Materials Banks: an Alternative to Coursebooks

Using a materials bank as an alternative to coursebooks doesn’t mean ripping off published materials. There is a wealth of materials available online which don’t infringe copyright laws. A few examples are listed below. I’m not endorsing  any of them,  except One Stop English,  just replying to the objection that if teachers don’t use a coursebook they risk breaking the law.

One Stop English

British Council

American English

ESL Gold


Using English 

I’m sure readers can suggest more and better sources than these. Any search on “Materials for teaching English as a second language” or something similar will give you dozens of websites to explore – as if you didn’t know!

Of course, this is just one way to find materials. You can also do searches for video and audio material, grammar stuff, reading  texts, case studies, simulations, games, quizzes, tests, etc.. too, and, respecting copyright laws, use them with learners, making worksheets where necessary. And there are obvious ways that teachers can share the materials they’ve made themselves, not just by blogging but by creating spaces on the internet where their materials are made available to teachers working in the same school or institution, the same city, and so on. The arrogant suggestion that these materials are amateurish and lacking the sophistication and expert knowledge displayed in coursebooks is insulting (sic) and evidently defensive.

It’s simply not true that there are no realistic alternatives to coursebooks. Neither is it true that finding and adapting materials is such an arduous process that it puts an unreasonable burden on teachers. Even at an individual level, teachers can find good materials quickly and easily these days. But, more importantly, any good ELT school or department can, with a relatively small initial outlay, help teachers assemble a good materials bank. All that’s needed is an appreciation of the benefits which accrue and the will to break free of the suffocating influence of the coursebook.

When I worked at ESADE Idiomas (a language school in Barcelona) before coursebooks took over everybody shared the materials they used, and there was a fantastic (chaotic and badly-organised, but nevertheless rich)  materials bank of cassettes, printed worksheets, video tapes, lesson plans, case studies, etc. in the teachers room. There were even, now I remember, multiple copies on cassette of the BBC news at 8am with a worksheet – made by Nick Greenwood, God bless his cotton socks – available before noon every day. When I arrived in 1982, the teachers room in ESADE Idiomas was without doubt the best workplace I’ve ever been in. It was just fantastic. There was such a lively interchange of ideas going on about all aspects of ELT, and probably the most important single element in this invigorating scenario was the free flow of materials among us. I’m quite sure that the arrival of coursebooks in the early 90s had a very negative effect on all that interchange of creative ideas.

So don’t  believe the coursebook writers when they tell you that they provide the best materials and that you’d be lost without them. Your teaching will, I fervently believe, improve enormously if you teach without relying on a coursebook.

43 thoughts on “Materials Banks: an Alternative to Coursebooks

  1. hi Geoff

    i was trying to get a sense of the history of the coursebook debate and it seems the modern version in ELT goes back to 1981 according to Tomlinson – Materials development for language learning and teaching []

    Tomlinson has argued that commercial coursebooks need to be flexible enough for teachers to adapt; there is a similar call in the online area where some call for content to be remixable and to have open licenses

    so in terms of what criteria teachers should use when selecting books could be – to what extent they can remix with open licences the text’s contents?

    i would like to suggest that a small but growing part of a “contemporary” form of materials bank would require teachers to think about learning coding (in whatever way from the simple to the full on programming)

    i say this in the context of a (probably losing) attempt to resist the influence of corporate concerns in the learning technology field that seem much more dominant than in earlier waves?



    1. Hi Mura,

      The Tomlinson article is v. good; I’ve read it more than once (it’s a very popular reference with MA students) but thanks for the link here. But it doesn’t go far enough, and, anyway, coursebook writers haven’t really taken much notice as far as I can see.

      Your suggestion that teachers learn a bit of coding is, IMO, an excellent one.


