Evaluating Textbooks and Their Potential for EFL Learning and Teaching. A Case Study

Master's Thesis, 2020

77 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Content


2.1 Contemporary EFL Methodology
2.1.1 Transition from traditional approaches to communicative language teaching
2.1.2 Communicative Competence and Intercultural Communicative Competence
2.1.3 Interactionism and Constructivism: Two learning theories that shape CLT
2.1.4 Important facilitators of modern TEFL
2.1.5 Educational and Curricular Standards
2.2 Textbooks and their potential for EFL learning
2.2.1 Textbooks: A Definition
2.2.2 The role and the functions of the textbook in the EFL classroom
2.2.3 Textbook related academic research and the need for textbook evaluation
2.2.4 Expectations and requirements posed to an EFL textbook: Towards a set of criteria as an evaluation tool
2.3 Criteria Checklist


4.1 Unit 1: Lead-In
4.2 Unit 1: Part A
4. 3 Unit 1: Part B
4.4 Unit 1: Part C
4.5 Unit 1: Part D
4.6 Unit 1: Other aspects

5.1 Method of research and evaluation
5.2 Content analysis of the teacher interviews

6.1 Results
6.2 Critical Discussion





Digital technologies like computers, smartphones and the internet have changed modern society in the 21st century considerably. Especially for children, teenagers, young adults, the use of digital devices connected to the internet is a defining feature of their lives. The internet has become the number one source for gathering or looking up information. Nevertheless, the reality in schools is still different. In contrast to the reality outside of school, textbooks, especially in the context of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), are still the most important medium for language learning purposes in the English as a foreign language (EFL) classroom today (cf. e.g. Elsner 2016, p.442; Gehring 2012, p.357).

However, the academic evaluation of textbooks – that examines a specific textbook by its quality and whether it meets its intended aims (e.g. promoting effective learning employing modern principles of foreign language teaching) is surprisingly a rather neglected field of study (Fuchs et al. 2010, p.7). Furthermore, it is striking that the very few studies that evaluate an EFL-textbook mostly only consider the technical dimension of analysis, i.e. the theoretical perspective of EFL methodology. This theoretical perspective is, indeed, important for evaluating the quality of a textbook. Yet, in order to gain a more holistic and maybe even more realistic impression of the textbook in question, one should also include the practical perspective of EFL teachers who use that textbook in their day to day teaching practice asking the question, how these practitioners assess the textbook and how useful it is for them in teaching EFL.

Therefore, the present case study will critically evaluate one exemplary textbook from two perspectives. It will combine the theoretical perspective of EFL methodology and the practical perspective of EFL teachers on the textbook. The TEFL textbook chosen for this case study is titled “English G21 A5” and published by Cornelsen in 2010. It is designed for grade 9 at Gymnasium in North Rhine-Westphalia and other federal states of Germany. Taking Unit 1 of this textbook as an example, this paper aims at examining the potential of this textbook for EFL learning and teaching. The central question that this paper attempts to answer is whether the textbook meets the various requirements and expectations posed to a textbook including the numerous features and principles that are part of contemporary EFL methodology and central educational standards.

In the first part of the analysis (chapter 4) the question is in how far the textbook meets the theoretical requirements of TEFL. For the second part of the analysis (chapter 5) a small survey was carried out conducting qualitative interviews with four different teachers of the same school. The four interviews are further accompanied by a questionnaire to add a quantitative dimension to the survey. The survey intends to find out about the teachers’ opinion on the textbook. Hence, this part of the analysis focuses on the question, how the teachers assess the value of the textbook for their teaching practice in terms of functionality and potential of support in preparing and conducting a good lesson. Both perspectives, the theoretical and the practical, will be evaluated separately first, but put into relation when presenting and discussing the results in chapter 6.

Prior to the analysis it is, however, necessary to elaborate on some theoretical background (chapter 2). On the one hand, this involves describing the main principles and paradigms of contemporary EFL methodology. On the other hand, it includes illustrating relevant theoretical context in relation to the term textbook and textbook evaluation revealing the central requirements EFL textbooks need to fulfil. Finally, the aim of this twofold description of theoretical context is to develop a list of criteria (section 2.2.4) that will be used as the foundation of the textbook evaluation. After laying out the theoretical background, the selected textbook will be introduced in more detail in chapter 3, since it is important to know about the textbook in order to critically evaluate it afterwards.


This chapter is divided into two parts. The first part (section 2.1 and its subsections) will provide an overview of the most influential concepts and paradigms of modern TEFL mainly addressing the question how English as a foreign language is learned effectively. Then, the second part of this chapter (section 2.2 and its subsections) will focus on textbooks. First, it will define the term ‘textbook’ and explain the role of the textbook and its functions in the EFL classroom. Secondly, it will briefly outline the current state of academic research related to textbooks. Thirdly, the expectations and requirements posed to an EFL textbook will be described aiming at summarising the core criteria and categories for textbook evaluation. Finally, this twofold theoretical background is used to develop a distinct set of criteria that will serve as the basis for the analysis in chapter 4 and 5.

2.1 Contemporary EFL Methodology

Much has changed in foreign language didactics in recent years and decades (cf. Richards 2006, p.4, 6). Previously prevailing learning theories have been replaced by completely different models. Since this transition from traditional approaches to the paradigms of contemporary EFL methodology should - as a logic consequence - also have a great effect on recent textbooks (cf. Elsner 2018, p.17), it is worth the effort to start with a brief review of traditional models of foreign language didactics before describing recent influential approaches. This will not only illustrate the change in foreign language didactics within past years but – casually speaking – it might also help understanding ‘what approaches shouldn’t be there anymore in a textbook’.

