Working with ELT Materials
Part three – evaluating coursebooks
In our previous article, we looked at a few points that you should consider in your initial selection of course materials. Once you have narrowed down your choice, and obtained sample copies of the materials that you’re interested in, it’s time for a more detailed evaluation. Based on the previous article, we’ll assume that the materials you’re considering are up-to-date, include all the components that you require, and match the age and level of your students. What else should you look for in an examination of the candidates for adoption?
Design and layout
The first thing that you’ll notice is the design of the book, the style and layout, use of colour and type of illustrations. For example, some books for young children use cartoon characters, while others use pictures of real people. Some are bright and colourful, while others have a more serious and subdued image. This is a matter of personal preference, but you should start by choosing a package that you like the look of, and that you think your students will like. This applies equally to the design of the IWB software if you’ll be using it.
Amount of material
Another basic criterion is the length of the book. Most coursebooks are designed to provide material for about 100 – 120 hours of lessons, which is enough for three hours a week throughout the school year, but some books are designed for shorter courses. Apart from the total length of the course, you’ll also need to consider the arrangement of the material in units or lessons.At lower levels, each lesson is usually designed for a 50 – 60 minute class, while at higher levels most books have longer units that can be divided more flexibly. So depending on the number and length of the lessons you have with each class each week, you’ll need to ensure that the total amount of material and the way it’s divided fit your timetable. Don’t forget to plan for the time you’ll be using other additional components apart from the main coursebook.
Balance of skills
If your students are preparing for exams, obviously you’ll need to select materials that provide practice in the specific format. In any case, you’ll need to choose materials that provide an appropriate balance of activities for each of the four skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking – and also pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. What constitutes an appropriate balance will depend on the specific needs of your students. Do they really need to learn all about the rules of grammar, or would it be more beneficial to spend extra time on speaking practice? And in most cases, it will be beneficial if the work on the various skills is integrated, rather than practicing each one separately.
Methodology and syllabus design
Apart from the amount of work on each area of language, you should also consider the type of approach that the materials encourage, and whether this fits your style of teaching. Are the materials student-centred to promote autonomy, or do they require a lot of presentation by the teacher? Are there plenty of communicative activities, or is the emphasis on controlled practice? Is the course organized in terms of situations and topics, making natural use of the language that occurs in each context, or is the material all designed around the presentation of the grammar? Is there a lot of explicit focus on language, or are the topics and tasks designed to promote implicit language acquisition? Does the course make use of authentic materials, and does it cater for a variety of learning styles?
This was a very brief overview of some of the main issues to consider when evaluating a coursebook. However good a coursebook is, it will never be perfectly matched to the precise needs of your students, so there will always be a need for adaptation, and that’s the topic of our next article.
© Peter Beech 2013