By Hana Tichá
It goes without saying that we teachers are creative and innovative creatures. Although we have all those colourful, glossy materials at our disposal, we can’t help making flashcards, handouts, jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and all the stuff that makes our lessons more interesting and our students more engaged. But not only are we creative; some of us are pretty cunning too – and I mean it in the best sense of the word.
Earlier today, I went to an interesting workshop by Matthew Smith (IH Brno) called Handsfree: Using the coursebook without the coursebook. I had obviously pondered the issue of coursebook-free lessons and Dogme teaching countless times before, but the idea of using the coursebook without the coursebook struck me as utterly groundbreaking.
The thing is that you follow the book as it is, but your students are not aware of it. In other words, you may use the visuals, tasks and exercises from a unit of a coursebook, but throughout the lesson, you present them as if you’ve created them yourself. Cunning, huh?
I believe this approach has quite a few advantages:
- Your students will think you are the most creative creature in the world.
- They will eventually come to believe that you work really hard because apart from grading their papers, you plan all those wonderful lessons every day.
- I believe your students will be more engaged throughout the lesson because you will make them focus on the task, not on the book. They will keep their eyes on you or on one another. This, to me, appears more natural – at least in a communicative language classroom.
- You will easily create the element of surprise and suspense since your students won’t be able to predict the next step of the lesson. This is particularly useful with teenagers and young learners. Moreover, based on my experience, fast finishers often secretly do the follow-up exercises before I ask them to. This is not a big deal, but let’s be honest, it can sometimes spoil our plans.
- This approach is environment-friendly (and cheap) because in an ideal world, you basically only need one copy of the book – for yourself. Well, you’ll probably need to photocopy a page or two once in a while, but you will be able to project some stuff on the screen too. As a result, you may need to think of some new effective ways of using the board and the space around you. This may mean more work and more planning, but your teaching methods will inevitably become more varied and thus, the lessons will be more enjoyable.
- Even if you have to use a coursebook (because, like me, you work at a state institution), at the end of the day, you can ask your students to open their books and tell them: look, we’ve done exercises 1,2,3,4,5 and 6. What a diligent bunch we are! These exercises can later serve as their homework assignment. In other words, your students will recycle what they did in the lesson (and they don’t even need a workbook!).