that I find useless..
Apparently if I want to have a coursebook perfect for me, I’ll have to write it myself.
Quite often I find myself in a situation where books are not the issue. Some of my students want to pass an exam or take IELTS (I don’t need much choice when it comes to exam-oriented coursebooks). Most of my students, however, want to talk, to “keep using English, no grammar, you know, just talking”. Surprisingly, asking them “what do you want to talk about” results in a meaningful shrug, leaving you with a task of planning a course with speaking, virtually no grammar, probably some vocabulary and a lot of wishful thinking.
Fortunately, after years of dealing with students who are interested in classes but not really with coursebooks, I came up with five steps that will help you in case you’re stuck with covering for a teacher who’s forgotten to leave the teacher’s book, creating a very short course or managing a course that isn’t supplemented with students’ copies.
1 Analyse students’ needs
Seriously, this is the most important step whenever you start a new course – book or no book. If you ask your students about their needs, if you listen to their expectations and make notes, you’ll show yourself as more than a typical teacher – you’ll show yourself as a partner who’s willing to cooperate, not only preach.
Naturally, you will have to explain that sometimes it’s impossible to fulfil all expectations in one course (e.g. passing FCE on A2 level).
2 Define the goal of the course
Without the goal of the course it’s impossible to give full feedback. What do you want to achieve with your students? Do you want them to cover particular areas of grammar? Maybe you want them to communicate more fluently? Focus on pronunciation? Whatever it is, define it – as well as marking criteria, assessment methods and forms of feedback.
The most important question by students, the one they never ask, is “what am I going to know after this course?”. Take your time and give them a good answer.
3 Collect your favourite books and coursebooks
The course doesn’t have to be covered with a particular coursebook, but still, you will need some stimuli. Often have I seen students who expected a course without a book, only to find it tiresome and somewhat demotivating. The truth is simple: students need something to prove that they’re actually learning. Reading exercises, wordlists – doesn’t matter as long as they have a solid copy to ease their mind.
The sad truth is, most of them won’t even look at the copies, so if you don’t feel like wasting your time on preparing something special, use your favourite coursebook to make a copy of an exercise you know your students will like.
In my school, we’re focusing on communication, so my favourite book is definitely 700 Classroom Activities.
4 Open your favourite websites
When you’re in need there’s always someone online who will help you! I already made two lists of useful websites that may save your day (here and here), but I’m sure you’ll find more. Lesson plans galore (perfect for a short period when covering for an absent colleague), ideas, exercises, films and songs.
You may choose TEDed videos or pick one of the great YouTube channels – your students will certainly enjoy visual material which is not only educational, but also gives a great opportunity for discussion.
5 Create a short syllabus
This is my first year when I created self-made syllabuses for all my courses and I shared them with my students on our first meeting – and I believe this is a great idea, because now my students know exactly which lesson covers which part of the material and what they will have to work on in case they skip the class.
Certainly, you probably won’t plan everything, and not everything will go according to plan, but a course without coursebooks tends to be more improvised and when your students expect proper classes, it’s better to offer them improvisation within a safe framework of a self-made syllabus.
That’s it – you’re ready to roll. However, as a bonus, take this hint:
Make a compilation of materials
You may create a neat file of printouts and copies, you may create a lovely e-book, or simply – which is my favourite option – make a padlet with your syllabus, ideas and materials. You will have everything organised for another course, all you will need are some minor changes.
I hope these short and simple steps will help you next time you face students who don’t feel like having to own coursebooks.