Textbook Talk – using SCC

I’m putting the finishing touches on my Teach – Learn:  Student Created Content coursebook.

One of the basic principles (which are outlined in the book’s preface) is that the students practice language using language that comes from their own “selves”. The big textbook companies have tyrannically forced students to trod through their own imposed version of reality. This leads to all kinds of road blocks on the path to learning. Let me explain…..

Normally in a unit on restaurant English, you’ll have a menu like this:


Attractive! Basic! Wonderful! — NOT!

There are a number of major problems:

1.  The content does not meet the needs of the classroom.

Each classroom is unique and we should always start from the needs of our learners. What if they usually order chick peas and not hamburgers? Isn’t it important that they know how to say this in English and find out?  Their reality should be important.

2.  There is no immersion of the learning in the learning process.

Materials which are created by students and used in class, provide embedded motivation. The students worked at it and when they do so, naturally take satisfaction in using it. Practice is much more sustained. Moreover, learning a language is benefited by basic constructivist principles of “learning when doing”. We learn a language as we actively participate. Pre packaged, processed and “unnatural” content just doesn’t fit these sound pedagogical principles.

3.  There is no record of learning.

Both teachers and students need a record of student learning – so they can see how a student has progressed. Both for motivation and remediation. Typical coursebooks with their photocopiable, always lost, crumpled worksheets, don’t do this.

4.  There are major cultural barriers.

Language is deeply ingrained in culture. Without SCC and the ability to adapt content in the classroom and to the culture, textbooks typically treat their clients with a one size fits all. Entirely inappropriate and not effective at all. In the following example – there are major problems culturally. Are these the typical restaurant items in Daejon or Dakar or Dalian? I don’t think so.  Let’s allow the local experts on culture to take part!

Here’s what I’ll be using in my Teach – Learn coursebook.  Every lesson in two parts. The first, a review of the language and then, It’s Your Turn, where the students create content and practice it. My own restaurant menu looks like this. The students write the menu and then use the provided prompts/language to do activities. Radical? No, not at all. What good teachers do every day.  Radical for textbook makers? You bet.



Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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10 Responses

  1. Hi, this is a great blog, and you are very right that language should come from the students. I do write reviews of commercial materials but when one has the energy and skills that you obviously do, this is the best way to go.

  2. Marilou says:

    I have a few perplexities, if you don’t mind answering them I’d be extremely grateful.

    1. The content does not meet the students’ needs.

    While I do agree the above menu does not and (realistically cannot) represent the personal dietary preferences of non-European students, it does reflect a typical Western-type menu. Surely students are motivated to learn the names of the above dishes which they will in all likelihood meet in an Australian/American fast food restaurant, British cafè etc..? Yes, they might eat falafel and Thai curried chickpeas but how often will they need to say that in English in their own country? They know their homeland dishes, most often or not they are not even translated into English: humus, lasagne, sushi and falafei spring to mind. Students need to be aware of differences and the possibility that one day they might want to order a cheese quarter pounder but hold the onions dish!

    2. There is no immersion of the learning in the learning process:

    That why we have roleplay! This can be developed further by students to act out situations which they might find themselves in. Complaining about the service, the bill, the food, remembering a list of dishes, choosing a suitable beverage, changing one’s mind, cancelling an order… Buying and asking for the ingredients necessary for a dinner party

    3.There is no record of learning:

    I thought the “what do you remember” summary sections and end of unit tests covered that area quite neatly? It’s an efficient, albeit not perfect, means of assessing how well students have learnt vocabulary items.

  3. ddeubel says:


    I’ve pondered your points over my coffee and can now respond given a sufficient amount of caffeine in my system!

