Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Lose The Word “Chapter” – Gain a World…Freeing Yourself Up to “Change”


losing chapter word


It started with my Evernote daybook – I was editing and reviewing my classes and I thought “Why do I have units by ‘chapter’ and not theme?” Indeed – why? If you’re already here, and this is long gone in your teaching then these musings may cause more nostalgic thoughts than insight. If you are like me and gradually, sometimes it feels glacially, making lasting change in HOW you do things – then perhaps you have found what I found. What have I learned as I organized by ‘thematic unit’ and NOT by ‘number? Well…

You’ll See What Your Focus Has/Hasn’t Been – Wow – does my Yr 2 class need work. When I erased the chapter titles I saw that what I thought were ‘themes’ weren’t. Instead I had disparate grammar points held together by previous textbook/workbook support. Did I feel awful – all this talk about meaningful learning and it sure wasn’t here in this course. But – what I did have were some great interactive inter-personal orals – that I can see are the ’emerging’ themes for this Yr2 class. For my other courses I did finally “see” my thematic units – now without a meaningless number in front of them – and it shows me that I am on the right track. I’m even abandoning a thematic unit I attempted in my Yr4 course in the past because I see how it no longer fits with my other units (and frees us up to spend more time on them!)

You’ll Open Yourself Up to “What They Really Need AND When They Need It” – So if you are no longer ‘bound by the book’ then you can give students what they need – when they need it . This is a great ‘aha’ moment when it happens and I wrote about it last year with regards to vocabulary. But this year it really allows me to look at all the incidental language my students asked for in a unit and work in pop-up grammar lesson points when needed. I started doing this last year as well but now with the words gone I’m free to add as it works and finally answer the question “Why can’t my students express an opinion until Ch. 7?”!

You’ll Find New Resources to Enhance Your Theme – So no more textbook to march through. I will still use some of the dialogues or stories in my teaching – in part as they provide reading with equal opportunity for student access in my character-based language (something Authentic Resources are challenging for as I’ve written before). But I’m now able to supplement with other visuals, video clips, infographics etc. It allows me to ‘step sideways’ from what the unit focus was dictated by the text to be – and really find the ‘hook’ that the unit should be.

You’ll Find More Meaningful Ways to Check For Learning – No textbook – and therefore – no workbook. Okay – there will be some use of some of the exercises, especially as my students learn any of the three orthographies we use in Japanese. I may also find some readings or listening parts that are ‘authentic’ and fit a theme but I decide when/how to use them – the ‘number’ doesn’t! It also means that I, okay we as a class, can get more creative, and more varied in how learning is demonstrated. Imagine a class where we decide as a group, or small groups, how understanding of something will be shown, do that, and share. Wow…and I’ll not need to write “Workbook Chapter 4 Exercise 2, 5, 9” on the board ever again.

If you are moving along on the road to no textbooks, or workbooks, as I am – it can be an unsettling thing. Certainly the encouragement and leadership of the #langchat PLN has helped immensely. I look forward to the day when all of my courses, and classes, are where I want them to be. In the meantime I am revelling in, and feeling a little bit of ‘good nervous’ in erasing the word ‘Chapter’ from my class vocabulary. Onward!


PS – I work a lot with an Evernote and my daybook in the cloud. I’ve put together a collection of my posts on using this to organize my teaching life if you are curious!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Hi Colleen, I discovered your great blog via a link on FB and I really admire your energy and willingness to share your experiences in changing how we approach the language classroom. I was pleasantly surprised that you only teach up the road from me!
    This year I am ditching the textbook-workbook to teach French 9 and 10 in a 1:1 environment. There is a wealth of on-line resources but it was hard to find a good framework. I think I have settled on the K-12 Gateway that is adaptable to any TL: as well as the U of Texas resource that I have previously used with my French 12s: The themes in each program are very similar but the Français Interactif has great audio/video resources as well as a workbook for students who like more structured practice.
    I’ll get to give it a crack in first semester with just one block of French and then fine tune things in second semester when I’ll have three.
    I hope you’ll consider giving a district workshop here at home!

  2. Hi Elizabeth – thanks for your comment – especially as a neighbour! I envy envy envy your ability to use a 1:1 environment – and assume you must be at Riverside! (If only!). Thanks for your resource links as well – I will be checking them out. May I also suggest the great work of many in the #langchat PLN – leaders such as Catherine Ousselin in Mount Vernon, Laura Sexton, Amy Lenord and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell to name a few. As for a workshop – I think there are many out there more advanced than me – who have much more to share – but I’m up for a coffee or meeting on Pro-D (or any other time!). Hope to meet you face to face soon! Colleen

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar