The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1

This is Varinder Unlu’s account of her 1st Day using the coursebook in the Teach-Off at IH London.

Click here if you need a refresher on what’s happened till now.

Meanwhile, let me hand you over to Varinder…

23rd April 2012

Ok, can’t say that I wasn’t nervous this morning. I had already met the group several times when I observed Chia last week and I was sitting at the back of the classroom when Chia conducted feedback on Friday. I knew the learners had already developed a really good rapport with their teacher and my biggest challenge today was to create a tiny bit of that rapport.
Today was an intake day and we had two new students join the class after the break. I didn’t want to dive straight into the course book as that’s not what I would normally do when starting a new class. So this is what happened:
As I walked into the classroom at 8.55, three students were already there. I was introducing myself to them when four more students arrived.
Stages of my lesson:
1. Introductions – in order for students to learn something about me I invited them to ask me questions. Two out of the six students actually took this opportunity:
“Where are you from?” was the first one.
“What do like doing in London?” was the second.
The rest of the class looked at me with suspicion. This was going to be harder than I thought.
2. I explained what we were going to be doing in today’s lesson and boarded my lesson objectives:
• Needs analysis
• Choosing the topics of interest to them from the course book
• Learning to learn – being a better learner

3. Students answered their needs analysis questions. They were keen to do this and put quite a lot of thought into their answers. What surprised me was not their answers but the number of spelling mistakes, lack of punctuation and lack of structure in their written answers. Their speaking is definitely stronger than their writing.

4. I put the class into two groups and explained that we were going to be using the course book that they had been given the week before. I asked them to look at the contents page and discuss in their groups which topics appealed to them. I told them that because we only had two weeks together we would not be able to cover all the topics in the book and that each group had to decide to two. Interestingly, the two groups choose the same topics! So the two units we will be looking at this week (and possibly carrying on into next week) are: Unit 6 and Unit 7 from Global intermediate.

5. Now it was time to move on to learner training – we talked about what the students do to help improve their English outside the classroom. This discussion led to the importance of reading and we established that most of the class likes to read books about history and detective stories. So during the break I took the opportunity to get a class set of Edgar Alan “A collection of short stories” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes – short stories”.

6. After the break students were given the books and I asked them to choose one that they would like to read over the next two weeks. They chose Sherlock Holmes. They will be reading the first story in the book this week and we will discuss it on Wednesday morning.

7. As I was so surprised at the lack of sentence structure in their needs analysis answers, I decided to do a quick test of present simple and continuous – page 17 (gap fill) from the course book. They actually found this challenging. We discussed the differences between the two as we checked the answers. As we were doing this, I dealt with language that was emerging as a result of some of the vocabulary in the text, for example: a student asked me what “sense of humour” meant. I threw it back out to the class and someone said “to make fun”. So I had to explain the difference between to “make fun of sbdy/sthg” and “to have fun”. We also discussed what the word “Liverpudlians” is used to describe leading to “Mancunians” “Geordies” etc.

8. We then moved on to exercise 2 – questions. During feedback, we looked at subject/object questions.

9. It was now 11.50 and we had ten minutes to re-cap the lexis that had come up in the lesson. We went through pronunciation and meaning of the words and phrases that I had written on the whiteboard.

So we got through quite a lot in three hours. I’m happy to say that as the lesson progressed, the learners relaxed and started responding better. They asked me for clarification when they were not sure about something and they even asked me a few personal questions as lesson went on.
Tomorrow we start using the course book properly…….

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

41 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 1”

  1. It sounds like a very efficient “first” lesson and is obvious you paid attention to their perceived learning needs and real learning needs. I love the fact that you had some reading books available and am curious to see what you do with them…..

    1. Thank you Louise. Tomorrow we will be revisiting the books.
      I’ll be writing about what I do after the lesson.

  2. This sounds good but I’m not sure if it’s what most coursebook-based classes are like. It does sound like how a lot of Dogme users on the Yahoo group and in the blogosphere resign themselves to using the book. Many of us have to use it but give choice and turn it into a secondary resource after the students.

    I only taught in language schools for about 8 years but from my fleeting visits since it seems that many still go unit by unit. This is not just because they are sheep but because you get caught up as if you start p5 ex 1 then ex 2 and 3 use hat was taught in the previous ones. Thus, if you start on unit 13 it should have built on the previous units. This makes ‘dipping in’ problematic at least.

    Another reason is the 70/30 rule I’ve been given in many places which can be bent a bit but as tests are often based on the book and the blended learning content too, then it’s vital they get the book stuff.

    So, if the rule here is 50/50 (book vs own stuff) and you are improvising and not really using the coursebook’s method but giving choice and building on needs that arise……then…..isn’t this leaning towards D…..O…G…….ahem?