  2. I confess I’m a little disappointed. I’ve been making enormous quantities of my own materials for many years, chiefly with a view to using stuff that’s topical and/or of local interest. Latterly, through discussions following some of Steve Brown’s blog posts, and from reading some of yours, I’ve been convinced that that isn’t really enough, that simply creating my own materials does not satisfactorily address the three false assumptions, prevalent in ELT, that you have identified. Using the materials resources you suggest also, surely, barely helps. Those materials, like the contents of coursebooks, do not in themselves address the false assumptions, and they certainly do not in themselves meet Doughty and Long’s methodological principles. They could be made to do so, doubtless, in the hands of a sensitive and responsive teacher, but that is also true, isn’t it, of the contents of a coursebook? Indeed, so long as we ignore the contents page at the front, a coursebook, or a selection of coursebooks, can perfectly well be used as a materials bank.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Patrick,

      I don’t really get your point. The web sites with materials banks might be full of stuff we don’t like, but we’re free to pick and choose. If the material is not to our liking, we don’t use it. Of course we can pick and choose from a coursebook, but, I, for example, would choose less than 10% of most of the courebooks I’ve seen, and the whole point of coursebooks is that they provide a syllabus of the type I object to. If we get our learners to buy the coursebook, we can’t just ignore most of it, can we? I think I must be missing something here, so please come back and say more.


      1. My comment is a bit confused. I think perhaps I didn’t really know what I meant. I hadn’t thought about the ramifications of asking learners to buy coursebooks. I work in a further education college in the UK. Many of our learners are on very low incomes so we don’t ask them to do that, though we have class sets of some coursebooks. I can quite see that the coursebook is likely to be a more tyrannical presence in institutions where learners have at the outset been asked to pony up for them. I wonder though to what extent materials banks remedy the shortcomings of coursebooks. I’m not sure how the fact that a worksheet has been downloaded from a website, rather than its being a page in a coursebook, deals with the problem, for instance, that learners, at any particular point in their interlanguage development, will be receptive only to certain further developments, such that trying to teach them anything to which they are not presently receptive is largely a waste of time (or worse, because demoralising.) The only way that I can think of in which worksheets downloaded from the internet might be said to address this problem is that they are not arranged in a prescribed order, thereby giving the teacher greater freedom to use them as she sees fit in response to evidence of emerging language that she has discerned in her learners. The prescribed order that the contents page of a coursebook seems to imply, though, can be ignored. It may be that the quality of the contents of existing coursebooks is particularly poor, but that’s an argument as much for producing better coursebooks as much as it is one for abandoning coursebooks altogether. Since you pointed me in the right direction in the comments thread following one of Steve’s posts I’ve been endeavouring to rely much less on pedagogic materials altogether, be they from coursebooks or from other sources. Sometimes I’ll make something to practice in the next lesson something that cropped up in the last, but obviously the time available for this is extremely limited. As much as possible I’m trying to get learners to relate experiences they’ve had outside class involving using English, sometimes bringing in texts or links to things online, and to build materials-free activities around these (this morning I spent the better part of an hour discussing phrasal verbs that begin with ‘pop’.) I’ve discussed this a lot with learners and they seem generally to agree that working with language that has emerged in their daily lives is more useful and more engaging than studying something simply because that’s what’s next in the coursebook. There are still problems, of course, with individualizing learning, and these problems are the more pronounced in large classes. I’m working on it and would greatly appreciate any advice.


      2. Hi Patrick,

        You say “The prescribed order that the contents page of a coursebook seems to imply, though, can be ignored. It may be that the quality of the contents of existing coursebooks is particularly poor, but that’s an argument as much for producing better coursebooks as much as it is one for abandoning coursebooks altogether”.

        IMO, the prescribed order of a coursebook can’t be ignored: you can’t easily dip in and out of a coursebook in any way you like because the learners reasonably assume that the coursebook is the mainstay of the course. The best you can you is skip bits: once you abandon the sequence of Units, you might as well abandon the coursebook.


