a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
If you’ve been involved in the TEFL world for more than 5 minutes, you’ll have met our very dear friend, the coursebook. Headway, Cutting Edge, New English File – the list goes on for days. They are there to (theoretically) provide us with a basis for our lessons, so that we are not teaching everything except that which our students need to know. Their resources are usually very useful and they even have notes for the teacher, so we really don’t have to think much when we use them.
But have you ever observed a class in which the teacher follows the book religiously? Pain. Ful. And that’s a problem. Teachers learn to lean on coursebooks and move from 1.1.1 to 9.7.3 and heavens alive if we miss a step. That’s not the point of coursebooks, of course, but many teachers believe coursebooks are better teachers than they are. But they’re not, because they’re not human.
So, as I mentioned before, often it’s necessary to step away from the coursebook and try something different. My favourite something different is to use authentic texts – English texts from the real-world.
Why? Because that’s the whole point of learning English. Why would I want to talk about “Davina Moody, Drama Queen” (no offence, OUP) when there are much more relevant people to discuss. What about what’s happening in the real world?
When? Whenever you think is a good time.
How? Ok, this is a bit more complex.
You obviously can’t use all texts with all students and all levels. The first step is to think of appropriateness. Death penalty, abortion, drugs – not easy topics to discuss, for anyone. Politics with younger students – probably won’t go down too well. Discussing food during Ramadan – just not cool.
Then, is it the right level? Different texts have different levels of English. A pamphlet or menu can be quite simple, while a magazine or film clip could be quite challenging. Even different newspapers have different levels of English. Make sure the level fits your students.
Third, is it too long? The easiest way to make a text more readable and approachable is to shorten it, or even modify it by replacing all the complex structures with easier structures. Ensure that you have a suitable lead-in and feedback so that the students are fully engaging with the text, even if they find it more difficult than their usual coursebook texts.
So next time you find yourself drowning in coursebook exercises, think outside the book and think how you could bring the outside world into your classroom.