EAP and publishers: the dangers of Teaching EAP for No Obvious Reason

This post is by our guest Andy Gillett. Andy is well-known in the world of EAP. He was chair of BALEAP, teasurer and PIMS coordinator. He is also very well known for his EAP site http://www.uefap.com/index.htm. Andy worked at University of Hertfordshire from 1995 to 2009 and more recently has been writing vocational English teacher training material for British Council, writing ESAP English for Telecommunications for Garnet, as well as working with Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner on materials to support their recent book to go on the British Council learn English site.

I have just been reading an article in the latest issue of ELT Journal by Duncan Hunter and Richard Smith (Hunter & Smith, 2012) about Communicative Language Teaching. In the article, they take a historical view by studying the use of the term Communicative Language Teaching – or CLT in ELT Journal during the period between 1958 and 1986. I find it interesting as, in my view, EAP is Communicative Language Teaching par excellence. Since the early days, CLT had focussed strongly on the authentic language of communicative purpose as well the belief that learners need to use the language actively in order to learn. Hunter & Smith argue that precise academic definitions of CLT existed in early days and still do to some extent, and this was supported my many academic publications (see, for example, Brumfit & Johnson, 1979). However in the last 20 years or so publishers have so diluted the meaning of the term CLT that it is almost meaningless these days. As a consequence of this, perhaps be this will lead to the end of CLT as we know it. And I think that would be a shame.

The reason I think this is important is that I wonder if the same happening with EAP. There has been a healthy research tradition in EAP since the 1970s and well-known researchers such as Averil Coxhead (e.g. Coxhead, 1998), Ken Hyland (e.g. Hyland, 2000), Hilary Nesi (e.g. Nesi & Gardner, 2012) & John Swales (e.g. Swales, 2004), have helped us define what EAP is. EAP is clearly a branch of ESP, which is defined by paying attention to the needs, linguistic and other, of the users. That means that we need to focus on who our users are and what they need and want. Isn’t that what humanistic CLT is about? You might argue, as people such Rinvolucri (1996) have done, that that is not possible, as you cannot possibly know what your learners will need. In order to plan EAP course and teach them, we do need, however, to believe that it is possible to predict, to some extent, what our learners needs are and prepare our syllabuses and classes to help them to achieve those aims. To support this, there is much research on needs analysis in EAP, especially linguistic, starting in the 60s and 70s with vocabulary and grammar, moving through the 70s with an emphasis on skills and functions, into discourse and text structure and now into more in-depth studies of vocabulary and – most importantly – genre. The problem is that once we start being really aware of the lexical and genre needs of students at different levels and in different disciplines, we find (see Nesi & Gardner, 2012) that it gets more difficult to generalise and produce generic materials. Every individual learner is different and needs their own focus.

However, now that the big publishers (Pearson, CUP, OUP), with their needs to sell to large markets, are jumping on the EAP bandwagon, this specialist knowledge of EAP genres and disciplinary differences seems to be getting forgotten. So it seems that EAP is dividing into two. Mass market EAP, concentrating on generic academic language, which is specific to no-one, and specific EAP designed for small groups or individuals, about whose needs are clear. Will the second destroy the first?  I hope not, because the narrow specific focus is needed. The generic EAP course may be useful for undergraduate pre-sessional courses or general EAP courses with no particular objective. You will know about Gerry Abbot’s (1978) TENOR – Teaching English for No Obvious Reason –  but there is a danger that TEAPNOR – Teaching EAP for No Obvious Reason – is developing. Garnet Education, for example, are working hard with their ESP series and I hope they succeed. It would be counter-productive if the big publishers cornered the market and destroyed this. If there are a wide range of very general EAP books available, in the same way as CLT, books with a wide range of generic academic subjects of interest to everyone – or no-one, then everything becomes EAP, and it becomes meaningless. The problem with trying to be too specific is that you are likely to miss – I’m a micro-economist, not a macro-economist. The problem with being too broad is that no one learns what they need.


Abbott, G. (1978). Motivation, materials, manpower and methods: Some fundamental problems in ESP. Individualisation in language learning (ELT Documents 103, pp. 98-104). London: The British Council.

Brumfit, C, & Johnson, K. (Eds.). (1979). The communicative approach to language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coxhead, A. (1998). An academic word list. (English Language Institute Occasional Publication Number 18). Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington.

Hunter, D. & Smith, R. (2012). Unpacking the past: ‘CLT’ through ELTJ keywords. ELT Journal, 66, 430-439.

Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary discourses. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Nesi, H. & Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rinvolucri, M. (1996). Letter to Craig Thaine. The Teacher Trainer, 10(2).

