Teachers must often work with textbooks assigned to them not chosen by them. Teaching within a set curriculum by no means eliminates the need for lesson planning. Furthermore, lesson plans based on a textbook may not always be recycled in their exact form the next academic year. No two groups of students are exactly the same, so the way one group covers Chapter 5 is not the same as how another group will cover it. My advice: You must always teach to the students with the aid of the textbook; don’t expect the book to teach to the students with your aid.
Let me offer more specific dos and don’ts when it comes to teaching from an assigned textbook:
- At the chapter level, look at the material as it is presented by the author(s). Don’t immediately start changing the sequence and replacing activities. Consider the existing layout as Plan A.
- Ask yourself if Plan A fits the time frame of your lesson. If not, identify what is most essential. What could be shortened or omitted if necessary?
- Ask yourself is Plan A fits your students’ needs. If not, what modifications can be made? For example, the textbook might present age-related content. For young adults, the activity of planning one’s own wedding could remain as is. For older learners, the activity could be modified to planning their children’s wedding. Or if your students have more professional purposes for studying English, you could assign them the role of wedding planner and have them provide services to their clients. Do you wish to increase students’ speaking skills? Change the format from a writing activity to an oral presentation.
- Knowing your students’ learning preferences and your own teaching style, do you see an alternative sequencing? If so, you can consider constructing Plan B. Does the book have a lengthy grammar presentation? Break it up into two parts, placing an activity between them. The second presentation will correct errors and/ or build upon student-generated ideas that surfaced during the activity.
- Modify but keep the authors’ focus. If you modify too much, you risk tampering with the methodology of the book. If you replace or omit too much, your students will question the purpose of having (or purchasing) the textbook. The ideal textbook is carefully crafted with logic and flexibility. There is usually a degree of predictability that facilitates its use, yet there should be some variation from chapter to chapter that lends some excitement to the lessons. I’d argue, though, that some modification will always be necessary. Even a very well constructed textbook will not meet all your students’ needs from chapter to chapter. It’s up to you to be attuned to your learners and maximize the potential of the book.