The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 5

This is Varinder Unlu’s account of her 5th Day using the coursebook.

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

Meanwhile, let me hand you over to Varinder

It’s Friday – can’t believe how quickly this week has gone.

Today’s lesson objectives were as follows:

To learn/revise structures with wish                   

To understand different types of humour and practise telling jokes

To practise speaking

To revise defining and non-defining relative clauses

To conduct tutorials with students

Global pages 84 and 85


At IH London students change classes every four weeks and this happens on the recommendation of the teacher after a tutorial with individual learners in week three.  Today during the final hour of the lesson I set the students a revision activity – relative clauses and conducted their tutorials in which we discussed if they will be moving up to the next level or staying in the same level.  I also discussed their progress with them and asked them what progress they thought they had made over the past three weeks.

The lesson started fairly slowly and I had three students absent today.

We very briefly discussed how the students were feeling and what plans they had for the weekend. Next I did what I always do at the start of every class and put the lesson objectives up on the board and put up a vocabulary column.

  1. I asked students to turn to page 84 of Global and told them to look at the pictures which tell a joke.  Students worked in pairs to put the pictures in order and figure out what the joke was.  One of the Brazilian students got the joke after re-arranging the pictures and started laughing.  The Asian students were a little perplexed at his reactions and couldn’t understand why he was laughing so much – more on this at the end of this post. I then told them that there was one extra picture and asked them which one they thought it was.
  2. I then played the joke so that the students could listen and check if they were right or wrong.  They had managed to get the pictures in order.  The Brazilian and Italian students said that they had something similar in their languages and were familiar with this.  The Asian students had not come across anything like this joke before.  We discussed the fact that humour is usually very specific to different cultures and that what one person finds funny may not be something that they may find funny.
  3. Next I focused the learners attention on the “extend your vocabulary box” – and asked them to read the other ways of saying funny. We clarified any issues with the language – students asked if they could use witty for things and when to use humorous.   From this we looked at the expression: sense of humour, clown, clowning around.  I asked the students to work in small groups and think of the following: a witty person they know, a hilarious actor or actress, a humorous story about something they said or did when they were a child, an amusing advertisement on television.  (This is from the book).
  4. During feedback we only talked about the first one and students were keen to talk about someone they knew who was funny/witty.  (I didn’t want to rush them onto the next one as they had quite a lot to say about this one thing and from monitoring during their group work I had heard them talking about the other things anyway).
  5. We then looked at the sentences from the first activity – the joke.  I elicited and boarded the sentences and asked the students to look at the grammar explanation on the use of wish. 
  6. The next activity in the book asks the students to look at the pictures at the bottom of the page and write two captions for each one using I wish + a caption from the box.   In between the pictures and the caption box there is exercise 3 which asks the students to complete the poem using the beginnings of the sentences.  The ordering of these activities is really confusing for the learners and I think that perhaps the pictures should be straight after the caption box.   I noticed as I was monitoring that each student had started to complete the poem trying to use the captions and the pictures.  I had to stop them and ask them not to complete the poem.
  7. Once students had completed the sentences, we wrote a few of them on the board and I went through any questions they still had about the uses of wish.
  8. Now we looked at the exercise 3 and I asked the class to complete the sentences for themselves – I didn’t ask them to do it as a poem as I thought it seemed a little random to start writing a poem at this stage.  Normally I would lead into a poem exercise with more preparation so that students have a model to work from but here it felt out of place and asking students to just complete the sentences was a better idea.
  9. We had a lot of laughter during the feedback after this activity – students had written some funny sentences about themselves and one of the Brazilian students said that he wished he hadn’t got married and started on the subject of how difficult it is to live with women and then went on to tell the class why and this lead to the female students “fighting back” saying how difficult it is to live with men.  I let this happen as they were clearly enjoying the banter and there was quite a bit of language emerging.
  10. I left the pronunciation activity out and went onto the matching up of the jokes in the speaking activity.  We checked the answers and then I asked students (for homework) to think about a joke from their country and write it down.
  11. After the break I set the class the exercise on relative clauses and while they were completing this, I conducted their tutorials.

