Before reading on, best you know four things about this post:
1) It is a definite PLUG! I am committed in this post to really encouraging people to buy and use a particular coursebook with their English language learning classes;
2) My objectivity may be ever so slightly compromised, because I know the authors of this particular textbook and they're two of the nicest chaps and most intelligent ELT writers you could ever meet;
3) I've used the coursebook extensively in two completely different settings (one a university-level English teacher training course, the other a range of Business English courses with one of Korea's top heavy industries and construction companies) and can personally attest to its versatility and quality;
4) I've been waiting years to see genuinely task-based approaches feature in coursebooks; this is possibly the first that's done it on genuine pedagogical grounds and done it well, and hats off to a publisher willing to go ahead with it, while shame on you to the same publisher for not marketing it more strongly than you have up to this point in time!
I'm talking here about a coursebook that will go down as one of my all-time favourites. It's called Widgets, and it is published by Pearson Longman.
You can find out tons of interesting information about it by going to the online resource site, but here (in brief) is what I most love about this coursebook:
1) Flexible level application - this worked in my classes, which were all quite mixed-ability, for learners anywhere from pre-intermediate to advanced levels;
2) Fantastic ongoing theme - learners join a dynamic imaginary company as trainees, and while this is tongue-in-cheek enough not to insult adult learners by assuming it is completely believable, it is realistic enough to find resonance with students no matter where their career aspirations happen to be pointed;
3) Tasks comprise the fundamental action - the course asks learners to really DO things, from debating products to creating their own or making a variety of key decisions;
4) The tasks are sufficiently scaffolded - many teachers or institutions fear that a "deep-end" approach means getting thrown in and risking a quick drowning; the approach in Widgets never feels like that and provides lots of preparatory help and hints to make the task implementation smooth and stress-free;
5) There is huge emphasis on team work - and this in turn facilitates the appearance of some of the modern eclectic teacher's favourite allies in a classroom: collaboration, cooperation, discussion, debate;
6) There is humour and fun - varying from colourful characters to unusual products, all of them fun to learn about and interact in response to;
7) There is peer and self-assessment - all the experts advocate it, most textbooks never go near it; this coursebook is clearly the exception;
8) Learners genuinely like it - I had a bunch of business professionals beg me to do away with the other coursebooks we were forced to use in their courses and just use Widgets as the primary text.
Widgets will be the first coursebook I turn to for any class of late teens or adults who have progressed beyond elementary levels. Absolutely. No kidding. Dead serious.
It represents to me all the really important things that have been seriously lacking in good coursebooks up to this point in time, and in some ways repairs the time lag between coursebook methodologies and what language teaching experts have been saying, researching, and advocating over the past 5-10 years in particular.
In fact, I was so affected by the Widgets experience that I have begun to seriously look into ways in which a similar approach can be achieved in coursebook series for younger learners, and now that I'm doing so, I can't understand why more books like this haven't already begun to surface. I know publishers and teachers have their reasons, but for me, this is the future of good English language coursebook design.