The role of published materials in an ES/AP course

By Andy Gillett

Category: ELT Resources

EAP is usually considered to be a branch of ESP, along with English for Professional Purposes (EPP) and English for Occupation Purposes (EOP). In that sense, as with all ESP, the EAP teaching content is explicitly matched to the language, practices and study needs of the learners. Most definitions of ESP (e.g. Robinson, 1991, pp. 2-5; Dudley Evans & St John, 1998, pp 4-5) include the following essential feature: ESP is goal directed and based on an analysis of needs.

For that reason, any ESP course needs to specify as closely as possible exactly what it is that the learners have to do through the medium of English, and what their purpose is in learning English. A central role of the EAP lecturer or course designer, then, is to find out what the learners need, what they have to do in their academic work or courses, and help them to do this better in the time available.

Every EAP course is therefore different, as every student has different needs, and therefore needs to be designed from scratch. What, therefore, can the role of a published textbook be in this process?

In trying to answer the question of what we need materials for, Allwright (1981) starts by asking what there is that needs to be done. Once it is agreed what needs to be done, then the role of materials can be decided. Before any class or programme is started, observe the following:

• Goals need to be set for the course.iStock_000000172036_Medium

• Content must be decided on.

• Teaching methods have to be considered.

• Guidance should be given.


Goals should include long-term aims and short-term objectives, how these aims are weighted in relation to each other and how they are sequenced.

The materials chosen need to be flexible enough to ensure that the goals of the course and the learners can be achieved.


Of course, what we are teaching is language. This needs to include all the linguistic items needed by the students from phonology and spelling, through lexical items and syntax to discourse and genre. As well as this, relevant academic and discipline content needs to be included as well as any discipline-specific strategies and techniques. All this must be weighted and sequenced appropriately.


Before deciding on materials, the appropriate learning processes and relevant learning activities/tasks that need to be employed should be considered. Related to this is the amount of time available and the people who will be involved.


The last thing to consider before deciding on the the materials is the amount of guidance required. Answers may need to be given to tasks and areas of content will probably need to be explained as well as suggestions regarding sequencing and timing. Information also needs to be given regarding standards expected from the students as they progress through their EAP course.

Once these preliminary decisions have been made, materials need to be found that:

• provide relevant exposure to language through, for example, reading and listening.

• provide a source of appropriate content and activities, such as speaking and writing practice.

• provide a structure and progression.

• motivate learners by giving them appropriate  achievable challenges and content.

• provide advice for the teacher.

However, with ESP or EAP it is unlikely that published materials will serve without any adaptation. As most published coursebooks:

• may contain language, texts or practices that are inauthentic to the subject.

• may not contain appropriate language such as text types or genres.

• may distort the subject content.

• may not reflect students’ needs.

Unless the teacher is designing all his or her own materials, it is likely that the teacher or course designer will need to evaluate existing materials and select appropriate items from them. In addition, there will need to be a large amount of modification of existing materials.

Adapting textbooksiStock_000019988180_Medium

EAP teachers will therefore need to be able to:

• Select

It is important to be able to select appropriately from what is available.

• Modify, extend  or change content 

Subject content may need to be changed because it does not suit the target learners, because of factors related to the learners’ language level, academic level or subject specialism.

• Reorganize content 

It may be necessary to change the organization of the coursebook to make it more suitable. Within a particular unit or chapter,  the teacher may decide not to follow the sequence of activities given.

• Modify or extend activities

Activities and tasks will probably need to be modified, extended or supplemented to suit the needs of the learners. For example, a listening activity may focus only on answering questions, but it can be modified to involve a note-taking component.

Every ESP or EAP teacher, therefore, needs the ability to adapt published textbooks in this way. Through adaptation of the textbook materials, the teacher can make sure that the materials are suitable for a particular group of learners.


Allwright, R. (1981). What do we need materials for? ELT Journal, 36, 5-18.

Dudley-Evans, T. & St John, M. J. (1998).  Developments in English for specific purposes: A multi-disciplinary approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Robinson, P. (1991). ESP Today: A practitioner’s guide. London: Prentice-Hall International.

About the author

Andy has spent most of the last 35 years teaching ESP & EAP in UK and abroad. He is now director of Andy Gillett Consulting Ltd. You can find out more about him at:

3 responses to “The role of published materials in an ES/AP course

  1. A very informative article. The tips mentioned will add up additional work for the teacher, But it will be a good effort for betterment of learners..

  2. Learning English is necessary for everyone. Without English you cant stay in the corporate world. This is a good approach for author to concerned about English education. Nice article to read.

  3. So Garnet Education’s books sometimes fulfil a very special role since they are not infrequently the only coursebook available in a particular field of English usage. Is that it? No substitute – that’s clear – for a lovely book which acts as reference source for further study and, later on, revision.

Comments are closed.

Related posts