  3. Great piece Geoff I totally agree with. I think we should burn all coursebooks as they only exist to rip students off. If you have some experience and the internet you can make your own materials. It is not rocket science and your students see that you made something special for them.
    I was in a British Council staffroom in 2005 and it was the most boring place you could imagine as people planned in silence and there was no sharing at all. Why? We all had courseboooks! We need staffrooms like the ones Geoff describes.


    1. Thanks for your comments, Steve. I was in a few BC staffrooms in the 80s and 90s, and, while there were some great teachers in there, I couldn’t get out fast enough.


  4. Although the Materials Bank approach (of using materials from any sources you find worth mining ) has been my natural choice in the face of lamentable coursebook materials or minimal resources, I have found that students tend to like coursebooks more than us teachers do. Some students seem to prefer rhythmic lessons with a predictable structure more or less the same each lesson and they find it messy, bitty or scrappy if you bring lots of different things for them. I used to think , a bit arrogantly, that they were wrong and I was right- that they were just being curmudgeonly and benighted- but now I tend to think they have just had a different educational background from me and just have different expectations. Of cousre, I’ve tried to bolt together different materials into some sort of coherent flow when I’ve done lessons like this with my own materials or materials from around the Internet, but it can be hard . Sometimes you end up imposing a regular structure on the materials each lesson and the lesson takes a kind of generic shape no matter where the actual texts, activities etc come from, but then that almost feels like making a coursebook from scratch, which is back to square one. I’d be interested in any advice anyone has on how to make sure you sequence and pace materials in this approach. Maybe we have to just nurture an acceptance of the ‘messiness’ of language learning in students, but we shouldn’t underestimate the resistance to this.


    1. Hi Neil,

      Any teacher who doesn’t use a coursebook is likely to meet the resistance you describe. You’re right to say we shouldn’t underestimate learner expectations, and of course any teacher who has a group of learners in front of them has a duty to lead, and to provide a coherent and cohesive way through the course those learners have paid for. I think that we can easily persuade our learners that we have a better alternative to offer, and that by involving them in the course, by periodically holding feedback and planning sessions where work is reviewed and where their need to feel that they’re making progress is dealt with, we can meet the challenge and do better than sticking with the comfortable option.


      1. Thanks Geoff. Come to think of it, I suspect I’ve become a bit more risk-averse and afraid to upset initial student expectations than I used to be, which is a shame and something I should try to counteract. I think it’s possibly because we’re not taught in any very rigorous way (including on the Delta) how to evaluate our own materials and there’s always the sneaking suspicion that you might be getting it all completely wrong if the students do show some signs of resistance. Also, the materials often have to be made at speed and ad hoc because of the nature of teaching jobs , so they’re a bit hit and miss.


      2. Neil,
        I respect you very much for publicly expressing your doubts about your own materials. I respect you… but your students won’t! All the teachers I’ve ever met who were worth their salt worried about whether they were doing the right thing in the classroom. A teacher that doesn’t isn’t going to progress, are they? I was lucky enough to have the kind of teachers’ room Geoff describes where I could share my doubts with my colleagues and get help from them.

        But vis-à-vis our students we should always try to appear confident about our pedagogical choice. The teachers who begins a lesson by saying “I’ve never done this before. It may not work… You might not like it…” are setting themselves up for failure. Even if they don’t explicitly say it, some teachers project their lack of confidence. I know if I went to my doctor and she said something like that before prescribing a treatment I’d feel very unsure about her professional competence. Mind you, I expect her to explain the reasons for the treatment if I ask. That’s quite different. If we teachers want to be respected as professionals, we have to act correspondingly. That, among other things, means appearing confident even though we don’t feel so on the inside.

        In a general English course, I gave the responsibility for choosing the subjects to discuss (and if appropriate, the material to use) to the students. Usually, they did all the reading, listening and watching of material outside of class. I didn’t feel I was abdicating my responsibilities: I set up a website of links so that they could quickly find content on subjects that interested them at their level of English.

        I know I was lucky not to be in a situation where the boss could put pressure on the teachers to use a particular coursebook.


