In 5 Characteristics of a Good Textbook we discussed five quick and easy ways to evaluate a textbook, a small coursebook evaluation sample. If you can afford the time and energy to dig a bit deeper, I strongly suggest to look for those five things in your ELT Coursebook Evaluation Checklist as well:
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 coursebook.
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 textbooks.
To learn something, students need to own it. Personalization happens when activities allow students to express their own preferences and opinions.
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 in your coursebook evaluation.
4. Recycling in the book
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. Coursebook Evaluation: 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 textbook must address the auditory and kinesthetic learners equally well.
Auditory learners learn better by hearing and speaking. The textbook 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 textbook 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. If you are looking for a more detailed analysis, you can also check out the following criteria, which are suggested by many acclaimed authors and teacher trainers:
- The target audience. Does the book fit the intended student audience?
- The level of language proficiency.
- The context in which the material is to be used. Is it for general learners or for ESP (English for Specific Purposes)?
- How the language is organized and presented into teachable units and lessons. How many hours of class time does the book provide material for? Is it easily adaptable in your teaching context?
- The author’s views on language and teaching methodology. What does the author prioritize? Communication, grammatical accuracy, exam preparation?
- Are the materials to be used as the core course book or to be supplementary to it?
- The Teacher’s Book. Is it available in print? Does it provide teaching tips and alternative activities to cater for all learner types? Is it useful for both beginner and experienced teachers?
- A key vocabulary list.
- Cultural bias. Is the material generic or too culturally specific? Are there any negative cultural stereotypes?
- Skills integration. Are receptive and productive skills integrated? Is equal weighting given to all skills?
- Reading text variety. Can you find all sorts of reading texts, such as magazine articles, biographies, advertisements, emails, and personal and business letters?
- Listening recordings. Are they authentic or artificial? The role of coursebooks is to select and simplify the language to make it more accessible to students, while still providing natural input for unconscious acquisition.
Last but not least, above all your ESL coursebooks must suit your personal teaching style. It is your tool of choice, and one that you will be using on a daily basis for at least one academic year. It can make your life easier or it can make you go searching for extra resources to supplement it. So choose wisely.