Thursday, February 22, 2007

"...the most engaging lessons were without a textbook!"

By Maria Spelleri, Manatee Community College, FL, USA

I know what I need to teach in a particular semester. If I am lucky, the textbook that was selected for the course (not by me) will cover many of those points and I will have a ready source of useful material for the student. But how can following page after page of a static book developed to appeal to the widest variety of learners adequately serve our ever-changing students and their various needs, interests, and learning styles?

For me, the text is but one classroom tool that serves our course objectives (hopefully). I choose from the text what I want, when I want it, to add to MY specified lesson plan.

I recently had a semester where we tried out a new series of books. They turned out to be very wrong for our students, and in my writing/grammar class, I didn't use the textbook at all for the complete second half of the course. I am currently using a reading text book that has a nice selection of college-content readings, but I am not fond of the accompanying exercises. No problem. I decide, through my lesson objective, how I want to use the readings and can ignore most of the activities in the book.

We simply cannot let publishers make the decision of how and when to present material to our students. Of course a text book with a lot of useful material is a godsend, but the instructor must determine how to best use it. And concerning lesson planning, this is where we can see its great importance. Maybe if we don't make lesson plans, we are letting a textbook make it for us.

I have observed many classes at many different levels. Without a doubt, the most engaging were those lessons without a textbook!

There was a certain part of teacher training that I valued highly. Every class we had to teach 20 minute mini-lessons without books or "ESL" materials to a group of ESL students who were taking the classes for free, knowing that student teachers were the instructors.

We could use pictures from magazines and catalogs, the board, things we made (a homemade game board, slips with roles described, etc.), realia objects like food and clothing items, and other little things. We could also use pages that we had created from scratch for dialogs, vocabulary practice, etc., but we didn't have computers so everything was printed or typed and that constraint limited the paper output!

I learned the importance of dice, a ball, chanting, singing, TPR, and situational role-plays. It is amazing how creative a teacher can become when denied textbooks and computer programs! For people teaching in locations where TESL materials are scarce, I suggest the following depending on the level of your class:

- begin a picture file from magazine and news photos
- now and then buy an English language newspaper and research activities to do with a newspaper (there are dozens)
- jazz up boring drill or recite type activities by throwing a ball around or clapping/marching, etc.
- invest in a teacher resource book that has ideas for oral practice like Klippel's Keep Talking or Ur's Grammar Practice Activities
- think role play and small group projects/tasks like creating an advertisement, planning a travel itinerary, etc.
- if you have a digital camera and one computer, great. If not, can you access a video camera and player? If not can you get hold of a cassette player that records? Are disposable cameras affordable? There are all sorts of projects that can be done and that students of all ages love to do if they can hear or see themselves and their classmates in media.

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