      3. In reply to Neil and Glenys,

        I think that coursebooks, and the whole CELTA-DELTA treadmill don’t give teachers the confidence to pilot their own lessons and develop them over time.

        I mean good lessons, like good writing, are honed over time. With the constant “newness” of materials on the market, I think we expect ourselves to churn out new product – even with our own self-made activities! (this is something I’m going to talk about at the BESIG conference in Budapest next month).

        This also goes back to the Tomlinson article that’s been referenced previously in that learners really need repetition of activities and tasks – how else are they going to improve? They won’t improve by covering a different grammar point every lesson that’s for sure. I’ve done reported speech umpteen times with one group of learners – why – because they realise it’s really important for their daily work, that they get it wrong, so we keeping on practising it (but the past perfect on the other hand…)

        However, one unforeseen consequence of a Materials Bank, and more peer support, is that teachers will actually talk to each other. But in my experience, this is exactly what a lot of employers don’t want – as one of the first questions we ask each other is “how much do you get paid?”

        Mechanisms and systems that foster solidarity are dangerous.


      4. Thanks Glenys. I think you’re right about projecting confidence. You clearly knew what you were doing in your work-I’d be interested to know, what principles you start off with, what view of language etc that informs your choice of materials and activities because I often feel we’re starting with a shifting sands of methodology and it can be hard for the individual teacher to have a core of principles to build on. This is what would give me more confidence I think. (The Delta was more about jumping through hoops and getting your knuckles rapped or a pat on the back now and then) . I feel i have to pick’n’mix my view of language, of tasks and learner development from blogs and (free) online articles (Thank God we have them) as the schools I’ve been at really take no stand on first principles.. In a way I was a more confident teacher when I had NO theoretical worries and was just following my instincts and throwing everything at lessons to see what sticks. . The older I get, the fewer certainties I have about language teaching, which is not to say I’m about to throw up my hands and be fatatlistic. I still think it will be possible for there to be greater consensus and clarity on where we’re starting from in the classroom so that teachers can make choices working out from a strong centre of core principles.. Discussions like this certainly help !


      5. Neil, I gave at least a partial reply to your your questions here:

        But if you give me an opening to write about myself, I’ll jump through. I believe most people are like me – they love to talk about themselves. That’s my basic view of language – we use it as a tool for self-expression far more than we use it for communication. Just observe the people talking around you – what are they most interested in: saying what they want to say or listening to the others? It’s impossible to communicate with other people without observing them to see if our message has got across but how much time and energy to we really spend on that? I don’t pretend that I’m any different from other people in my social behaviour. Language teachers who, like me, base their courses around that view of language are however relatively rare. As you know, “communication” is the fashion of the day and has been nearly all my working life.

        Why have I chosen not to go with the flow? Because running a class where the students autonomous expression is encouraged is a lot more fun than anything else I have seen. When I started out as a teacher I was totally untrained and but very concerned about giving my students value for their time and money. There were no CELTAs and DELTAs around then, so I did what I could to train myself – mainly by observing other classes until I found one which made me feel “That’s what I want to be able to do. That’s the kind of atmosphere which I want to create in my classroom. I want to see my students being active and responsible as they are here”. I went to a couple of weekend seminars, read a couple of books, bought myself a box of Cuisenaire and tried it out. I found it incredibly difficult, immensely challenging but also rewarding. At the beginning, most of my classes were a right mess – but I persevered all the same.

        It was difficult outside the classroom too – if you swim against the flow, you get a lot of stick but fortunately I have thick skin… and a sense of humour.

        Now, I can no more imagine using a coursebook than I can wearing a 19th century corset.