    I apologise if this seems rude, it’s not meant to be. I’m rather fascinated by the whole thing.

    1. Not rude at all, just your opinion. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion. What you have to remember is that no experienced teacher would ever go straight into the course book on the first day of teaching a new class. This was a first day with this group for me and I had new students joining after the break. I would never jsut teach from the course book without doing some kind of needs analysis first.

      Check out what I did today – defintely 80%, if not more, course book.

      1. Thanks for the comments guys. Maybe I need to explain.

        When I was working in language schools, mainly in London, IH was seen as the top of the top and the best employer with the best teachers. However, in many of the others there were only CELTA grads working PT or on very short contracts. Courses were just books and many teachers HAD to go through them because:

        1)There was continual enrolment.
        2)The school was international so everyone had to be on the same page so to speak.
        3)The teachers had just graduated and were not experienced enough to do much else.
        4)That was what they were told to do.
        5)Money! It costs money to copy other things in copyright and just papers
        6)Own materials!Some schools now use their own in-house books and you just get Week 25 on Monday morning on Week 25 so you have no choice. Others have folders with each lesson in so again, no choice. I receive PPT for each week.

        Since that time I’ve worked in unis, colleges, businesses, online and 121 and employers still tend to give a book and plan a progression through it, they may skip some but essentially they still go 1-10.

        Now, if you had a school with DELTA/MA/experienced teachers and a DOS/ADOS in tune with modern thinking, freedom to operate as an individual school, a book and not in-house delivered materials then they may do things differently but I would say that my experience of that is very limited.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a brilliant way to use the book, I do. BUT what percentage of the ELT is this representing?? From my own blog, it seems that ELT, especially out of England , is still full of CELTA grads backpacking or lots of people with no CELTA at all. In these situations a DOS has to control the syllabus more and using the book is safer.

        I remember one boss last year used to inspect my class at 9 am to see if I had all the book copies. When I didn’t she demanded to know what I was doing and why I wasn’t using the book. Turned out though that everyone had abandoned it as it just didn’t work. The ‘using the book 70/30 thing was just a charade’.

    2. Hi Phil,

      Is it leaning towards Dogme or is it just good teaching? 😉

      I don’t think the point is to see what most course book based classes are like, but to see what a good example of such a class looks like. And, from what I’ve heard from course book writers, they expect teachers to be able to use the course books in ways that are appropriate and useful for the people they are working with, and not just to follow the ‘course book method’.

      I don’t think you can say that just because teachers give choices, improvise and think about student needs, that they are doing Dogme when they are using a coursebook and other materials. Can you?

      But, I do agree that the whole thing is fascinating.


      1. Thanks for commenting, Carol.
        I think we are back to the ‘Define Dogme’ debate…

        Personally, I normally would use some materials occasionally in the classroom…but most of the time, it would be from understanding what students are interested in or what they need. Most of the time, they would bring in their materials.

        Although I bring in some materials, I still consider it Dogme because the materials are used an approached in a Dogme frame of mind – a springboard for emergent language and conversation.

        After all, one of the three tenets of Dogme is ‘Materials light’ and not ‘Materials-less’.

        But for the purpose of this experiment, I have gone full deep-end pure Dogme for the last two weeks and have not used any materials at all, except those that are improvised on the spot.

        Of course, like you said, expecting Varinder to follow the coursebook blindly, ignoring the students’ flow of conversations would be extremely unnatural and would not reflect how real teachers use course books.


        1. Sorry, Chia, I didn’t mean to go back to the define Dogme debate at all. I completely agree that materials can be used in a Dogme approach in the way you describe and understand what you’re saying.

          I was really trying to say (and I’m not sure I’ll make sense this time either) is I don’t think it’s fair to identify aspects of good teaching, as Phil seemed to do in his comment and say something along the lines of, “But you’re really doing Dogme! That’s why it’s good!”, is it?

          (As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m exhausted, so if this still doesn’t make sense, I’m giving up 😉

        2. Thanks for clarifying, Carol.
          I think I might do the cheeky thing and let Phil come back tomorrow and respond to your comment there. What do you reckon?

          As for the use of materials in a Dogme approach, I think at the end of the day, it is the mentality by which you approach the use of the materials…whether you are following a strict and fixed structure with inflexible tasks, or whether you are simply using the material as a springboard for other things…

          Let us continue this tomorrow when we are not so tired…and when Phil is up and about in La Reunion!

          ; )


    3. Thanks very much for your comment, Phil.
      I really think that we’re very lucky at IH London because we have been given almost free rein with the students and the management trusts us to do what is best for the students. As a result, many of us adapt the coursebook and make it more palatable to the students.
      In that sense, what Varinder is doing is probably similar to what most teachers would do at IH.