Swales, J. M. (2004). Research genres: Explorations and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


32 Comments on “EAP and publishers: the dangers of Teaching EAP for No Obvious Reason”

  1. Alex says:

    Dear all,
    If you are having problems posting comments, do let me know. One or two of you have alerted me to problems you were having. You can contact me at alex.ding@nottingham.ac.uk


  2. Stephen O'Sullivan says:

    Hi Andy

    Thanks very much for posting this and opening up the coursebook issue in EAP. I just wanted to put down some thoughts.

    Sheldon (1988, p. 238), amongst many others over the years, summed up the oft-argued, practical reasons for adopting published coursebooks:

    “The sheer labour-intensiveness of developing classroom materials, the pressures of heavy timetables, and the highly restrictive nature of most teaching situations nevertheless force the teacher (or educational purchaser) to rein in his or her reservations, and to choose a book which only approximates to the needs of the local context.”

    ‘Approximation’ could, in its extreme, result in what you term TEAPNOR (or just as bad, perhaps worse, the learner equivalent, LEAPNOR). At the other extreme, it might be possible in tailored ESAP courses to over-prepare, over-rehearse, or even spood-feed students in support of their academic course output, possibly at the risk even of subverting academic programme teaching and learning aims.

    I agree that if more specificity is the where EAP should be most usefully at, the ESAP coursebook logically heads in that direction. Practicalities – in terms of having enough students all doing the same subject modules – may very often pre-empt this, though. I also agree that it would do the EAP field a massive disservice if the ‘big players’ displaced the more specific-needs based publications.

    Beyond the coursebook, and to try to maximise transparency, purpose, and arguably most important, the immediateness of skills/language transfer to students’ academic needs, Sloane and Porter’s CEM model (e.g. 2010) seems to me to be a very appealing articulation of what can be done – in collaboration with subject lecturers – away from the varying degrees of genericness (I looked it up!) of coursebooks. This does, however, potentially lead one back to ‘the sheer labour-intensiveness of developing classroom materials’ issue that Sheldon mentions. It’s clear from what Sloane and Porter say that the CEM approach requires a lot of institutional backing, collaboration, and people ready to champion the approach on all sides to get this into effective operation. I would add that some academic courses more readily suit the CEM model than others.



    • Stephen O'Sullivan says:


      Sloane, D. and Porter, E. (2010). Changing international student and business staff perceptions of in-sessional EAP: using the CEM model. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 9(3), pp. 198-210.

      Sheldon, L.E. (1988). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT Journal, 42(4), pp. 237-246.


    • I think we might be forgetting the ‘elephant in the room’ which is really driving the production of generic coursebooks and that is the university admissions tests (aka Secure English Language Tests) such as IELTS, TOEFL and Pearson Test of Academic English among others. These global language exams necessarily have to reduce the complexity of communication for academic purposes to something that can be measured reliably for large numbers of candidates. This in turn has an impact on the content of coursebooks. In simple terms there are many more coursebooks for IELTS or TOEFL preparation than there are for EAP preparation.

      I believe in all of this that we are forgetting a key driver for specificity in the classroom – our students. They usually come with some (often quite high) degree of subject-specific knowledge and we need to be brave enough to hand over control of subject content to them, making them text-dectives capable of exploring texts in their subject contexts and at the same time explaining to us their fascination with the subjects they want to study.


      • Dear Olwyn,

        I fully agree that IELTS and TOEFL for university admission is the elephant in the room when it comes to these generic materials. They influence the materials published. The problem here is that not all countries follow this system of admission. In Turkey, where there are many English Medium universities the university has its own admissions system and exam. Students who are unable to pass this exam follow a year of EAP style preparation linked to what they will study in faculty. This gives greater scope for subject specific exploration in the classroom. However the materials being published seem to be more geared towards learners studying in English medium countries rather than our situation which also makes these materials even more inaccessible. I am sure that we are not the only ones in this situation. I just wish that the lens was wider than it currently is about who the target audiences are.


      • Andy Gillett says:


        Your two parts make sense on their own, but seem to contradict each other. Surely. if we are really interested in our students’ academic needs, then we stay clear of IELTS & TOEFL. If we are preparing students to take IELTS & TOEFL, then fine, but it’s not EAP.

        I’ve mentioned before that at the moment, I’m not teaching EAP; I’m teaching business research methods. The students are preparing for an MA dissertation and the assessment for my course is a research proposal. In the proposal, I want them to include two parts: a literature review looking back in time and a methods section looking forward in time. The literature review is fine, but all I seem to be able to get from the students for the second part is essays on the advantages & disadvantages of – for example – focus groups. They’ve had advantage & disadvantage essays rammed into them so much that they can’t see any further.



