Teaching unplugged is, of course, all about creating learning pictures together with students, beginning and ending with the people in the room. But once topics and language have 'emerged' in this setting, coursebooks can help you to find ways to teach with that input/output in eclectic and effective ways. Image: spitfirelas
Right, so teaching unplugged is often associated with avoiding coursebooks (or at least minimalising their influence over what is taught, when and how).
I love teaching unplugged, and I doubt I could ever go back to using coursebook-oriented courses. But even as an uplugged teacher, let me tell you that I still really like coursebooks. The main reason for this is that thet give me great ideas about what to do with the topics and language that have emerged as part of the unplugged sequence.
Whatever your stance with regards to coursebooks, I think most people would agree that they do some things exceedingly well. They are full of effective ways to present and practice language, and usually feature a rich variety of different activity types, which are presented clearly. Let's face it: coursebook writers and publishers have had a lot of practice with this sort of thing.
So while I might not push to have my learners buy and use coursebooks, I certainly continue to buy and look at them. As an unplugged teacher, they present wonderful new ideas and formats for me to try out in my classrooms.
I'll give you some quick examples, based on some great ideas I gleaned from taking a close look at Lindsay Clandfield's impressive new series Global. The examples below are taken from the sample Global unit available here, which I also presented a while ago in a screencast review (oh, and then parodied a little in my post called Spousal!).
Starting with the first page of the unit...
I love how the text and snippets here are presented in a wave or "breeze" like fashion. It has a real sense of flow and ease, almost like thoughts drifting along...
So, why not try this out with my own unplugged teaching?
At the start of a class, instead of writing down topics and thoughts from students on the whiteboard in a list-like fashion, maybe I could take a blue marker and draw some wavy lines in to get this effect:
As ideas and topics are flowing out in the initial discussion with learners, I could write them into these currents, or have the students write them in (as I demonstrated recently in my Wandrous Whiteboard post).
I could also set this up on the whiteboard so that the currents are to one side with a space beside it for teacher's notes (or even learner's notes, if that appears to be appropriate and effective). A bit like this:
I don't know about you, but already I feel that this is a more creative and visually attractive method of gathering initial thoughts about topics. It's something the learners might also like to emulate in their own notebooks.
Right, what's next then?
Ah, this page:
This may not strike you as being anything particularly innovative or special, but looking at this method of presenting a variety of short, topically linked texts gave me some instant ideas about how I might like to do something similar in an unplugged fashion with my learners.
For example, once a topic or direction has emerged in class, I might ask my learners to find or write texts of their own on sheets of paper (perhaps with images, if that is feasible), then attach them to the wall of the classroom. Once the texts are gathered, I might do some work with emergent language (or language worth noticing or thinking about in the texts) and/or create a glossary on the whiteboard, which students copy out in their notebooks (or research themselves). I may also prepare my own glossary, based on the texts, and paste it on the wall in the corner, just as Lindsay has done here on his coursebook page.
Heck, why don't I get a notice board for the classroom wall, and do this every week? The texts and glossary stay up there and are then replaced with a new theme or topic next week. As we explore this or other topics and emergent language findings throughout the week, we might like to refer to or compare and contrast with our learner-generated sample texts on the wall.
And how about this page then?
The activity shown in the blue box reminds me of how great it can be to use the learners' own production as discussion and language samples -- in this case for something oriented around listening. As per the example there in the coursebook (which is preprovided, of course!), we could brainstorm a list of features or reasons for something (that has emerged as a topic in our unplugged classroom) as a class, write them up on the whiteboard and in their notebooks, and then have the actual students talk about the issue as an oral presentation or sequence of paired dialogues they come up with themselves. After each presentation, as a class we could determine which (if any) of the features or reasons we initially listed in our brainstorm were actually mentioned or alluded to in students' own opinions.
My application here has gone well beyond the coursebook one (because the learners are participating in the listing before listening, and doing all the speaking that then becomes the listening input for the rest of the class), but the way this has been presented in the coursebook has reminded me of a good technique and given me some ideas on how to sequence and present it in my unplugged classroom.
Also, the example shown above in the pink box reminds me of the potential value in developing learners' awareness about synonyms. I'm reminded and shown how I could make this happen as an extension to my learners' own presentations or discussions in the previous activity. We could recall and pick out certain sentences or statements the learners themselves came out with (perhaps the teacher -- thinking ahead -- could have jotted some of these down while the previous activity was being done), present them on the whiteboard, then highlight a word from each. Under each sentence/statement, we could plug in some synonym options on the spot, with only one of them corresponding to the highlighted word, or only one of them not corresponding to the highlighted word.
And once we have demonstrated this technique to the learners, later we might consider having them do this on their own. As other students present opinions or perform dialogues of their own creation, they can select statements, write them down, and then later do some dictionary work to create a synonyms option box corresponding to an underlined word in the original statement. And of course, they could then try these out on each other.
Now, those are just some of the quick ideas and inspirations I picked up from a quick glance through one unit of Global.
There are hundreds more examples and ideas that you could potentially utilise in your own unplugged teaching approach, and they're all there sitting on that bookshelf.
So while some unplugged teachers may wish for a day that there are less or no coursebooks at all, I say: keep making them!
They're providing convenient modes of instruction for teachers and learners in contexts that really want coursebooks, but they're also giving me some wonderful ideas to use in my unplugged classroom.