Make your own course

I’m never happy just doing something, I like to know how it works and why. Probably the reason why I used to dismantle all my toys as a kid/teen/adult. This is true for my teaching too (not the toy part). Basically, I think the average EFL class consists of:

Listening (input)

Reading (input)

Speaking (language practice)

Writing (though not enough)

Grammar x1 point

Functional language

Vocab x7ish

If you’re using a book each unit normally has these. As we all know, the majority of books also follow a grammar-based syllabus from the infamous present to past then future, conditionals, modals, phrasal..YAWN!! So if you need 3rd Conditional you’ll have to wait til Up-int+. Imagine that for a pre-inter who needs it or idioms and lots of phrasal verbs. 3 terms until they get what they want. Ahhh!

So, if these are the elements and after a few years you get a good grasp on the grammar development stages then aren’t you pretty equipped to make your own course? Add to that the CEFR statements too and you’re onto a winner. Here’s a Dogme-style example that uses Dale Coulter’s REVERSE LESSON idea that could fit any level, topic or specialism:

1)Discuss a topic

2)Work on necessary vocab needed to support the discussion/topic

3)Work on grammar points that are weak and preventing expression

4)Ask pairs to draft and write a short piece using these points about their discussion

5)Swap texts, read, discuss, correct, extend

6)Move the conversation on using ideas from the discussions

7)Recycle+extend language/grammar

8)Ask 1 student to present his/her ideas/thoughts and do a Q&A

9)Repeat in groups

10)Do a FB session and support language production making notes

11)Elicit and board main points of the class (all in context but using/demanding the grammar/vocab)

12)Discuss last thoughts and decide on reading/listening/online chat homework and prep for next class

Let’s do a checklist:





Grammar x1 point FAR MORE, possibly 2/3/4 but all related

Functional languageCovered and used

Vocab x7ish FAR MORE and all in context and connected


This is all materials-free and based on the students

It is interesting for them

They will really get engaged

All the grammar/language is dealt with at a higher depth than just reading/matching

Everything is speaking-based which helps a lot of students absorb better


Needs a class willing to ‘play the game’

And one with knowledge and opinions

Can take a while for students to get into this style

Needs you to stay on your toes and “adapt” as Bruce Li says.

Do/could you do this style of teaching and do you think it is better than a book heavy one?Why? Why not?

The end result should be that you can develop a course around any student that is as good as, if not better than, one provided by a book. Check the CEF can do statements to make sure you are on the right track but having a 10 lesson course that does all the main skills, has grammar points suitable for the level, lexis for the subject and helps the student progress at his/her level sounds pretty good to me.

The other main benefit is that no matter what the course/class, this structure works. Grammar is grammar but the vocab is the key. Learning how to adapt the input and focus is then the main priority. For instance, a 121 on Waste Management and one on developing customer relations skills can both cover all the skills but just in a different order or percentage.  In the first more input and vocab maybe needed but the second more functional language. The interactions will also have to be changes.


This idea is good in theory for EFL schools but from trying this recently with BA/MA students it doesn’t work. Why?

1)They are used to being lectured

2)They aren’t motivated to learning and improving English

3)Mixed skill work and lots of different types of activities just blows their mind

4)They take a lot longer to do things than my EFL students would

What now?

I need to do less activities and develop them more

I have to work from their strengths out ie start with reading/listening and move to speaking

Sometimes just doing a lecture-style class but sticking in speaking/listening/grammar extension bits can work better than just doing an EFL class with students who won’t like it.


2 thoughts on “Make your own course

  1. I think you are right that teachers should really feel more confident about developing courses of work for their learners. I think it’s quite common for teachers to believe somehow that there is some esoteric knowledge that they need but lack to do this, when in fact it can be quite simple.

    This is not to say that gathering the data and evaluating what your learners need is easy, but at least you the teacher are in a prime position to do it with your particular learners, so you have the edge on any pre-fabricated course.

    I was curious to read about your university level learners, though. Do those students gain credits for their attendance or performance in those classes? This can have a predictable impact on motivation and engagement, regardless of approach.

    However, I suspect you have drawn the sensible lesson from it: simplify and focus again on what they consider worth focusing on. You’ll let us know how this goes on, won’t you?


    • Cheers for the comment Anthony.Yes, it’s a weird one in that it’s the first place I’ve ever worked where there is no exam test to pass. Students are graded by me based on participation, some advanced ones do a report and presentation but not the basic students. They are also graded on how well they complete the online learning modules. I don’t usually love the pressure and washback caused by English tests but I think it would help push students and give them a goal, a measurable one too. When they graduate they won’t have anything to show how good their English is and some classes are content to just drift and why not? I had the same with students who had done the English test in year 2/3 but still had classes. Why? Just so there was enough time (2 years) to organise resits.

      What I do like though is that my students come because they enjoy the classes, they talk and contribute and I give them a deserved mark. Everyone wins. I hope.

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