      • Alannah Fitzgerald says:

        I think you’re right, Tyson, that textbook reliance is a problem given that we tend to agree that they are too generic for our students’ actual learning needs and assessment requirements within different academic disciplines. I agree with Olwyn that the larger problem area stems from perceptions around what EAP is and what it involves and this is where publishers play a big part in creating an identity for EAP. People are familiar with IELTS and TOEFL etc because they are clearly defined tests. People are not familiar with what English for Specific Academic Purposes is, however, yet this is most of what we spend our time doing in many parts of the world. Great to hear from Sharon in Turkey, btw!

        If you’re a new EAP teacher (often with no training, credentials, experience in EAP), or an English school owner or manager who thinks there is money to be made in running EAP courses, or someone interested in learning EAP then you won’t have to go very far before you stumble upon all of these generic published EAP resources most of which are packaged in the textbook format and targeted to those students enrolled on EAP programmes in English speaking countries. Without the training, credentials and experience in EAP, who is going to question EAP resources that resemble IELTS and topic-driven EFL/ESL resources from the likes of Routledge, OUP etc? Students who come on to our EAP programmes know what we do, but are they the best means for publicizing what we do? I don’t think so because new students don’t come onto our programmes expecting ESAP, they come expecting something like IELTS.

        Teaching monographs and teachers’ books don’t sell well even if you do have a well-known EAP publisher behind you. Olwyn can tell you all about this and how Garnet insisted that her teachers’ books were published in black and white. So, I still think we need to find a way to share and promote what we do with or without publishers and without compromising EAP identity further. That’s why I’m now working in the area open educational resources and practices. Publishers can most definitely be part of this movement and we can see this starting to happen in EFL/ESL and in many other research fields with the open access movement. What would benefit the EAP community is to be able to engage openly with a whole lot more of what EAP practitioners are doing on their various programmes worldwide and for there to be an open global EAP initiative that facilitates the sharing of resources: content, expertise and community. Let’s plan and work together for an open global EAP initiative.


  3. alannahfitz says:

    Hi Andy, and thanks for an interesting and stimulating read.

    You’ve definitely hit on issues that are close to my own work with this post on the noticeable surge in traditionally published EAP resources. Because big brand publishers are interested in sales the current marketing trend toward generic EAP textbook resources that can easily be scaled for mass distribution is not likely to disappear anytime soon. (I have blogged about this and related issues in a sub-section of my last post, the greatest hits in ELT materials development and publishing http://www.alannahfitzgerald.org/#Radio2).

    I agree with you that EAP can be CLT par excellence as outlined by Howatt in 1984 where he states that, “strong CLT advances the claim that language is acquired through communication, so that it is not merely a question of activating an existing but inert knowledge of the language, but of stimulating the development of the language system itself”, which entails using English to learn English over learning to use English, the latter of which Howatt identifies with weak forms of CLT (Howatt, 1984:279). I think we can both agree, however, that EAP resources and practices can reflect below par CLT through the development and use of generic published materials, an issue which you have raised in your post.

    The paper by Hunter and Smith is an interesting one and I particularly liked their corpus + qualitative research methodology for surfacing trends in the literature on CLT in the ELTJ during the different editorial reigns. I agree with the authors that the retroactive bundling of diverse approaches, practices (both in research and teaching) and resources into conveniently packaged methodologies which can then be demonized (to use Hunter and Smith’s term) in favour of the new flavor(s) in ELT methodology is characteristic of what happens, as you suggest, in the big sell of ‘new’ approaches by publishers (to be scooped up by researchers in their reflections on the field) through traditional textbook resources. I’m not convinced by Hunter and Smith that researchers such as Howatt and Richards & Rogers were painting CLT in such definitive and ‘bundled’ terms, however. To put the Richards & Rogers quote in proper context, the issue of inconsistency in the design of CLT resources is central (taking into consideration all levels of resource granularity, from tasks to courses) based on different understandings of CLT that have been open to interpretation:

    “Communicative Language Teaching can best be considered an approach rather than a method. Thus, although a reasonable degree of theoretical consistency can be discerned at the levels of language and learning theory, at the levels of design and procedure there is much greater room for individual interpretation and variation than most methods permit.” (Richards and Rodgers, 1986:83)

    I find it interesting that all the big name EAP researchers whom you refer to are coincidentally corpus people. You might want to add Tim Johns who gave us the term data driven learning and who also coined the term EAP, according to Hyland (2006). I wouldn’t develop EAP resources now without taking a corpus approach combined with other approaches and I guess that you wouldn’t either based on the discussions we had in relation to your UFEAP resources when you attended our workshop on free and open corpus-based resources for EAP at the BALEAP PIM in June at Durham. The majority of EAP teachers who I have worked with over the years do not take a corpus approach with EAP materials development, however. Simply put, they have not received training in this area and many other areas relevant to materials development and dissemination. This is the point that Steven has picked up on in his defence of the textbook, but things have changed dramatically in publishing since 1988 and there are open textbook and ebook technologies that we could be leveraging for pushing out specific EAP resources so as not to deskill the EAP community where materials development practices are concerned. Many EAP teachers were trained as I myself was trained via CELTA and DELTA modules, to consume textbook resources from big name publishers in ELT, at best supplementing them but not creating their own…