  5. As a member of the same staff room, Geoff was in, during the 80´s I can fully endorse what he says. I have never been in a more creative environment ever. A staffroom that was actually a fun place to be. The flow of ideas between the teachers was a thing of wonder. No-one closely guarded their material, everyone shared and commented on what had gone down well and how they thought it could be improved.These were not material driven courses…the same “piece of paper” could easily be used with levels 1-6 it just depended on on what you wanted to do with it. The basic idea was MAC Modify, Adapt and Change … make it fit whatever you and your students were jointly producing. Without really knowing it we were working towards a process syllabus a jointly created thing between teacher and student. With the 9o´s and the influx of “modern” text books, things quickly changed, each classroom became a copy of the one next door, the “book” was King and the interaction in the staffroom became less creative….teachers jealously guarding their own creations…the joint construction process seemed to vanish. As the bums on seats policy became more obvious as the years went by, the school itself seemed to lose what had made it so special…and that was a group of teachers sharing and caring about one another and their students. An environment that positively encouraged us to take risks, to innovate, to push the boundaries and to discover more about language teaching than any book or course had ever given us. Oh Happy Days !!!!


    1. Thanks for this, Connie. I remember those “happy days” as fondly as you do. I remember your visits to my classes and my visits to yours. I remember you and I defending our “grammar light” approach in the teachers room; I remember your championing of Earl Stevick (who, in his visits to ESADE Idiomas always championed you); I remember your refusal to use a coursebook in the 90s; I remember your constant insistence that real conversations, real learner-led discussion of issues that concerned them, was the key to a good class. And I remember that your dogged refusal to tow the line forced you out of a school where you loved teaching. .


  6. I do think that you might be right about materials banks because there’s no cost apart from copying and no pressure to ‘cover’ everything proceeding in order because that would be an impossibility.

    I think Mura also has a point regarding programming skills (though mine are awful). To put up any kind of a fight against the bells and whistles that Pearson, Macmillan, et al are churning out bellowing the false prophet of convenience we need people who can make something that is more than just multiple-choice reading comprehension and listening comprehension questions.

    Surely the tide must turn. People aren’t mugs and will, one day, remember that people have learned languages without formal coursebooks for ages and the glossy covers, vacant smiles and scripted conversations are only a relatively recent phenomenon.


  7. In reply to neilchosis, yes you’re completely right – learner expectations are sticky – they’ve been formed over years of sedimented experience.

    That’s why I think that any substantial change in the classroom requires a period of ‘priming’ – where the teacher gets an idea of what works as an alternative to gapfills/ coursebooks, you take the edge off learner’s expectations and show them how things might be different.

    This is my approach, after trying unsuccessfully many times to introduce classroom innovations e.g. Dogme, TBL: I have a whole ‘materials bank’ of lessons now; some of which I use again and again.

    Regarding other points that have been made here, in my second year of teaching full-time (actually in Bosnia) I shared a staffroom with native and non-native speaker teachers and it was a great thing. There was a feeling of collegiality, mutual respect and mutual aid!

    Now I work freelance in Germany, and if you walk into a staffroom you’re lucky if anyone lifts their head up to say hello. Of course, this low-skilled, alienated, precarious kind of work is good for business; but bad for pedagogy.

    Overuse of coursebooks also deskills us a professional community – which means any power we have as skilled workers to demand higher wages is eroded. Why pay someone with a DELTA to teach with a coursebook when you get someone who’s straight off their CELTA?

    One last point – what would materials free from the PARSNIP publisher’s doctrine look like?

    ELT materials on social justice?


    1. Yeah, but isn’t it a bit arrogant to regard their previous educational experiences as ‘sediment’ , as if we’re the enlightened ones leading them out of their benighted ways ? I’ve met quite a few people in Bulgaria who’ve learnt languages very well in ways that most TEFL teachers (including me) would regard as old-fashioned. Should I look down on them because they like using textbooks , bilingual dictionaries, comparative grammars etc ? I’m not sure we know what the ‘how things can be different’ actually means. It seems to suggest ‘moral high ground’, again like they’re benighted and need their horizons expanded by someone more enlightened than them. Maybe getting away from a structural grammar syllabus ? Great, but beyond that ? There seems to be so little agreement on how languages should be learnt or taught that I think we have to be wary of riding roughshod over learner’s expectations. It would be ironic, for example, if we ended up forcing ‘learner-centred’ methods on learners who don’t seem to want it. I find that in staffrooms we’re often complaining about learners who don’t like open-ended tasks, who don’t like talking about their personal lives and preferences, who seem to take a ‘dry’ approach to vocabulary and grammar. I used to look down on them a bit , but I’m starting to doubt that we really know enough about language learning to be able to do this, as the whole debate about coursebooks or not, task-based, dogme or lexical approach just seems to go round in circles.


