Adapting the course book

Sometimes a lesson just falls off the page, but we’ve all had days when we open up the course book and groan.

Here are 15 simple, low-prep ways to adapt the course book so that your students don’t groan too! … (thanks to my good friends Ruth and Emma for their help on this. Check out Emma’s fantastic blog…A Hive of Activities.

1. Personalisation
Get students to talk about their own experiences and opinions. Also, share your own experiences with them and get everybody asking follow-up questions in order to go a little bit deeper than the usual text-book questions.
Instead of describing a picture of somebody in the text book, substitute it for a picture of a friend of yours, or have students show a friend of theirs. It’s a simple way to make activities more engaging.
2. Localisation
Make discussions, images and topics relevant to the local area. This ensures that students will all have something in common to talk about, which can be very engaging.

3. Text Development
Texts in the course book can sometimes be dull and unappealing. Have students make students make texts more engaging by changing or adding information (anecdotes, profiles, descriptions). It could be serious or silly!
4. Dialogue Development
Similar to Text Development, students add in information to course book dialogues. Get them to speculate about what happened before or after a dialogue. How are the characters feeling? Have they just had an argument? Are they trying to flirt with each other? Have students role play their suggestions for the class (if appropriate!).

5. Role Play
Even without changing the book’s dialogues, having students play them out for each other can add a really fun element to the class. Allowing students to take on a character can often help to bring quieter students out of their shells. Remember not to push it with timid students – allow them to join in as much or as little as they want – being in the spotlight can be intimidating even in your own language!
6. Disappearing Dialogue
Take any (shortish) dialogue from the book and get the students to role-play it with each other. Then close books and get some strips of scrap paper. See if students can reconstruct the dialogue in pairs by writing it on the strips., They can check with you or the book if they’re struggling. Once they have it, get them to start turning strips over, until eventually the dialogue that they have written is invisible.
I find this works really well at low levels for internalizing simple dialogues.
7. Collaborative Writing 
Some teachers see writing as something to be avoided in the classroom as it’s ‘silent’ and ‘boring’. However, it’s generally required that students practise all skills, and writing doesn’t need to be seen in a negative way. Have students brainstorm together and board the ideas, then have students write together in pairs or small groups, producing one piece of text between them. This ensures that they’ll have to discuss what they’re writing. After they’ve produced a first draft, have students walk around with their partner and look at the other groups’ drafts. Then let them edit, and finally vote on whose is the best.
8. Students write the questions
Give the students a text from the course book, but not the questions to go with it. Have them write the questions. This can be done as a whole group, or smaller groups who then swap questions and answer each other’s.
9. Students evaluate the questions
Depending on the context of the class, course book questions can often be boring or just down right irrelevant! Have students evaluate which questions are of interest to them, which ones they want to answer, and which ones can be forgotten about. This is another way to give the students more ownership of the material.
10. Prediction Activities
Have students look only at the images from the coming exercise, page, chapter etc… Encourage them to predict what they might read about, listen to, what the characters are like etc… As the chapter unfolds, they can see if they were right.
11. Character Expansion
By looking at images and reading texts and dialogues, students can speculate further on what a course book character is like when they’re not in the course book. Do they have a dark secret? What did they do just before or after they appeared in the text? Are they friends with any other characters from the book? Perhaps they’re more than just friends….
12. Dictation
Instead of having students read questions or texts, dictate them instead, or have students dictate them to each other. Having the students do this means they’ll need to focus on being more accurate in their pronunciation and ask for clarification in any breakdowns of meaning.
13. Jigsaw / Split Reading / Listening / Watching
Jigsaw Reading: Have students read different texts on the same topic and then explain to their partner what they read (from memory) to see what similarities and differences there were in the texts.
Split Reading: Students read different parts of the same text. Then bring them together to discuss what they read and ‘piece together’ the text.
The same principles apply to listening and reading, having students watch or listen to similar material, or parts of the same material.
14. Re-designing Images
Course book pictures can be really cringey, dull and dated at times. Encourage your students to be creative by encouraging them to redesign the pictures they think are the most boring or in need of adaptation.
15. Take the discussion questions out of the book
Asking students to simply ‘discuss the questions in the book’ can often end in some groups rushing through, giving monosyllabic answers, or simply looking at the book, rather than at each other.
  • Read the questions out one by one
  • Give students one question each to mingle with
  • Post them round the walls and have students discuss in pairs or groups
  • Have students write their own discussion questions


So many ways adapt the coursebook! These are just a few ideas. Please comment and let me know your own tried and tested methods!


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