    EAP teaching has forced us into a position of having to create our own teaching and learning resources, however, and this ownership of EAP resources and materials development practices should be encouraged and sustained. The EAP community would greatly benefit from training in how to develop their resources without infringing copyright and how to publish their resources through a variety of web channels, including wikis (which can be printed into wikibooks), open educational resource repositories (OER) like JORUM, the Humbox, LORO and LanguageBox – all funded by HEFCE and endorsed by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). There’s always the time complaint restraint put forward by some practitioners, but anyone who has ever put EAP resources and courses together knows that their repertoire for materials development increases in effectiveness and speed simply by being attentive to teaching needs and remaining flexible as these needs change. Good resources are not fixed resources and our practices should also be iterative as in reflective and action research practices.

    In response to your post, Andy, I’m particularly interested in how the EAP research and practitioner community are going to effectively scale an alternative approach to EAP resources development and dissemination to those generic EAP resources we are now seeing from large ELT publishing companies. We live in exciting times when it comes to publishing and even OUP are taking their hats off to the unprecedented crowd-sourcing outputs created by dynamic global communities like those contributing to Wikipedia, the sixth most visited website online.

    What’s it going to take to mobilise an army of EAP practitioners working across global contexts to inform and demonstrate to publishers the type of resources that are useful so that we can collaborate with small publishers like Garnet who are committed to EAP to compete with the big names in the publishing industry? Not to take away their business but to put them in the business of being useful to the EAP community by listening to us (goodness knows they’ve ignored so much of the corpus research citing evidence of actual academic English usage from higher education contexts!), and working with us on the type of teaching and learning resources that are appropriate, rather than providing us with more of the same often weak CLT type resources that currently swamp the ELT publishing market. Garnet can’t do it alone and having signature BAWE corpus support teaching and learning resources available in one place on the web will not suffice either for the growing demand in this area, although endorsement by the British Council is greatly received as one of many channels for promoting effective EAP resources.

    Oxford IT Services who manage the BAWE with the Oxford Text Archive are keen to open up research corpora like these along with the BNC for learning and teaching purposes. The BAWE collections in the open source FLAX language project are one instance of this http://tinyurl.com/b6nkg2v. While I am here at Waikato putting together my case study on UK OER with Oxford and the HEA we are also looking at ways to further develop English language education support resources for the BAWE corpus, as well as enhancing Oxford podcasts of lectures and seminars that have been published under creative commons licences so that they are more readily accessible and re-useable in EAP teaching and learning contexts also. Needless to say, working with open source and open educational resource developers has revolutionised my own practice and this is what I would like to share with the EAP community.

    Some further suggestions:

    We could stake out some dynamic ground and take over the WikiVersity pages on academic writing and shift the focus away from generic college composition resources. We could also actively engage with the writing of the Wikipedia pages on EAP and other relevant ELT pages to reach wider audiences than those of our peers through traditional research papers and academic monographs. We could also write more reviews of published EAP resources in the open on Amazon. Educational resource repositories are full of generic EAP resources on how to give an effective presentation, how to develop an argument to meet the general requirements of the essayist writing tradition befitting the social sciences, how to do signposting, and how to put a bibliography together according to the Harvard referencing output style. We could occupy these same channels to show the complexity of what we’re doing in EAP teaching and materials development as a way of educating each other and those who don’t work in our field about what we actually do. We might even enlighten some publishers and ourselves while we’re at it. As June Carter sang to Johnny Cash, “let’s go, time’s a wastin”.


    Howatt, A. (1984). A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

    Hyland, K. (2006). English for Academic Purposes: An Advanced Handbook. London: Routledge.

    Richards, J. C. and T. S. Rodgers (1986). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.


  4. Dear Andy,

    I think this article really hits the nail on the head. While the market is ripe for EAP focused materials one-size fits all is actually a danger to EAP. Some of the materials coming onto the market are so general that they are impossible to use. Work by the like of Hyland also signify the need for specifically focused materials. Let’s hope that we as practioners also make the message clear to publishers about what we want, as we are the ones in the end that use the books or decide on their use in our courses.

    Thanks for the great article.)



  5. Great post. Although I do like much of the Garnet series, isn’t the answer to this worry of dilusion to generic fluff what most EAP courses I’m familiar with did long before there were EAP coursebooks? That is to say, don’t organise syllabi around a coursebook at all. Take or modify bits and pieces that may be useful once student needs and program direction has been established. I find it more worrisome, EAP or general EFL, when programs rely on any coursebook to fuel their programs.