2.1.1 Transition from traditional approaches to communicative language teaching

Today, the behaviouristic views about learning stressing that all learning primarily happens through imitation and a simplistic input-output system are commonly rejected. Learning in general or language learning in particular is not considered a mere habit-formation process as a result of a stimulus-response pattern reinforcing or rewarding expected behaviour anymore (Rivers 1968, p.73; Lightbown/Spada 2006, p.10f; Brown 2000, p.22f, pp.80-82).1 The focus was mainly on “building up a large repertoire of sentences and grammatical patterns” (Richards 2006, p.6) with the expected result of the performance of accurate utterances without any emphasis on communication in the real physical and social world (Bleyhl 2005, p.49). A student then was supposed to learn “through a trial-and-error process [by which] he gradually learns to make finer and finer discriminations until his utterances approximate more and more closely the speech of the [surrounding] community” (Rivers 1968, p.73). In short, linguistic correctness was preferred over meaning, so that “[p]attern drills, imitation and pronunciation activities as well as a lot of error correction dominated in language classrooms back then”. Consequently, students were very often “able to read and write texts or speak sentences they had read or heard before, but they were hardly able to hold a spontaneous conversation” in the target language (Elsner 2018, p.19).

However, these kinds of methods are – at least in this form – a relic of the past. Nowadays, scholars view language learning as a much more complex process (Bleyhl 2005, p.61).2 Bleyhl even ar­gues that such an input-output-approach to learning based on imitation and reinforcement is harm­ful (ibid, p.52). In contrast to past decades, when foreign language teaching was predomin­antly influenced by the behaviouristic learning theory, the “criterion of success” (Trim 1992, p.8) in modern language teaching is “communicative effectiveness [...], not the mere performance of linguistic exercises without error” or “formal correctness” (ibid, p.10). Thus, contemporary foreign language teaching is a communicative one. It puts the focus on content and primarily teaches its stu­dents to use the foreign language as a means to communication (Bleyhl 2005, p.51). Accordingly, effi­cient foreign language learning cannot only be based on the knowledge of the linguistic structures and words of a language. It is rather the result of the use of the target language in the context of content-oriented meaningful social interaction (ibid, p.60) in “socially and culturally appropriate ways” (Byram et al. 2002, p.7).

These characteristics basically de­scribe the essence of the very influential concept called communicative language teaching (CLT). In short, CLT is a set of principles that employs a “meaning-based, learner-centred ap­proach to L2-teaching where fluency is given priority over accuracy and the emphasis is on the com­prehension and production of messages, not the teaching or correction of language form” (Spada 2007, p.272). However, Richards prefers a slightly stronger definition arguing that CLT includes attention “to both fluency and accuracy”. The core principles of CLT he defines are (2006, p.13):

- “Make real communication the focus of language learning.
- Provide opportunities for learners to experiment and try out what they know.
- Be tolerant of learners' errors [...].
- Provide opportunities for learners to develop both accuracy and fluency.
- Link the different skills such as speaking, reading, and listening together, [...].
- Let students induce or discover grammar rules.”

Furthermore, according to Gebhard language teaching that aims to be communic­ative needs to fulfil four requirements: First, there needs to be a shift from teacher-centred teaching to learner-centred teaching (2006, p.68). The teacher's role changes to a “facilitator and monitor” demanding a higher degree of autonomy from the students at the same time (Richards 2006, pp.5, 25f). Second, it is essential to appreciate the “uniqueness of individuals” (Gebhard 2006, p.68). Every student is different for various reasons (e.g. social background, prior knowledge, unique experiences, motivation, intelligence, gender, social competences like discipline or attitude towards learning) and thus also learns differently (Eisenmann 2012, pp.298ff; Scholz 2012, p.10). Therefore, teachers need to accept that there is “no one-size-fits-all prescription to guarantee everyone’s success at the same rate” (Mitsutomi 2014, p.3), since the heterogeneity of the learner group and learning being an individual process is the norm, an undeniable fact, and not the exception (Hallet 2011, p.58-67).3 Consequently, individualised or “differentiated instruction” is a key principle of modern TEFL every teacher needs to account for (Eisenmann 2012, p.299ff).4 The third factor for making an EFL-classroom a communicative one is to provide “chances for students to express themselves in meaningful ways” (Gebhard 2006, p.68). Negotiating meaning is, in fact, a key element of CLT. Finally, students need the freedom to have “choices, both in relation to what [they] say and how they say it” (ibid.).

2.1.2 Communicative Competence and Intercultural Communicative Competence

Taking into account all of these factors described above reveals the primary goal of CLT in a TEFL context, which is “students’ development of communicative competence in English [which includes the] development of students' ability to comprehend and produce written and spoken English in communicatively proficient and accurate way” (Gebhard, p.63; cf. Richards 2006, p.2). Other researchers of CLT define communicative competence by splitting it up into four major categories, which are “grammat­ical competence (i.e., mastery of the phonological, morphological, syntactic and lexico-semantic structure of a language), sociolinguistic competence (i.e., knowledge of the rules of language use), discourse competence (i.e. cohesiveness in form and coherence in meaning in both spoken and writ­ten domains), and finally strategic competence (communication strategies em­ployed in order to compensate for gaps in knowledge or insufficient fluency)” (Kurteš 2012, p.4). This makes clear that communicative competence is needed to perform “all language activities, such as reception, production, interaction and mediation” (ibid., p.9).

