Considerations after one year of courses without a textbook

As I wrote at the beginning of this school year, we decided to try to experiment some courses without a textbook. The idea behind this was to give maximum flexibility and adaptability to the teacher and the course, so that it could be tailor-made for our very small groups.

The results were not as positive as I expected, but were not entirely negative. I’d like to report on what I discovered during this year, dividing the feedback into: feedback from students and feedback from teachers.

Feedback from students

The first thing I noticed was that students who took a course with us last year and were used to have a course book found the idea of not having one really destabilizing. Most of them complained of the new system and, even after we explained the reasons why we choose to do so, some went on to buy a textbook on their own or to leave the course altogether.

The reaction was very different from students who started a course with us this year. They took the no-coursebook method for granted and did not complain once about it. Only one elderly student complained that the material was not quite as tidy or colourful as it might have been with a textbook, but she went on to say that it was nonetheless clear and complete.

I noticed that despite our best efforts to provide the students with plastic pouches and a filing system, some of them still ended up with a mess of paper and handouts that they could not make sense of.

Feedback from teachers

Teacher feedback was mostly positive. They seemed very happy to feel free to choose materials that could adapt to their students without the constraint of a textbook. On the other hand, some teachers ended up getting ideas and materials mainly from textbooks anyway, so in that case I feel a book would have been a better option.

The lessons ended up being more varied and engaging, and I could also adapt the lessons to the different speed and progress of different classes. However, sometimes the students felt lost, not having one recurrent format — which might get boring but also represents a safety net for adult students.


My conclusion — by no means definitive — is that such an approach might be suitable for more independent students, who know how to organise their work and to integrate what is done in the classroom with online and independent learning. However, it is much more difficult to make it work with “uncommon” languages such as Chinese and Russian, or with students who are used to and expect to have the safety of a textbook.

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11 thoughts on “Considerations after one year of courses without a textbook”

    1. Hi Sandy. One thing I didn’t mention is that with my upper-intermediate class the experiment was a success. It’s a class of young adults, typically university students so they are used to organising their work. So I think for next year I’ll evaluate each case, i.e. each class, and together with the teacher choose whether or not to use a course book.

  1. Hi Giulia
    This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
    I’ve been experimenting with an absolute beginners class this term. I decided to go CB free and as much as possible, grammar free. So far so good but that could be because the Ss are new to the centre. I sometimes wonder if a workbook for homework might not have been of greater benefit than the handouts I give them – for the same reasons you mention about ‘organisation’.

    Nevertheless, I’m still glad I didn’t go with the coursebook.

    1. Well, we had a class of absolute beginners here too, and they didn’t have a course book. But they were all new to the school and didn’t even think about it. Actually the course has been very successful. However the teacher mainly got ideas and materials from different textbooks, so in our case I don’t see the point. 🙂
      I’m glad your class was really successful though. Where did you get the materials for your lessons?

      1. Most of the language is generated from the students. I go Dogme most of the time. I made a few handouts based on what came up in class. Because they’re Arabs and the script is new to them, I’ve had to work quite a bit on writing – probably more than you’d have to do with any students whose alphabet was Roman.

  2. Thanks for sharing your conclusions, Giulia. In our school, adults don’t buy a textbook, although the teachers follow one during the course. As you said, it gives everyone a lot more flexibility – our idea being as well that adults can move between levels when they feel ready, rather than being obliged to complete a year in one group and complete the book.
    You make a good point about organisation and I think it can be equally true for the teachers as well as the learners. It’s important for there to be some kind of syllabus so that teachers know what objectives the group should be aiming for and I do feel as well that a book-free approach is perhaps easier for more experienced teachers – they know where to find materials more easily, having taught similar levels in the past and are more able to critically evaluate the materials they find.

    1. Thanks for your comments Teresa. I completely agree with you on everything. It’s probably a good approach for experienced teachers.

  3. Hi GIULIAT!
    Thank you for sharing your conclusions. The findings of your experiment are interesting for my MA thesis on supplementary materials. I think, virtual textbooks, spplementary materials and teacher-developped materials in general can be thought of as good alternative teaching materials for any textbook that resists change. But total rejection of textbooks will put teachers in a chaotic and messy situation! Textbooks help teachers structure their work (know where to start and where to go in the syllabus). Are all teachers qualified to develop their own materials, or are they going to spend much of the lteaching time talking? Who can guarantee that teacher talking time (TTT) will not replace student talking time (STT) and that learner autonomy wil not be affected by the missing textbooks?

    1. Hi and thanks for your comment. What do you mean by saying that learner autonomy being affected by the absence of a textbook? If anything, I noticed that having no textbook to fall back to gave students greater autonomy to organise their learning.

  4. Hi Giulia,
    This is an interesting topic for me! Thank you for sharing. I was wondering if you had any additional findings or data about this ‘experiment’? If so, could you please post it, it would be useful. Thank you so much!

    1. Thank you for your comment.
      I don’t have any hard data, these are just considerations and thoughts I have after planning and teaching book-less courses for a whole school year. They are completely personal and based on what I observed in our school.

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