How to Select the Appropriate English Textbook
By Enrique Rojas R., M.A.
Nowadays very few people refute the convenience of using textbooks in the endeavor of teaching English as a foreign language, at least at the primary or secondary levels of instruction, when they are considered indispensable. The question is: what considerations should we have at the time of selecting a textbook or a series? There are various important points to be reflected.
Textbooks are deemed useful because they guarantee a quota of structure, consistency and logical progression in a class. Besides, they meet the expectations of having something concrete to work from and take home for further study that also allows them to review past material or preview future lessons.
For teachers, they minimize class preparation time and for novice instructors they provide guidance in course and activity design. Many books in our times also provide multiple resources: tapes, CDs, videos, self-study workbooks etc.
Before everything else, we should have perfectly clear in our minds the reason or reasons why our students are trying to learn English; what sort of students we have, their ages, aspirations, necessities, etc. And decide accordingly. Among the apparent characteristics we should look for books that were recently made. In a world that changes as fast as the one we live in now, it is important that the text deals with recent things and does not display old fashion matter. Another point is the ratio of print to pictures. We don’t want a purely illustrative manual, as we wouldn’t accept pages covered with just type.
The book should tell the reader what they will learn. It ought to be weighed if the textbook should be part of a series since this can be helpful to your ESL program, or your multi-level class, as students never have exactly the same level, a uniform text and activities across levels would provoke a better result. And a consideration that must always be present is price. Can the students or the students’ parents afford to pay the price tag?
Other concerns are of a methodological sort. The textbook ought to appeal to students of different learning styles, cover all the receptive and productive skills, along with grammar and vocabulary, suggest different interaction patterns, activities in pairs, groups and team work, be contextualized, present the vocabulary and recycle it a number of times; all the new items should be revised later, the pace should be according to the level while being flexible enough, it must integrate writing activities in the text, offer interactive and communicative exercises and preferably be useful for individual learners as well as for group classes and certainly incorporate higher level thinking skills and problem solving.
Additional advantages that the good textbooks of today offer are recordings, DVDs, digital books, a website full of extra material and other technological features. It is very convenient when they provide teachers with unit tests and final tests. Each educator will adapt them according to their own reality, but they are a valuable start. Finally, we must remember that every language textbook should promote cross-cultural awareness.
And now, YOUR TURN: What considerations do you or your institution take into account when it comes to choosing a textbook? Would you suggest any other? If so, why?
Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 17 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is a member of the Research Area of Centro de Idiomas de la UP.