Six favourite coursebook or photocopiable lessons

I believe that all English teachers, even the most die-hard anti coursebook ones, have certain favourite lessons that they’ve taught from coursebooks or photocopiable material books. I would sometimes find myself eagerly hoping to get to the “good unit” or “good activity” in a book, one that almost always worked for me and that students enjoyed. I know lots of teachers feel the same way. I’d go as far as to say that a teacher who claims that “no coursebook or published lesson has ever worked for me” is perhaps not as fantastic a teacher as he/she believes.

There’s quite a lot of teasing and trashing of bad lessons or topics in published material. I wanted to celebrate six lessons that I’ve taught over the years that were written by people other than myself.

1. Reward Resource Pack: Poor Fabio.

Written by Sue Kay. Published by Heinemann/Macmillan

I taught with the Reward series after our university switched from Headway around 15 years ago in Mexico (there Reward was called Move Up). The book was fine, I got along with it well, but it was the resource pack that really became popular. I’ve seen copies of those photocopiables just about everywhere. I even slugged my own copies of them from America to Europe only to find a whole set at the school I worked at next. Poor Fabio is a picture story (to practice past tense, I think) starring Fabio, a skinny little guy who puts on a whole bunch of jumpers to make himself look bigger to go to the disco, whereupon he faints from the heat. Great stuff, and always got a laugh from my students.

2. Grapevine Video Lessons: A Day in the life of Dennis Cook

Written by Peter and Karen Viney. Published by Oxford University Press.

Right, well I can’t really say that I enjoyed teaching Grapevine the course, but I loved the videos. They had a great sense of humour and I really don’t think they’ve ever been matched. They are probably out of print now, shame. Dennis Cook was one of the main characters. A Day in the Life of Dennis Cook always, always got my students laughing when they discovered he actually busked (you, ahem, have to see it to understand). And Lambert and Stacey (a detective episode) always made me chuckle even though it was pretty silly. Peter Viney was always a genius at doing lots with very little language, and was a big influence on me. I remember bitterly fighting with another teacher over who got the television and VCR one class because I wanted to do that video. Maybe these would feel old-fashioned now, the style is very 1980s, but I would still use it.

3. English File 1. Watching You Watching Me lesson.

Written by Paul Seligson. Published by Oxford University Press.

I taught for two or three years with English File Elementary (the first edition) and loved it. It felt very different at the time (this was late nineties) and quite fresh. I wish I still had an old copy, I don’t anymore and I can’t remember which lesson this was. It was a lesson on the present continuous, based around the Rear Window film story. A man is sitting watching all his neighbours who are doing different things. It all fit together really well and felt completely original too. Never got tired of teaching that one. Can someone tell me what unit it was?

4. Straightforward Intermediate. Unit 3B Bedrooms

written by Philip Kerr. Published by Macmillan

OK, well I did work on the Straightforward series so I have a bias I ADMIT. But I didn’t write this level, and it’s this is a great lesson. I taught an intermediate group with it though earlier this year and we really enjoyed it. The lesson is 6 things you probably didn’t know about beds and bedrooms (instinctively I knew I would like it just for that title!) and it had some really curious information, as well as an interesting lexical set and good contextualised grammar practice. Plus the teacher’s book had some great suggestions for bringing it more alive. Great stuff.

5. New English File Pre Intermediate, Pessimist’s Phrase Book 3B

Written by Christina Latham-Koenig, published by Oxford University Press

This is another lesson I did in a standby class once to cover for a colleague. I thought it was a very clever way of doing will for predictions. You have to match the phrases to the pessimist’s response (e.g. I lent James some money yesterday. Pessimist response: He won’t pay you back.) The rest of the lesson is okay, but my students and I really enjoyed making other situations and pessimist responses.

6. It’s Magazines, The House

Written by Robert Campbell, published by It’s Magazines

A slightly more unusual choice here as this isn’t from a coursebook but it’s still a whole lesson (as opposed to an activity) so I put it in. I have had so much fun with this lesson, and have done it countless times. Students read about a house with a curse on it, that strikes at each subsequent owner of the house. They read about the first owner and how he met his sticky end, then they have picture prompts to help them create the stories of the subsequent owners, each of whom have a dark secret in their past which leads to their untimely demise. This is the perfect Halloween lesson, and you can see some interactive exercises connected to it here. It’s available in the book It’s Fantasy, which you learn more about here. After doing this lesson I basically went to Its and begged for a job with them. That was how I started getting into writing.

There you have it. I realise that I don’t have a proper spread of things by other publishers but going through my shelves these were the lessons that really jumped out at me. I also restricted myself to coursebook or photocopiable lessons, not teacher activity books (I’m going to a six favourite of those one day too, although that is a harder list for me because there are so many great teacher resource activity books). I also realise that I am showing my bias towards books used primarily in Europe and Mexico because that’s where I’ve taught. I know that there are some very good things being done in Asia (and very bad ones too) but I have not taught with those.

What about you? Remember this is about celebrating the ones you like, not making some comment about how they are all dreadful, loathsome, lack wow-factor, don’t meet learner needs, crush teacher creativity etc. etc. If you really want to do that, I happily suggest you go to this place.

Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 8:35 am  Comments (21)  
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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Poor Fabio!!! I love that one. I teach mainly English for businesspeople, but I still use that one…gotta admit; and my students just love it. I even do a follow-up creating other stories with pix they find on the web….nice!

    • That’s what is great about a good resource activity or lesson, it gives you immediately ideas for following up and “riffing” on it yourself. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for taking me down memory lane. I haven’t thought about “Grapevine” for years! I cut my TEFL teeth on the series’ predecessor…wth was its name…”Streamlines?” I honestly can’t remember but do recall not really liking Grapevine but enjoying the videos.

