Is deviation from the coursebook a sin? How do we convince our managers that it isn’t? #ELTchat Summary 21/0/2016

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Is deviation from the coursebook a sin? How do we convince our managers that it isn’t? #ELTchat Summary 21/0/2016



I’m happy and excited to post my first #ELTchat summary. This is the first time I participated in the chat though I’ve been a lurker for a while. The topic was quite relevant to my context and it was interesting to know how other teachers feel about it.  


Teaching materials in ELT still comprise largely of coursebooks. In many teaching-learning contexts around the world school managers and administrators select the coursebook and insist on following it blindly. But what if the lessons in coursebooks are irrelevant for the learners? What if the learners’ needs require a different lesson or approach? In such cases, how do we convince our managers that it is okay to deviate from the book?




Topic of the chat:  Is deviation from coursebook a sin? How do we convince our managers that it isn’t?


@Sue Annan began the chat on an interesting note by saying that she uses the coursebook like a menu. Her learners go through the syllabus – topics, structures, functions and then the lesson is developed which may or may not include the coursebook. @Hada_ELT uses a similar strategy using ‘can-do’ statements to negotiate the content of the course with her learners. She doesn’t follow the topics in the coursebook if they are irrelevant to her learners. These practices help in developing lessons relevant to learners’ needs.


@Marisa_C raised the question of dealing with bad attitudes about deviations from the coursebook. @Hada_ELT responded that she deals with such complaints by explaining how the topics she has taught are exactly the same as given in the coursebook. @teacherphili shared that she teaches online and this does not require the use of a coursebook. Instead she plans her own lessons. On the flipside, some adults prefer using a coursebook as it helps them to set clear goals and maintain focus.

A general discussion ensued as to what are the advantages and disadvantages of using a coursebook.



Advantages of Using a Coursebook


  • Less work for the teacher, therefore time saving.
  • Extra lessons are ready in case the teacher is on a busy schedule.
  • Some learners may prefer using a coursebook as it helps them to set clear goal and stay focused.
  • @patjack67 pointed out several advantages such as attractive design, consistency, providing a syllabus, recycling previous lessons.  Coursebooks also provide resources in different formats including music, video, or other digital media.
  • @TeresaBestwick said that good coursebooks effectively build on previous units’ linguistic input.
  • According to @SueAnnan they work as a good skeleton to build a course on. @cbsiskin agreed that it provides organization.
  • Both @David__Boughton and @cbsiskin pointed out that coursebooks are important resource for new and inexperienced teachers.

By ELTpics taken from

By ELTpics taken from

Disadvantages of Using a Coursebook


  • @Hada_ELT said that feeling we MUST complete all the exercises and tasks given in a coursebook is not right. Working within the time constraints, it becomes difficult to make sure if real learning is taking place or if we are just ‘covering’ the lessons.
  • Language learning is an active process. Keeping students noses buried in a book does not ensure good learning.
  • @ SueAnnan said that coursebooks are often proscribed with the teacher having no say in the matter. This is a serious problem in contexts where the coursebooks are selected by those who may never have taught English.
  • Coursebooks written in one country may not be culturally relevant for another.



Why sticking blindly to coursebooks creates problems?


  • Books are often selected by directors or people in charge who may never have taught English themselves.
  • Sometimes parents, along with the directors, complain about skipping a lesson. This unnecessary meddling is unpleasant.
  • Books published in a different part of the world may not match the personal cultural experience of the students.
  • Some schools assign more than one coursebook. Often there is a textbook, accompanied with several workbooks. The obligation of completing it from cover to cover allows no time for practicing or for revision. It also does not allow students to assimilate new concepts.
  • Some publishers pay commissions to schools to favour their coursebooks. This may result in selection of inappropriate material.
  • When the focus is on completing a coursebook from cover to cover, it generally means more focus on reading and written tasks. Speaking and listening often go neglected.


How can teachers deal with this issue?


  • Teachers can negotiate syllabus with students as mentioned earlier by @SueAnnan and @Hada_ELT. Then the results should be shared with those who think deviation is a sin. @Marisa_C said that this may work if the students are adults but not with young learners where the parents are in control.
  • @Marisa_C suggested that in some contexts sharing relevant articles in the mother tongue of the parents may work. This helps in explaining to the parent why teachers are teaching the way they are, using a coursebook but not following it blindly by focusing solely on completing all chapters.


There was general agreement that adapting and personalizing a coursebook to the learners’ needs holds the key. So this chat came full circle as it began on a similar note with teachers sharing how they adapt coursebook rather than being led by it.


I’d like to thank again everyone for this #ELTchat.


Summary writer 

Sadeqa Ghazal  @sadeqaghazal on Twitter is a Researcher in English Language Teaching