      1. Hi Neil,

        I didn’t refer to their experience as ‘sediment’ but sedimented – by this I just meant hard, tough and slow to change – I didn’t mean to imply anything negative. In my situation, I was reacting to a problem – the learners hated using the coursebook, no matter what I did with it. No moral high ground.

        You’re right about looking down on people of course; but I really don’t think I’ve forced a method on my learners, in fact they have more control and input now than they did before; they decide on the length of the syllabus, the lesson content etc. But it’s not ‘winging it’ either.

        And I agree, we should take a look at methods which some learners use and maybe which have fallen out of favour. I’ve used dictation and memorization in my classes to good effect.


      2. And “‘how things can be different” – more learners achieve their goals; teachers are skilled not de-skilled (including having more knowledge of SLA theory and how languages are learnt as you mention); our profession becomes more respectable.

        That’s a big wishlist – but you have to start somewhere!


      3. Sorry , Paul, didn’t mean to imply you’re personally being arrogant ( I know better !) Probably more arguing with my former self ! Recently I’ve done lots of one-to-ones outside a language school and I’ve had to go with how the students want lessons to go more. Some write new words out thirty times like they used to do at school, some translate everything out loud, others stick to English only conversation, others want to do grammar exercises for two hours. Some like to do everything in the coursebook, some like to do two lines then go off on a tangent. At one point I just thought – who’s to say that they shouldn’t do these things just because some of them aren’t part of the communicative , humanistic tradition I’ve ‘grown up’ with (and to a large extent identified myself with) on my teacher training courses ? Plus I’m not sure the ‘ditch the coursebooks ! they’re evil’ type approach gets us very far (although God knows I’ve cursed the buggers enough times myself) . (I think ‘In-company’ was about the only one I really liked and I only used the odd activity from it, but it was so engaging you could use it for non-business classes in many cases.) . In Eastern Europe I have come across the ‘You are the teacher.You decide what we’re going to do. You decide what topics we should talk about.We just want to practise English’ . when I’ve tried to give some (by no means all !) students more choice and independence in their learning. Half the time I think they’re in need of an introduction to autonomous learning, but the other half I think they might be right. Too many dilemmas in teaching- if only I’d learnt how to fit double-glazing: those people are rolling in it in Bulgaria !


      4. Hi Neil – no problem, and I totally agree with the sentiment: “Half the time I think they’re in need of an introduction to autonomous learning, but the other half I think they might be right.”

        Regarding the coursebook debate; yep, I think it’s getting sterile – little chance of progress. What would it take for this debate to move forward towards something new?


      5. Beats me, the only thing I can think of is finding out what people like translators, interpreters, people who write in a second language , people who work with a second language (including non-native speaker teachers) have actually done (not should have done, or the theory of what they did) when learning a language that worked for them. I remember that Earl Stevick book about seven (?) language learners. They didn’t have a methodology but had their own habits, knacks , home-made ad hoc theories that worked for them. ( You could call it the ‘craft’ of language learning rather than the (pseudo-)science if you want a poncy term) I would like to see fewer generalities and umbrella terms in TEFL talk and more nitty-gritty. Something we can tell our students to do in simple terms (Not ‘I’d go for the process syllabus if I were you, Ivan’) . Also, althoug subjectivity is a dangerous area and open to exploitation by coaches, gurus etc, but I miss the kind of inside-view of what it’s like to learn a language you get from language memoirs like Alice Kaplan’s ‘French lessons’ or Eva Hoffman’s ‘Lost in translation’ as well as less elevated learner diaries etc. Oops,anyway, let’s not hog the man’s blog..


