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)  
Tags: , ,

Six more things to know about Global


At the beginning of the fall season here at Six Things (for some reason I seem to think of my blog as running in seasons, like television shows) I warned you all that I would be sharing information about my new upcoming book Global. The reaction to my first post Six things to know about Global was very positive – more than 3000 visits in its first two days of being live and 45 comments, a record for me on the blog at that time. So, I think I can try and get away with another six things you might find interesting about Global. Here goes…

1. Teaching about English

In addition to using texts and topics that I hoped teachers and learners would find more intellectually satisfying that much of what is on offer I also wanted to include a strand in the book that dealt with our very own subject matter – the English language. How it got to be a world language, different kinds of English, aspects of English etc.. This topic is sometimes given a passing glance in our books (a lesson on Global English, or loan words, or the ubiquitous US/UK  differences) but not really dealt with in depth. Just as we have Global Voices as extra listening practice, I wanted extra reading texts on Global English.

2. A star guest author

Following on from point 1, I began looking for source material for this. I found myself again and again dipping into work by David Crystal. For those who don’t know him, you can see about his work here. He is really one of the world’s top experts on the language and the status it enjoys today. Try as hard as I might, I thought there would be no way I could even come close to what he produced. Finally, in a moment of wild abandon, I suggested to the publisher and editors that we invite him to write the texts himself. We agonized about this for months, then finally screwed up the courage to send him an email. To our delight, he accepted and has written extra reading texts material especially for the course. Again, this is authentic material, slightly more challenging than other texts perhaps in the book and designed to mirror typical reading exam tasks and promote discussion on the issues.

Not only that, but he also agreed to be interviewed on video at his home about some of these things. Here’s a clip from an interview (also up on the Global site now).

And here is another free sample of a Global english reading text and tasks from the Pre Intermediate book.

3. Literature is back

Some people have been arguing a return to more literature in general English courses. This used to be a staple of language learning, which dropped off somewhat I think with the rise of the communicative approach and a more utlilitarian view of language. I can see the sense in this but I think it’s a great shame. I mean, you ask a person in a general language course  ‘Why do you study X language?’ and they may answer a whole variety of things (travel, work etc). Ask someone ‘Why do you love X language?’ and that’s where you’ll hear cultural reasons: its literature, its music, its poetry. I loved learning Spanish for example (another international language) not just so I could order a taco, but so I could read and understand Pablo Neruda’s poetry.

One criticsm of including literature in English course books was that it tended to be merely DWMs (dead white males) from the English literary canon. A Global book cannot restrict itself to that, BUT I didn’t want to ignore these authors either (that would be a kind of reverse-snobbery in my mind). We wanted a range of authors and extracts from the English language world. I could list them, but it’s nicer to show you a beautiful word cloud I made in with the names of the only some of the authors whose work we are using.


4. Teach Global, Think Local

Contrary to popular belief, I think that all coursebook authors realise that their material cannot meet all the needs of all the learners all the time. Teachers often need to adapt the material to suit local needs. A good coursebook will have enough flexibility for teachers to do that. A good teacher’s book (in my opinion) will include suggestions on how to do this. For that reason we included very regular Teach Global Think Local suggestions throughout. You may have seen them in the sample. Oh, and another thing. The authors of the student’s books have had considerable input in the teacher’s book (in my case, I’ve already half written one and contributed to another; I aim on writing for each teacher’s book that I’ve worked on). This is not always the case.

5. Going Global

Localising the material is one part of the equation, but you (or your learners) may wish to in fact bring stuff into class that is from beyond the local experience but that is motivating or links well to the topic of the lesson. With the spread of the internet and good broadband access this is more and  more possible. My own experience with this blog and on twitter has shown me hundreds of great educational sites and tools for teachers to use inside and outside the classroom. I included suggestions and tips for extra web-related work in each unit of the teacher’s book in a section called Go Global.

The advantage of using so much real world material is that there are often loads of websites that you can use to follow up the lesson with. If you have a connected classroom, great, but these suggestions can be done by students at home too (and they are only extra suggestions! before any of you start saying what about my students without internet access etc).

6. Thank you and more.

I could probably go on and on about other things in this course. I haven’t even mentioned the specialist teaching methodology essays (you saw one of them by Scott Thornbury, there are plenty more by others…), the digital component material, the videos and audio and so on but I don’t want to get into trouble with my publisher by giving it all away! In January the course will be out and I’m sure you can get a copy to look at from your local Macmillan rep.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank the more than 10 000 people who have visited the Global site so far and especially to all those who have left encouraging comments and sent me emails or tweets about the course. The positive reaction has really been a great motivation to me and also shows me that people are ready for a change. Thanks a lot.

