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Materials Design And Development Assignment English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4035 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A course book is a book used by teachers and students as a basis for a course of study. This essay will analyse the value of a course book used in language teaching and learning. A course book presents material to the class and should support the teaching and learning processes. Chosen and used carefully, it should be a valuable tool for both teachers and students. In Libya, the teaching of English in schools is almost always based on particular course books and a course book is often regarded as the only resource needed for effective language teaching and learning.

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Ur (1991) defined a course book as a book that is prepared for students in order to increase their experiences and knowledge during a learning process. Cunningsworth (1995:7) states that a course book is “a resource in achieving objectives and aims which have already been set in terms of learners’ needs”. According to Renandya and Jack (2002: 45), one of the advantages of course books is that course books are of particular use to newly qualified teachers with limited teaching experience as they can offer readymade structured sessions for use in a teaching environment. Harmer (2007) also found that course books could present information in a concise, easy-to-use manner. This translates into greater efficiency for a teacher who can spend less time on preparation and more time in front of students, teaching.

Other researchers have however found that a reliance on course books can be detrimental to learning. For example, Sheldon (1988: 134) identified some disadvantages such as, not reflecting students’ needs and interests, presenting inauthentic language and deskilling teachers who base their entire teaching on the contents of a course book. A course book must be relevant to the needs of its users otherwise it risks being a hindrance to learning / teaching rather than a help. According to Allwright (1981), over-dependence on a course book means a “teacher’s role can become reduced to that of a technician whose primary function is to present materials prepared by others.”

Cunningsworth (1984) stresses the importance of ensuring that course books and materials match the students’ needs and that there is a correlation between them and the objectives or aims of the language-learning programme. Cunningsworth (1995) suggests that teachers carry out a thorough evaluation of a course book in order to ascertain its suitability for students working at different levels and in different learning environments. Prucha (1987) illustrates that material evaluation helps teachers to identify the strengths and weaknesses of particular course books.

This essay will first look at the teaching and learning context behind the use of a particular English course book in Libya before moving on to a literature review of material evaluation. It will then provide a detailed evaluation of certain sections of a specific English grammar used by Libyan students of English language in their final year at secondary school “English for Libya (3)”, which was developed by the Libyan Government in 2005 and was written by Terry Phillips, et al. The strengths and weakness of this course book will be discussed and some conclusions will be drawn.

Teaching and Learning Context

For the purposes of this essay, I will be referring to the use of a new English course book entitled “English for Libya (3)”. It was published in 2005 by the Libyan government and is intended for use by secondary school pupils. Secondary school class sizes in Libya are generally around 20 students, and they are aged between 16 and 18. The school year consists of two terms – an autumn term and a spring term with the school year starting in September. Arabic is the language of instruction with English and French being taught as second languages. English teachers are mainly non-native English speakers.

This particular course book, “English for Libya (3)”, “offers a balanced approach to teaching English by combining the best of traditional methods with more recent approaches. The objective of this book is to help learners develop their communicative competence in the language and also to develop their ability to use the language fluently and accurately in real life.”(Taken from a description of the book).

Material Evaluation – A Literature Review

Low (1987) determined that material evaluation plays a significant role in language learning and teaching, and provides an important function in language teaching methods. According to Hutchinson & Waters (1978), material evaluation helps most teachers to develop an awareness of their own teaching and learning and also helps them to make a decision in choosing an appropriate course book. Renandya and Jack (2002) pointed out that course book appraisals are essential tasks for teachers because the exercise helps them to understand the content and style of a course book and enables them to make an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.

Tomlinson (1985) suggests that an evaluation of materials be undertaken either before the commencement of a programme, or after, or indeed on both occasions. According to Doaud and Celce-Murcia (1997), pre-programme evaluations of course books are possibly prompted by the need to identify particular elements of the materials that require adaptation and also by the need to select materials which will be appropriate or relevant for a specific group of learners. Tomlinson (1985: 220) states, “In a before-programme evaluation the evaluator identifies a set of criteria which are used to reach a decision regarding which book to adopt and how it needs to be adopted.”

