Modern English Teacher On Coursebook Writing

In the July 2006 issue of Modern English Teacher, Peter Viney responds to a previously written article (called How To Write Really Rotten Material) from his own coursebook writer’s perspective in How Not To Write Really Rotten Material.

Rather than try to write up a summar in 400 words, I’ve somewhat randomly picked out a few of the more interesting points:

1. The role of “arrogance and ignorance” combining to lead to excessive self-confidence and eventually bad materials: Viney says the first author was not wrong in citing excessive self-confidence as often accompanying bad material, but points out that this same self-confidence is often behind good material as well! Plenty of people are too afraid of what other people will say to put their materials out there and so never do it.

2. Interpret as you will: “I angered a group of teachers in Japan by stating that Headway had had far greater influence on what happens in the ELT classroom than the entire collected works of Stephen Krashen.”

3. Viney likens team-writing, generally a male-female pair, of ELT coursebooks (Liz and John Soars?) to sitcom writing (Friends?)…and believes these smaller pairs, in contrast to a large team, are more effective.

4. Generic content: are the same 24 topics repeated again and again in ELT coursebooks? Well…yes! Plagiarism happens (and some writers are actually hesitant to look at other coursebooks for fear of unconscious plagiarism). Publishers who want their books to be sold all over the world take into account that many cultures do not appreciate discussion of controversial topics as well as others.

5. Interesting point and way to exploit a more general coursebook: students often appreciate it if the topic seems to come from them – they came up with a unique angle that no one else thought of to discuss.

6. Use of famous people – not cool! Course books tend to not do it because the people tend to do things like die (making that Cutting Edge Intermediate lesson on present perfect obsolete), use drugs publicly, or get married and divorced too many times to count.

Let these points serve as food for thought next time you either curse Headway and/or vow to write your own book.