Moreover, since publications by Byram and other authors in the late 1990ies an “intercultural dimension” (Byram et al. 2002, p.7) has been added to EFL methodology. Intercultural communicative competence (ICC), which can be regarded as an extension to the concept of communicative competence, has become a central aim of foreign language teaching (Byram 1997, p.3).5 Byram stresses that communication (whether in oral or written form) is always “more than the exchange of information and the sending of messages” (ibid.). Rather every communication is embedded in a social and cultural context. Hence, ICC is defined as the learners' “ability to ensure a shared understanding by people of different social identities [and cultures], and their ability to interact with people as complex human beings with multiple identities and their own individuality” (Byram et al. 2002, p.7). This also includes “intercultural awareness” (Council of Europe 2001, p.103f), i.e. the learners' knowledge, understanding and critical awareness of their own identities and values as well as of those of the “target community” (ibid.; Byram et al. 2002, pp.7, 13). Intercultural competence emphasises the importance of interaction with a different culture or rather people of a different language and culture as well as “developing a human relationship” (ibid.) with such people by learning to accept them as “individuals with other distinctive perspectives, values and behaviours” (ibid, p. 10).

In his model of ICC Byram (1997, p.34) points out three complementary components. These are knowledge, skills and attitudes. Simply knowing or learning some facts and figures about a coun­try and its culture in the sense of what is called Landeskunde (Ahrens 2012, p.183; Erdmenger 1996) does not suffice. By the term knowledge Byram rather refers to the knowledge “of social groups and their products and practices in one’s own and in one’s interlocutor’s country, and [knowledge] of the general processes of societal and individual interaction” (Byram et al. 2002, p.12). The term attitude “include[s] curiosity and openness as well as readiness to see other cultures and the speaker’s own without being judgemental [and f]inally, the skills include those of interpreting and relating, discov­ery and interaction” (Lázár 2007, p.9; cf. Byram 1997, p.34).

2.1.3 Interactionism and Constructivism: Two learning theories that shape CLT

The previous section clearly illustrates the strong emphasis of modern foreign language teaching on so­cial interaction, on the learners' individuality and the focus on the learners' own activeness and autonomy in using the target language actively negotiating meaning in communication with others along with the overall shift to a learner-centred teaching. This reveals the strong influence on contemporary TEFL by two general learning theories briefly described in this section.

While the behaviourists ignored the role of social interaction for language learning (De­mirezen 1988, p.139), Vygotsky's theory of social interactionism claims that learners' “development and [all] learning take place in a social context, i.e. in a world full of other people, who interact with the [learner]” (Cameron 2001, p.5f). Thus, language learning is a result of interacting in a social environ­ment of other people that serve as a “mediator” helping the learner to make the world “accessible”. In a classroom, these mediators can be the peers but also the “skilful teachers” (ibid.) who provide the students with not too easy and not too difficult but still challenging input – and if deman­ded temporary guidance6 – so that they are able to reach the next step in their development7. Similar to that, Krashen calls this kind of input that is only “slightly above the learner’s current level of mastery” (Mitsutomi 2014, p.2) “comprehensible input” (Krashen 1982). This comprehensible input represents a key element of language learning for the student.

Another learning theory that focuses more on the learners' individuality and their activeness and less on social interaction is constructivism (cf. e.g. Reich 2012; Glaserfeld 1995; Reyes/Vallone 2008; Mayer 2004). The social or material environment only indirectly helps the learner in the complex process of learning by providing useful external conditions and opportunities for the learner to actively take action and solve the problem he or she is confronted with (Cameron 2001, p.3f). Hence, according to this theory, the “knowledge that results from such action […] is actively constructed by the child” (ibid.). Thus, learning is an active and cognitive process of constructing meaning and knowledge by each individual (Bleyhl 2007, p.174). Applied to teaching, this means that the main thing the teacher needs to ensure to initiate learning is to create helpful conditions and assure that the stu­dents actively participate and engage in the classroom (Bach/Timm 2009, p.1). Ul­timately, it remains up to the students' cognitive activity whether they ‘digest’ the information they are provided with by the teacher or not, i.e. whether they learn something or not. Finally, in order to cope with the heterogeneity of the class and countless individual presuppositions for a successful learning, this learning theory recommends employing learner-centred methods in the EFL classroom (Rumlich 2015, p.7).

2.1.4 Important facilitators of modern TEFL

According to Richards (2006, p.4) classroom activities that facilitate learning best are for instance “pair work activities, role plays, group work activities and project work”. These few general examples clearly emphasise that EFL-teachers should preferably choose cooperative methods of learning, i.e. “a wide variety of [pair- or] small-group activities” (ibid., p.20), when trying to conform to modern principles of EFL methodology. Moreover, Richards differentiates activities that focus on fluency and activities that focus on accuracy. He recommends balancing the amount of fluency and accuracy activities. However, both types are meant to be carried out in cooperative ways. On the functional level, a communicative activity should typically bridge an “information-gap”. Thus, classroom activities should usually serve to help the students gather or transfer information, share and compare opinions, infer reasons and come to conclusions (ibid., p.14-19).

