In 5 Characteristics of a Good Textbook we discussed five quick and easy ways to evaluate a textbook. If you can afford the time and energy to dig a bit deeper, I strongly suggest to look for those five things in our ELT Coursebook Evaluation Checklist:
1. The PPP lesson structure
There are quite a few different strategies out there, but this one never gets old. Presentation, Practice and Production (PPP) is one of the most popular lesson plan formats. And it’s a must-have of every good text book.
Think about PPP as a pyramid. Presentation will be the tip of the pyramid, Practice is in the middle and Production is the base. For example, for a 60 minute lesson, allow 15 minutes for Presentation of new material, 20 minutes for Practice, and 25 minutes for Production. These stages are very clear cut in well-written text books.
To learn something, students need to own it. Personalization happens when activities allow students to express their own preferences and opinions. Personalization is true communication, as learners communicate real information about themselves. It makes communication activities meaningful and gives students motivation. Look for activities that give students the opportunity to express how the topic relates to them personally rather than generally.
3. Natural language
This point is relevant only to ESL coursebooks. So, English teachers, consider the following situation: a man walks into a pet shop. ‘A mouse, please.’ Sounds grammatically correct, doesn’t it? And it is. The only problem is you don’t buy a pet the way you buy train tickets. In other words, don’t just check grammar; check register and style as well.
Like it or not, forgetting things we’ve studied before is part and parcel of the learning process. We need repetition and regular revision. However, recycling is not the same as revision. Revision means going through the main points at the end of a learning unit. Recycling goes one step further: it means that the units that follow incorporate those points. To put it more simply, what is new in unit 1, is taken as a given in unit 2 and so on.
5. Catering for all learner types
I have talked before about the importance of the visual element. That’s because I believe that younger generations are becoming more and more visual as a result of new technologies. However, a balanced text book must address the auditory and kinesthetic learners equally well.
Auditory learners learn better by hearing and speaking. The text book should provide them ample opportunity to do that. Listening activities should not be listening exercises only. Students should be able to listen to the texts as well as the activity instructions.
Kinesthetic learners like to express themselves physically. They like to touch things, find it hard to sit still for long periods of time, and are often misdiagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). It is not always possible for a text book to give students the opportunity to move around, handle physical objects or have frequent breaks. What it should do, is have an accompanying teacher’s book full with alternative optional activities, so that the teachers can pick and choose at their discretion.
Summing up, I must stress that this is by no means a finite ELT coursebook evaluation checklistlist. It is only meant as a general reference for the busy classroom teacher. Teachers who want to develop and explore their teaching further are highly encouraged to research the relevant bibliography on evaluating ELT materials.