I remember years ago when I was just starting out as a teacher, I felt like I NEEDED a textbook, because without it, what could I possibly do in class to fill the time? And I was indeed just filling the time and not really teaching. It seemed so complicated to have to figure out what the students needed and were interested in and then design my own materials to meet those needs. But, as I’ve become a more experienced teacher, the less I’ve relied upon textbooks and if given a choice, there’s probably a 50-50 chance of whether I’ll use a textbook for a given class or not.
No textbooks: it really is possible!
I Use a Textbook in the Following Situations:
I’m inexperienced in teaching the subject matter
One semester, I was given 3 sections of advanced academic writing. Although I’ve taught writing before, I’ve never gone this in depth with it and it would have been a struggle to come up with enough solid content in an organized fashion to really help my students. Another time, I was given a presentation and public speaking class to teach for the first time, which would have been really hard without the fabulous Speaking of Speech.
It’s a content based class
For example, if I were teaching an introduction to psych class in English, I for sure would use a textbook of some kind.
If forced to
Most universities in Korea have some sort of mandatory textbook that they require you to at least pretend to use. The students have to buy it, so if you don’t use it at least a little bit for each class they’ll feel like they wasted their money (for good reason) and will be unhappy with you.
It’s an exam preparation class, such as TOIEC speaking
It’s just too time consuming to come up with enough practice questions on your own, although there are some decent resources on the Internet.
No Textbooks in these Situations
A conversation class
I find it more interesting and useful to design lessons around themes of some sort, mostly what I personally find interesting. A structural based syllabus, upon which many textbooks are based is bad news in my opinion and it’s kind of the old style of language teaching. I’m all about teaching in more communicative, task-based way. For examples of activities I would do in a conversation class, check out ESL Speaking or 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Teenagers and Adults
Advanced level students
Authentic materials, for example real newspaper articles or YouTube videos are better for these students than stuff from a textbook. Once you get to a certain point, it’s all about real-life. Here’s a lesson plan that I based on authentic materials: Youth Unemployment in Korea.
A current events or contemporary issue class
It doesn’t make sense to use a textbook for this. It’s more interesting are far more relevant to talk about stuff that’s in the news today.
For more details about this topic, check out Teaching Unplugged by Scott Thornbury, which is the first (and only?) book to deal comprehensively with Dogme ELT.