However, a rather broad approach, that focuses on “creating the right kinds of interactional processes in the classroom” (ibid., p.30) and thus typically also integrates such cooperative classroom activities focusing on meaningful communication, is Task-Based-Language-Teaching (TBLT). The task-based approach has developed to become the probably most established and most commonly used method in modern TEFL (Summer 2012, p.9).8 In very basic terms a task means “the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play and in between” (Long 1985, p.89). Applied to classroom contexts such real-world tasks are tasks that “reflect real-world uses of language”.9 However, tasks that usually oc­cur in the classroom are different from these real-world tasks as they are “specially designed instructional tasks”. This kind of tasks is referred to as pedagogical tasks (Richards 2006, p.30, 31). Nunan (2004, p.4) defines such tasks as “a piece of classroom work that involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is focused on mobilizing their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning, and in which the intention is to con-vey meaning rather than to manipulate form”. Yet, this definition is just one among many other definitions (cf. Ellis 2003: 3ff; Leaver/Willis 2004: 13ff); e.g. according to Jane Willis, a pioneer of TBLT, a task is an activity “where the target language is used by the learner for a communicative purpose in order to achieve an outcome” (1996, p.23).10

One major characteristic of tasks is that they try to “achieve interactional authenticity in the classroom” (Ellis 2012, p.17) in a sense of enhancing the use of natural language instead of meaningless “one-off sentences” (Willis 1996, p.35f). The emphasis on the use of the target language clearly stresses that the task-based approach is a “learning through doing” (Skehan 1996, p.20) approach, which is primarily based on the principle of active learning, meaning that “learners learn best by act­ively using the language they are learning” (Nunan 2004, p.36).

All in all, being a meaning focused and learner-centred approach TBLT “can be seen as a coun­teraction against audiolingualism and form-focused teaching that proposed the use of decontextual­ised grammar exercises such as gap-filling” (Summer 2012, p.9). TBLT can thus be regarded as “part and parcel” of CLT (Müller-Hartmann/Schocker-von Ditfurth 2009, p.39). The focus on the organisation of social interaction through “negotiation of content that is meaningful to learners […] makes TBLL espe­cially valuable for developing intercultural communicative competence” (ibid, p.40). Further, the task-based approach represents a beneficial response to the heterogeneity of the class facilitating learning by making it easier to employ means of differentiation (e.g. regarding quantity, quality, goals, contents, methods and media, process of learning, the product of a task, and the learning environment) and thus having a positive influence on aspects like “learner autonomy, motivation and creative evolvement” (Eisenmann 2012, p.300ff).

Another significant means of modern TEFL relates to the term authenticity. On the one hand, it is an established view that “language teaching should be oriented around authentic situations of language use” (Kolb/Raith 2018, p.209). Consequently, “class-room activities should as far as possible mirror the real world”. On the other hand, the use of “real world or ‘authentic’ sources as the basis for classroom learning” is required (Richards 2006, p.20). According to a definition by Nunan an authentic resource “is any material which has not been specifically produced for the purpose of language teaching” (1989, p.54). Thus, in the context of TEFL, authentic resources can be newspaper articles, films, short video clips, advertisements, pieces of literature, recipes, sign boards etc. Although certainly, authentic material is usually linguistically more challenging for the students (cf. Lee 199, p.324), it is, nevertheless, argued that the use of authentic materials facilitates learning because it “provides cultural information about the target language, provides exposure to real language, it relates more closely to learner’s needs [and it] supports a more creative approach to teaching” (Richards 2006, p.20).

2.1.5 Educational and Curricular Standards

Modern TEFL not only requires teachers who teach according to the principles explained above, but as a common basis also requires an “according organisation of the syllabus [which is] based on language skills rather than on grammatical systems” (Doff 2018, p.9). In the past years, the authorities responsible for education in Germany (especially the Kultusministerkonferenz (KMK)) have developed and published documents that delineate curricular standards as well as educational standards (Bildungsstandards).

These documents are primarily based on the ‘Common European Framework of Reference’ (CEFR) (cf. Elsner 2018, p.22; KMK 2004, p.6). The CEFR, commissioned by the Council of Europe, has become the standard reference for modern foreign language teaching across Europe. It was “designed to provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials [e.g. textbooks] and the assessment of foreign language proficiency” (Council of Europe 2020, n.p.). Further, it “describes in a comprehensive way what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively”. The CEFR thus defines six “levels of proficiency which allow learners’ progress to be measured at each stage of learning”.11 All in all, the CEFR adopts an action-oriented and competence-oriented approach that is in line with CLT and the task-based approach (Council of Europe 2001, p.1, 9; Brock 2011, p.69).

The orientation towards competences12 and expected learning outcomes, that students of a particular grade should accomplish, is a core characteristic of the educational standards for foreign language teaching (Bildungsstandards für die erste Fremdsprache) posed by the KMK (2004, p.3; Elsner 2018, p.22). The KMK distinguishes three comprehensive areas of competences: The first broad field of competences is called “functional communicative competences”. It is further subdivided in two categories, “communicative skills” and “control of linguistic means of language”. The former is defined by five basic language skills, namely listening, speaking, reading, writing and mediation. The latter en-tails the foreign language vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and intonation as well as spelling. The second field of competence is defined as “intercultural competences” repre-senting sociocultural knowledge, students approaching cultural differences in an open-minded way, and mastering real-world intercultural situations. This field of competences clearly relates to the concept of ICC coined by Byram (1997). Finally, the KMK portrays methodological competences as the third domain of competences. This domain includes the reception and production of texts, strategies of learning applied by the individual, the use of different types of media and presenting learning outcomes or products, and the organisation of learning. As a result, modern TEFL is supposed to cater for all these fields of competences (namely communicative, intercultural and methodological competences)13 in a balanced way, pursuing the ultimate goal of helping the students to become plurilingual (KMK 2004, p.6f; Council of Europe 2001, p.4f) eventually enabling them to understand and “use the English language actively and respectfully in manifold discourse situations” (Elsner 2018, p.17).14 This, however, should not be confused with a communication in the target language that is free from errors (Brock 2011, p.69).