Low (1987) went further when he pointed out that there are three types of material evaluation carried out by teachers during course book evaluations. Firstly, pre-use evaluation (predictive): this involves determining which materials might be relevant. Cunningsworth (1995) considers this type of evaluation to be the most difficult because there is no previous experience available, which might give guidance. Secondly, in-use evaluation: this is arguably easier as it involves the evaluation of material, which has been or is in use. According to Cunningsworth (1995:14), in-use evaluation helps in “matching the course book against specific requirements including the student’s background, objectives, the resources available and so on.” Thirdly and finally, there is post-use (or retrospective) evaluation of course books, which has been used in many educational establishments. Tomlinson (1985) says that this method provides teachers with more reliable information about a course book’s strengths and weaknesses and assists them in deciding if the course book should continue to be used in the future or not.

McDonough and Shaw (1993), believed there to be two stages of course book evaluation: external evaluation and internal evaluation. Here, teachers start with an ‘external evaluation’: this involves looking at the covers of the teachers’ and students’ course books and examining the introduction and the table of contents. Tomlinson (1985) argues, “this will help teachers to determine the intended audience, the proficiency level, the context in which the writers of the materials intend them to be used, the way the language has been organized into teachable units and the writer’s views on language and methodology.” McDonough and Shaw (1993:76) believed that external evaluation should be followed by a more detailed ‘internal evaluation’. An internal evaluation involves a more thorough examination and analysis of two or more units of the course book in order to investigate such aspects as “the presentation of skills in the material, the grading and sequencing of the materials, the kind of texts used and the relationship between exercises and tests.” McDonough and Shaw (1993:76).

English for Libya (3): A grammar for Libyan secondary school students – An analysis of units 2, 4 and 10

Certain experts in the field of applied linguistics have recently developed new theories with regard to the teaching of grammar, with some having a negative attitude. For example, Karshen (1982: 167) argues, “formal instruction in grammar will not contribute to the development of acquired knowledge – the knowledge needed to participate in authentic communication.” Prabhu (1987) also argues that students in the class can acquire a second language grammar naturalistically by “participating in meaning-focused tasks.” On the other hand, Richards and Renandya (2002) have argued, “grammar teaching does aid second language acquisition.” Brooks (1960) too believes that formal grammar teaching helps learners to acquire a second language more quickly and it may help learners to achieve accuracy and fluency in a second language.

English for Libya (3), the course book, is “a mixture of some traditional methods and some current approaches in language teaching with lots of classroom activities and practices. In addition, the structure and sequences of the course book meet the needs of the students” (taken from the book’s preface). This book has 12 units and each unit has six sections, which cover the four skills necessary for language acquisition (reading, writing, speaking and listening). Pronunciation and grammar are presented separately in sections within each unit. This essay will focus on providing an analytical evaluation of three different sections in three different units. The units have a common theme in that they all deal with conditional clauses – types I, II and III.

The material in the course book is covered over the whole year. With two terms to a school year, this means the first term aims to cover Units 1-6 and the second term, Units 7-12. This means that the units dealing with conditional clauses are also divided up between the two terms. First conditional clause (Unit 2, Section 2) and second conditional clause (Unit 4, Section 2) are considered to be simpler than third conditional clause (Unit 10, Section 2), and are therefore covered in the first term. The third conditional clause is covered in the second term. According to Williams (2005), first conditional clause is often taught at elementary or intermediate level. Toney (2005) states that second conditional clause is usually taught at pre-intermediate level and Parrott (2000) suggests that third conditional clause is often taught at upper-intermediate level. In addition, the units and sections in the course book focus on language function and the use of authentic language through different kinds of activities, such as role-play, dialogues, pair or group work. “Students are encouraged to practise the different kinds of exercises, which encourage talking about real events, discussions and interactions in pairs or groups. Suggestions for improvements are offered”. (Author’s description)

Analysis in detail

1 – Unit 2 (Section 2) – First conditional clause (type I)

Part 1: Explanation of the rule

A Conditional clause type I shows the possibility of something happening, for example, if I study, I will pass the exam. Here the if clause is at the start of the sentence and employs a simple present tense while the main clause is written in the will-future tense. If could be replaced by unless in order to make the sentence negative i.e. unless I study, I will not pass the exam. In “English for Libya (3)”, the example sentences are written in English with the verb form being italicised to draw the reader’s attention to the structure without giving an explicit explanation, for example, if you study astronomy, you will understand more about the stars = type I conditional clause.