This was an interesting lesson because although it worked and the class were clearly engaged and enjoying it, I would do it very differently next time.  I would lead into it with something else and then look at the pictures – there seems to be something missing at the beginning.  I would also change the ordering of the Grammar activities on page 85 because of all the confusion about which activity students were meant to be doing – the pictures should come straight after the phrases in the box.  When I ask students to work on a poem (and poetry is something I’m a big fan of in class), I usually build up to it differently – with some kind of example and work on a real poem.  Here what would have fitted in really well is something like this:


by Rose Fyleman

I wish I liked rice pudding,
I wish I were a twin,
I wish some day a real live fairy
Would just come walking in.

I wish when I’m at table
My feet would touch the floor,
I wish our pipes would burst next winter,
Just like they did next door.

I wish that I could whistle
Real proper grown-up tunes
I wish they’d let me sweep the chimneys
On rainy afternoons.

I’ve got such heaps of wishes,
I’ve only said a few;
I wish that I could wake some morning
And find they’d all come true!

Students can see what they being asked to do and it gives them the confidence to be more creative.

We also talked about “I wish I were” and “I wish I was” – something which I think is important to highlight to student is that they will hear both forms being used and that “I wish I was” is becoming more and more  common.

This was a lesson that I wish I had prepared better as I think there’s a lot more that could have been done with the subject.  However I’ve been teaching, blogging and fulfilling my DOS duties throughout the week and by this morning I was feeling quite tired and my energy levels were low. (Don’t want to sound as if I’m trying to make excuses for not preparing properly!!). I didn’t project my tiredness on to my students though and I had one observer say how lovely the class and the students were.  This was a nice Friday lesson.

My first week of teaching from Global has been a positive one, especially because I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to top Chia’s lessons.  I have created a great rapport with my learners, I know them as individuals and see what they like and don’t like.  I can tap into that information throughout the lessons and use it to help them individually.  We have had some great laughs in lessons and we’ve also learned lot (including me!!).  I have tried to integrate learner training in as naturally as possible by giving students tips about how to become better readers, what to do to improve their listening skills, what exams expect of them etc.

Something that Chia said after her observation of me was that I have a great rapport with my class and I’m enthusiastic about teaching – this is true because I love teaching but I believe that this is not enough.  Of course, as we all know it is conducive to the learning in class if there is a relaxed, friendly atmosphere created.  Getting to know your learners as individuals is more important and making them feel that they can be free to make mistakes and experiment with the language is important.  Gaining their trust in you as a teacher is vital whether you’re teaching a Dogme class or from a course book.

Am I preaching now?  Typical teacher!

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.

14 thoughts on “The Teach-Off – Coursebk Day 5”

  1. Hi Varinder (and Chia),

    First of all, thank you so much for your posts on this ‘experiment’. I’ve been following its progress so far but haven’t yet found a moment to post anything of note that hasn’t already been said. Until now…

    I want to ask a little bit about the situation vis a vis course fees and course materials at IH London (and potentially the whole IH organisation). I feel you have mentioned something in this post which for me is total justification for the ditching of coursebooks from an ecological and economical perspective: I presume that the fee that students pay to study at IH includes the cost of buying them a student’s copy of the coursebook to be used while they are studying with you – is this correct?

    IF (the capitilisation is intended there) this the case, and the students are likely to only stay with a class for a short period of time (they might only pay to be with you for a fortnight, for example) or they are likely to be moved into a different class after 4 weeks if they stay longer, how ecologically responsible is it to ask them to use a coursebook? It seems to me to be a huge waste of resources, both monetarily and physically (of paper), given that the book may become redundant after a month’s use. Unless, that is, a class tends to get through an entire coursebook in the period of 4 weeks.

    Just to end on a positive note, can I reiterate that I am finding this whole teach-off fascinating and look forward to future posts (there is another week to go, right?)



    1. Hi Mike

      Very good question. We have a very complex system of levels at IH in that each level is broken down into A and B and we don’t just have intermediate for example, we have low int, mid int etc. We have two books for each level and we alternate after four weeks so that if a student is repeating a level they’re not repeating the same part of the book too.

      The price of the course book, as with many schools I know, is incorporated in the fees.

      I agree with you about the ecological factor though. Still working on how best to solve that one……..


    2. Wow Mike!
      That’s a really good point! I’ve never even given much thought into the ecological impact that the monthly giving out of course books could have on our environment!

      Well, I suppose there’s always the option of giving students online resources to work on at home instead?
      That’s where blended learning might have its benefits?