      Having said that, I don’t often find myself preaching about Dogme to my fellow colleagues. It is precisely because they already adapt and cater to the needs of their students, and understand that language learning is by no means a linear process.

      On the other hand, my target audience for a ‘Dogme talking-to’ would consist of teachers and schools (and publishers) that insist on pushing the blind use of course books and syllabus, with little regard for the fact that every learner is different (in terms of their backgrounds, their needs, their interests and their learning styles) and that SLA is NOT LINEAR and we can’t expect learning to take place that way!
      It is the language schools that you have described, Phil, those schools that make teachers go unit by unit, insisting that they do it because

      1) Students need a sense of progression (Students might be fooled in thinking they have progressed when they’ve moved up a level but Second Language Acquisition is not linear!)

      2) New teachers need to pick up from way the last teacher left off (See, they still think SLA is linear!)

      and 3) The people paying for their course (i.e. the parents, the company, or a government sponsor) wants a cost-benefit analysis and wants to see concrete results that can be accounted for (and moving from Global Pre-Int to Global Int is somehow seen as a sense of concrete progression! Again, we need to educate the public! Language learning is NOT LINEAR!!!)

      It is to these students, these schools and these teachers that I say, ‘Drop all those materials and books! Do away with false emotional crutches! Walk in with nothing but a pen! And you will see!’


  3. Exactly my initial feelings, Phil, when I read your comment, but then I thought, hang on, it is a first lesson for Varinder anyway. I’m looking forward to the next instalments, but, to be honest, it is an experiment, and experiments don’t always reflect reality. IH may be different from most other coursebook-based entities. Walk into any school, and I bet 90% of teachers don’t use coursebooks the way their writers meant them to be used the way Carol said.

    1. Interesting, Chiew.
      I would love for you to expand on that last statement, simply because I’m truly curious about it…
      What do you think these 90% of teachers are doing with the course books? Do you think they are following them blindly unit by unit?
      Should teachers do a Needs Analysis like Varinder did and let students pick the units they want to do?
      How do most coursebook writers expect their books to be used?
      Do they expect teachers to be dipping into them and using what works and what interests the students?
      Or are they expecting teachers to follow the book page by page because a unit further down might build on language learnt in a previous unit?


      1. I quote Carol, ” And, from what I’ve heard from course book writers, they expect teachers to be able to use the course books in ways that are appropriate and useful for the people they are working with, and not just to follow the ‘course book method’.”

        Yes, I do believe that a lot of teachers follow coursebooks unit by unit, especially in mainstream schools, where they’re supposed to follow the syllabus: Term 1, U1-5, term 2, U6-10, Term 3, U11-15, and then they go like a runaway train in the last month because they realise they won’t be able to finish the book!

        Needs analysis? It wouldn’t serve much purpose for these teachers. Maybe I’m cynical, but the fact is that I haven’t met many teachers willing to dedicate their own time to improving their teaching and the learning of their students… until I joined Twitter.

        Do you know that you can probably count the number of Canarian teachers following me on one hand, or maybe even with no hands?

        1. Yes, it often just serves as a time waster in L1 or a way to create a bond and convince students that you will create a course just for them?

          I’ve done this many times with a real desire to tailor my courses but with 15+ students, 6 hours of teaching every day, limited or no prep time and units to get through, it proves hard. I have felt like I’ve failed my students in the past but I physically couldn’t do much else, especially when I only had a 30 minute lunch break all day.

        2. Ooh, controversial, Phil! I think you might have hit on something there!
          (I wouldn’t expect any less from you, my Master of thought-provoking and being Devil’s Advocate)

          Yeah, how many of us do a Needs Analysis at the beginning and just ignore it for most of the course…and hope that students wouldn’t notice, or might even think you’ve created a course for them when you’ve actually simply pulled out every boiled-in-the-bag lesson that you know ALWAYS work???

          Controversial, like I said…


        3. But how many of us have time to follow through if we teach 4 lessons a day every day? At the moment, I teach a lot less than I did in London when I was doing about 6+ hours a day, every day and then covering too. Now, I have time to think and adapt. Last year I worked from 8 to 8 some days and literally my break time consisted of running to my office, dumping materials then picking up other stuff and running to class. I know a lot of people like this. We all want to adapt and focus on learners but time and time again it just gets put side due to time, pressure, tests, admin etc.

          Now, I have more time and make an effort but with classes of 20/30+ of mixed levels it can be tough.

          The problem with the NA is what if they want something you can’t give or if everyone wants something different??

          I did a ‘choose the coursebook’ activity once where we looked at different books and discussed them and voted on a book.Well, a third wanted 1 book and the rest another but all of the minority agreed to go with the majority except 1 student. He made a huge fuss asking why I had given him a choice if he wasn’t allowed to do what he wanted. That was a problem.

