Adapting text books


Adapting textbooks


Textbooks, textbooks. They are in every classroom. They are loved as a good friend who helps us, or disliked as an enemy who does not. In this teaching tip we look at how you can adapt your coursebook to suit your class and how to make it work for you.


Most classes need to follow a coursebook of some sort. The students like to know that they are progressing from page to page, and the teacher has the grammar explained and pictures and recordings to help teaching. Try to make using a coursebook a logical, careful process. Don’t just look for ‘what’s next in the book’ but use the coursebook in the way you want.


Some of the problems that you can have with coursebooks:


The topics are not suitable or interesting for your students.

Every chapter follows the same pattern.

The texts are very ‘contrived’ i.e. they are not natural.

The listening materials are boring or difficult.

There is too much or too little focus on grammar.

Not all the skills are covered well.


To fix some of these problems, think of these 4 key words when you are using coursebooks:







First, ASSESS the book. This means look at it carefully. Do this before the course starts.


How is your book arranged? Is it arranged in grammar topics?



Unit 1: Present simple              Or is it arranged in topics                 Unit 1: Making friends


Unit 2: Present continuous                                                              Unit 2: In town.


If your book is arranged in grammar topics, you might find that there is a lot of different vocabulary to deal with. If it is topics, you need to look at what grammar structures are covered in each unit and check that it is not too confusing.


How long is your book? Are you going to finish it? