My reflections on ideas presented during "Course materials: Design, Selection and Use" iTDi course by Penny Ur
In my experience, no matter how good a coursebook is, it can never meet all my students’ needs. During my twenty-four years of teaching, I have sometimes adapted the coursebooks in use or supplemented them with extra materials. Still, quite a number of ideas suggested by Ms Penny Ur in this course were new to me. I will look into five techniques that most appealed to me and I find most appropriate for my classes.
Respond to the text in some personal way
I deeply believe that the best way to make learning memorable is to make it personal. Some of the ideas regarding adapting reading comprehension exercises mentioned by Ms Penny Ur I have already used. The one which is new to me and I find very interesting is having students compose questions to the author and/or a character in the story. It is an excellent technique which requires not only a thorough understanding of the text but also a personal response to it. It also helps us, teachers, to see what has made the biggest impact on them, and the way they relate to the text, its characters and the author.
Write a new text based on the content of this one
Other creative and engaging ways to get the students to respond to the text include composing their own comprehension questions, composing real questions requiring information not given in the text and creating a new text using the keywords, phrases or the title. I have selected these three activities because they focus on the language production. The first two activities entail rereading and a thorough comprehension of the text, whereas the last one is open-ended and gives students a chance to practise creative writing.
I particularly like this idea because it is ideal for mixed-ability classes like mine. What I normally do is put students in heterogeneous groups to do the tasks. However, weaker students tend to sit back and let more proficient ones do them by themselves. Despite monitoring all the time, I have never been quite sure that all of them stay on task. From the variations Ms Penny Ur suggested, I am in favour of two: a) do as much as you can in a set time limit, and b) do as many items as you can on your own and then ask for help (either from the teacher or another student). Not being under pressure to do all the tasks, they will get the feeling of accomplishment. Besides, it will be easier for them to see how much they can do by themselves, check their progress and thus become more responsible for their own learning.
Delete bits in order to ’open-end’
The majority of grammar and vocabulary activities in coursebooks are gap-fills or matching exercises aimed at practising a particular grammar or lexical item in a boring way. By making them open-ended, students can get some meaningful practice for real communicative purposes. The examples provided in class dealt with adding one up to three adverbs at the end of the sentences. I think this technique is especially suitable for making subordinate clauses, such as relative clauses (e.g. This is the woman who...); clauses of purpose (He works out regularly so that...) and so on, when speaking of grammar. In vocabulary practice, collocations come to my mind – giving students a set of verbs and having them make as many collocations as they can think of.
Writing for communication
Nowadays written communication is widespread. We text our friends, send emails, write reports, cover letters etc. Although modern coursebooks do not lack such content, I think our students need a lot more practice than they provide. Writing for communication is more relevant today than writing essays which are still prevailing in the coursebooks. When it comes to modern informal communication, I think it might be useful to assign students to summarize the lesson in the form of a blog post, email or a tweet to a friend.
To sum it up, the ideas how to adapt coursebooks presented during the course are precious. Since I have already used some of them, I am positive that the ones new to me will increase my students’ motivation and engagement in class which will result in their better functional use of English.