The objectives and the competences to be achieved laid out in the Kernlehrplan 15 for the teaching subject EFL at the Gymnasium in North Rhine-Westphalia considering Sekundarstufe I (years 5-10) correspond to the objectives outlined in the Bildungsstandards. Both documents are competence-oriented and point out that students are expected to reach at least the CEFR reference level of B1 until the end of year 10. It focuses on the learning results that are expected by students of EFL in the form of specific competences and like the CEFR it provides a large number of can-do descriptors in relation to each functional competence. This makes the Kernlehrplan an essential guideline and means of orientation for the teaching practice (cf. Schulministerium NRW 2019). Further, it is said that competences always need to be built up in an interconnected way in complex teaching sequences, in which a variety of different methods dealing with authentic, action-oriented and meaningful classroom activities or tasks are employed (QUA-LiS.NRW 2015, p.53).

2.2 Textbooks and their potential for EFL learning

As this paper, above all, aims at evaluating an exemplary EFL-textbook, the focus in this subchapter will shift from EFL methodology to the theoretical context related to textbooks and their potential for EFL learning.

2.2.1 Textbooks: A Definition

Whereas in English language literature one only finds the term textbook, in German language literature and discourse two terms, Lehrwerk and Lehrbuch or Schülerbuch, are differentiated. The term Lehrwerk is used as an umbrella term for the full set of different additional material and media16 that, nowadays, comes together with the actual students’ textbook, which is referred to as Schülerbuch. This extra material usually at least consists of a workbook including additional exercises for the students’ further practise, a CD-ROM including complementary audio or visual material, and a teacher's guide (cf. Elsner 2016, p.441; Rösler 2012, p.41f; Elsner 2018, p.27; Banse 2010, p.61).

However, the pupils’ textbook is without any doubt the most important part of this set of media. Although the word textbook is such a commonly used term, there is no simple universal definition. A textbook generally is a central medium of learning for students, and a leading medium of teaching for the teacher at the same time. As a rule, it is used in various classroom situations and phases of learning (e.g. motivating, informing, practise) or for homework throughout the school year. It typically comes in the form of a printed book, that is adapted to the needs of the specific school form, the students’ age and the teaching subject, and it is designed on the basis of general educational and methodological frameworks, aiming at realising the different objectives, goals, competences and contents in a systematically structured and didactically effective way. Further, such a textbook is a medium of reference for both learners and teachers and is specifically designed to serve as a flexible didactic tool for the planning, initiating, supporting and the evaluation of learning processes at school or other educational institutions. Containing a mixture of different media and didactic resources (e.g. short texts, pictures, diagrams, sections explaining grammar, list of vocabulary) accompanied by tasks and exercises for the learners, it aims at offering all the new information and knowledge (e.g. new language input, new linguistic phenomenon) as well as fostering all the skills and competences that the students are supposed to learn, acquire or enhance within the year that this textbook is employed (Fuchs et al. 2014, p.10, 19; Wiater 2013, p.18; Rösler 2012, p.41; Henrici et al. 2001, p.397; Elsner 2016, p.441; Sandfuchs 2010, p.19; Banse 2010, p.59).

In Germany, another defining characteristic is that all textbooks for the use in schools need to pass a special procedure of approval by the federal education authority. Primarily, it is checked whether the contents of the textbook conform with the national law as well as the requirements of the Kernlehrplan, and whether it corresponds to the current state of subject-related methodology (e.g. CLT). It is also evaluated whether the textbook caters to the students’ needs (e.g. their age). Further, it is considered whether the amount of content is appropriate and whether any social group is discriminated against (Wiater 2003, p.2; Elsner 2016, p.442; KMK 1972).17 Thus, as Gehring points out, such textbooks “probably fulfil fundamental standards”. Yet, Gehring also emphasises that these broad “pedagogic and instructional guidelines from the ministries of education and cultural affairs in Germany are easy to meet [which is why] the number of quality characteristics implied by the approved seal should not be overestimated” (2012, p.357f).

2.2.2 The role and the functions of the textbook in the EFL classroom

Despite the rise of digital media, the printed EFL textbook is still the most prominent medium of secondary level I at schools in Germany (Elsner 2018, p.30; Banse 2010, p.61; Schmidt/Strasser 2018, p.219). The EFL-textbook is used as the key component of TEFL in practically every EFL classroom at German schools. Very often EFL teachers use the textbook in their classrooms on a daily basis and work through chapter by chapter, although there is no obligation to use it this way (Gehring 2012, p.357; Elsner 2016, p.442; Gehring 2010, p.201). In this context, Fenner even argues that “in many classrooms textbooks and perhaps the additional workbook are the only learning materials used” (2012, p.371). Thus, there is no indication yet that in the future digital teaching materials might replace or at least challenge the very dominant role of the printed textbook. Even international comparative studies highlight the pivotal role of the textbook:

“Textbooks and ancillary materials will remain an instrument of extraordinary power. They may, in fact, be the most effective of educational technologies yet invented and there is no reason to imagine a modern educational system where textbooks do not play a central role. It is therefore fitting and proper to pay close attention to their role and function, their content, cost and finance” (Heyneman 2006: 36, cited in Fuchs et al. 2014, p.12).

