How inclusive is your EFL/ ESL coursebook?

Part One
Introduction and a challenge
In this video, I take a look at some EFL coursebooks to see how inclusive they are- and ask you to check yours out!

Transcript at bottom of page

Part two
Expert opinion
And here is what Lottie Galpin, consultant editor and expert in the field, had to say after watching my video.

If you’ve just watched Jo’s video on representation (or the lack of it) in ELT materials and you’re reaching for your coursebook, then you might be interested in what I’ve got to say.

My name’s Lottie Galpin and I work in ELT publishing as a freelance diversity and inclusion consultant, trainer, editor and writer. What that essentially means is that I help ELT organisations to ensure their materials better represent the world around us and all the wonderful diversity of the people that inhabit it.

I love that Jo’s challenging you to consider how inclusive your coursebooks are and to consider whether things have changed since those studies came out a decade ago. I’m really interested to see your responses, but I have a sneaking suspicion I already know some of your answers.

Compared to ten years ago, I think we are doing a little bit better with representations of women and of different ethnicities. And we are starting to see better or more frequent representation of disabled people, or people with larger bodies. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement and, shockingly, there are still people who aren’t represented at all. People from the LGBTQIA+ communities, for example, are almost completely excluded.

So why does this matter? Well, the world is diverse and so are teachers and students. If students can’t see themselves in materials, they may well feel excluded from the book, the subject, and even from the experience of education. In contrast, inclusive materials allow all our students to see themselves in the materials, which can mean better engagement and better achievement.  Plus, representing a diverse landscape allows students to learn about other life experiences, which helps deliver all those useful skills like empathy and tolerance.

Now coming back to the question of whether things have changed. Well, diversity and inclusion has become a real hot topic in ELT over the last decade. Publishers seem to be more interested in inclusive materials; pretty much every conference has diversity and inclusion on the programme; and there are more people researching and writing about this area.  

But has this buzz translated to significant change in representation in our published coursebooks? Not yet. Much of the research and discussion suggests that we have a long way to go; not only in terms of including people, but in terms of representing them well when they are included. The absence of LGBTQIA+ people, for example, has been highlighted in the work of people like, Laïla El-Métoui, John Gray and Tyson Seburn. And this is just one example, there are various people, including myself, looking to investigate and improve representation of all marginalised groups.

To be completely fair to the publishing industry, it can take two to three years to develop a course so we may see more diversity in the products that filter through in a few years’ time. That is my hope, at least. However, if you can’t wait that long, there are several self-publishers creating more inclusive materials, like Raise Up! and Peter J Fullagar

And, of course, you can always create your own inclusive materials. If you’re interested in doing that, I run a Facebook group to help people learn more about inclusive materials (Join here). And from March, I’ll be running a new course called: Introduction to Inclusive Materials, which you can learn more about on my website:

Anyway, I think I’ve distracted you from Jo’s challenge for long enough. Go on and grab that textbook and do some research!


Transcript of Part One - Introduction

It’s no great secret that coursebook writers have to be careful about what they include. The classic acronym of things that publishers tell them to avoid is PARSNIP which stands for politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics (or drugs, generally) -isms (racism, sexism etc) and Pork.

It’s also been historically true that you never see a gay couple in a coursebook or anyone with a disability. There are a lot fewer people of colour than represents normal proportions of the population in English speaking countries like the UK or the USA and women are underrepresented.

What I’m interested in, and what I’d like your help with, is to see how prevalent these things are in the course books you’re using. Interested to find out? Stay with me…

I’m Jo Gakonga, I’m a teacher educator, a CELTA trainer and assessor, I’ve got a PhD in Applied Linguistics and I run a website at with video based support for English teachers at all stages of their careers.

There’s been lots of research in this area, but the paper I want to use to illustrate my point is one by Clara Lara, published in 2012. Now, Lara researched three of the coursebooks that are published for sale all over the world and that were commonly in use in Spain at the time -  Face2Face Advanced, New Headway Intermediate, and Inside Out Intermediate and her findings were, I think, quite shocking.

She found that all of the people represented in these books were straight, able bodied and the only poor people were the ones being helped by Mother Teresa.

Tomlinson and Masuhara in 2013 looked at six popular books and also came to the conclusion that

‘There seems to be an assumption that all learners are aspirational, urban, middle class, well educated, westernised computer users’.

This paper is free to read at the ELT Journal if you’re interested- the link’s below.

Let’s get back to Clara Lara, though and at what she found about race and gender…

To give a bit of context, around 80% of the UK population are white, but in cities, the proportions of people of colour are much higher- 46% of Londoners for example. identify as Asian, black, mixed or 'other' ethnic groups.

So what does the racial mix look like in ELT coursebooks. Here are the figures:

Only 7 out of a total of 152 (4.6%) in Face to face- 23 out of 190 (slightly better -12%) in New Headway and 8 out of 121 (6.6%). Doesn’t look very representative, does it?

And what about gender? Surely that must be pretty even, mustn’t it? These books aren’t THAT old… In Face2face 42% of the people shown are women and in Inside Out it’s 45%, so not too far shy of half (although significantly less than half in both cases. New Headway is a shocker- less than one in three (32% ) are women. How did that happen?   It’s not just about the numbers though. Again, these are Lara’s words about the representation of women in Inside Out…

‘This book, in general, paints a negative picture of women. They are represented in traditional roles as homemakers, eager to get married, in low-category jobs, cooking, washing and taking care of children, blamed for the high rate of divorce, and as hysterical about getting old. Males, on the contrary, are depicted as reliable, successful, rich, trustworthy, and good-looking.’ (Lara 2012)


So here is your mission. I realise these figures are a decade old. Have things changed? I challenge you to get out your coursebook and do a bit of counting. How many women do you see (and what are they doing?!) How many people of colour can you count? Any examples of people who don’t fit the stereotype of straight, able bodied and affluent? Leave me a comment below and let me know.

And if you think this IS a problem in your coursebook, how about drawing your learners’ attention to it- it’s a great topic for really authentic discussion! Have fun with it.


TESOL-Spain Convention, 35 : 2012
ELT Coursebooks and the Elite: Examining Social Representations in ESL
Lara, Clara

Brian Tomlinson, Hitomi Masuhara, Adult coursebooks, ELT Journal, Volume 67, Issue 2, April 2013, Pages 233–249’

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