Finding that new coursebook

It’s that time of the year again when publishers are overwhelming us with leaflets promoting their (latest) EFL publications and are inviting us to their book presentations. There is, of course, no such thing as the ideal English coursebook, yet as a teacher you should have some criteria when thinking of changing coursebooks. Mainly, it boils down to taking into account what the curriculum prescribes, what your pupils need and what you want as a teacher.

The curriculum

The curriculum (with all its teaching goals) is, in my opinion, the most important criterion. Does the coursebook provide a fun mixture of varied language activities to help your pupils reach those curriculum objectives? Are you able to find the references to those goals for every activity in the teacher’s manual? Make sure all communicative skills are worked on, with a variety of text types and tasks, integrating grammar and vocabulary. Are the communicative tasks realistic and challenging? Check if the book deals with intercultural differences and if authentic materials are provided to do so.

The pupil

A second criterion is the pupil. Does the language material fit your pupils’ language level? Do the different themes covered meet their real interests? Check if there is lots of variation in the language practice, in the working methods, the assignments, the activities. Is the overall lay-out appealing to them? Find out if you will be able to address mixed-ability, both for the stronger pupils as for those who are not that strong. In this respect, you could also have a look at the online course materials.

The teacher

We should not forget ourselves: the teacher is the third criterion. Is the teacher’s manual user friendly? Are the solutions to all exercises and tasks provided? Do you have access to extra teaching materials? Are the audio- and videofiles good quality (native speakers)? Are the board book, the DVDs and CDs easy to handle? Check if there are testing materials for all phases of teaching: reproduction, transfer and communicative activities? Are there any evaluation rubrics for the latter?

Looking for a new coursebook? Examine it with the criteria above. Pick a unit and try it out with some colleagues. Discuss your experiences afterwards. Hopefully, you can make the right choice then.


Penny Ur’s 100 Teaching Tips

On Satur9781316507285day 15 October I attended the London Language Show Live. At this event, I bought the pocket book with “100 Teaching Tips” by Penny Ur. The author started teaching in 1970 and has been working in primary, secondary and higher education. She has also worked as a teacher trainer, has authored lots of other books and presented at conferences around the world.

This book is really very useful to many teachers, both starting and more experienced. It provides exactly 100 practical tips, each covering one page. This is just the nice thing about it; I like taking the pocket with me to the “smallest room”, browsing through it and reading one or two tips.

People who prefer a more structural reading, might like the classification of the various tips into different areas of classroom teaching, including starting and ending the lesson, choosing a coursebook, classroom management, error correction, games, group work, working with mixed ability classes and assessment. Every different part of teaching English as a foreign language is covered with tips for teaching grammar, vocabulary, reading, listening, writing and speaking.

I particularly appreciate “tip 100”, the very final one: “Do your own thing”. Let me quote the lead to this tip: “To be really good at teaching you need to find your own teaching style and choose the methodology that suits you and your students”.

The 120-page book has been published this year by Cambridge University Press. Penny Ur talks about it in this YouTube video.

Integrating language skills through online music videos

The internet is a real treasure trove for every English teacher, but at the same time it can look like a maze. That is why I have made a personal selection of useful online resources that can make an English teacher’s life easier. You can find it online at The selection contains portals, resources for (remedial) reading and listening, ready-to-use materials, and many, many more. My pupils’ absolute favourite one is, a tool with online music videos that every teacher of English should add to her or his favourites. Why? Because it is a really fun way to practise (foreign) language skills in an integrated way.

knipsel is a website that uses YouTube-hosted music videos to sharpen various language skills through the songs’ lyrics. The main idea is that pupils have to complete the lyrics while watching the clip, a kind of gap-fill with a twist. It is also a game-like activity, players get an individual score for each completed song, which makes it even more cool.

This is how it works. When you open the site, the first thing you notice are the clips that are being played at the moment and also the top songs. Every song has a coloured label indicating the lyric’s language level: green (easy), red (difficult) and orange (in-between). Moreover the label shows you what language the lyrics are. You cannot only play with English songs, the site also offers music videos in other languages, a.o. French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch and even Japanese. The most interesting way to find a song however is using the search options at the top of the page; you can search by genre and language, but there is also a bar where you can just type the artist and/or the song title.

Once you have chosen your favourite music video, there is one more step to go before you  can start playing. You have to select one of the four game modes: four mastery levels, depending on how many random words have been left out: beginner (with 10% missing words), intermediate (25%), advanced (50%) and the expert mode (with all words to type!). At the bottom there is also a “karaoke” button, allowing you just to sing along with the music video.

Now you can start playing, although the site first warns you that you have to register if you want your score to be displayed in the ranking. But even if you have not signed up, you can still compare your results with other players in the end. As the video finally begins to play, the song’s lyrics appear underneath with several words missing. Your job is to complete the lyrics with the missing words as they are sung. When you get stuck, the video stops playing until you can come up with the word. Don’t take too long, because above the video, apart from your score, a red timeline is getting shorter while you are thinking. When the line has disappeared completely, the game is over. Under the video however you can also press an arrow to re-listen or another one to skip the word. At the end of the song, you will get your final score.

How to use this in your teaching?

I mostly use LyricsTraining as a “filler”, at the end of a lesson, when there is not enough time left to start something new, but just too much to do nothing anymore. Sometimes, I use it even to motivate pupils: if they work hard, there might just be enough time left to play another song. I then have one pupil choosing a song and playing on the computer, whilst the others help him or her to complete the lyrics. They are mostly very keen to do so, because they don’t want the song to be interrupted. If you have laptops or tablets at your disposal, you could also let pupils compete each other in getting the highest score for a particular song. Another possibility is to set it as a fun homework, having pupils choose their own song and elicit five new words out of the lyrics.

Anyway, learners just adore working with this website, because it is so motivating. Since they are watching the video, listening to the song, reading the incomplete lyrics and writing down the missing words, many language skills are integrated in this gamelike activity. As pupils can play at their own level, you are also differentiating. Moreover they can practise at home. And even if not all lyrics are “proper” English and it may only look like another gap-fill, working on their language skills will never have been more enjoyable.