Nevertheless, for many the textbook and its use entail the image of being outdated or contradicting to modern TEFL. Textbooks are criticised for lacking variety, flexibility and opportunities for differentiation. Further, textbooks are denounced for being boring, demotivating and monotonous, as well as for being artificial and not authentic in terms of the presentation of the target language. Another widespread criticism is that teachers use the textbook uncritically and too dogmatic. Also, it is said that textbooks often fail to satisfy the students’ needs and that textbooks counteract creative teaching (cf. Wiater 2013, p.17; Harmer 2007, p.152; Rösler 2016, p.483; Harmer 2001, p.304; Elsner 2016, p.443; Tsiplakides 2001, p.759; Funk 2004, p.42; Schmidt/Strasser 2018, p.220).

However, EFL textbooks fulfil many important functions and are useful for several reasons. First, it is an “important resource for teachers in assisting students to learn English and serve [as a basic] source of information for teachers” and learners (Akhgar 2017, p.109). Thus, it supports teaching and learning processes. Secondly, the textbook can “provide a framework for the EFL teachers’ lesson planning and teaching” (Evans 2012, p.218). Since teachers do not have the time to individually create and prepare teaching material and create complementary tasks for every class and every lesson, textbooks are of great help supporting and simplifying the teacher’s work, even more so as the textbook contains every linguistic domain needed to learn the English language. Beyond that the EFL textbook is also an important means of quality management for a school by providing up to date content coherently structured into domains of knowledge and didactic units, also by allowing and fostering students’ self-directed learning (students can use the textbook for revision), by assisting and assuring the EFL teachers in complying with the curriculum and educational standards. In addition, it fulfils the function of representation (e.g. making teaching and the students’ learning process transparent to parents) and it can be a monitor of the students’ learning process in general. Moreover, the textbook can function as a helpful guide especially for less experienced teachers since the textbook offers a solid learning progression. Finally, the systematic use of the textbook helps teachers standardise teaching so that the change of an EFL teacher of a class is less problematic (Kahlert 2010, p.42f; Hechler 2010, p.97; Elsner 2018, p.27-30; Fuchs et al. 2014, p.10; Tsiplakides 2001, p.758f; Harmer 2007, p.155; Fenner 2012, p.371).

Besides these functions and advantages of the textbook, many scholars also highlight a socio-cultural and political function. It is argued that textbooks not only are “delivery systems” of facts and learning content, but also a result of political, economic and cultural consensus (Apple/Christian-Smith 1991, p.1f). Hence, “in addition to transmitting knowledge, textbooks also seek to anchor the political and social norms of a society [conveying] a global understanding of history and of the rules of society as well as norms of living with other people” (Pingel 2010, p.7).18 According to Fuchs et al. (2014, p.17), part of this socio-political function is that the education policy indirectly even expects teachers to use the textbook as a binding tool in their teaching.

2.2.3 Textbook related academic research and the need for textbook evaluation

Section 2.2.2 has made clear: Textbooks are “very complex entities” (Matthes/Schütze 2014, p.19) that play a central role in TEFL. Nevertheless, very much in contrast to its relevance, textbooks are a particularly neglected research object. In fact, as Fuchs et al. point out, a specific field of academic research that solely deals with textbooks and its evaluation does not exist. Thus, it is more suitable to generally speak of ‘textbook related research’. Fuchs et al. further remark that there is neither much knowledge about the process of choosing a textbook, nor are teachers (whether at university or in the course of further professional training) taught how to effectively exploit a textbook (2014, p.21-23, 74; Fuchs et al. 2010, p.7). Also, there is no commonly accepted comprehensive theory of textbooks, that writers of textbooks could follow and rely on (Pohl 2010, p.118). Therefore, it does not surprise that there is also almost no substantial academic research regarding textbooks and its practical use in the EFL classroom (Elsner 2016, p.443).

The few studies on textbooks that do exist, however, among other aspects reveal factual mistakes, unsatisfactory quality of texts, poor connection to typical views that students have, ineffective explanations and dissatisfying instructions (cf. Kahlert 2010, p.43). Hence, there obviously is a need for further or for more research on textbooks evaluating specific textbooks as it is the aim of this paper. Although the EFL textbook, which is the central research object of this paper, namely the ‘G21 A5’ by Cornelsen, has been in use at numerous schools (year 9, Gymnasium) for many years, it is hard to find a single academic paper or even a review that deals with this EFL textbook.

So, how is a textbook evaluated academically? Two kinds of distinctions are made. First, predictive evaluation and retrospective evaluation are distinguished. Predictive evaluation refers to the process of selecting a textbook before it is to be used in teaching practice. This type of evaluation is applicable when the EFL teachers of a school propose changing the EFL textbook. Then, they skim through different EFL textbooks by different publishers and compare these, finally deciding on which of these textbooks might suit their purposes best. Retrospective evaluation, on the other hand, is the evaluation of a textbook that has been used for a specific period of time. It is then checked retrospectively, whether the textbook in use meets the expectations towards that EFL textbook and whether the use of this textbook was actually beneficial. This retrospective evaluation requires collecting information “in a more systematic manner” (Tsiplakides 2011, p.760). This paper applies a retrospective evaluation.

