Using ESL/EFL course books with children is usually something out of our control as teachers – it often depends on individual language schools and their policies. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to using course books when teaching young learners – and we should always be mindful of not becoming too reliant on them for all our lesson content. Ellie Romero writes.
Teaching English to children can be hard work and certainly comes with its own unique set of challenges. One of these challenges is knowing how to best plan and structure lessons, in order to keep young learners motivated and engaged. Starting with a completely blank page can be very daunting, especially for new / less experienced teachers.
Using an ESL/EFL course book can really help with planning and structuring lessons, and can save a lot of preparation time. Course books can provide a really helpful framework, with clear objectives, along with materials and ideas to give lessons focus and continuity.
However, we must be careful when using course books with children, that we don’t get lazy and solely rely on them to provide all our lesson content. All good teachers know they need to add their own style and creativity to lessons. It’s important to include varied activities to hold children’s attention, and to recycle the key language in multiple, meaningful ways.
Here’s a reminder of some of the advantages and disadvantages of using ESL/EFL course books with children – so we can be mindful of how we use them in our classrooms:
Advantages to using ESL/EFL course books with children
- They’re often bright and colourful, divided into popular topics – so they instantly captivate the children’s attention and interest.
- Most of them provide a ready-made framework, which helps to ensure some degree of continuity and logical progression.
- They have a clearly identified set of aims and objectives for each lesson. This can be useful when finding / creating supplementary activities.
- The contents are usually well mapped out, with a good selection of language material across all four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening).
- They’re especially helpful for beginner / less experienced teachers, providing ready-made activities and lesson plans – making it easier to prepare for each class.
- If the add-on materials are purchased (Flashcards, Posters, CD-ROM, etc), it saves hours of preparation time in making or finding these types of stimulus materials.
- It can be the cheapest / most convenient way to provide learning materials to every student.
Disadvantages to using ESL/EFL course books with children
- The contents are not always suitable for a particular class, due to level, ability, culture, etc. Being stuck with a course book for the year – that is too easy, too difficult or culturally inappropriate – is a nightmare!
- The framework / progression can be too rigid. They’re designed for the ‘average student’, which doesn’t really exist!
- There aren’t enough practice activities for the key language being taught, rarely any differentiation and no allowance for different learning styles.
- The activities can be presented in very repetitive ways, making them far too predictable (i.e. boring!) for young learners.
- They often fail to provide enough suitable, realistic language models. Some of the audio materials are especially appalling!
- They can encourage teachers to cut corners and be less creative. It’s easy to slip into the habit of only using the ideas in the book and not using our own imaginations to bring the topics to life.
- There are a lot of ‘add on’ resources which publishers want schools to buy, including flashcards, posters and CD-ROMs. Many schools can’t afford to invest in these extras, which makes it difficult for teachers to get the most out of the books.
Regardless of how good a course book is, its contents are never going to fill an entire hour (or more) of class time, or hold the children’s attention for that long. One book is never going to be able to meet every child’s needs – or those of every teacher, for that matter!
It’s unlikely anyone teaches children solely from a course book, for an entire class – not without being punished by bad behaviour and loss of classroom control! Children need variety, changes in activity and pace, and lots of physical interaction through action songs and games.
Whatever the advantages are, we’re always going to need to supplement the content, modify some of the activities and even skip some altogether! Every child needs different support, motivation, practice and reinforcement. We need to be skilful in adapting and supplementing the material to best meet the needs of our specific classes.
So, whilst using ESL/EFL course books with children can really support us in planning and structuring our lessons, they can never replace using our own ideas and creativity. We still need to use our own imaginations and be inspirational. We need to find additional ways to motivate and engage the children in our classes, to continuously revise and recycle the key language in stimulating ways.
Supplementary course-book materials
The series of topic-based, PDF, Activity Packs from Osito ESL are designed to help meet the need for supplementary materials and to support the creativity of teachers. They provide ESL/EFL teachers with a bank of versatile activities and games to use in multiple ways in their classes. By having a selection of topic-based activity sheets in one pack, they also save teachers time searching for suitable materials on the Internet: https://osito-esl.com/shop/
If you’re still not convinced (!) you can download a free sample pack here: https://osito-esl.com/free-samples
What are your experiences of using ESL course books with children? Do you have a favourite? What advice can you share here to help other ESL/EFL teachers?