    I appreciate the time to make a reply and do respond to them all! I really think blogs are just the starting point for a conversation and some learning – however these days of “instant” everything, not a lot of comments unless your a big wig and people want their name under your spotlight. But to address your points…

    1. Point taken. I do think Ss need to know these vocabulary items and my example was a little extreme. However, I do believe, sincerely believe through my own experience that most Ss will acquire this “English” vocabulary themselves. It is universal, ubiquitous and in most languages almost a substitute for the native language term. but the point is – why should the textbook provider and even the teacher (by default) decide for the Ss what vocabulary they will learn. Despite all the research/articles on the subject, vocab. acquisition is a very personal and messy affair. The focus should be on the structures, the verbs and their stickiness. Acquire these and the vocab will stick.

    2. I agree, role play simulates “reality” and is active. You can’t do without it. However, why can’t we take it further and make the whole lesson about “participation” and production? Who said that P-P-P has to be? Millions learn language on their own outside a classroom. They don’t have small blocks of text and instructions on what to do next. They participate, they try, in a very unpredictable environment. The textbook makes every class the same, wherever. I’m trying to offer a textbook that while still having a framework, allows for differentiation, student creation and each lesson being different and fully active in the learning process. Textbook companies are still, despite all the “fluff” they color things up with – are still into the banking model of education. We know. Be quiet, stuff it, repeat and learn. Dreadful. (one caution. A good teacher CAN make a textbook come alive. But that’s a medical miracle).

    3. what I meant by a record of learning is a whole book that shows what the student did, participated in and their development. I agree, some textbooks do it well enough with reflection and summary sections. Also, workbooks. Still, this is mainly for higher level students.

    I taught the textbook of the day, for many years. My conclusion is that textbooks as they have existed since the days of Grapevine, restrict the learning immensely. Students don’t participate, the respond. Why actually use something that inhibits learning? Beyond me except that marketing is a very powerful force!

  4. ddeubel says:


    thanks for dropping in! Yes, my own book will be about allowing students to fully participate and have more control in the learning process. Depowering the teacher. This is important for teacher development in TESOL where there are so many untrained teachers. They come to the classroom and automatically, despite beliefs, fall into the, “how they were taught model”, direct instruction style. A textbook like this will force them to let go and concentrate on the important things like being a model of the language and monitoring student learning.

    The problem of learning a language is not getting content to push in. The problem is creating the necessity and conditions to push the language out….

  5. TEFL101 says:

    Course books are a consequence of mass market publishing which reared its head in the 1920s and the industry has forever since been pinned beneath this self perpetuating cash cow. If you look at British Council materials from a hundred years ago they use the direct method and explicitly told teachers not to use any form of text.

    I like what you say about students directing their own learning – it’s a more experimental and experiential way and this is what I’m doing with semantic translation but I fear to take it to its extreme is not that workable in large classes. The larger the class the more teacher-fronted it inevitably has to be. To me this just affirms the need to skills-based subjects to be taught in small classes while knowledge-based classes can be kept large.

  6. Marilou says:

    Ack! My original reply wasn’t accepted and it is now lost forever in the Internet wilderness-sigh.. sob! Never write a long comment without copying it down somewhere… I should know better.

    Which brings me nicely to the theme I was writing about before before my ill timed and impulsive decision to post my comment occurred. I have been reading your about your ideas on Student Created Content or SCC and looking through the material you have devised for a new text book. http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2010/04/27/student-created-content-its-about-learning-not-teaching/

    Again I am flummoxed by your methodology and your opinion on how learners learn new language terms. While I do agree many of the food items in the typical menu list are universally recognized and are known to people who have never attended an English lesson in their whole life, there is always a place for them. It is reassuring for learners to recognize these common words: Hamburgers, coca-cola, hot dogs, pizza… It means they can concentrate on language construction and hopefully through repetition also learn the more ambitious items such as “ice-cream” and “main course”. Your argument that students will find out for themselves the necessary vocabulary isn’t true. New learners will not know for example that “potato chips” are called “crisps” in the UK. That is the teacher’s job, to guide, inform and to create awareness in students. It is all very well to ask a class to brainstorm ideas and lexis relating to food or travel but after a gap of three weeks maybe as much as 80% will have been forgotten if the teacher or the student fails to review the lesson ever again. To create a need in students to know a word, fully understand its meaning and then memorise it is no small task. More often or not it is down to the teacher to expose learners time and time again to new vocabulary, to jog their memory banks so to speak. Good text books, and there are a few, will do this job. New vocabulary items learnt from a previous unit will appear in the next chapter or two. Homework will repeat this exposure. “The focus should be on the structures, the verbs and their stickiness. Acquire these and the vocab will stick.” Not sure I agree with you on this one.