The second distinction adopts a different angle. Primarily in German literature, ‘werkanalytische Lehrbuchanalyse’ and ‘rezeptionsanalytische Lehrbuchanalyse’ are differentiated. The first of these two German terms means an analytical approach to a given textbook on the basis of specific criteria in a neutral-descriptive way or a rather subjective-evaluative way. This type of textbook evaluation concludes with a final opinion or critique on the quality of the textbook. The second approach, on the other hand, is rather empirical, focusing on the teachers’ or the learners’ use of the textbook and their impressions and opinion about it. Methods for collecting data are, for instance, interviews with teachers or systematic observations of some teachers’ teaching practice or conducting a survey using questionnaires (cf. Rösler 2012, p.48). This empirical approach of evaluation is rather rare, thus, representing a gap in research (Rösler 2016, S.490). The authors Matthes and Schütze, in this context, claim that a “multi-methodologically” approach is necessary, i.e. that the analytical and the empirical approach need to complement each other (2014, p.19). Otherwise the results of a mono-dimensional evaluation that is lacking the empirical point of view would be of very limited value, Funk (2004, p.41f) points out. Therefore, in this paper the multi-methodological approach is applied since the theoretical analysis (see chapter 4) is followed by the empirical evaluation making use of interviews and a questionnaire (see chapter 5).

Finally, a thorough textbook evaluation consists of at least four steps (Henrici et al. 2001, p.400). First, the criteria that shall serve as the foundation of the analysis needs to be clarified. Second, the research object, i.e. the textbook, needs to be described (chapter 3). Third, a close analysis of the textbook follows making use of the list of criteria prepared in step1. As mentioned above, it will be a twofold multi-methodological analysis in this paper (chapter 4 and 5). Step four consists of a final critique and discussion of the results of the analysis taking a stance on the quality of the textbook answering the question whether it fulfils its aims or not (chapter 6). The following section 2.2.4 depicts step 1 of this sequence of steps of a textbook evaluation, namely developing the set of criteria.

2.2.4 Expectations and requirements posed to an EFL textbook: Towards a set of criteria as an evaluation tool

A “neat formula, grid, or system [providing] a definite yardstick” (Sheldon 1988, p.245) for the evaluation of textbooks has not yet been found. Different authors suggest different catalogues of criteria, of which some are too extensive to be practicable, and others are too broad or too vague to be a useful tool (cf. Rösler 2016, p.485; Kurtz 2010, p.159). Besides, Isik stresses that “evaluation criteria need to be customized to serve the specific needs of specific contexts” (2018, p.798). Bearing this in mind, it does not seem to be functional to use an existing set of criteria. Nevertheless, it is possible to extract relevant aspects presenting the various expectations and requirements posed to an EFL textbook and by doing that approaching a distinct customised checklist of criteria.

To begin with, all scholars and ministries of education (cf. e.g. StMUK Bayern 2010, p.8; Kahlert 2010, p.49) agree that a good EFL textbook needs to conform to contemporary principles of EFL methodology. This includes all the paradigms and issues illustrated in chapter 2.1 (2.1.1 – 2.1.5). This means that a good EFL textbook is expected to practically apply the learning theories of interactionism and constructivism, to be oriented towards the learners, communication, action and interaction, towards meaningful content and tasks, as well as competences (especially communicative and intercultural competence). Applying communicative language teaching, a valuable EFL textbook is further required to allow learner autonomy19 and create options for differentiation. It should particularly focus on meaning without completely neglecting focus on form. An EFL textbook should also conform to the educational and curricular standards, which are an important component of TEFL. Thus, the textbook should foster communicative skills as well as the control of linguistic means of the English language integrating the teaching of the five basic language skills (listening, writing, speaking, reading, mediation). Intercultural competences20 and methodological competences need to be fostered, too. The lat-ter should be fulfilled by implementing opportunities that imply the use, the reception and production of texts as well as other types of media. As a result, one can say that a good textbook is expected to be a multimedia21 learning tool presenting a variety and a balanced mixture of media (cf. Funk 2016, p.439; Elsner 2016, p.442). All in all, this obviously is the most comprehensive and probably also the most important category of criteria.

The second major category of criteria deals with the question whether the textbook meets the needs of the target group, i.e. whether it is appropriate according to the students’ needs. The textbook is required to be appropriate in terms of the type of school, the students’ age, the students’ proficiency level, also in terms of layout and design as well as regarding themes, topics and the material (e.g. texts, pictures) within the textbook (amount of material and its complexity). The textbook is expected to be designed to be interesting, motivating and relevant to the students.22 It should appeal to all students (both boys and girls) and relate to their interests or real-world experience. Furthermore, the pace of the progression should be appropriate (Rösler 2012, p.44f; Schmidt/Strasser 2018, p.220; Haß 2006, p.244; Maijala 2007, p.557; Tsip-lakides 2011, p.759-763; StMUK Bayern 2010, p.8; Fuchs et al. 2014, p.41f).


1 Former methods of foreign language teaching like the Audio-Lingual-Method put this behaviouristic theory into practice by making use of, for instance, computers in language labs for repetitive language drills focusing on grammar structures and vocabulary (Harmer 2001, p.79f; Richards/Rodgers 2014, pp.58-80).

2 Bleyhl (2007, p.174) about the complexity of foreign language learning: „Sprache ist die komplexeste Erfindung des Menschengeschlechts. Eine Sprache zu lernen, kann allein deswegen kein trivialer Prozess sein. Ein Sprachlernprozess involviert daher die gesamte Persönlichkeit des Lerners [und umfasst] dabei praktisch alle verschiedenen Kompetenzen und Intelligenzen des Menschen.“

3 Nonetheless, the view that a class is a very homogenous group of learners and that learning can be the same for all those students – if only all external conditions are controlled – is an unrealistic and misleading wish common until today among teachers (cf. Haß 2013, p.1; Eisenmann 2012, p.298).

