Richard McCully

Do Thai students want to learn from textbooks?

And how do teachers feel about using them?

Pretty much every school in Thailand will have a learning philosophy; a statement which explains how students will be taught. 

Not all schools stick to this philosophy however. A recent conversation in my staffroom was about whether textbooks should be used in the classroom and the attitudes Thai learners have towards learning from a book. 

Resources for teaching

Like many teachers, I’ve taught using a number of different resources. Sometimes a syllabus has been prepared, other times I’ve had to design it and, on many occasions, I have a framework which I can build upon. 

A successful teacher is someone who can adapt materials to fit their students regardless of where those materials come from. The ability to turn a PowerPoint presentation into an entertaining lesson is as important as knowing how to supplement and use a textbook effectively in a classroom. 

To cut a long story short most teachers in Thailand will use textbooks in some form and need to know how to use them in the right way. Textbooks aren’t universally popular but I wanted to highlight some of the key benefits and drawbacks of teaching using a textbook. 

Benefits of textbooks

Most Thai students have grown up using textbooks. Whether you are teaching in a high school, university or private language school most students will be expecting to see some form of textbook to be assigned to them. It is like a comfort blanket to them. 

Students like to see their progress and that there is a plan in place for their learning – a textbook helps to do this. When selling a course to a student (or student’s parents) a school can use the textbook to show what will be learned and examples of activities and materials used in the classroom – it is a great tool for sales. 

In the same way textbooks help teachers to highlight progress made by students. By highlighting chapters, grammar and vocabulary you can prove to the student what they have learned during the course. You can follow this up with end of unit or end of book tests. 

The way most textbooks are produced means you have many different levels and it is simple to teach relevant material to learners of different abilities. There are also many different companies writing textbooks so you can choose the brand with the best style to fit your teaching and the students learning style. 

Textbooks also help teachers when it comes to lesson planning. When you have a textbook, you can set the pace of learning based on the duration of the course. It helps you know if you are on track to finish the course or need to increase your pace. There are also teacher’s books which will give suggestions for planning and delivering the class. 

I remember when I was a student my bag would be full of papers and most of them would get scrunched up and thrown away within a few weeks. By using a textbook your students will have all their information in one place which they can review at a later time. 

Drawbacks of textbooks

Most textbooks are not focused on a single country so the English textbook you are using might not be suitable for Thai learners. This includes activities based on events, countries or people that are either not appropriate or are unknown to Thai learners. It can cause confusion when creating context for activities and I’ve lost count of the time I’ve wasted having to explain international names and which ones are male and which female as well as the names of places from countries on the opposite side of the world. In short a book aimed at the European market might not be suitable for your Thai learners. 

When it comes to textbook content there is also the argument that most of it is either boring or irrelevant. I’ve read some textbooks and looked at the layout, design and style and thought I would hate to study this.  

Many people argue that textbook publishers are money making machines who aim to make as much profit as possible by selling audio CDs, workbooks and teacher resources packs as extras rather than include them in one package. These companies release multiple new editions a year and the financial cost for schools and students is high. 

As a teacher, especially one new to a school, you can find yourself sticking exclusively to a textbook and not supplementing it with additional resources and activities. Lessons can become predictable and boring for the students who know they will just be working their way through the book week after week. By doing this, students will become demotivated and likely won’t improve as much as they could in a different learning environment. 

When you use a textbook, you might feel under pressure to complete it by the end of the course. This means you might very quickly go through some grammar or activities and your students don’t really understand them. In some ways it is better to slow things down and check understanding before moving on but finishing the textbook seems more important to some teachers. 

Textbooks have a place in the classroom

I personally feel that textbooks do have a place in the classroom but they need to be used effectively. A lesson should include different learning techniques and materials, one of which can be a textbook. It should also be said that there are a huge number of textbooks out there, some good others not. You need to make sure you are using the best textbook possible to get the most out of it in the classroom.  

