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Choosing a Course Book
by Miri Yochanna

The author, a writer and editor and ELT consultant at UPP, as well as a teacher trainer at Beit Berl College, offers sound advice on how to choose the correct course book for your students' needs.

Ah, the course book!

Every teacher knows the students need a course book. Every teacher also knows it should be the best course book possible for those students. But what exactly is the best course book?

The never-ending search for the 'perfect' course book affects every teacher, worldwide. The EFL teacher is no exception. Teachers need to take many different factors into consideration when choosing that course book: they need to think about their students' needs, interests, ability and level.

Before discussing how to choose a course book, let's consider why a course book is needed. Any good teacher will say that he or she always brings other materials into class anyway. Does that mean they are willing to not use a course book and to create and bring in different materials for every lesson? This is doubtful. The course book provides a rich resource of materials and a structured, well thought out syllabus.

Dimitrios Thanasoulas (1999) in his article "Course Book, Take It or Leave It", presents a nice point of view when he say, "Personally, I find a course book extremely helpful, as it guides me on what and how to teach, giving me some useful advice on the best techniques for presenting the material."

For the teacher, the course book provides a plethora of ideas and materials. But why do the students need a course book? Students will learn just as well if the teacher gives them a photocopied worksheet instead of having a book, won't they? Well the answer is a resounding "NO". The good course book offers the students stability and security. The good course book offers the students a sense of progress and achievement. There is always something to go back to and revise. It offers the students a sense of confidence and satisfaction as they feel they are working within a framework and they know where they are headed and where they've been. Everyone takes the course more seriously if there is a good course book involved, be it the students themselves, the administration or the student's parents. Offering the students an endless parade of photocopied pages (from other course books undoubtedly) is disorganized and regarded as less professional by the students and everyone involved.

It would seem that a course book is an essential element in any course, at any age, no matter how young or old the students are.

Now comes the big question:

How do we choose the course books we want use with our students?

Choosing a course book is not a frivolous matter. When deciding on a course book for the students, we should be making an informed decision. It should be made based on analysis and knowledge. It shouldn't be made lightly and we shouldn't feel that 'any old course book' will do. Furthermore, we shouldn't be coerced or bullied into choosing one course book over another, by anyone. Choose your course books based on a clear, detailed analysis of what it offers and what your students need.

Many researchers have compiled checklists and guidelines for choosing appropriate course books for different students. Some are more detailed and some are less so, but all deal with more or less the same issues. It is very important to know what to look for when choosing a book.

Before choosing a course book for the students in any course, it is important to create a needs-analysis for your own students. What will the students need to know by the end of the course or school year? Once the needs-analysis is done, it's a good idea to create a list of items that you consider desirable in a course book. Based on these lists, any course book can then be analyzed.

Below are a few basic questions (to help get you started) that should be asked when we are in the process of choosing a course book for our classes and our students.

Initial Questions

  • Do the principles stated in the introduction or teacher's guide reflect my own principles?

  • Is the teacher's guide comprehensive and does it offer many extra ideas?

  • Does the book follow the rationale of the current English curriculum?
    • How do I know this?
    • Where can I check it?

  • Are the topics covered in the book appropriate for my students?

  • Is the material appropriate for my students?

  • Are there enough reading passages and tasks in the book?
    • Are they varied?

  • Are there enough listening comprehension tasks in the book?
    • Are they varied?

  • Are there enough writing tasks in the book?
    • Are they varied?

  • Is grammar presented, taught and practiced in the book?
    • Is there enough practice of grammar in the book?

  • Are there performance-based tasks in the book?
    • Are these varied and include both oral presentations and written ones?

  • Is the language authentic?

  • Is the book appealing to me?
    • Do I think the students will also find it appealing?

  • Is the font size or style appropriate for the age group of my students?

  • Do I think I would enjoy using this book?

Once you've analyzed the books you initially found attractive, you will know, clearly and wholeheartedly, that you have made the right choice for your students. Never settle for second best.

Have a wonderful school year.


Thanasoulas, D. (1999) "Course Book, Take It or Leave It", From: Last viewed: October 29, 2006

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