The course book is intentionally employing a technique known as “perceptual saliency raising” Richard and Renandya (2002). The saliency of something / somebody is its state or quality of standing out relative to neighbouring items / people. According to Doaughty & William (1998), perceptual saliency raising is a method used to highlight the second language through the use of italicised, emboldened or underlined words. Making some words stand out more than others draws the learners’ attention to them and ‘forces’ them to notice items which could be ordinarily overlooked and therefore process the salient information being presented. In addition, “enhanced structured-input” (Ur, 1988) is also being employed here.

Part two: Practical application of the rule

Have worked their way through the examples given, students are asked to read or listen to a text, which is talking about life events. Whilst reading, they have to underline all the conditional sentences in a text and then compare answers with a fellow student. Thus “structured input” is used here (Ur, 1988). Also, other activities, which include fill the gap exercises and reordering sentences are included.

Students are then required to formulate sentences about themselves, some using the conditional clause type I, and some without. Ellis (1988) described this as “production practice”. Anderson found that productive practice might be very useful for students as it enables them to use grammatical structures accurately, meaningfully and appropriately. Finally, students are required to fill in the missing blanks in a piece of reading text, which again forces them to apply the new rule that they’ve just learned.

In this straightforward and methodical way, the course book has taught that type I conditional clauses are used to express a future possible.

2 – Unit 4 (Section 2) – Second conditional clause (type II)

Part one: explanation of the rule

As in Unit 2, Section 2, this section follows the same illustrative and practical structure. Conditional clause type II is clearly explained at the outset: if + past would (or could) + infinitive. The example is shown as: If I had three million Libyan dinars, I’d travel around the world. Again, it’s obvious that “perceptual saliency raising” Richard and Renandya (2002) is being used here to draw the students’ attention to that which is important and they learn that type II conditional clauses are used to illustrate or imply something that is unlikely to happen.

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Part two: Practical application of the rule

In this practice session, students are encouraged to practise their newly acquired skills by firstly listening to a short dialogue called “Showing Interest”. The dialogue consists of some incomplete sentences (conditional clause type II sentences) and students have to listen to the audio recording in order to complete them. This exercise is another example of a “structured input-based task” (Ur, 1998) to reinforce the saliency of the structure form. Students are then invited to practise the language more freely by working in pairs to create their own dialogue using sentences containing type II conditional clauses. “Functional production practice” (Ellis 1988) is being employed here in order to make students internalize the form. Larsen-Freeman (1997:123) identified three dimensions “form, meaning and use”, which assist in the acquisition of new linguistic skills. These practical exercises divulge the “meaning” of the “form” through a “situation” and by “building a dialogue” in a communicative way. Larsen-Freeman (1997:125)

Part three: Classroom activities – working in pairs

Two different exercises are offered here, both of which can be carried out in pairs. In the first, the teacher gives the paired students a series of sentence halves, which must be matched correctly, for example, “if she changed her job…” and “… she would be much happier.” In the second, students have to match sentences to pictures. Day (1984:40) found that “students work in pairs so that they simultaneously use the target language communicatively as they induce the grammatical rule”.

3 – Unit 10 (section 2) – Third conditional clause (type III)

Part one: explanation of the rule

Having assimilated the conditional clauses types I and II, as described above, students now learn how to use type III to express the impossibility of the event in the clause. Type III conditional clauses use if + past perfect and would have + past participle, e.g. If the apple had not fallen on his head, he would not have turned his attention to gravity. Harmer (2007) suggests that learners can comprehend the meaning and use of grammatical items more deeply and implicitly if they are presented in a relevant context. Doaughty & William (1998) described this as a kind of “non-enhanced input of implicit instruction.

Part two: Practical application of the rule

The exercise here is one called “In the Office – long dialogue”. Students are invited to work in small groups and to take part in a role-playing activity whilst using type III conditional clause sentences. This activity aims to give students a chance to apply the structure form in a given, and more realistic context. This type of exercise can be described as “functional production practice” (Ur, 1988), and the context in which the practice takes place demonstrates its “use” (Larsen-Freeman, 1997) through a “situation” and by “building a dialogue” in a communicative way.