I find one of the best uses of textbooks is for listening activities as they have a good range of audio files to help students. Sure, the voice acting isn’t always fantastic but it does create a good opportunity for students to practice this skill in “real life” situations such as students talking at school, people in a meeting or someone shopping. 

I find some of the reading comprehension activities to be very similar and limit them to one per chapter. I supplement these by sourcing other materials or writing my own passages. I will then do running dictations, speed reading competitions or oral dictation in pairs to make reading more interesting for students. 

Textbooks aren’t great for writing practice, especially with young or low-level students. Practicing handwriting or doing basic writing tasks (such as writing about family, work etc) can be done on worksheets. Many textbooks do have teacher resource packs where you can find supplementary worksheets. 

Controlled speaking practice is easily done with a textbook. Textbooks provide images and writing to allow students to ask each other questions and have prompts to help them answer. You can then create your own freer speaking practices to use with students after. 

As I mentioned previously I love the fact that a textbook can act as a checklist for students to show them what they have done. After spending a year with a class you can do a book quiz with them to check learning retention or even do this after every few chapters. It lets the students see that they are learning and have a record in one place of what they have achieved. 

There are many schools who don’t use textbooks in every class and some teachers who would rather avoid them and I totally understand them. However, teaching in Thailand I feel that a textbook is an important part of a class, even if it is only used every so often as a source for the lesson. 

Students aren’t ready to give up their textbooks so as teachers we need to use them in the best way possible. 

If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country 

Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

Planning your new life in Thailand isn’t easy. There are many hurdles to jump and potential frustrations galore. From practicalities through to cultural issues, from finances to fitting in and making friends, there is so much to learn. Luckily, you will find all the basics explained in this 282 page book. 

Settling in Thailand takes a broad, insightful and balanced approach – neither too cynical nor evangelical, this book sets a precedent in terms of presenting a positive but realistic and non-judgemental description of Thailand life for foreign residents. 

Written by two British expats in Thailand, and with interviews with another 13 expats from around the world, you will get first-hand experience, advice and explanations of expat life in Thailand. With a combined 150 years of Thai experience this book is the ultimate guide to making sure your move and settling in Thailand goes smoothly.

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The fun starts when the school requires the teacher to use the given textbook. When you walk into a Mattayom 3 class and, after 1 minute, you figure out that there's no way you can use the M3 textbook , you would need one for Prathom 4.

By kiko, Kamphaengphet (1st June 2024)

So, textbooks are up for argument regarding their use in the EFL/ESL classroom.

Interestingly, when I had to take Spanish in school, we did not do stupid games, had to turn in our homework, had to behave, were graded on our performance (and attendance) and were held accountable.

Anyway....same-same here on teaching being treated as though it belongs in the customer service industry. Pathetic.

By Knox, Bunker Hill (7th May 2024)

Textbooks are twofold:
a) to demonstrate that something is being done in the class
b) so that lazy teachers have something to fall back on besides YouTube cat videos.

Often, the school mandates the text because they know their teachers well enough. The same teachers that should be using the book are still showing cat videos and handing out rubbish worksheets.

Textbooks are IMO absolutely dead. There is so much fresh, interactive material on the internet I simply cannot incorporate all the great stuff into my curriculum.

Ask yourself... Will paper be around in 20 years? No, not as it's currently used and especially in Thailand. The only question is when it ceases to exist. The answer should be... yesterday.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (28th May 2021)

"Lessons can become predictable and boring for the students who know they will just be working their way through the book week after week. "

Or you could say that the lessons follow a set format every time, and if using various grades of the same book, throught the years. In this way students know the way the lessons will progress and how they will be taught. That might be better than interspersing lessons with "throw-the-ball" and other mind numbingly boring activities.

With a set and predictable lesson format it allows the students to do pre-class work at home and be better prepared for an upcoming lesson.

Just a thought.

By Steve C, Bangkok (31st May 2018)

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