      6. I doubt that there is a way of proving “scientifically” that one approach to language learning is better than another. If people have frequent contact with a language in whatever way, they will learn it to some degree. I have seen reports of research showing that people learnt more words with Method A than with Method B but that assumes that knowing a lot of words means being able to speak the language. Geoff, you’ve read far more research than I have, maybe you have examples that contradict me.

        I did impose my pedagogical approach on my students – without compunction. If they complained at the end of the first hour I’d say “Wait until the end of the day (usually 5 hours) and if you still feel the same, you can go to the Language Centre down road where the classes are very similar to what you had at school. Go to our secretary and she’ll give you your check back. But she won’t tomorrow or at the end of the course.” Nobody in over 30 years ever took me up on the offer.

        I very occasionally took a student to the secretary at the end of the first day and gave them their check back because the course was manifestly unsuited to their level and/or objectives and we didn’t have anything more appropriate to offer them.


      7. Hi Glenys,

        There is, as you suggest, no way of proving scientifically that one approach to ELT is better than another. People have learned English as a second / foreign language in classrooms under the sway of every imaginable approach and in the end it’s the teacher and the learners together who determine the outcome, whatever any of them might think, at a principled level. they’re doing. Research into classroom-based SLA has given us some indications of what’s likely to work and what isn’t – and maybe the studies of Canadian immersion courses are the most influential in that they show that reliance on “pure” implicit learning, a la Krashen, is not as fast or efficient or as ultimately successful, in terms of levels of proficiency achieved, as courses where there’s explicit attention to formal aspects of the language. I think Long’s work, so carefully and thoroughly brought together in his new book “SLA and TBLT” is really VERY impressive and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

        Your brief account of your own approach is absolutely fantastic.


      8. Thanks very much to Paul and Neil for this exchange. I’ll read it carefully before making any comment of my own, but, from a quick scan, I think we’re all in broad agreement, and all looking for ways to make teaching better.


  8. The idea of schools (re)committing to creating materials banks and facilitating their teachers’ ‘getting off the pipe’ of isolated and isolating institutionalized coursebook-focused teaching practices is an absolutely lovely one! I worked at one school in Bangkok, Thailand (Andrew Biggs Academy) with an entire room of 6-foot tall plastic drawers, each with different activities and whatever necessary realia, etc. Of course, there was still a syllabus telling us *which* drawers to open, when. ;P

    Anyway, this post made me think of something a read a couple of years back by Crookes and Arakaki. And this quote:

    “…teachers who had had graduate training in ESL (or related fields) commented more often about getting new ideas from a wider variety of sources than did teachers without such coursework. These sources included materials they themselves had modified (e.g., a textbook) or designed and real-world sources (e.g., newspapers, television). By contrast, the handful of teachers without such background more often referred to using conventional sources, such as dictionaries, textbooks (without modifying them), workbooks, and teachers’ handbooks. One of the more experienced, qualified teachers commented:
    Yeah, some of the newer people, or some of the people who don’t have that much ESL training, they really lean on those, you know, those books like the Oxford or Cambridge series. And it’s like they’re constantly using those games and those things straight out of there …. I kinda go more with my own ideas, or things that I’ve learned from other people. Rather than just taking something straight out of a book.”

    The whole article here:

    So, if the field continues to set a low bar for entry and the majority of teachers have less or much less than graduate training in ESL, it’d seem necessary (and good?!) to marry the development of materials banks as primary sources for classroom materials with institutional support for peer-mentoring schemes. Dunno, just some thoughts on this memorial day holiday here in the states…:) cheers. Seems like once you take the coursebook out, a whole lot of dominoes start to fall, no? I think I’m beginning to see what you’re really getting at Geoff. Trying, anyway..:D


  9. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for making some fine points and for the link to a good article.

