Should I Toss the Textbook?

If you ask most teachers why they only use textbooks for ESL classes, one of the most popular reasons is that there are no authentic materials that are suitable and easily available. It’s hard to find many English language newspapers in China, and magazines aren’t delivered to your door. You can’t even go to a library and find books to check out in English!

● Books

● Magazines

● Newspapers

● TV

● Radio

● Internet

● Videos

● CDs

● Libraries

Even when you do find these things, it’s often not useful. Why?

● Too difficult

● Too long or short

● Use of grammar or language

● Irrelevancy of themes

● Not adapted for specific use

● Not adapted to student learning styles

But even though this is true, it doesn’t mean you can’t use authentic materials in class. Here are a few ways you could use them:

If you want to use these types of materials in your classroom, it just takes a little extra work to make it better for your student’s needs and levels. Some tips to adapting materials are:

● Use the materials as an example that the students could “copy”

○ Make your own news broadcast (filming and editing can be done with a smart phone!)

○ Travel Brochure: Students can look at one from a popular tourist spot and recreate using similar language structure but about their hometown.

● Adjusting the length of the materials

○ Show only part of a TV show during class; turn the sound off and let students make their own dialogues.

○ Expand a children’s book by giving the characters a rich back story

● Simplifying or explaining key language elements

○ Use magazines or newspaper headlines to show how sentences are simplified

● Converting authentic materials into a variety of exercise types

○ TV show can be a listening exercise worksheet

○ Teach songs then host a “KTV” party in the classroom.

Students benefit from listening to materials spoken at “normal” conversational speed vs. ESL materials which have been slowed down to “improve comprehension” Listening at slower speeds or to adapted materials is not a bad thing, but it can become a bad habit if they ever need to use English in a real life situation – they will feel lost! Why? Because—- no—- body—– talks—– like —- this — in —- real—- life—– in —-any—- language!

Another great thing about using authentic materials is that students will be learning language structures AND learning about current events and cultural aspects! Another great thing is that TV shows, CDs, can be repeated many times. Don’t let students watch an entire season of a TV show, instead, ask them to listen to one episode over and over again until they can comprehend 80% or more, then move to the next episode.

A lot of textbooks are written to be used across the entire world, the content is controlled and seldom updated. So the content is not as good as using authentic materials.

But we know the reality, your school will not let you throw away the books! And the students will feel very uneasy if they don’t have the structure to follow. But there’s no reason you can’t add more authentic materials to the coursework that goes along with your textbook’s contents. In the end, your students will learn more, be more engaged. It may take a little extra effort, but it will be worth it to see their improvement!

Adapted from an article by Larry Lynch

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an ELT Teacher Trainer, English language learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. He has published more than 350 articles and academic papers and presented at numerous EFL teacher training and TEFL conferences throughout North America, South America and Europe. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail:

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