Modern Language Textbook as the Only Tool or as One of Many Tools

During my recent presentation on “Transforming Textbook Activities into Spontaneous Speaking Ones,”, I  polled the audience of  modern language teachers  to find out  how many created or found additional material for their textbook. Over 90% of the audience raised their hands. These language  teachers had textbooks from  various publishers; the teachers represented many different languages and different  levels of learning. These teachers commented that a textbook is just a tool. It is not the only tool in a teacher’s repertoire. Other tools are better at certain times.  Just as a carpenter would not use a hammer to saw wood,  teachers understand that each tool has its unique purpose. They select their tool for a  specific  learning purpose.  In addition, when teachers use different tools, they add variety to the classroom.

Many foreign language  teachers use video tools such as YouTube to show a real life example rather than having students just look at  the printed word from the textbook.  For example, a Spanish teacher may show a YouTube video of people at a hospital emergency room in the target country, have their students identify the basic emergency room vocabulary, and, then, have the students role play an emergency room  conversation based on watching the video with no sound.  The static textbook  tool cannot duplicate the  actions of real people from a video tool.

Many modern language teachers incorporate outside readings or current cultural events that are not in the textbook.  The textbook chapter done in December may deal with common foods but not with  foods unique to the cultural celebrations  that occur in  the target language country at that time. Students who only use a textbook  tool  could go through the whole year without ever learning about the current  celebrations / activities in  the target language country.

Many foreign  teachers  try to engage their students in conversations that go beyond the limited ones in the textbook. The teachers may use  the tools of objects (authentic cultural items from the target country),  pictures from the target language area, video clips,  prompted conversations, current school topics, etc. to promote conversation.  When students move from just asking or answering textbook questions about a topic to engaging in interactive, highly responsive conversations through other conversation prompting tools, they improve their speaking.

Do you use your modern language textbook as the only tool or as a tool? Do you have one resource, the textbook, or a variety of resources?

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (25+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: I have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at