4 Kolb and Raith (2018, p.200) briefly define the term differentiation as “the use of strategies and techniques to teach groups of learners with different abilities, interest and learning needs”.

5 This, however, does not mean that the development of linguistic and communicative compet­ences has become less important.

6 This kind of temporary (language) support by the teacher to the student is also commonly referred to as “scaffolding” (Reyes/Vallone 2008, p.34f; cf. Kolb/Raith 2018, p.205).

7 cf. Vy­gotsky's thoughts on the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ in: Vygotsky 1978, pp.79-91

8 Some authors (e.g. Kolb/Raith 2018, p.207), however, further differentiate between task-based and task-supported language teaching (TSLT) stating that in TBLT “the whole curriculum is grounded on tasks” and that in TSLT tasks are only “one element among others in an otherwise topic- or form-focused syllabus”. Therefore, Kolb & Raith claim that “English teachers in Germany usually work in a TSLT context in which the course book plays a very important role” (ibid.).

9 Richards (2006, p.31) mentions “a role play in which students practice a job interview” as an example of a task of this kind.

10 In contrast to a task, exercises, as Müller-Hartmann and Schocker von Dithfurth (2009, p.41) put it, only focus “on having the learners produce correct linguistic forms, such as asking them to fill in blanks with correct grammatical forms to complete sentences”.

11 The six levels are divided into three categories: The ‘basic user’ comprising the levels A1 and A2, the ‘independent user’ consisting of level B1 and B2, and the ‘proficient user’ classified as C1 and C2 (cf. Council of Europe 2018, p.34; 2001, p.24).

12 The term competence can briefly be defined as “the sum of knowledge, skills and characteristics that allow a person to perform actions” (Council of Europe 2001, p.9). However, more complex and comprehensive definitions of the term do exist (cf. e.g. Weinert 2002, p.27f; Hallet 2011, p.30).

13 Find a complete overview of these fields of competences in Appendix A.

14 Hallet describes this objective as “fremdsprachige Diskurs- und Partizipationsfähigkeit” (2013, p.5).

15 This is the central binding curriculum for a teaching subject provided by the federal school authority.

16 In the context of TEFL, media and teaching material can be defined as “vehicles, or stimuli, that convey a pedagogical message which is linguistic, cultural, literary or other. Thus, media, digital or analogue, are all kinds of “textual, visual or oral resources used for the didactic purpose” of TEFL (Evans 2012, p.217f).

17 However, there are no reports published that present the results of this evaluation.

18 On that note, the public authorisation process every textbook needs to pass is a clear manifestation of this socio-political function (cf. Wiater 2003, p.3; Kahlert 2010, p.42).

19 This also includes that a good EFL textbook should enable the students’ self-directed learning encouraging them to use the textbook autonomously as their primary book of reference (in class and at home) (cf. Hechler 2010, p.99; StMUK Bayern 2010, p.4, 10; Rösler 2012, p.47).

20 The claim that an EFL textbook must be (inter-)culturally sensitive portraying a well-balanced world view can be subsumed here. It should reduce prejudices, e.g. by paying attention to gender equality, integrating a variety of social groups and making students learn about other people or cultures (in relation to one’s own). In a nutshell, a good textbook should not discriminate against anyone and it should not indoctrinate students (StMUK Bayern 2010, p.8f; Schmidt/Strasser 2018, p.220f; Harmer 2007, p.153).

21 In the educational context, multimedia “refers to systems of teaching and learning resources that consist of a variety of stimuli: listening, viewing, reading, writing”. Thus, to speak of multimedia, the existence and mixture of e.g. audio or video files, pictures, charts and graphs, and texts, is needed (Evans 2012,p.224).

22 Authentic material plays an important role here (cf. Tsiplakides 2011, p.763).

Excerpt out of 77 pages


Evaluating Textbooks and Their Potential for EFL Learning and Teaching. A Case Study
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Department of Anglophone Studies)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
English G21 A5, Cornelsen, Schulbuch, Lehrbuch, 9. Klasse, 9. Schuljahr, Gymnasium, NRW, Nordrhein-Westfalen, textbook analysis, textbook evaluation, textbook, textbooks, evaluation, close reading, qualitative Inhaltsanalyse, qualitative content analysis, mayring, case study, Fallstudie, interviews, Experteninterviews, EFL Methodology, EFL Didaktik, TEFL, English as a foriegn language, Teaching English as a foreign language, Teaching English to learners of a second language, TESOL, Master of Education, Lehramt, teacher, Evaluating Textbooks and Their Potential for EFL Learning and Teaching, Contemporary EFL Methodology, ICC, intercultural communicative competences, communicative language teaching, funktionale kommunikative kompetenzen, methodenkompetenzen, interactionism, Konstruktivismus, constructivism, Bildungsstandards, KMK, Kultusministerkonferenz, Kernlehrplan, curricular standards, educational standards, facilitators of modern TEFL, learning theories, Lerntheorien, expectations towards a textbook, Was ein Schulbuch können muss, requirements of a good textbook, set of criteria, Kriterienkatalog Schulbuchanalyse, crriteria checklist, Unit 1, teachers' perspective, theoretical perspective, content analysis, questionnaire, interview transcript, transcripts
Quote paper
Saleem Arif (Author), 2020, Evaluating Textbooks and Their Potential for EFL Learning and Teaching. A Case Study, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/539495


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Evaluating Textbooks and Their Potential for EFL Learning and Teaching. A Case Study

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free