          Another class wanted to use their L1 in the lesson but no teachers spoke Russian so how could we do it?

          In a mid-course NA everyone decided to ditch the book. They tried to get refunds but couldn’t.Other groups have also just refused to buy books but that’s another topic.

          My main point is that a CELTA grad or a new teacher doesn’t know enough to play around with a book he has never used and may not actually have used any book fully. So, if a NA says students want….he may have a sticky situation. This is one reason why I think CELTA courses should prepare teachers for the modern reality of demanding students and how to adapt. USe books, fine but it’s how you use them. My personal favourite were the workbooks.Students used to always do the books at home so in class we would do stuff from the WB or adapted from it. They always enjoyed it and it added something extra to the course.

        4. Can I just add one thing here. I hear CELTAs and DELTAs being brandished about, but I think most EFL teachers haven’t even heard about them…
          So, if you’re talking about a revolution, you may have to start somewhere else… 😉

        5. Interesting point, Chiew.
          As Adam Beale said in his talk (and has been quoted and quoted again for it), what we need is mini-revolutions…and the classroom is a chance for that mini-revolution to take place.
          They say charity starts at home, and indeed, we can only work on the contexts we are familiar with.
          In my context, it’s my English classes and the CELTA, considering the fact that I teach English and run CELTA courses.
          Through educating my students and trainees I come into contact with, I can help them understand the nature of Second Language Acquisition better, and help them to better enhance the language learning process (not through an over reliance of material), and enthuse them with passion for teaching and continual professional development.
          I often tell my students, ‘The CELTA is not a course to teach you everything you need to know about teaching English. It’s a course to show you how to go about finding out more about teaching English. The CELTA is going to develop you as a teacher. It’s the start of your development as a teacher, and you have to continue developing from there.’
          Sometimes, I throw this in, ‘I don’t want to see you going for your DELTA and delivering a TP9. There needs to be a lot more happening between your CELTA and DELTA!’

          But you are right. Many teachers don’t even get to doing such courses and getting such qualifications. Many teachers don’t really care about professional development or helping students.
          I knew a teacher once who used to set grammar exercises from Murphy’s Grammar in Use, and then go off to the pub while the students do the exercises. He’s then come back and check the answers with them. THAT was their English class!!!

          Is that why we are paid so badly?
          Or is it the other way around?

          Do we attract teachers who don’t care about their professional development because the industry doesn’t pay enough for actual teaching skills and qualifications?

          Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

        6. Hi Phil,
          Once again, lots to think about here.
          Let me address three of the issues you mention separately.

          In terms of meeting students needs that were covered in the Needs Analysis, I tend to do more of a Needs Analysis in the form of a negotiation and discussion, while getting to know the students’ contexts and use for English etc, and so it is clear that I’m using it to inform my teaching, but not promising them anything in particular…especially because sometimes, what the students think they want might not necessarily coincide with what they actually need to improve their English.

          As for adapting and supplementing the coursebook or whatever materials you might have to contend with, I think this doesn’t have to be time or energy consuming in any way. It can be done Dogme-style, i.e. allowing certain topics that interest students more to take a life of its own, letting it run its course, mediating and guiding it towards topics that are of more interest to them, pulling out emergent language and scaffolding students use of language, etc. Supplementing the coursebook can be done by improvising on the spot and thinking up tasks and activities that are suitable and appropriate to their learning (and what was mentioned in their Needs Analysis).
          (BTW, I know you already do this, Phil…)

          The point you make about the CELTA is very pertinent.
          We spend a lot of the time on the CELTA trying to demo and train candidates to use the coursebook and to follow those perfect little lesson shapes.
          Come real life, and they still don’t know how to play with a new book he’s never used before, and sticks to those perfect little lesson shapes.
          Students complain, ‘My teacher never corrects me…’ yada yada yada…

          The CELTA needs to be MORE about training candidates to enhance the level of classroom communication, to deal with emergent language, and to scaffold language use,

          and LESS about lesson shapes, lesson plans, lesson aims, listening sub skills and receptive skills procedures (Prediction – Skim/Scan – Detailed Understanding – Follow-up Productive Task).

          Trainers and schools say that new CELTA trainees are not ready for that.
          So instead that spend time teaching trainees to follow the mould…when in a different context, the mould might not fit.

          I say we should train teachers to provide conditions that encourage language to emerge.
          I say we should train teachers to feed in the language that is needed.
          I say we should train teachers to help students to reformulate and to negotiate meaning.

          This is the revolution we need.


