Do we need ESOL – EFL textbooks?
Do we need ESOL – EFL textbooks?
A wide variety of textbooks are available for ESOL-EFL classes but do we really need them? They provide a healthy income for publishers but do they really serve the interests of the learners? Could it be that they just provide an easier path for teachers rather than providing a solid ladder for students?
Well, as with so many other questions, perhaps it’s a matter of degree. No, we don’t need them because there are so many other materials available, but they can sometimes be helpful. If an ESOL – EFL teacher follows one textbook exclusively then this is likely to be boring for the teacher, and exceedingly dull for the students. Students are never likely to be enthused with their language classes if they can see their teacher ploughing through page after page of a textbook, with the students knowing exactly where they will be in two or three weeks time.
There are a considerable number of supplementary materials available, often with a focus on a particular language skill. Would it be better to knit together a course using just those supplementary materials drawn from a wide range of different sources? If a choice has to be made between using just one textbook or drawing on a range of supplementary materials, then the latter approach is likely to be far more interesting, varied and stimulating for the students, and far more interesting for the teacher.
Textbooks and supplementary materials are certainly not the only resources available. Whether a teacher works in a well resourced school, or a school with few resources, there are many materials to be found which can provide the basis for lively and interesting lessons. These include photos, drawings, cartoons, short reports, headlines, poems, real objects, puppets, clothing, letters, short dialogues, monologues and so on. These can be found in newspapers, books, magazines, advertisements, leaflets, political posters, news reports on the radio or television, in markets, in shops, in supermarkets and so on. There is in fact a wealth of material all around us which can be exploited for use in ESOL – EFL classes.
Have a look at the photo above. Most people seeing this will smile immediately because the scene is quite comical and this in itself can encourage students to talk. This one photo can lead on to a very wide range of language activities; for example:
- factual questions: What can you see? Where are they? What’s happened? etc.
- questions involving conjecture: Who are they? Where are they going? Were they in a hurry? etc.
- dialogues: complete dialogues provided by the teacher; dialogues for the students to complete etc.
- listening practice: listen to a recording of this event, or a similar event
- writing practice: write as if you saw this all happen
Many different photos can be exploited in a language class and the one below has been taken in Houtouwan on Shengshan Island, which is near Shanghai in China.
This one has great potential because of the somewhat unearthly sense that it expresses. (More photos can be found here) As before, a wide variety of questions can be asked: Where is this village? Where are the people? Have they left? Why did they leave? Why are the houses all green? Would you like to visit this village? A few people still live in this village; why? Would you like to? A wide variety of activities can be linked to this photo including descriptions, dialogues, recordings and so on.
The photo below has a more modern and somewhat political theme and could work very well with a class which is intermediate or above. Who is she? Where does she live? What is wrong with her arm? What is the meaning of the message on the tree?
The photo can be linked to recorded dialogues, dialogues in print (either complete or with gaps to be filled), descriptions, short stories and so on.
Some teachers may hold up their hands in horror at the thought of preparing so much material but the fact is that once prepared it can be used over and over again with different classes in different ways. A teacher who prepares their own material will soon become adept and quick at doing it and will be a far better teacher, with a higher level of skills, and also with high achieving students enjoying their ESOL – EFL classes.
It would be a bad idea to rely on just one textbook. Equally, it is not necessary for a teacher to prepare all of their own lessons from scratch all of the time, and there will be appropriate opportunities to dip into textbooks from time to time, as well as drawing on printed or recorded supplementary materials. What is certainly true is that having the skills and confidence to prepare your own materials will result in more interesting, relevant and effective lessons, and more skilled and confident students.