    Love them or hate them,I feel those two series were true methods, not the sort of “language nuggets” books we see so much now.

    • I think it was Streamlines, although I am sure other readers will be only too happy to tell us. I used a bit of Streamlines that I loved… a lesson with a cowboy comic strip story. It was about a guy called Willy, but I can’t remember any more from it (it was a dog-eared copy at the school I worked at in Mexico). Again, great stuff with minimal language.
      Glad you enjoyed the trip down memory lane!

  3. Lindsay,

    Out of all of those I most clearly remember the Grapevine videos. Didn’t get on with the book very well, but the videos were pretty good – they featured a pair of vaguely successful BBC comedians, as far as I recall.

    I suspect that not only would they look a bit dated now, but they’re also from a slightly more ‘innocent’ time pre-YouTube and won’t have worn well at all… not sure you’d get much of a luahg out of them now, but in their day…


  4. Lindsay

    I taught Streamline Departures for a whole year in the GDR. I got to know each unit by heart! I loved Unit 47 The Story of Willy the Kid, which practised simple past regular verb endings. The cowboy music was great! I cut out all the pictures and mixed them up, students listened to the tape recording and they re-ordered the pictures in the correct sequence of the story. Simple but so effective. It was one of my favourite lessons for beginners.


    • Thank you Janet! The Story of Willy the Kid was the one I was thinking of. I also cut out all the pictures to mix them up too!

      • Willie had two guns …

  5. An excellent post that shares six classic lessons that I will have to find. Thank you for the leads!

    BTW, you are too kind in your opening paragraph toward the deluded who believe they can not learn from any coursebook. Or so it seems to me.

  6. Dennis Cook still rocks at our school with Adult Beginner groups! We’ve even kept our old VCRs just to play the video.

  7. Dennis Cook is my favourite. I just typed “a day in the life of Dennis Cook” on Youtube but to no avail. First listed video once I hit enter was, ???, “put Jesus first in your life”. LOL. I also tried “Poor Fabio” in the US with a class of ESL students (mostly from Central America) at a high school and worked perfectly well, like in Spain, where I am based.

  8. Why doesn’t Grapevine re-release those videos on DVD? Like Anna, I’m still rocking Dennis Cook, but I don’t know how much longer my VCR will last!

    • LOL! Funny that they aren’t available on Youtube either… I’m gonna try and track down those guys. Whatever became of them? Was the Grapevine video their final swan song?

  9. I also cut my teeth on the streamline series and remember Willy the Kid well. Who could also forget such classics as Gloria Gusto, At the hairdressers, and the two guys in prison talking about what they’re going to do when they get out.

    As coursbooks started getting more natural they lost some of their surreal silly and memorable appeal.

    That said, something much more modern which I have found to work really well is the reading maze in Language in Use Intermediate – Can you make a million? I’ve used it with so many different classes and it always gets people reading and talking about what they’re reading in a very motivated way. In fact I liked it so much I helped to develop a Vietnamese and Hindi version of the idea.


  10. I LOVED Grapevine video when I was teaching in the early 90’s – Dennis Cook takes me right back to an engineering company in Lombardy in a very long narrow room.

    The two appeared in an episode of Blackadder series 3, BTW, in the episode about Johnson’s dictionary.

    Will somebody with the cassettes please make digital copies – of Grapevine, I mean 🙂

    • I love the memory of the long narrow room.
      Are there no torrent downloads for Grapevine videos? Or Grapevine on iTunes? Bring them back!

  11. New Cambridge English Course 1 lesson on sending notes to people to invite them out for Present Continuous for future arrangements. You match the notes and replies, including some witty put downs, and then students can send scraps of paper back and forth to invite each other to do things. Don’t have the page anymore, but several of my own published lessons are rip offs of it (Don’t tell the Onestopenglish editors, and I won’t tell Macmillan you’re recommending people use torrent downloads to find EFL materials…) In fact, a lot of my materials started with “Can’t carry this around on paper anymore, why don’t I just type it up and polish it up as I do so?”

    Sure I’ll waste all day getting nostalgic about lessons and be back for much more of this one. Roald Dahl Little Red Riding Hood was a classic I still reach for- old Headway Advanced??

    • I never taught with the New Cambridge English course, but I have a copy here. I can see what you mean about typing up and polishing existing things… I’ve seen that many times. Never done it myself, of course. Never. 😉

      Will keep a secret if you do Alex. Thanks for dropping by.


  12. […] of the Grapevine videos in DVD format. People seem to LOVE these videos, just see the comments here, and our VCRs are breaking down. A 25 anniversary (or however old it is) boxset of all the Dennis […]

  13. Reward Resource Packs…I can’t agree more! I can even admit that the resource pack for elementary and Pre Intermediate ones are the best!
    I’ve bought all levels, but I could hardly find good resources from Intermediate and Upper Intermediate ones.

    I can admit that elementary and pre intermediate ones either the Business Resource Pack or the General one are too recommended to use them and I do Business English.


  14. Streamline takes me back 20 years. I too had used Departures as a course book in Perugia. What I liked, and what I miss now, is that those simple pages allowed you to be creative. From a simple picture, I vaguely remember one with 2 men having tea and a waiter behind them, you could elicit so much. Nowadays books have become so good that your own personality is suffocated and lessons all over the world are getting more and more similar, as in mass production. I am still a firm believer in re inventing the wheel, but admit that course books have come a long way and certainly make it easier for the ‘lazy’ Tefler

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