As a TEFL teacher, quite often your only introduction to a new class is a register of names and a textbook. If you’re lucky, the previous teacher was good enough to create some handover notes to share information about individual students and some activities that work well in your new class. However, I have not always found that to be the case.
So you open the textbook to where the last teacher left off…now what? There are enough activities, even with young learner’s textbooks, to last for at least thirty minutes. Are you meant to complete all of these activities? If you do this, will the aims of the lesson be met? How can you even be sure what the aims of the lesson are?
Read on for my personal list of Dos and Don’ts regarding TEFL textbooks. I’ll cover common pitfalls such as overreliance on the textbook and offer some useful suggestions such as how to turn book activities into engaging activities.
If what you’re really looking for right now is a step by step process of turning those pages of the book into a lesson plan, I urge you to get access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
1. Blame the book
I’ve heard the book used as an excuse for a bad class more often than I’d care to admit. In reality though, it’s usually the fault of the teacher. Granted, some books are more engaging than others, but it’s up to the teacher to bring the material to life and activate students. If you don’t like an activity in the book, change it! If the reading material is boring and inaccessible to your students, find something with a similar topic that they’ll find engaging.
2. Restrict the language you teach to just the book
Sometimes the book is challenging enough for the students, and adding extra vocabulary will get in the way of a lesson. However, I am a firm believer that some of the most useful language that students learn in a TEFL classroom doesn’t come from the book. With beginners, a lot of language is gleaned through instructions, unintended interactions and desperately trying to communicate with the teacher. Make use of this.
With more advanced students, don’t miss out on teaching opportunities as they present themselves. If you are teaching a particular grammar point, but through the course of the lesson notice a number of students making similar mistakes with a different grammar point, don’t just ignore it. If you are discussing public transportation, you don’t have to limit yourself to the examples in the book. Stay on track, but don’t let teaching opportunities pass you by. You are teaching English, not teaching the book.
3. Plan without the book
This is a purely practical tip that I’m guilty of ignoring from time to time. Let’s say you decide to do some planning at home and vaguely remember what you were teaching that day. You may think that you can plan the lesson without looking at the book, but you will likely, like me, miss key points of the lesson that will come back to haunt you. Also, the book can inspire you to think about a grammar point from a specific context. That is often the first brick of a good lesson plan.
To get the best of both worlds, try to get a hold of a digital copy of the textbooks that you use on a regular basis. If you have them on a cloud, then you can access them anywhere!
4. Spend most of the class with the book open
I’ll say it again for effect: You are teaching English, not teaching the book. A common mistake I’ve noticed with many new teachers is the amount of time they spend with the books open. Especially with young learners, I make sure that their books are in their bag or under their chairs unless we are actively using the book for something. The activities in the class should have their focus, not the fun sticker page five lessons from now.
For beginners, especially young learners, my rule of thumb is generally five to ten minutes of time spent with the book open per lesson. I don’t waste time with “listen and repeat” sections as this can be done in a more interactive way using me as the reference. For more advanced students, there are arguably some lessons where the book will need to be open for longer than this during reading and listening lessons. Still, you shouldn’t be spending half of the class with students’ noses in the book if it is a general English class where speaking is the focus.
5. Let lazy students off the hook
When you have the students do an activity in the book, make sure that EVERYONE is doing it. If you aren’t actively monitoring the students doing the activity, some students may take this time to zone out or get into mischief. If you are concerned some students might have trouble with it, have them work with a partner.
1. Use the textbook
Right, so I’ve just stated that you shouldn’t rely on the textbook too much. However, that doesn’t mean you should just disregard it and teach whatever you feel like every day. At the very least, you should use it as a guide for lesson aims. This will keep your individual lessons moving towards a larger goal.
Also, a textbook is full of images, readings, listening activities and more. It would be foolish to simply disregard the whole thing as a waste of time. Use it to meet your lesson aims, just don’t let it take over your role as teacher.
*Quick tip* Get to know all of the resources the book has. Is there an online component? Are there extra grammar/speaking activities in the back? Especially with the more modern books, there are usually hidden gems if you take a few moments to look at it and see how it works.
2. Set routines for how it’s used
Here’s an example of a routine for my beginner students that are six years old. I tell them to open to a particular page. I write that page number on the board. I have one or two students hand out pencils, if required to the group. If some students are taking too long to open the book I start a countdown. When all of the students have their books open to the correct page I say, “pencils up!” and have the students put their pencils in the air. I now know we are all ready to do the activity, and can begin to give instructions.
For older or more advanced students, the types of routines I’m referring to are time limits and how they check their work. What I don’t mean by routines is doing similar activities in exactly the same way every time they see it. More on this later.
3. Look ahead and behind the current pages
As a habit, one of the first things I do when I sit down to plan is to look at the previous lesson and the next lesson. This helps me put the particular lesson pages in context and define what I want the students to accomplish that day. Here’s a specific example.
Let’s say that for today’s lesson I’m teaching a few new occupations and the structure “My father is a doctor.” The previous lesson I taught six new jobs with the structure “He’s a fisherman.” And the students found it pretty simple. The next lesson I’m teaching present simple about what these people do (e.g. “A doctor helps sick people.”). Knowing that this lesson will be fairly simple for them, I’ll likely reserve some lesson time to introduce some of the terms for the next lesson so that they aren’t trying to deal with too much at once. In this case, verb changes and a load of new vocabulary.
4. Turn activities into games
This is key. Most of the things that your students will find “boring” in the book can easily be changed into engaging activities. If you think that your students will be bored with the section of the book that says something like “Now tell your partner about your hobbies.”, then think of ways to achieve the same objective, but that they will find more enjoyable. For this particular example, it could be turned into a guessing game where one student talks about a different student’s hobbies and the other student guesses who they are talking about.
5. Give HW
Another advantage that the textbook offers, is the opportunity to assign homework. As a teacher, you are likely to encounter opposition to the idea of homework, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t assign it. That fifteen minutes that the student spends outside of class makes a big difference. Don’t listen to their grumbling, remain steadfast with homework.