And now, regular programming at Six Things resumes…

Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 4:03 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , ,

Six things to know about Global


The beautiful, intricate astrolabe which we chose for the image on the cover of Global.

OK, now I warned you that you could expect at least ONE post about my upcoming book. Yes, that’s right for those of you who did not know already I am a writer of books for teachers and coursebooks for learners. My new course is called Global and it’s to be published by Macmillan in 2010 and 2011. I’m very excited and proud of it for various reasons, and I’m going to share six of them here.

1 Global Voices. First of all, check out the cool little video embedded below. This is an excerpt from an actual listening we did for the book. Totally unscripted. Totally authentic.

Why am I telling you this? Teachers have been recognizing for some time now that learners need to be exposed to accents from around the world. From the very beginning I wanted to include a strand in the book with authentically recorded audio of various accents from around the globe. It took some time to set up, but we did a great deal of these with students at a language school in the UK and with people on the street. We first recorded the audio, and then I wrote the material (usually it is the other way around, which can result in artificial listening material).

2 Try before you buy. If you go to this site, you can see the film again (or show a friend) and also download a sample unit from the forthcoming book. When I say unit, I mean WHOLE unit, with teaching notes and audio too. Not just a pdf of two pages which doesn’t tell you anything.

Why am I telling you this? In a discussion on Twitter around five months ago, Karenne Sylvester was having a go at ELT books (she sometimes does that, you can see examples here). Anyway, the topic of “try before you buy” came up. I immediately went to the publisher and said “we gotta do this.” It was a pretty major fight to get everyone to agree but finally we did. Now, it’s true that most books have a downloadable sample but they aren’t exactly instantly useable in class – they might be missing the audio or answer key or stuff. We put a whole unit up there, which consists of four completely different main lessons, a functional lesson, a writing lesson, Global voices lesson and study skills activity. It’s from the Pre Intermediate book. You can use any bits of it in class, for free. Enjoy.

3 Moving away from typical topics. The unit you can see there is called Hopes and Fears. It doesn’t feature your typical cosmopolitan, fudgey, middle classy, woman’s magazine topics. There is a lesson on aid workers, on real children’s hopes and fears for the future (including war, death, single mums, poverty etc), on famous dystopias in literature, on Pandora’s box and on An Inconvenient Truth and climate change.

Why am I telling you this? Because I think many coursebooks are guilty of portraying a rather comfortable kind of lifestyle and I wanted to try and do things differently. I also find that coursebooks are sometimes a bit lowbrow. We don’t need to dumb down.

4 No celebrities. There are no film stars, music stars, reality television stars, sports stars or any celebrities at all in this book. Or in the whole course. They have been banned.

Why am I telling you this? It’s kind of linked to point 3 above. Plus I wrote an article for a magazine about how I wanted to try and write material without recourse to celebrity culture so I had to keep my word, right? My feeling is that if celebrities are to be used in class then it’s best for the teacher to bring in something more current and appropriate off the net. They don’t need to be in books.

5 A different design. We went through about a year of wrestling with design to try and make something that looked different from other books.

Why am I telling you this? Too often the coursebooks look the same, all boxy and rigid. I personally love how the designers have made the pages and the text, but that is a personal opinion I’ll admit. Like it or not, at least there is something different about it.

6 A prize. There is a prize for either a Flip Mino video camera or an antique Globe if you sign up for more details. There is of course the option of checking a box if you don’t want to be emailed by Macmillan or have your email shared etc.

Why am I telling you this? I personally wanted to do a post that only focused on certain key elements of the book but since Macmillan were nice enough to offer a prize I thought I’d better mention it. You can find out more here.

So, there you have it. A nice little video you could probably use in class to spark a discussion on reasons for learning English, a set of four or five whole lessons with teacher’s notes and audio, an essay for teachers by a well-known methodologist and a chance to win a prize. All free. Even if you don’t rush out and tell your school to pre-order a million copies 😉

In November there will be more exciting stuff appearing on the Global site, more news about technological elements of the course too which I will definitely want to tell you more about. Until then, it’s back to business as usual here at Six Things. Commercial message over!

Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 7:56 am  Comments (48)  
Tags: ,