    • Andy Gillett says:

      Yes, I agree. As long was we remember that we are USING textbooks or other published materials to make our lives easier and to ensure that we are giving our students what they need. As Tyson says, we mustn’t let the textbooks dictate our courses and syllabuses; we mustn’t allow the textbboks to USE us, or our students.


  6. Hi Alannah and Tyson,

    Great to have this debate about coursebooks going. However, Alannah, I have to correct something you said: ‘Olwyn can tell you all about this and how Garnet insisted that her teachers’ books were published in black and white.’ Where on earth did you get this factoid? It in no way represents the exchange between me, my co-authors and Garnet over the style and printing of EAP Essentials (which does in fact contain discrete amounts of quite a pretty green!). My belief is that teachers do not need fancy colours in order to motivate them to read books that aim to uncover the mysteries of EAP Teaching, any more than students need fancy colours, lots of pictures and not too much dense text in order to understand concepts in EAP. These are people going on to study subjects such as laser physics, environmental management or petroleum engineering where the pictures have a function that is not just for motivation and enterntainment.

    I’d like to agree wholeheartedly with something Tyson said: ‘don’t organise syllabi around a coursebook at all. Take or modify bits and pieces that may be useful once student needs and program direction has been established.’ Coursebooks are generic not only because they are tied to IELTS/TOEFL etc, but also because they are trying to be all things to all students. They have no academic context within which to assess student needs. Sue Argent and I tried to get round this problem in Access EAP by creating a context – a virtual university – and populating it with sample students who went about the university interacting with lecturers and other students and performing the tasks and activities expected of them in their university life. We’ve been accused of creating a ‘soap opera’ but in fact we were trying to address target needs, i.e. to show the students who use the book what real university life looks like before they get there – a look over the wall so to speak.

    As a coursebook writer, I also wish to unpack this blanket assumption that Open Educational Resources (OER) are in some way better than any coursebook. OER are only as good as the teacher who decides to use them. That teacher can easily subvert a lecture found on the web to a topic-based discussion around students’ personal reactions to the theme. Sue Argent wrote about this problem in EAP Essentials pp 100-105. Also many of the people who write coursebooks were or in some cases still are teachers and must be using an approach to texts and tasks that is typical of lots of other teachers. Alannah, I know you do a lot of work with teachers showing them how to use OER appropriately but I’m sure you don’t reach everyone.

    Going back to Tyson’s point, I’d like to acknowledge some of the coursebook writers who helped me to learn what EAP involves: Hamp-Lyon and Heasley with Study Writing, Jordan’s Academic Writing, Weissburg and Buker with Writing up your Research, Swales and Feak with Academic Writing for Graduate Students. These books got me interested in exploring the theory behind the approaches they were using and I used their tasks as models to create my own classroom materials. So I’m a little resentful of sweeping comments about the uselessness of coursebooks when it has taken me a long time and a lot of effort to get to a position where I feel confident enough to write one.


    • Alannah Fitzgerald says:

      Hi Olwyn,

      With OER you don’t reach everyone by yourself as it’s a collaborative effort. The fact I was referring to is that teachers’ books don’t sell as well as students’ books, and the reference to your Access EAP teachers’ book being limited by Garnet to a black and white publication was raised by you in your IATEFL presentation this year in Glasgow, ‘Who needs a teachers’ book?’, where you also said that teachers’ books were the neglected Cinderella of the publishing world. Garnet weren’t going out of their way to make your teachers’ book look attractive in the same way as your coursebook due to sales, at least that’s the point I took from your talk.

      The issue of EAP resources is not a black and white one. We have all been inspired by both open and proprietary resources and we have all found useful and not so useful resources in both closed and open formats. Because open educational resources are open to re-purposing, re-mixing and re-distribution you can decide how good they are and you can change them if you want to. The only assumption I am making here is one of resource accessibility and flexibility. Materials developers, authors and publishers decide on the content and the pedagogy that go into a closed or an open resource. If publishing with Garnet means that your resources have become bad-teacher-proof then all the more power to you, Olwyn. By all means keep writing with Garnet.

      All along I’ve been saying that whether we work with or without publishers we need to boost ways for EAP resources to get out there that better represent the variety and complexity of what we do in EAP in response to Andy’s post on the dangers of teaching EAP for no obvious reason.


    • Yes, Olwyn, I have similar experience: coursebooks helped me learn what EAP involves, but many also misguided me into believing what was the norm in university (e.g. very structured, formulaic essays, university lecturers who always organise their lectures perfectly and use signposts, texts that are short and sweet, with clear main ideas, etc.). I realise that it’s just not practical to have authenticity to its fullest (or even near fullest) in a coursebook. You’re right, ‘they are trying to be all things to all students’. I haven’t seen yours, honestly, but it would have to have been squashed a little simply due to size restrictions. Where I do applaud you is by being associated with Garnet, whose texts are top of the line, even if that line isn’t high enough to warrant program design based on.

