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Terrible ESL Textbook Doesn’t Have to Mean a Terrible Class

I remember back to the days when I first started teaching in Korean universities and how clueless I was about basically everything. That first semester, I was given a total piece of crap textbook to teach English conversation from (which shall remain nameless) for my freshman classes.

Of course, it was a disaster. Instead of using some of theses strategies I’ll talk about in a minute, I soldiered on through the terrible ESL textbook with awful results.

Don’t let a terrible ESL textbook ruin your class! It really is possible to salvage the class and make some awesome for yourself, as well as the students. Follow these tips instead:

Choose Your Own Book if Possible

The best case scenario is that you could choose your own ESL textbook. That way, you can avoid a terrible one in the first place. However, this often isn’t the reality because those decisions are often made by program administrators. If you do have that decision making power though, consider the following ones I recommend:

ESL Textbooks for Adults

Textbook Reviews 

ESL Textbooks for Children

Only use the Concepts, not the Content in the Textbook

For the most terrible ESL textbooks, I’ll generally use only the concepts, but not the actual content from the book. For example, if chapter one is “simple past,” I’ll teach that same grammar point but I’ll use my own supplementary material.

In my experience though, if you make the students buy the textbook, use it for at least a few minutes each class or the students will be angry. The grammar practice or the listening exercise are often a good place to do this in a kind of painless way. The games and activities aren’t that great usually, so skip them and create your own.

To supplement, I use better textbooks, authentic level-appropriate materials (newspaper articles work well), videos, or materials that I design myself. Remember to whatever you design in Google Drive so you can reuse them next semester. See: Why I Love Google Drive.

Skip the Worst Chapters

In most ESL textbooks, there are one or two chapters that are terrible for whatever reason. Maybe they’re confusing, or perhaps they’re not so bad, but just irrelevant to students in the country you’re teaching in.

Skip them. It’s better to do that than to power through a topic that students really don’t care about. In my experience, I’ve found that I usually have way more material than not enough.

Use Lots of Games and Activities

I love me a good ESL game or activity. Once you introduce a concept such as the simple past, use a couple activities to get students practicing with the language. They’ll have fun and be learning English at the same time. Scroll around on this site for a ton of activities and games for ESL students, or start here:

ESL Speaking Activities for Kids

Speaking Activities for Adults

ESL Activities for Kids and Adults

One Example of a Fun ESL Activity

I LOVE to play board games in real life, and I try to use them in my classes as well. I’ll often use them a couple times a semester as a way to review before the midterm and final exams.

Check out this short video for how to use board games in your ESL classes:

Collaborate with Colleagues

If you’re required to use a terrible ESL textbook, chances are you’re not alone. Your coworkers probably have to as well. Collaborate with them to see how they’re coping with it.

Perhaps you can share some ideas for games or activities. Maybe share the supplementary materials you’ve created. Make PowerPoints for that lesson together. Join classes for a special activity.

There are a ton of ways that you can work together with your colleagues to make your own classes better. Take advantage of this amazing resource!

Terrible ESL Textbook: Not Disaster?

Do you believe me that a terrible ESL textbook really doesn’t have to be disastrous? I hope so. Please comment below and tell me how you deal with this situation.

Have your Say

How do you make a terrible textbook work in your ESL or EFL classes? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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