The role of published materials in an ESAP course.

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 therefore 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 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, the following need to be provided:

  • Goals need to be set for the course,
  • Content must to 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. But what do we mean by language? It needs to include all the linguistic items needed by the students from phonology and spelling, through lexical items and syntax to discourse and genre. In addition, 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 performance 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 & 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 textbooks

EAP teachers will therefore need be able to:

• Select

It is important to be able to select appropriately from what is available. It may not be necessary to continue to reinvent the wheel. It is often difficult to do this, though, as the functional language that the students need may be hidden behind a grammatical or lexical syllabus. I have done this for myself in the materials section of UEfAP.

• 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. Texts from the students’ subjects can easily be obtained to replace those in the textbook. Academic articles can be found to replace the journalistic or Wikipedia type texts found in may published materials.

• Reorganise content 

It may be necessary to change the organisation 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  (either EAP or EO/PP) 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. Thus choosing a textbook will be strongly influenced by how adaptable it is!


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.

(Originally written for the Garnet Education Blog)

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