      Yes to Sharon – I think colour is helpful even if it isn’t authentic. For many students coming out of a general ESL/EFL program, full with big images and spacey texts, it can be very jarring to be thrust right into visually unappealing academic texts. I recommend taking baby steps from the transition between the two instead.


      • Steve O'Sullivan says:

        Hi Tyson

        You highlight a real issue when decrying the misguidance that you and many others, including myself, have experienced and, perhaps, have been guilty of ourselves at times. This got me thinking a bit more, though I must admit that much of what I say below is the further raising of issues which I haven’t fully resolved in my own mind.

        Swales (2009: 5) writes about ‘the EAP practioner’s dilemma’ and ‘when there is no perfect text’. I suppose one of the things that teachers/materials writers try to do, nonetheless, is try to find/tailor/write teacher-exploitable ‘perfect texts’ as models: manageable, navigable spoken or written model texts that can be used to teach with and where, for example, common academic discourse features and their attached language can be more or less neatly identified, extracted or presented as exemplification of what members of an academic community might commonly do/say. I’d add that such modelling is what most teachers and students would want in order to try to bring some kind of manageable, digestible, and transferable order to the potential chaos of discourse varieties.

        One of the problems, as you allude to, however, is when ‘model texts’ and the discourse and organisational modelling within don’t seem to chime with reality. When combined with a lack of familiarity with the reality, this can lead people in all sorts of unusual directions – some of them highlighted in the ’20 myths’ blog on this site.

        Getting hold of numbers of reality, copyright-free, feature-filled, ‘perfect texts’ for use in production of globally-targeted coursebooks is still a tall order for publishers, it seems. Writing from scratch sets of such texts with authentic-like length is also a tall order. Building up corpuses of authentic writing for teaching exploitation sounds a sensible time-saving approach, but when exploitation is for duplicated use, copyright enters into this domain too. OER, and corpus material falling into these, as Alannah advocates here, may be a potentially liberating DIY option. However, if, as I understand things, modelling is a desirable approach for reasons of manageable teaching and learning, with corpuses of material there still seems to me to be the time-consuming issue of finding ‘perfect texts’. In my not so humble opinion (dare I unhumbly say it), quite a lot of academic writing, published or in occluded student genres (Swales, 1996) doesn’t easily cut the mustard in terms of its digestible qualities and for substantial linguistic and metalinguistic modelling purposes. Moreover, as Olwyn astutely reminds us in this blog when speaking about OER, resources are ‘only as good as the teacher who decides to use them’.


        Swales, J. M. (1996). Occluded genres in the academy: The case of the submission
        letter. In E. Ventola & A. Mauranen (Eds.), Academic writing: Intercultural and
        textual issues. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

        Swales, J. M. (2009). When there is no perfect text: Approaches to the EAP practitioner’s dilemma. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Vol. 8(1), pp. 5–13.


  7. Dear Tyson, Alannah and Olwyn,

    I fully agree with Tyson that no course should be built on a coursebook and as Alannah pointed out that a corpus approach is an effective way to go. I have been using this approach over the last 4 years. We were lucky to be trained at my institution. This training is key to producing effective materials and also to effective use. The way a material is written will not guarantee that they will be used in the way intended as highlighted above. However on the colour and image issue, I agree that pictures should not be used for solely entertainment value. They need to mirror their use in faculty. However, in some EAP material I have seen an image that might have naturally been there has been removed. As for colour, for some learners colour is the way that their brain works. This does not mean that they are using colour for entertainment value but it is their valid learning style. For some of my learners who have trouble facing dense text, a highlighter pen and colourful interaction with the text actually enable them to study. I also as an EAP teacher need colour for the way my brain works. I buy a book, cover it in coloured pen, sleep and in the morning wake up and have the whole book inside my head in visual memory, never needing to read it fully again This is not entertainment it is a real learning need. There are more students who I work with who have been denied their need for colour. When some people see my notes or work (all covered in colour), I am condemned for not being serious, or seen as childish, which is not the case. It takes me months to convince the learners with a similar style to actually colour in public and to use it openly. When they do they become phenomenal learners and often excel in their academic disciplines. Colour and images do have a valid place for some learners. Over the last year I finally had the courage to go to lectures with an A3 art pad and coloured pens. Linear notes have never made any sense and actually following the way I really learn despite how nonacademic it might seem was and is truely liberating. I only wish that as an undergraduate student I had not tried to fit into the black/blue ink linear note-taking crowd.