    You say “Seems like once you take the coursebook out, a whole lot of dominoes start to fall, no?” Exactly! Our profession is currently dominated by the coursebook and if we challenge it successfully, we bring the whole present structure of ELT crashing down. As good old Bob says:

    Your old road is rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’


  10. I’m fully behind materials banks (could even extend this to a picture and video library, maybe even ‘maker space’), peer mentoring schemes, all within a framework of institutional support.

    Great stuff!


  11. Hi Geoff,
    Thanks very much for using a picture from ELTpics to illustrate your post. Would you be able to attribute it please? This is how to do it: and the picture was taken by @mk_elt (so you don’t have to find it again). In terms of a materials bank, the ELTpics blog can be a good place to look since the activities on there can be adapted to whichever of the images from the collection are suitable, or ones which the students have on their own devices: Anyway, advert over.
    I wrote a long, rambling comment which I’m not sure really had a point (it’s late and I can’t work out exactly what I want to say) so decided to post it on my blog for now and come back to it later when I’ve thought about it more. If you can be bothered, it’s here: Sorry for making you go somewhere else, but I’m not sure how much it actually adds to the discussion!


  12. Hi Sandy,

    First, I’ve done what you asked regarding the displayed pic.

    Second, I read your comments on coursebooks. The comments are, in my opinion, good examples of well-expressed platitudes which play to the concerns of many teachers, but amount to very little. What you say is devoid of any real content. You say, at the end

    “I guess I’m saying that although I know that coursebooks aren’t necessarily the best way, I’ve found them a useful support structure as a teacher, and I have learnt from them as a student, even though I know that it’s not been the fastest way for me to learn.”

    This is to give in to laziness – both intellectual and practical – and to play to the gallery. Answer the objections raised, confront the issues, be critical.


    1. The photo is actually by @mk_elt, not @ij64. Thanks for doing that.
      I’ll keep thinking about the coursebook issue, and hopefully be able to address more of the points at a later date – as I said before, it was late, and I’m still trying to formulate my thoughts. Thanks for reading them though.


  13. Hi Sandy,

    I hope you see the difference between your aspirations of clarifying the matters you talk about and your ability to actually do so.


  14. Why can’t those who object to criticisms of coursebooks address those criticisms more directly? Those of us who criticise the use of coursebooks do our best to lay out our case in a coherent way. The replies so far, and Sandy’s is a prime example, dodge the issues. Look at all the stuff that has been generated by the initial challenge to the use of coursebooks and look at the replies. I despair!


  15. Hi Geoff, you might be familiar with Marshall McLuhan phrase ‘the medium is the message’. I found an interesting discussion on this some years ago in Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Accordingly, the way we pack meaning has consequences for meaning. That is, with smoke signals one might announce an approaching enemy, but is ill equipped to discuss any defense strategies. Taking this to the language teaching context, I think one major shortcoming of text books is that they attempt to be a midwife to a dynamic process with a linear tool. Books, a codex, has advantages over a scroll, it does allow random access, but it is bound to our linear reading of text–I once asked friends if they thought timelines would always go from left to right, i.e. the past being on the left. The moment we pick up a book we are prompted to act linearly. If on top there is an explicit grammar syllabus delivered with a PPP approach we have a perfect mismatch of how learning behaves and how teaching acts. The most foreign object to language acquisition found in a language classroom is the page number. Maybe text layouts should omit page numbers and instead allow free browsing. Something like an “I Spy: A Language Riddle Book” type of thing: noticing activities in the manner of Where’s Wally. I am not an easy prey for tech solutions. Still, one could map out language on a Prezi spread and zero in on what is of interest for the day. If that is not practical, for the spread would have to be very big indeed, I think it’d serve as a better metaphor or illustration counteracting the false message of the textbook. The textbook says that you need to do page one before two.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s