Thursday, 9 February 2012

Why go course book free?

There are many reasons why it can be very rewarding both for the English as a Foreign Language educator and her students to go course book free.

Some quick ideas, far from exhaustive, on the advantages and disadvantages;


  • it's cheaper! In many developing countries this is a real and urgent consideration. Course books are costly, and can make the difference between being able to afford classes and not.
  • classes become more personalised to students'  - and teacher's! - needs and interests, freed from pre-established structuring, and so able to deal with emergent language, and follow where need and interest seem to dictate.
  • in my experience, even comparing my own classes WITH a coursebook, as opposed to my classes WITHOUT coursebooks, the latter tend to be more interesting, dynamic and creative. I always try for interesting, creative classes, but somehow when you have book suggesting what to do, and how to go about it, all supported within structured practice exercises, somehow I feel obliged to include those exercises whether they be truly necessary or edifying OR NOT, and somehow, the class always seems a little slower for it.
  • on a related note, many courses seem to be structured around grammar points, so it can be difficult to maintain a communicative focus.
  • materials are AUTHENTIC rather than designed for language learners. This simulates what the learner is going to find in the real English speaking world, and much better prepares them to take a part in it.


  • It can be hard work! teachers must be more resourceful and creative, especially in coming up with appropriate input: course books are easy, on a lazy day you can just follow through the pages without so much as giving them a good thinkover. We all know we shouldn't. But we all do it albeit very occasionally. On a lazy day.
  • The educator may need to supply more support material, and this can require more photocopies than a class where everyone has books.
  • Authentic materials should be selected to be accesible to students' level of English so as not to demotivate them. Students may need more focussed preparation and  learning strategies taught to them to deal with the more complex challenges which authentic materials can pose. 
  • Sequencing, typically extremely professionally staged in your average course book,  may be haphazard in the course-book free classroom, and perhaps therefore less efficient or complete. I still find that after following a particular theme or language point through to its logical conclusion, I need to really sit down  - both by myself, and also with my students, and think about where we've been and where to go next. This is more the case with very low level students and very high level students. The very low level, because what they need next is EVERYTHING. The very high level, because after you've been working together for some time - let's say a year or more - sometimes it is not so apparent what they need at all, and to keep coming up with new ideas can become a strain.
  • Unlike when learning from a 'course' where you might have an amount of time established as necessary to cover each section - chapter, page, book - there is no real answer to that question so often asked by students; "How long before I 'finish'?" Students who are accustomed to traditional and evaluation-oriented classes sometimes object to the (to my mind, glorious, real-life) nebulousness of unstructured study.  
  • If you have an unsuccessful class, badly structured, badly supported, badly explained, with unsuccessful follow-through, or otherwise boring, looking at unnecessary or even incorrect language - there is no one else to blame but ONESELF. No excuses, no we HAVE TO DO this because it is in the book. I freely confess I have had some spectacular FAILURES with some of my more experimental ideas, and though my students seem to have forgiven me, I have learned the hard way why no one else has tried anything  quite like THAT before, and is not likely to ever do so again.The ideas in course books mostly have been trialed and selected on the basis of being relatively fail proof. For my students' sake, sometimes I wish MY ideas had enjoyed that luxury BEFORE being inflicted on them!

Just as some teachers are not happy teaching course-book free, so students may not be either.

For myself and my students, I feel the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, though sometimes on a bad day I might regret taking on more work than I need to. In the long run; I believe it is worth it, both for myself and for my students.

I know there are many of both advantages and disadvantages I have failed to mention.

Do you have any thoughts to add? What are your own feelings and experiences of the course book free classroom?

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