        7. Hi Phil

          It’s really interesting what you say but I feel that sometimes there is a little too much generalising or maybe I’m just an idealist. I’ve seen many schools where teachers do a tremendous job conducting needs analysis and then following it through – even when they are teaching 6+ hours a day (been there, done that, by the way with classes of 20+).

          Yes, there are teachers and schools out there where the course book is followed unit by unit and it makes my heart sink when i see a teacher photocopy page after page from a course book before a lesson and then tell everyone they’re off to teach the present perfect!! But I have also seen just as many, if not more, examples of teachers using the books very creatively – it gives them the platform to build on.

          I think it’s always easy to focus on the negative and not see what good work’s being done out there by a lot of teachers, often in difficult situations and work environments.


        8. Great point. I probably haven’t seen the best in this respect as I have worked for chains, in gov schools and unis. I also think teachers nowadays are probably a lot more savvy than in my day. I did a pre-CELTA course, then the CELTA and both were just coursebook-based. I do hope things have changed. Books are far better nowadays and they have some resources in the back so you have a lot more to play with.

          I am to blame I think for a lot of it as when I’ve worked as a course or department head and even done observations I’ve set out a course for my teachers to follow. I did this as my DOS/principle/directors ask for it but maybe I should have given teachers more space and credit. However, a lot of the time they just wanted ‘good to go’ ie turn up 5 mins before class, pick something up and teach. I’ve worked in 5 countries and have seen this a lot but it’s also what a lot of materials are based on ie Minimax style.

          I did have a phase when I was running an MA course that I knew the books so well that I just played around and added and replaced stuff at will but newer teachers couldn’t do this and they also didn’t know the content/topics well enough. Like with CPE too. In fact, many teachers just refused to teach on the course, probably my fault but I just wasn’t happy with people doing ‘one-off lessons’ as it soon became the norm and students weren’t getting what they paid for.

          I’d love to hear more about your experiences of utilising books, maybe you could do a blog??? I think there is a lack of blogs by directors. It would provide a valuable view into ELT. Go on….I’ll be your first follower.

        9. Good point, Chiew.

          There are just so many teachers using course books in so many different ways.

          I had some students who were complaining to me about how their teachers in their country used the tasks in the coursebook Cutting Edge.
          The teachers would spend hours on the pre-task activities, i.e. the listening, the formulaic language preparing the students for the tasks, the gap-fills etc.
          Then when it came to the task itself, they would give student 3-5 minutes to do it in pairs!

          I’m NOT exaggerating here!

          Clearly, the teachers in question do not fully understand the principles behind task-based learning and second language acquisition, and are still bound to the traditional ideas that ‘teaching’ formulae and ‘testing’ students’ listening abilities is what helps one learn a language.

          We now know that that isn’t necessarily true (SLA is NOT LINEAR…I keep repeating!)…we know that language acquisition often happens when there is negotiation of meaning and when the language that is needed emerges and needs to be scaffolded by the teacher, with the appropriate feedback…and the tasks in Cutting Edge attempt to allow for this to take place.

          Yet, those who use the course books might not understand the principles behind the activities and tasks in the book (and might not have had time to read through the teacher’s book or have done the Delta to fully understand the justifications behind the methodology), and this affects the way they use the coursebook or choose to adapt it.

          I’m just wondering how coursebook writers react to this. How does a coursebook writer expect his/her book to be used? Do they expect teachers to dip in and out of it and use what works? Do they expect teachers to read the teacher’s book and understand the principles behind the design of the coursebook so as to use it appropriately?

          As Jeremy Harmer said in his tweet yesterday, it is often the how and not the what that is what’s important.

          Being a Dogmetician, my argument is…
          If the ‘how’ can be better focussed on by removing the ‘what’ (i.e. course books), if the ‘how’ can be honed in teacher training without the distraction of the ‘what’, if the ‘how’ can truly enable teachers to focus on the students by not over planning the ‘what’….then maybe we should really be talking more about the ‘how’ and less of the ‘what’ in CPD (continual professional development) and Teacher Training, don’t you think?


        10. That’s what I meant about the reality in most places. Before we can talk about the hows and whats in CPD, I think we should work on telling teachers what CPD is in the first place! We are constantly being reminded in iTDi that a lot of teachers aren’t even connected and those are the ones we’d need to reach out to.

          Just as a by-the-way, how many language teachers do you think are actively in some PLN or other? And how many language teachers are there in total? It’d be interesting to know.