    Imagine the situation if you will. Two foreign people in front of a takeaway counter. One asks in impeccable English: “I’d like to have two portions of your delicious ware to take back home, please.”
    The other: “Two doner kebabs, please.”

    Which is the more successful communicator? If students have the vocab then already they can communicate to a degree.

    Twenty five years ago whilst living in the UK I had never heard, seen, let alone tasted samsas. It was only revisiting London about five years ago did I encounter this strange food. I had the impression it was everywhere I looked, in the take-away food stalls, in supermarkets, on TV even. I was curious, I wanted to know! I asked a friend, who was amazed and astounded by my ignorance but nevertheless very knowledgeable in the field of samsas. Hence I was the student, asking, listening, understanding and he, my teacher. I have never forgotten that moment. That was what I call a real situation, a moment in which I felt a burning desire to understand and the word with its meaning “samsa” stuck in my head.

    I had originally written something else about your student centered worksheets. Perhaps next time. I have never spent so much time writing to someone I have never met in my life! Time for me to go. Thank you again for your prompt reply. Happy New Year and “Buon Lavoro” as they say in Italy!

  7. ddeubel says:


    I’m sorry about the reply – I’ve been there too (actually yesterday on David Truss’ blog) and it always hurts.

    LOTS of food for thought. I will take the weekend to digest and come back with a reply in full, promise. I’m not one to “believe what I believe” and especially with language there are always new views to consider and embrace. It’s all in the nuance too.

    Briefly, in terms of vocabulary acquisition, I’ve been very influenced by how important it is to create the “need” to say something. How important this is for acquisition (note, I didn’t say learning – they are different creatures and I think this is where we are getting our teaching wires crossed so to speak, in the meanings of these two words). Recent studies have even overturned the notion that it is how often we encounter a word that helps us acquire words! For me, there is a lot in L1 vocab. acquisition that would inform a teacher about vocab. development. See Paul Bloom from Yale and his work. He rejects the notion vocab building is associative and rejects essentialism. Vocab. acquisition is about syntactic relevance. But more later in reply – I’m being screamed at from the door!

  8. ddeubel says:

    TEFL 101,

    I haven’t gotten around to looking at your Semantic translation method (noted in the a-z blog). But I will.

    we are on the same page regarding the “commoditization” (or Postman might say – creation of a “Prosumer” in the textbook industry. It is especially egregious in our biz where we don’t teach “content” or a subject. Ours is about process and doing – not knowing.

    What I’m doing in a nutshell is taking what good teachers do to supplement the textbook and making a textbook out of it. Why? Because you have to join ‘em to beat ‘em unfortunately. I’m finding a middle ground and especially because I think it will help teachers delivering lessons with the book – with a simple concept/methodology.

    thanks for dropping by

  9. pwalsh1974 says:

    Hi ddeubel,

    I really like this post – particularly the idea of co-creating a lesson with the learners, which is exactly something I’m trying to do with one Business English class in Germany and blogging about it at https://decentralisedteachingandlearning.wordpress.com

    I would include in your list or criticisms of textbook lessons that they are limiting, prescriptive and designed by a central authority. There’s also little room for personalisation by the learners. Your simple blackboard makes for a much more open and interesting lesson! (although expectations of learners will play a part here also…)

    Good luck with your blog,


  10. ddeubel says:

    Thanks for the compliment Paul. I’ve been writing about SCC for quite a few years and recently been seeing more posts and talk about it, yours included. It’s an approach I’ve put into my Teach Learn book and expanded upon there and in other posts in this blog. As you say, it is the power relationship that is of most concern when it comes to textbook classes. Language needs to grow from the bottom up, not be made or pressed from above.

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