Other exercises involve using the rule to create sentences to express regret (e.g. if I had gone …, I would have met …) and underlining all the type III conditional clauses in a story called Harry’s Trip, before comparing answers with a partner. This is called “production practice” (Ur, 1988).

Finally, students are asked to write a short paragraph and make use of the new rule. Harmer (2007) found that practising grammatical rules through writing exercises helps students to enhance the accuracy of their writing. This is also called “free writing production”. (Ur, 1988)

Part three: classroom activities

Students are asked to work in pairs with each having to recount a story from experience whilst using type III conditional clauses wherever possible. Ur (1988) describes this as “free oral production practice”, a method used to reinforce learning through practice. Free oral production practice means that students are free to compose their own sentences / stories but should make use of the target form in order to demonstrate their mastery of the rule. Ur (1988)

Strengths

Firstly, this course book focuses on accuracy and fluency in actual communicative contexts. There is also a logical sequence to the content.

Secondly, it offers lots of production practice (oral and written) through different kinds of exercises and activities with realistic features. According to Harmer (2007) variations in the types of exercise give students more chances to practise and extend their oral competence.

Thirdly, points of grammar are presented briefly and in an easily understandable manner along with illustrative examples. The four skills of language acquisition (reading, writing, speaking and listening) are practically integrated through the use of exercises and activities in the grammar sections, for example, interaction activities and writing tasks.

In particular, the treatment of the three types of conditional clauses as demonstrated above, aims to enable quick and easy mastery by Libyan students who are given the opportunity to practice their accuracy and fluency in realistic contexts. The course book advocates the “use” (Larenen-Freeman, 1997) of the language structure and provides oral and written activities accordingly.

Finally, there are also good attempts at encouraging communicative competence. Structured activities such as role-playing, dialogue and pair and group work provide opportunities to practise specific points of grammar. These activities are initially more controlled in terms of subject matter but become gradually less so such that students are encouraged to talk and write more freely as their competence grows.

Weaknesses

Firstly, these three types of conditional clauses are only presented in one particular way, i.e. if + present simple, will-future) whilst ignoring other forms such as the “inversion form”. Students are also not told that the conditional clause can be found either at the beginning of the sentence (with comma) or at the end (without comma) e.g. “if I had million pounds, I’d travel around the world”, or “I’d travel around the world if I had million pounds.” (Parrott, 2000: 88). Other inversion forms like the type III (had + subject + past participle) are not included (Williams, 1999: 97).

Secondly, they present somewhat limited information about the uses of the three different conditional clauses. For instance, students are told that type I conditional is used to express a future possible, but this is not always true. Other important uses which are not included in the course book and which are considered important to know include using type I conditional for suggestions, offers, warnings and threats, e.g. “if you do not revise your notes, you won’t pass your exam” (warning) ( Parrott 2000:65). Type II conditional clauses can be used to give advice, e.g. “if I were you, I would study hard to get a good score.” (Williams, 2000: 64) and type III conditional clauses can be used to make excuses, e.g. “if I had left the house earlier, I would have caught the train.” (Toney, 2000: 69)

Finally, there is no obvious explanation of the differences between the conjunctions “if” and “unless” in type I conditional clauses. The course book only says that “unless+ positive verb” can be used instead of “if not”. However, according to Williams (2000:54), “we use unless to express a stronger degree of reservation.”, e.g. “he won’t come around unless she phones.” is closer in meaning to “he will only come around if she does.”

Conclusion

To sum up, course books play an important function in teaching a target language. The course books enable a teacher to improve their efficiency in preparation for teaching and provide valuable support to new and non-native language teachers. Students find them useful as a reference text and are able to measure their progress during the learning process. Evaluation of course books affords teachers the opportunity to discover new ideas and concepts as well as improving their understanding of language learning. The evaluation process also enables teachers to choose the most appropriate course book for their students’ needs and interests.

English for Libya is a course book designed specifically for students of English language in Libya and it aims to help learners improve their linguistic knowledge and communicative ability. It is an important course book for Libyan students who consider it a vital tool in their attempts to learn and practise the English language. The grammar sections of the book, especially those dealing with conditional clauses, play an important role in helping students to improve their accuracy and fluency in a series of realistic contexts provided by a variety of classroom activities and practices.

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