    • Alannah Fitzgerald says:

      Sharon, I couldn’t agree more about there being so many resources at our fingertips that we could be using in EAP. Dense texts, poor image resolutions, black and white Word docs and linear note-taking need not be the norm. There’s probably a lot of bad uses of slideshows in EAP as well bad teaching with textbooks. The point you raise about the lack of training with corpus approaches is one I’ve encountered often. I think this lack of training extends to materials development in general but I also feel that teachers are developing a lot of good resources that they’ve tested out with their students in the way that you describe here with your A3 art pad and coloured pens. I have an inkling from my own experience working in different institutions that there is so much good stuff for teaching EAP but somehow it ends up in teachers’ desk drawers and behind password-protected VLEs but if teachers knew more about licensing and copyright – once again, something we lack training in – then we could be sharing some really useful and exciting new resources for EAP.


      • Dear Alannah,

        I agree. It was one of the reasons behind #EAPCHAT. For EFL there are many more networks and exchange channels than with EAP. There are a few conferences here and there but one of the reasons I started blogging and entering that comuunity is to learn from other practitioners in the EAP field. I remember how excited I was to find Tyson Seburn in Canada and then Steve Kirk and Mura Nava. We now have more people participating. The more we share the more we learn from each other and there needs to be more of this in EAP. We do need to share good practice.


  8. Wow – so many really good points here – thanks everyone. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously with some points … and wondering whether I should just give up trying to write EAP materials!


    • Alannah Fitzgerald says:

      Good point, Julie, I think the only thing we can give up on is trying to please everyone with the EAP materials we do create! I don’t think there are perfect EAP resources out there as we can’t design for everyone’s contexts, but we can design flexibly so that if people want to use them they can. I remember a week-long workshop with Brian Tomlinson in Leeds on ELT materials development with a group of graduate students from Korea where I was lecturing in an ELT Mats Dev department in the early 2000s. There was so much emphasis on planning and designing and then ditching everything we’d done to start again from scratch. A healthy lesson in detachment from one’s resources perhaps? Also, a great insight into the power of design cycles for re-iterating resources.

      The reality is that almost everyone in EAP creates resources in EAP and then re-visits those same resources with editorial decisions both large and small because they care to and feel a need to. Doing this in a collaborative way with peers and with reference back to existing resources, both open and proprietary (if you have access to the latter) makes things a lot easier in my experience. We live in exciting times where we can now connect to and network with each other (provided we have internet access) beyond our everyday institutional and organisational affiliations about these issues. Just as we have been doing in this blog.


  9. It seems to me that there is a wealth of experience, expertise, opinions and advice here that those new to EAP would benefit from finding in one place. Coursebooks are not the evil that some might believe them to be. As Olwyn points out, for many of us they have been our teachers and helped us become confident enough to challenge what they ‘advise’ (not tell) us to teach. Many of us then go on to explore the theorys behind EAP and strive to take the profession further. For me the question should be not whether coursebooks are any good, but WHY teachers rely on them so much, I think the answer lies in the ‘mentoring’ role they play. Coursebooks teach us about EAP as we do not really have anything else at our disposal to help us undertsand how to teach it, let alone do it well. It seems to me that those new to the profession need guidance on some of the issues discussed above and a resource offering practical advice (say a website – EAP Mentor.com?) that they could dip into to find exemplars of materials designed around the corpus approach for example, and also find guidance on how to create their own. Of course, there is a wealth of research at a teacher’s disposal, but it often lacks real practical application and is time consuming to, well, consume.


    • I absolutely agree!! I became involved in EAP teaching about 7 years ago (from a general ELT background) teaching each summer on pre-sessional EAP courses. Because it was something I only dipped into for a fairly manic few weeks each summer, I didn’t really have much time for ‘professional development’ (and certainly didn’t have any formal training) so I learnt the basics from published materials and trial and error.

      As I started to get more interested in EAP a couple of years ago in my ‘rest-of-the-year’ role as a freelance materials developer, I tried to find out more about the area and found it really quite difficult, esp. as I didn’t have the support and guidance of a university dept and colleagues to help me. My first BALEAP event was just completely intimidating and made very little sense to me! Gradually I’ve been feeling my way into the EAP world through various channels, but it’s been far from easily accessible.

      I agree that it’d be nice to have some user-friendly, jargon-free resources out there, esp. for the legion of occasional EAP teachers who get drafted into pre-sessional courses each year or for teachers outside the UK being asked to do a few EAP-style classes and for whom, EAP isn’t a raison d’etre!


    • Perhaps you are not aware of EAP Essentials, written by me, Sue Argent and Jenifer Spencer, and published by Garnet http://tinyurl.com/cebdwzp In that book we tried to explain EAP in straightforward language without the jargon but with reference to key theories and sources for those with time to read further. The book also contains a CD ROM of classroom materials which exemplify the principles we described. These are activities which have worked in our classrooms over the years and which coudl formt he basis for your own materials development.


