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.