Using coursebooks – part 2

In part 1 I discussed some of the things I like about coursebooks and how I try to use them. Today I’d like to talk about one of the things that bother me the most in coursebooks: vocabulary lists.

Many of the coursebooks I have worked with, from a variety of publishers, include vocabulary lists or vocabulary boxes, frequently presented with no context. At basic (A1) or intermediate (B1) levels, these lists tend to be part of lexical sets (e.g. clothes or professions). At higher levels, on the other hand, they may appear in lists such as ‘phrasal verbs with get’.

Scott Thornbury (2002:37) explains that “words that are too closely associated tend to interfere with each other, and can actually make the learning task more difficult. Words that can fill the same slot in a sentence are particularly likely to be confused”.

Take for example this list of items that appears in the same advanced coursebook I mentioned in part 1:

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Using Coursebooks – part 1

This topic has been on my mind since I read Damian Williams’ blogpost defending coursebooks. He is, among many other things, a coursebook writer, so his opinion might be biased. I’m not a coursebook writer, however, but I do like using coursebooks. Or maybe a better way of putting it is I think I have learned to make the most of them.

I’ve been teaching for a little over 11 years now, mostly at Language Centers. One thing every place I have worked at has in common is the use of coursebooks. Some came from international publishers, others were produced in-house. Some were more up-to-date or more interesting than others. Whatever their flaws, I can safely say I have taught some of my best lessons using coursebooks.

This has been a recent topic of discussion in the BrELT chat, and I would like to offer my two cents on how to approach some of the things I find good and bad about coursebooks.

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