  4. Yes, I am afraid I have to agree with Chiew and Phil – in my experience, course books are followed unit by unit. This is frequently because that is the course that is sold – “for this 6 week course you will cover units 1-3 of this book”. Also, in many private schools, courses must be approved by some sort of authority – and then must be slavishly followed so things look right when audited. As following the course book is an easy thing to document, it is the thing most often done.
    Other chain schools even ensure every class does the same thing at the same time – even in different cities/countries!
    All this means, that I am not sure if the way Varinder is using the coursebook is truly representative of ‘coursebook teaching’ as it stands in my experience!
    Also, Varinder’s claim “no experienced teacher would ever go straight into the course book on the first day of teaching a new class” again does not ring true in my experience, I’m afraid!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Darridge.
      It saddens me to hear constantly that there are lots of places that strictly limits what the teacher is ‘allowed’ to do in the classroom with complete disregard to how the students learn and how best to help them become better communicators.
      It’s like saying, ‘You must slavishly follow this coursebook despite the fact that it does not coincide with any of the research done of how language are learnt!’ or ‘You must do what your boss tells you despite the fact that he/she is not really doing it for the progression of the students but for the mere convenience of strict adherence to a syllabus’!

      Oooooh….it maddens me so….!!!

      I guess I am really lucky that I work in a school that understands the nature of second language learning and are very happy to allow teachers free rein to best help their students to learn.
      I guess I am really lucky that I work for a DOS that expects us not to go straight into a coursebook on the first fay of teaching.

      But a revolution is needed…
      a revolution to change the minds of the schools, the DOSes, and the examination boards out there to better understand how SLA works, and how best to help our students!


  5. Congratulations, Varinder. You’ve shown with your intelligent needs analysis that the coursebook/dogme divide is largely a myth. Any sensitive teacher knows that there is much to find out about the class before starting to use the book and also when to STOP using it and follow a trail that the students have created. And the most important trail that clearly needs to be followed with this class is how to re-balance their speaking and writing skills.

    1. I completely agree with what you say Ken. It is so important to listen to the learners and what their needs are. There has to be balance in teaching – it can never be all or nothing of one thing.

    2. Thanks for commenting, Ken!
      I’m really honoured to have you here!

      And I really like the fact that despite being a coursebook writer yourself (and you’ve written like how many? 475?), you advocate teachers using a needs analysis to discover which parts of the coursebook to use and when to stop using it and go with what the students have created.

      I know it sounds like what should be common sense, but like I said in my answer to Chiew, to Darridge, and to Elizabeth, not every teacher (or student, or writer, or publisher) understands that, and I think we need to encourage more schools to remove those strict limits on the use of course books and syllabi, and refocus our attention on the students and their needs and motivations, while improving our understanding on how languages are learnt.


  6. Hi there,
    I totally agree with Carol’s words “…to be able to use the course books in ways that are appropriate and useful for the people they are working with, and not just to follow the ‘course book method’….
    I teach in a military school and we have quite strict rules concerning materials and syllabus. However, I do “Dogme ” and I also choose what I feel are the necessary pages in the course book to cover, obviously taken from each of the 12 units. (that way the bosses can’t say I haven’t worked on the book!).
    The courses we teach last 3 months and the students have to take a NATO exam (JFLT – Joint Forces Language Test) at the end of the course.
    Since I started working this way, the results I have achieved with my classes have gone from Good to Excellent in all four skills.
    My colleagues who rigidly stick to the course book, don’t achieve the same results as I do particularly in speaking and writing, which are usually the most difficult skills for our students in our school.
    I need to add that I’ve been working in this establishment for 4 years but I’ve been teaching at all levels here in Italy for 26 years so maybe experience helps to be less afraid of doing Dogme, my younger colleagues are terrified!
    Anyway, I believe this mix really works, it has worked for me and my students, and I will continue to work this way, at least until they catch me and throw me into a military prison cell in isolation!!
    thank you Chia and everyone else!
    Elizabeth Evans Cicconi – Numana, Italy 🙂

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for your interesting comments. Your context does sound rigid indeed, and so kudos to you for bravely adapting and choosing what is needed to best help your students progress (although I’m afraid many would feel that choosing pages from a coursebook does not necessarily qualify as Dogme as such…but hey, as Ken said, the dichotomy might not be relevant to everyone).
      And double kudos to you for helping your student achieve such excellent results in their exams by actually deviating from the coursebook and syllabus!

      Those are the kind of statistics that is needed to show more rigid schools, companies, DOSes and parents of learners, that moving away from a strict syllabus and catering to the learners’ needs, interests and motivations, improves that language learning ability.

      It shouldn’t be rocket science, but so many people out there still subscribe to the ‘no-pain-no-gain’ belief when it comes to any kind of learning at all.

      And we need to get people to understand that that is simply NOT TRUE for language learning!

      You sound like you deserve an award and accolades from within and without the industry…and definitely not solitary confinement!

      Congratulations, Elizabeth.