      So students can perhaps use classroom time to practise interacting and working on their communicative competence and negotiation of meaning, then spending time at home doing the grammar drills they need and reviewing the lexis and the language points that come up in class with the help of a ‘pick-and-choose’ online syllabus?


  2. Having read through my account I’ve realised I didn’t make reference to “more on this at end of post”. I just wanted to say that this lesson was based around telling jokes and humour but as we all know humour doesn’t always translate very well across cultures. There’s a real divide in this class of Asian and Western culture. Whilst the Brazilian told me that they have jokes about the Argentinians, Colombians, and Bolivians and in Italy they have jokes about the Italians, Spanish, and French, the Japanese and Korean students told me that in their cultures it is rude to make fun of their neighbours. So the joke at the beginning of the lesson was not something they could relate to.

    I think the one problem I do have some coursebooks is that they are sometimes written for people who have knowledge of Western culture and society. When we look at a lesson on famous people for example, it will usually have pictures of people from Hollywood on the pages of the book. Our Asian students aren’t always familiar with these people. Why not have pictures of famous people from Bollywood, Japanese/Chinese.Korean cinema so that these learners feel like they part of the class. My Iranian student informed me this week that she loves watching Indian films – this is probably because they are culturally similar to films from Iran and she can relate to them more than some Hollywood blockbuster.

    Normally, I would take all of this into consideration when I’m preparing my lessons and make sure that everyone is catered for.

    1. Some interesting points you make here, Varinder.
      I totally agree with you regarding the fact that humour is very culture-specific, which is why it’s often easier for students to watch films and drama that are of the action genre than those of the comedy genre (especially British comedy, which is often loaded with plays on words and cultural references).

      I think that is where the internationally published coursebook is not quite able to cater to the individual interests of the students from different countries, Varinder.
      Publishers don’t usually like writers to feature celebrities because these are fads that could fade with time and does not bode well for the longevity of the coursebook. This is probably why celebrities that do make it to feature in course books that to be those of a iconic long-lasting sort, e.g. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Madonna…the sort that most young students might not be familiar with or interested in.

      Featuring local celebrities from specific countries like Iran or Bollywood or Korea would mean that that particular coursebook would sell quite well in those respective countries, but might have issues selling in others. After all, a Korean student is more likely to be interested in a Hollywood celebrity than an Iranian one.

      I don’t blame course books for not being able to cater to that as much as I don’t blame a set menu for only giving me 3 choices for the main course.
      Instead, I just get the chef to make me something a la carte.

      The teacher knows the individual interests and needs of the students in that particular class and can then tailor it so that the Iranian student is telling everyone about her favourite Iranian actor, and the Korean student is telling everyone about the spate of Korean girl bands ruling the Asian pop market.

      That is the beauty of a Dogme class.


      1. As always, Dogme has the answer!! What I think more course book writers need to be is culturally sensitive. I’m not saying that course books need to have pictures exclusively of famous Korean, Japanese,Chinese people. I think there needs to be a balance – ahh there’s that word again “balance”. A mixture of famous faces from all around the world not just the western world.

        “I think that is where the internationally published coursebook is not quite able to cater to the individual interests of the students from different countries, Varinder.” I think the key word here is “internationally”. What’s so international about American or British icons? I once went in a lesson with an Elvis Presley song – now there’s someone you would expect a lot people might know. Not one person in the class knew who he was. (This was also a class of older learners). Even when learners are living in the country ie Britain, I can safely say that they won’t know more than half the people in the coursebooks.

        Oh and I’m also aware that coursebook writers don’t feature celebrities etc because it instantly ages the book. (I used to write materials – a little secret for you!).

        You still haven’t convinced me about Dogme – try harder!

  3. “still working best on how to solve that one….”

    Surely that’s what this teach off is for?!

    Also, I have to say that although the environmental argument is, perhaps, going to be misconstrued as rather clutching at straws, it is a fair point.

  4. The great interest in this blog shows how starved we are of real discussion on real teaching practices doesn’t it? The classroom ought not to be like a confessional or the doctors consulting room but I’m afraid it is.

    1. Well, Peter,
      I often say that it’s really funny how we talk and share in the staffroom, but nobody really knows what goes on in our classroom once we close that classroom door.
      Sure enough, we get observed once every few months or so, but generally, nobody but the students themselves are privy to what happened in our classrooms.
      It IS like a confessional or a doctors’ consulting room, isn’t it?
      And that is just the nature of the job.

