The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (3)

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

What do we really know about how textbooks are actually used in secondary school EFL classrooms around the globe today? Research indicates that EFL textbooks are used in many different ways, depending on a wide spectrum of factors. The teacher seems to be the most important factor. In a number of scholarly publications, including some introductory books to teaching English as a foreign language, different preferences or styles of textbook use are identified and described in more or less detail (see, for instance, Haß 2006), ranging from complete textbook-reliance to more selective approaches, from the eclectic use of many different instructional resources to the employment of self-made materials, especially in project-oriented or project-based sequences of instruction. In this context, textbook-bound teaching (i.e. progressing through the book page by page over the course of the school year) is often set in opposition to more flexible approaches to textbook use. The latter is often seen as the most adequate, convincing and appropriate.

The empirical basis is weak, however. This is regrettable, not only because it leaves us with a vague picture of actual textbook use (around the world, in different educational contexts). More fundamentally, identifying different styles of textbook use does not really tell us anything about how to use EFL materials and media most effectively and efficiently.

I am very interested in hearing what you think about this personally, and, more specifically, in how you make use of EFL materials and media in everyday classroom practice. On this blog, I have already referred to the many images and metaphors used by scholars to describe how textbooks and related materials and media should or should not be used in the EFL classroom (see: the role of the textbook in the EFL classroom, parts one und two).

Here are some very interesting and thought-provoking learner images for EFL textbooks documented in McGrath (2006):

“A coursebook is a pair of glasses (which help me to see what the teacher is talking about).“

“A textbook is a beggar (no one likes to approach it).“

“A textbook is an angry barking dog that frightens me in a language I don‘t understand.“

You can also find a lot of teacher images and metaphors for textbooks in McGrath (2006) as well, for instance:

„A textbook is like oil in cooking – a useful base ingredient.“

„Textbooks are like ladies‘ handbags because we can take what we need from them and ladies tend to take handbags wherever they go.“

„A textbook is the stone from which a sculpture will be made (needing bits chopped off, added on and occasionally a little crushing.“

Food for thought…

Haß, F. (Hrsg.) (2006). Fachdidaktik Englisch. Tradition, Innovation, Praxis. Stuttgart: Klett.

McGrath, I. (2006). Teachers‘ and learners‘ images for coursebooks. ELT Journal, 60 (2), 171-180.


One response to “The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (3)

  1. Jürgen,

    This is a very good topic for discussion and in fact one that I have covered this week in a teacher training session at a local university.

    I have found that many teachers, especially newer teachers or those making the transition from other courses to ESL are quite unsure how and when to incorporate textbooks into the classroom.

    I have always used the approach that the book is for the student, not the teacher. Learning of a language is 90% learner-based with only about 10% of the process being teacher-driven. Classroom time with students is often far too limited and thus must be treated as extremely valuable. No matter how much face-to-face time the teacher gets with his students, it’s never enough and it certainly should not be wasted guiding the students through a coursebook they can easily read on their own.

    Far too many teachers stand in front of their classes instructing their students to perform one exercise after another, and read one paragraph after another on end. This is not teaching, and it is not an effective way of facilitating the learning process.

    Text books are designed to confuse the students. That sounds strange, but texts introduce situations of language usage that cause the student to consider new and unfamiliar concepts. The natural result is a bit of confusion on the part of the student, and leads them to ask their teacher those all important “Why?” questions.

    Answering these questions and effectively explaining the nature and usage of the language is the what the job of the teacher is, not announcing which page number to flip to.

    Classroom time is too valuable to regurgitate a pre-planned written text. It should be used informing the students, explaining the grammar, and encouraging successful use of forms and structures introduced in the text (which the student should be expected to have read before class).

    Drew Ward

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