  7. Hi Varinder,
    I follwed the first part avidly and have to say you have got me following this second part avidly as well.
    Just loved the start of your approach: conducting needs analysis. We say so much about personalisation in class but often forget that this can also be done via focus on language work as well, not just the more “humanistic” side of things and nothing better than Needs Analysis for this.
    Will continue reading your reports to see how the students progress.
    Thanks very much for sharing all this,


    1. Thanks for following the Teach-Off and for commenting, Valeria!
      Varinder does a good job of showing that one can and should personalise when using course books and materials too!


    2. Thanks for your lovely comments Valeria. Please do continue to follow and comment as it’s really useful to see how everyone feels about the Dogme v coursebook debate.

      Teaching has to be humanistic and a teacher must remember that it is not a class that you’re teaching but individuals, each with their own needs, demands, difficulties and interests. When teachers forget this things can go very wrong. I think it’s also important that if there’s a subject or topic that doesn’t interest you as a person, you don’t projct this on to your students. It’s all about attitude to the materials – I can make Thomas Hardy reading work in any class. Now I’m just boasting!!

  8. Oh yes! I think my PLN are definitely NOT the average teachers in the industry. You lot have DELTAs/MAs/blogs/do webinars/give talks/write articles/Do action research etc.

    Since leaving the UK I have hardly met anyone with a CELTA and employers don’t care or have never heard of it. They recognise local qualifications. The CELTA is not as international as we think.I could literally get a FT post in a uni abroad with no CELTA and just a degree in the local language, this is what most people do.

    I have seen and worked with some people who are an embarrassment in schools and unis. Those who go for a cig, a coffee, to check their mail or sit at the front on their laptop.But, I hate to say it, that may be the majority. IH is definitely not representative of the majority of dodgy or just average schools.

    Could you tell if your teachers are all FT on permanent contracts? When I was on one I was happy to put in extra prep time and really invested in my courses but PT often taught different classes every week so doing Dogme as one-offs was fine but for continually developing students it was impossible.

    At the moment I often get given people’s classes for 1 lesson or a couple of lessons and the only way it is possible is because there is a syllabus. Yes, I adapt and bring in my own ideas but it still operates within the limits so someone else could carry on tomorrow.

  9. Hi everyone,
    Great discussion. In answer to a couple of points raised:

    How does the coursebook writer expect their book to be used?

    It’s interesting, because as Phil suggested earlier, it’s much more difficult nowadays for teachers / students to simply dip into a coursebook and use it as and when the need arises as courses are so carefully crafted to try and build on the language that has previously been taught, and incorporate revision, extra practice and recycling of lexical, grammatical and functional language both in later units and increasingly in the blended online components.

    The reality, as many have mentioned, is that the majority of teachers teach the book from the beginning and work through towards the end. Most don’t make it that far. Teaching institutions increasingly insist that x number of units are completed per lesson/week/term etc. in order to ‘cover the syllabus’. The syllabus is usually closely linked to a reference provided by an exams body (Cambridge, IELTS etc.), or a standard such as CEFR, or English Profile etc. The whole system is driven very much by the examining / standardisation industry. Ministries of Education look to these bodies to provide standardised systems and structures, and publishers provide the materials to suit the system. Scary maybe, but true.
    In some ways the system has improved. There is a much greater emphasis on the development of skills nowadays. The CEFR looks at what the student is able to ‘do’ with the language, looking at communicative competences, rather than just testing discrete language items. There was a good discussion on the issues surrounding the English Profile Core Inventory on Scott’s blog a while ago:

    Having said that, when I’m writing materials, I’m writing them with the idea in my head of how I would like the material to be taught, or how I have used it, using what I believe to be best classroom practice, i.e. I would like the teacher to use the material as a springboard, a starting point, to allow for as much personalised, relevant and emerging language as possible. I hope the materials will lead to great discussions and fun activities that will engage and motivate the learners, and help to inspire and develop the teacher too. I would like to think that teachers pick up the material and think ‘That’s a great idea. I know what I can do with that.’ I hope the students find the material engaging, challenging (to the right degree), relevant and entertaining. I hope they find the progressive focus on discrete language items offers them a sense of progression and achievement. I hope the material will offer them opportunities to read articles, watch video content, listen to speakers of English and express their ideas with increasing confidence as the course progresses.

    I have no doubt that sometimes I’m more successful at this than others. I also know that a lot of teachers use the books in ways that I would not recommend. Many teachers ignore pairwork, for example. Some teachers get their students to translate line for line, going around the room, starting at the top of the page. We do not live in an ideal world. Most teachers are not IH-trained and do not work in situations that allow for much in the way of teacher development or training. So, again, when writing the materials we need to cater for a huge audience and find material that will broadly fit many different teaching styles, cultural expectations etc. We try to write the material that will help both the more and the less experienced teacher to push the boundaries a little. And it’s great to meet teachers in some parts of the world who have started to change the way that they teach because of the materials you have written. Then, you know you’re getting somewhere. Is that the start of a mini-revolution perhaps?

