Coursebooks can make for nice tidy "boxed" approaches to language learning. But ask any kid: there's more than one way to have fun with a box! Image credits: kiyoshi.be
This blog post is the second in a special series I am dedicating to my coursebook series Boost! during the month of June. Boost! is a six-strand, four-level skills and integrated skills series made for learners aged 10-15.
There is always at least a little method in any coursebook's mad(e)ness, and they are generally put together in ways to provide a nice, clear, and safe path through a lesson to particular learning objectives.
However, I think I can confidently speak for most coursebook writers out there when I say that, without a doubt, coursebooks are made to be messed with.
Thinking outside the box and being willing to tamper with your coursebook content, sequencing and even delivery can help to keep both you and your learners fresh and on your toes. It can also facilitate some surprising relevations and new opportunities for learning.
Here are just some of the things I recommend trying if you are using my coursebook series Boost! and would like to mix (and hopefully liven) things up a little in your English classes. Most of them can be tried out with any coursebook series you happen to be using.
1. Let students choose the next unit
Instead of progressing through the units in the book in strict sequential order, you might like to try letting the students choose the next unit to be covered.
This involves letting them look through the scope and sequence at the front of the book, then flipping through and scanning the various units. They could do this individually or in small groups, but the idea is to indicate a preference for the next unit to be undertaken, irrespective of where it comes in the regular coursebook sequence.
Students could then be asked to indicate their preference and support it with some reasons. After all the students have had their say, the class can vote collectively for the next unit to be studied.
There are some real benefits to this sort of process:
1. Students effectively skim through and preview unit content in the coursebook.
2. Students feel they have a say, and are likely to exhibit more genuine motivation.
3. The process becomes a collaborative communicative task unto itself, involving reading, speaking, listening and discussion.
2. Do a unit back-to-front
Many coursebooks, and Boost! is certainly no exception, work through a process of presentation, controlled practice, and then production (or activation).
This is of course a nice smooth way to make language learning feel easy and manageable. It also gets pretty old pretty quickly, and can even encourage the students to get hooked on an approach whereby everything is carefully provided for them before they ever really have to take a risk and just try to communicate in a broader sense.
The sequence for the Boost! speaking unit above is:
1. Noticing particular skills through an example dialogue
2. Thinking about the skill and applying it through controlled practice
3. Working on specific pronunciation skills
4. Working on discourse patterns and sequences
5. Creating a dialogue with a partner and hopefully putting some of the skills into action
6. Integrating the new speaking skill with other macro skills like reading, listening and writing
Of course, if you do the unit in reverse order, it is going to be implemented as:
1. Doing a theme based integrated task involving speaking, reading, listening and writing
2. Creating a dialogue with a partner and demonstrating one's own awareness and skills prior to any specific "teaching" of skills
3. Working on discourse patterns and sequences
4. Working on specific pronunciation skills
5. Doing some controlled practice with a skill that hasn't been fully elaborated yet, then thinking about that skill
6. Noticing particular skills through learners' own previous efforts, supported now with an example dialogue
What you've effectively done here is turned the regular approach on its head, and created more of a "deep end" task-based approach.
I wouldn't recommend it for every lesson, but it's definitely worth a try here or there. It will really shake up the way you teach and the way the learners go about "realising" particular skills!
3. Have the learners teach a lesson
This is similar to the process I documented in (1) above, but now the learners are going to choose a unit for them to actually teach to the class!
It is best approached as a team project, with 3-4 members on each team. They can examine and discuss a unit and work out the best way to teach it to the class. The teacher could of course be on hand to help them in the planning process, to help ensure they understand at least a bit of what they are going to try and "teach".
Within their teams, the learners may decided to break the unit into separate pages or parts, with each learner taking the lead as the "teacher". They also might take a different approach and allocate one of the students to be more of the teacher for the lesson, and the others play support roles (like acting out dialogues, writing on the whiteboard, monitoring the rest of the class during activities, etc.).
It might sound a bit freakish, but remember you can always come back and re-teach this unit according to your normal methods and expectations.
But whatever you do, do NOT underestimate your learners!
The times I have tried this, I have seen some absolutely fascinating and inspiring lessons from the kids, and learned a lot myself about the ways they perceive language and tasks, and how they think other kids will get a grip on them and hopefully enjoy certain kinds of activities.
So there are three ideas for you to try and turn your coursebook cardboard box into something a little more creative and interesting.