Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Making a Terrible Book Work

Those who have been around the ESL Teaching world for a while have all had the experience of admins (who often have never set foot in a classroom as the teacher) choosing books for classes.  Once in a while it can work.  Often, it doesn't.  They tell you that it's a "Conversation Class" and that the students wants "free-talking" but hand you a book that is a grammar/vocab book or something of the sort.  This actually happened to me in one of the extra classes that I taught at my uni a couple of years ago.  Here is a Geek in Korea's story of a terrible textbook.

And actually, this reality has become my life these days.  This semester my uni is using "Top Notch" as our Freshman English Book.  While initially it looked promising, it gets worse and worse the more I dig into it and try to plan lessons.  It's a perfect storm of uninteresting topics/extremely confusing grammar practice/terrible supplementary activities/screwed up, unintuitive online homework/bizarre, useless vocab.  So what do you do in this situation?

Take something from the book and make it work.  The students will be angry if they have been required to buy the book and bring it to class (which I do require) and then you don't use it that day.  So, I choose a grammar point, or a topic, or a sample conversation, or some vocab and build my lesson around that, aiming to do at least a few minutes of something from the book.  If the grammar is too confusing (which it most often is), I'll prepare a handout with my own simplified version of it.    And the class works.   If I stuck with the book for more than about 10 minutes, it wouldn't.  .

Contrast this to the last book I used, "World Link."  It's a breezy tropical-island beach hut dream compared to "Top Notch."  Easy to understand grammar/useful vocab presented well/superstar supplemental activities/fun surveys and interactive activities/easy to use conversation starters.  I would use the book, or supplementary activities from the teacher's resource book for almost the entire class.

So, what I'm saying is: be flexible!  You have a good book?  Use it.  Your life will be easier and you won't have to spend horrendous amounts of time on lesson planning.  A terrible book?  Make a "token" effort to use it.  Besides that, get your serious lesson planning on and make an interesting lesson for your students.  Yes, it will be more work than just slaving away from the book but your efforts will be appreciated (hopefully) by your students.

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