      • Dear Olwyn,

        This book was a breath of fresh air and much needed. I had seen so many new EAP teachers grappling with the very nature of this new ‘tribe’ coming from EFL backgrounds that they needed such a book. When first entering the academic world I remember it taking me at least a year to fully understand this community and how it works. Your EAP Essentials if it had been around at the time would have sped up the process. I also think that it works well as an in-sessional. There are universities in Turkey who are still teaching general English in prep and would work well as a study book for any department changing from and EFL perspective to an EAP one. This is beginning to happen.


      • Steve O'Sullivan says:

        Yes, and as Sharon has mentioned below, EAP Essentials was/is a breath of fresh air, establishing an updated, practical (and, as you say, jargon-free) EAP teaching narrative.

        The just-in-time potential for teachers of an authoritative online forum like this one is perhaps even greater, with its contextualised time-saving summaries of people’s current practice and thinking, ‘filtered’ short-cuts to relevant research, with it’s usefulness as a memory-jerker, and as an outlet to do what students are asked to do – deepen learning and understanding through written articulation of thinking.

        Questions continually need to be aired and critically worked through – often the best ones, as they occur/recur in relation to what one is doing at work at any given time. Many of these questions, on-the-face of it, are basic, but it’s really important to continually revisit them, as reflection instigates refreshed thinking. It’s something which the current (more exclusive) BALEAP members list, for example, probably isn’t able to do so well, since most people on that list will be at work when posts come through there, some are not involved in teaching per se, and most unable to dedicate much time to formulating substantial response to more practical teaching questions and/or having reflective time to read them or the responses.

        I personally hope this forum continues and is able to develop further with the above in mind.


      • I am aware of EAP essentials. My point was that having an online resource with the same principles as EAP essentials would be a good tool for those new to EAP. Often in staffrooms books get adopted by one particular teacher or permanently borrowed by someone else. At least with a resource online it is always available and not festering on someone’s desk somewhere when you need it! To prove my point, I spent some time this afternoon looking for our departmental copy of essentials and eventually gave up!


      • Tyson Seburn says:

        Here’s the author/publisher answer: purchase your own copy. 🙂 But I agree with you, theeaparchivist, online resources trump when finances are involved–one reason why blogs like this, mine, Sharon Turner’s and many others, along with #EAPchat, are invaluable, though perhaps overwhelming a little.


  10. Andy Gillett says:

    It’s interesting that many people say they have learned from course books. I’d be interested to know what people have learned from coursebooks. I’d also be particularly interested in what people have not been able to learn because it’s not in the coursebooks.


    • Steve O'Sullivan says:

      I don’t have any specific responses to your two thought-provoking questions at the moment, but I think feeling and seeming to be ‘authentic’ might be something in establishing a sense of believability with students. Julie King, I think, alludes to ideas around this in her earlier blog about ‘identity’.

      Lesson plans and materials sometimes seem like actors’ scripts to me – one implication being that the better you know your scripts, the more ‘ownership’ you feel, the more potential you may have of being able to ‘get yourself across’ from inside the script and outwards to the audience. Some scripts suit some better than others -one person’s trash is another’s treasure etc. If you write your own scripts, you may have a sense of greater ownership, which may come across to the students, though ownership doesn’t necessarily mean ‘good’.

      Another authenticity analogy: does one do song ‘covers’ (lyrics/script by someone else), or write and perform one’s own (more risk, but potentially more personally rewarding … prone to disaster)? Or, do an early Neil Diamond, and write songs for others.

      I just did a quick search around the idea of writing your own, and found this quote from novelist Rita Mae Brown. A bit blunt perhaps.

      “If you don’t like my book, write your own. If you don’t think you can write a novel, that ought to tell you something. If you think you can, do. No excuses. If you still don’t like my novel, find a book you do like.”


    • I think it’s much the same as starting out in EFL. Coursebooks show you what is commonly thought of as the ‘norm’, what is expected of students at this level in a certain context. The more you teach, the more you realise that there are no norms and the coursebook represents a context that doesn’t actually exist. You then see that ‘your’ students need something else, so you say to yourself, ‘I need to rewrite the quiz in the back of the book because it’s too Eurocentric for my students’ or ‘I need to replace the text in the book for one my students will identify with’ .. etc. So starting out in EAP using coursebooks gives you a ‘feel’ for EAP but then you begin to see what’s missing in them, and by doing so become so much more aware of ‘your’ students and what they need in ‘their’ context.


  11. […] as there has been a very interesting debate going on on the Teaching EAP blog following a post by Andy Gillet – “EAP and publishers: The dangers of Teaching EAP for No Obvious Reason&#82… , a comment on which also mentions Swales’s […]


  12. […] week’s ongoing EAP discussion has been around a post written by Andy Gillet entitled EAP and publishers: the danger of teaching EAP for no obvious reason.  This has centered around the production of EAP coursebooks by large publishers and whether they […]


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