During a talk with Anna Loseva she told me about the way she organizes education process without course books. I have heard so many times about the idea but dreaded imagining myself being lost without knowing which of the numerous directions to take or how not to miss out a significant part of syllabus. But listening to Anna I got so gripped by the kind of structure she used that I calmed down enough to try it out.
After a couple of months on the low course book diet there emerged some questions that disturb me the most. I would like to answer them myself first and if you have any experience in teaching coursebooklessly or have some information about it let’s spread the information exchange.

1. Do you base the course on topics, grammar, some random materials, communicative situations or something else?Personally, I am building the course around topics like “Travelling”, “Fashion” or others, but now I’ve thought about other options I am in two minds.

2. What are criteria for choosing vocabulary? How many vocab items do you pick? How are they connected? Since I have a topic, I think of necessary items to use in conversation on this topic, I try to include some idioms and phrasal verbs in each set of vocab that constitute around 10 words or phrases. They are obviously connected by the topic. I also may take a text on a topic and take vocab from this text that is good for remembering it better.
3. What parts of planning do your students participate in? My students took part in creating the set of topics which make up our syllabus and I sometimes ask them what they would like to discuss about the next topic (that’s what I have taken from our conversation with Anna). Students have agreed on the topics they like – here is motivation and playing safe in terms of issues students avoid talking about. Ideally, they have clear vision of their education process. But I have made a mistake offering them syllabus from different course books so that they marked the topics they would like to deal with. Doing that I thought it’ll be easy for me to get materials in case I get bogged down in finding proper resources. Eventually students struggled with unknown words and ticked topics a bit randomly. Thus, I can’t say it was a fully conscious choice which eliminates almost all positive consequences of it.
4. What are your major concerns about teaching course books free? I constantly have a fear that I am missing something. For example, that students won’t know some basic words or phrases or some tiny but important bits of grammar like ‘too’ and ‘enough’.
There is also an issue about “knowing where you are” since we don’t go from book to book now. Thus comes a question of assessment. Thanks God I don’t need to conduct and submit results of tests and other assessment means but still I’m interested in the matter.
5. What are the benefits you have noticed? I feel more flexible and the course looks like more tailored to the students’ needs and interests. I believe that my lessons became more communicative and students-centred, they also participate in planning, suggest some ideas and give me feedback more eagerly than before.
6. Are there any other issues to be mentioned? For the pre-intermediate course I sometimes choose upper-intermediate vocabulary and they remember it and even use. I tried some difficult grammar which is usually given at the end of pre-intermediate course and it went well (we needed it for communication purposes). Thus, I came to the conclusion that you can think out of the box choosing language items. Here though emerges the problem highlighted in 4.
I would like to give it a start by asking Vedrana Vojković, Anna Loseva and Mike Griffin. Dear friends, if you have something to say and want to take part it would be fantastic. And, of course, spread it to gather more opinions, knowledge and experience.

6 thoughts on “Coursebooklessness

  1. Thank you for this interesting post. It is most relevant to me since some of my classes are also coursebookless. I have a question for you: what happens inside the classroom in one of your coursebookless classes? How do the students use the topics and vocabulary you prepare for them? This is something I struggle with too and glad to know you are working on it as well.

    • Hi Anne,

      Thank you for your comment. The questions you asked are really not easy but the answers are to be taken into account before starting to teach course books free.

      I have to confess that currently I’m going through the course (and what’s more, leading other people) mostly relying on my intuition. However, I try to include work on various skills and keep my eyes open in order not to miss out something important. The structure of the lesson is pretty usual. We start with a warm up/lead in and then follows a situation in the form of a text (reading or listening) or some questions (speaking), after that we deal with some language issues like grammar or vocabulary and then follows speaking task which requires using the target language (very rarely it is a writing task). At the end if we have some time we play a vocabulary game for revision of all the words we have learned so far (I keep all of them in a wordbox). We also do some writing in our Facebook group.

      I would be interested to know about your experience and the way you do it. It would be great if you answered the questions too.


  2. Hi Kate,
    Thank you for this post. I think that if you work in adult education (and the aim is not to pass a language test), you have to tailor your courses to meet individual needs and even though there are thousands of books on the market, it happens very rarely that a particular coursbook can be used throughout the course. ‘Coursebooklessness’ to me doesn not necessarily mean that you have to re-invent everything – particular texts, tasks, ideas may be taken from books but you have to organise them in your own way. Sometimes, when the topic is so specific, or when the course is ordered to support an individual need – e.g.: check a person’s business letters, teach them to write a CV, prepare for an interview, help paralegals work in English (simple legal translations, welcoming of visitors, small talk, telephone conversations) it takes a long time to put together the course material, and of course, you constantly have to seek and respond to feedback. So, the best thing about it is that it’s individual,spontaneous, flexible and you can really ‘leave your individual mark’ – it reflects your attitude, personality – a form of self-expression too. Setbacks…. Extremely time-consuming, and testing of progress is often difficult. And because you have to be really experimental, these experiments may go wrong… After a while, you develop your own materials, ‘building blocks’ that can be varied and used later… You may feel confident about sharing it with others. And this is how new books happen:)

    • Dear Rita,

      Thank you for the answer. I see your point. It is a useful idea to mix materials from different course books but I sometimes get bogged down trying to find the most suitable tasks and put them together.
      Speaking about the advantages, another benefit of being flexible is getting to know tons of other resources except books. There are millions of websites and games and other stuff. and yes, creativity is what I like the most about it while preparing for lessons.
      And I love the variety it offers in terms of activities.


  3. Hi Kate,
    It’s interesting to see your take on this. There’s a movement called ‘dogme’ or ‘teaching unplugged’ which might offer some tips and/or answers to your questions. I have lots of related bookmarks available at, and there’s a book called ‘Teaching Unplugged’ by Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury which might offer you some inspiration. I haven’t managed to find solutions to all of your questions, particularly the ones about tracking progress, but it’s a fruitful area for action research and reflection, which I know you’re interested in.
    Good luck!

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