Adapting and Supplementing your Coursebook.

creative-peopleDoes this situation sound familiar to you?

You work in a language school where there is a syllabus designed around a coursebook. You feel a certain pressure from management, parents or students themselves to ‘get through’ the whole thing– course books are expensive after all. You have some great ideas for lessons but just don’t have the time to create student-centred lessons from scratch every day. Plus you don’t feel particularly inspired or motivated by the contents of the unit you have to teach this week anyway.

So how can you adapt and supplement your course book to get excited about the class you are going to teach? How can you move from passively teaching the book you’re assigned to active teaching and active learning? And where on earth are you going to find the time to do all of this?

Use your students:

If YOU aren’t motivated by the lesson, you’re not going to engage your students. When thinking about the contents of your lesson, look at the learning outcomes or exercises you have to cover and rather than anticipating problems students may have, anticipate learning opportunities. How could you bring the grammar point you are covering into that 5 minute chat at the start of class? If your topic is sport, do you know any students in the class who are particularly sporty that you could use for input. Think about how you can use your students and everyday activities you do in class as a resource to reach your learning goals for the lesson.

Usually when we look for supplementary material we turn to the workbook or another resource book; step back from the book and utilize the best resource you have – your students.  You will automatically personalise the lessons and deal with emergent language that is relevant to your class. If you anticipate the opportunities to personalise the lesson you will be more likely to exploit those moments whilst still keeping in line with your lesson objectives. And the more personalised the lesson, the more engaging it’s going to be for both you and your students. Plus using your students means less time photocopying and creating worksheets.

unpluggedA nice activity to try is Luke Medding’s paper conversation. If a student has done something interesting over the weekend for example, instead of having a quick chat about it and moving on, mine and refine (search the conversation for problematic language and highlight and work on it with the students). Get the other students to write some questions down to ask him. Ask the student to answer the questions and have everyone else take notes. Students could write up a summary of the story which you can use to mine for errors or language that you will be working on in class that day.

For more ideas on this visit: Teaching Unplugged.


Which activities must be done in class? What could they do at home? Free up time to spend doing activities the students really need you for.  Think about what your main learning objective is for the class and what activities are absolutely essential to get you there. NB: If you do give readings, gap-fills etc. as homework make sure you set the activity up in class beforehand. Give the students a goal or purpose for the task and feedback on it in the next lesson. Not only are you freeing up class time but you are also allowing students to work at their own pace and you are fostering learner autonomy.


Plan from the heart:book-heart

Duncan Ford suggests ‘planning from the heart’ in his book ‘The Developing Teacher’. Often when lesson planning, the communicative activity we really want to do in class is positioned at the end of the lesson after we have presented and done some controlled practice. I don’t know how many times I have run out of time at the end of class and failed to really let the students grapple with the heart of the lesson.  Think about what your objectives are and plan backwards. What activities can you omit if you run out of time? What activities are absolutely essential for achieving that goal. You could even get the students involved in planning the lessons. Create a Spidergram with the ‘heart of the lesson’ in the middle of the board. Ask students to think of activities they would like to do in order to achieve that goal. Students will immediately be more engaged and motivated as they have the opportunity to choose tasks relevant to them.


How can you make the course book activities relevant for your learners? I know some of my students haven’t even heard of the ‘celebrities’ in some of the course book texts. Here are some ideas for adapting the book activities:

  • Use wordle to create wordmaps of key vocabulary used in the lesson/unit. Get students to predict what you will be doing in class today.
  • Re-write a paragraph of a text using common mistakes your students make. Get students to find the errors and say why they are wrong.
  • Get students to write a summary or review of a unit at the end of the week.
  • Get students to rewrite the grammar rules for the unit using their own examples. They could even create their own gap-fills for their partner.
  • Get student A to read the coursebook text. Student B can only look at the pictures. Student B has to predict what the story is about then student B tells the actual story.
  • Ask students to read a text and underline the opinions of the author. Ask students to replace the opinions with their own.
  • Ask students to open their book for 10 seconds then close them again. Students discuss what they think the learning objectives of the lesson are today.
  • Use the topics in the cousebook as a springboard for project work.
  • Take a character from a text and write some questions to ask your students about the character. The questions shouldn’t be obvious from the text but will get your students critically thinking. E.g ‘Do you think…..would rather go on a beach holiday or adventure holiday? Why?’
  • Change the example sentences used to present grammar points.
  • Put students into groups of 3-4. Give each student a different text to read (Authentic or from previous chapters in the coursebook). Ask the student to draw a quick picture summarising the story. The other students in the group must discuss each picture and what they think the text was about.

6 Responses

  1. sandra reid

    A timely article! i think a lot of teachers arm themselves with photocopies of texts and worksheets because it is “safe”. Going with the flow does take confidence and experience but even if we devote part of the lesson to this at an opportune moment then our students will appreciate it and perhaps the lesson will be more relaxed and enjoyable for everyone in the classroom – not least the teacher!

  2. Lots of very useful ideas– many short enough to just fit in to an already planned lesson, but adding so much! I liked a lot of the suggestions for students adapting and contributing to the lesson’s content. The lessons I’ve come closest to this approach have been some of the best!

  3. Ahmed Muša

    This is the area I’d love to research in get a PhD. in ELT. Kindly could you offer a help to me, I’d be greatful to you and pleased as well with whatever you provide me about this tobic.

  4. Thank you for the article. Here are more ideas.
    1. Students can listen to a text and write down vocabulary on a particiular topic.
    2. Then they use monolingual or collocation dictionaries and find collocations related to the topic.
    3. Students make up their own sentences.

  5. the article highlights the opportunities to be mined from any lesson through a little creative visualisation. If teachers put in extra efforts, the students will reap rich dividends.

  6. Nadine Early

    A very interesting article Cheryl, with lots of great ideas! Lots of ideas in there too for developing learner autonomy…
    I like your idea too Ekaterina.
    Here’s another idea for adapting a listening text from your course book and developing learner autonomy too (this activity assumes your students have smart phones):
    After listening to the text (on CD or to the teacher reading it out), students can take the transcript home and record themselves (using their phones)reading it aloud.
    They can then listen back to their own recordings and compare themselves to the listening in the coursebook. This gives them the opportunity to work on improving aspects of pronunciation that are particularly difficult for them. Good for a multi lingual class where the teacher does not necessarily have the time to respond to each language group’s specific pronunciation needs.
    A good follow-on homework activity to do after a listening lesson in class.

Leave a Reply