How to not let a Terrible ESL Textbook Destroy Your Class

Terrible ESL textbook
A terrible textbook? Don’t let it ruin your course.

Thank You Admin!

Those who have been around the ESL Teaching world for a while have all had the experience of admins (who often have never set foot in a classroom as the teacher) choosing terrible ESL textbooks for classes. Once in a while it can work but more often, it doesn’t.

They tell you that it’s a “Conversation Class” and that the students want “free-talking” but hand you a book that is a grammar/vocab monstrosity with no communicative language activities whatsoever. Or, it’s a current events discussion class, but you get this book focusing on reading skills, in huge passages that take the students at least 30-40 minutes to digest.

How to Overcome a Terrible ESL Textbook

Use Something

Take something from the book and make it work because the students will be angry if they have been required to buy the book and bring it to class and then you don’t use it that day. I choose a grammar point, a topic or sample conversation and build my lesson around that, aiming to do at least a few minutes of something from the book. If the grammar is too confusing (which it most often is), I’ll prepare a handout with my own simplified version of it.

Contrast this to the last book I used, “Four Corners Level 1.” It’s a breezy tropical-island beach hut dream compared to some of the terrible ones I’ve used. It has easy to understand grammar, useful vocab presented well, superstar supplemental activities, fun surveys and interactive activities, and easy to use conversation starters. I would use the book for basically the entire class and not have to prepare any supplementary activities.

Click on the image below to buy the most fabulous Four Corners on Amazon:


The Takeaway: Be Flexible!

You have a good book? Use it. Your life will be easier and you won’t have to spend horrendous amounts of time on lesson planning. A terrible book? Make a “token” effort to use it. Besides that, get your serious planning on and make an interesting lesson for your students. Yes, it will be more work than just slaving away from the book but your efforts will be appreciated (hopefully) by your students. In the end, isn’t it all about making our classes awesome?

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