    1. Thanks for commenting, Antonia,
      You offer a very valuable perspective being a coursebook writer who also is a continuing practitioner. (BTW I’m a fan)

      It’s so good to hear that you write with the idea that your material will be used as a springboard to further discussion and activities, and further adaptation.

      It is indeed scary that some organisations, schools and exam boards, would try to implement strict syllabi and standardised structures with little regard for communication skills…but on the bright side, there is a gradual shift towards developing the learners’ communication skills and communicative competence, and a move away from discrete item grammar focus.

      I’m in no way trying to diss any kind of grammar focus here. Anyone who knows me, or who have read the Dogme posts in the Teach-Off would know that I would not belittle the importance of grammar. However, grammar needs to be dealt with in a way that enables learners to effectively notice the difference it makes to their message and coaxed into production over a period of communication practice with language feedback.

      What I am saying is that the only one who can combine the two (discrete language items with communicative competence), so that lexicogrammar usage is scaffolded and encouraged to emerge in context and in conversation, is the teacher.
      So if the teacher is not trained to guide and scaffold the learners, what we might end up with is a teacher who is simply doing the discrete items blindly without truly understanding the nature of how immediate production just doesn’t happen that way…

      It is indeed a job for teacher training to help trainees and potential teachers be better scaffolders and better facilitators so that they can help the needed language emerge.

      And if the book or materials is helping them do that, then…you’re absolutely right!
      It’s a mini-revolution taking place already!


  10. Just going back and referring to Phil’s and Chia’s discussion on needs analysis. I certainly agree with Phil’s comments and I also believe tooo much attention and importance is put on a needs analysis. In my opinion a needs analysis is an on-going process or evolution as needs and learners opinions often evolve & change. The trainer should be constantly listening, probing and encouraging your learners to reveal more about their needs and desires. Also, I find using regular feedback, self awarenesss and self-evaluation sessions are often productive and an effective way of gaining valuable info on needs.

    Structured needs analysis’s sessions / tasks I find are often ineffective especially when you conduct one at the start of a program when the groups is still forming and finding their place and often the learner’s don’t even know themselves what they want or are too inhibited to make suggestions.

    If I had been Carol I certainly wouldn’t have done a needs analysis in my first lesson. I would have dedicated the time to rapport, team building and collaboration tasks.

    Great blog and great fascinating concept 🙂


    1. Hi Karl,
      Good to see you making comments on the Teach-Off!
      I used to always do my needs analysis on the first day, but recently I’ve been thinking more about this and how effective it might or might not be due to the reasons you mention.
      What then would you suggest a teacher does on Day One in terms of the collaborative tasks you mentioned?


      1. It’s actually good to be finding some time to read and comment on your articles & blogs. With a new family member due to arrive free time has been a bit sparse. But anyway to your question….

        For me first lessons are all about taking those first vital steps in building relationships, creating a good atmosphere and to help the particpants to relax & lose any inhibitions. For me until you have this foundation throwing probing questions and conducting a thorough needs analysis is counter-productive.

        So, for me I like to keep things simple and light and quite simply I just want the learners to open up a little and talk, whilst at the same time helping me to understand what makes them click. Circumstances permitted, this could take place for a single 2 hours lesson, maybe a second or a third lesson…maybe longer. Whatever it takes to and however long it takes to bring the learner to a comfortable place.

        Regarding tasks…The foundation & principle is always conversation based. One of my favourites is find 5 things you have in common with your peers and trainer. 1st learner thinks of a ‘get to know you’ question asks the question to the person on left / right. The same question is then circulated. Once all have answered inc the trainer the next learner thinks of and asks a question and the process continues until one of the learners has 5 things in common with the trainer and a peer. (no obvious questions are allowed, such as ‘are you a man?’ or Who do you work for?…too easy!!!

        Based on the answers and conversation that emerge I can stray from this task and do simple ranking tasks which require negotiation and comprimise on topics that come up (work ethics, interests, places, holidays, whats makes a great learner / trainer motivations, solutions to problems, advice). We can then jump back to our original find 5 things you have in common tasks.

        In all honesty there is too much to write for a comment. Maybe this could be a good blog post of my own. I will add it to my things to do list…

        All the best


        1. Hi Karl,
          Thanks for your detailed response! You are right, it should really go into a blogpost of your own!
          ‘What I do to build rapport’ would be a really useful post for everyone, new and experienced teachers included.
          You are so right in saying that rapport is such a fundamental part of a conversation-based lesson. And the activity you mentioned sounds like a interesting one! I might use that soon!
          Thanks once again!


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