      I know of colleagues who get quite touchy or upset when they have to be observed, but personally, I find it one of the most developmental processes.
      It is one of the few chances that we teachers get to work as a team.

      Here, it’s like being observed by fellow teachers and PLNers from different teaching contexts and different countries, and being able to exchange opinions and receive feedback about what we do! It’s absolutely great!


  5. Dear both,

    I have greatly enjoyed reading this ‘teach-off’ blog. It has convinced me of three things:

    1 any student would be happy to have either of you as a teacher. One of the identifying characteristics of good teachers it seems to me is curiosity (and an ability to reflect on that curiosity), Wait, is that two things? …….

    2 It is certainly true that some coursebooks are Eurocentric (the ones ‘made’ in Europe, that is) or America-centric, and that this can diminish the student experience, especially when the books are used outside Europe & the States. But even in such cases (and there is no real defence!), interrogating the coursebook, having students think about what’s ‘wrong’, can be very productive, which leads me on to:

    3 what this blog is proving (to me, anyway) is that the coursebook/no coursebook argument (which has been going on for decades) is still ‘sterile’. I don’t mean that your posts are sterile; far from it. But in the end it is not what you use, it is how you use it. Sometimes a student-generated lesson may do the trick (I was reading about this over at, but sometimes a coursebook, well-crafted, well-designed and moderated by a good teacher is just as convincing, and may indeed, work far better for a whole raft of reasons. But then, on the other hand, unimaginative couresbook use by uncreative teachers is far inferior to genuinely engaging materials-free lessons run by good teachers with hearts and brains!

    On this blog I have red descriptions of some very interesting and (as far as I can judge) thoroughly successful lessons. They have convinced me (or perhaps this is just the mindset I brought to my reading) that while I have no objection to the hopes and aspirations that Dogme-enthusiastic teachers bring to their craft (and admire the passion that the ongoing ‘unplugged’ conversation seems to provoke), there is nothing intrinsically superior about this way of looking at things.

    As I’ve said, these students are lucky to have/have had both (and either) of you as teachers, I reckon!


    1. Hi Jeremy

      What a lovely thing to say that the students are lucky to have us as their teachers. I think we have been very lucky to have them as our students – they have been a lovely group of learners to work with and really responsive to two quite differet ways of doing things.

      I completely agree with your third point – especially the last sentence. I also agree with “it’s not what you use but how you use it” comment. As you know it’s all about balance for me and too much of one thing is never good. But first and foremost, I think we need to take the learners’ perspective and needs into consideration. I’m going to sound like a broken record now but I’ll say it anyway – “What do the learners want?” “Are we meeting those needs?” and “Is learning taking place?”

      It’s been a tough week and I’ve got another week to go but this has been an extremely exciting and interesting project so far. And of course if it all goes pear shaped for me, I can always pull rank!! (Just joking Chia 🙂 )


      1. Varinder, I totally agree with Jeremy that students will be very happy with both of you. I do have one question though: what do you mean by:

        What do students want?
        Are we meeting those needs?

        Is the second q a follow up to the first? Hate to go into semantic of needs vs wants , but as the phrase gets ambiguous as internet text, and could mean a lot of different things, I want to make sure I understand.


    2. I was just getting round to leaving a comment on this, frankly very interesting, description of two different approaches, when I saw yours, Jeremy. I completely agree both that it is clear that both teachers are doing a great job, and that the quality of the teacher and how much effort they put into meeting the students’ needs is far more important a factor than whether they are using a coursebook or not.
      As an observer of classrooms for many years, I have seen excellent ‘unplugged’ lessons and also lessons in which the lack of published materials was a significant weakness because the teacher did not have the experience (or perhaps the willingness) to really consider the reasons behind the activities they chose. As a result, the lesson was aimless and the students gained very little from it.
      Equally, I have seen plenty of dull as ditchwater lessons where the teacher used a coursebook with no attempt to lift the lesson off the page or personalise it- and others where the material has been used to very good effect as a springboard for learning.
      I am finding the lesson descriptions fascinating, as I said, but I will be very surprised (and not a little disappointed) if the experiment is used to conclude that either dogme or coursebooks are superior. Surely there is much more to teaching than that?

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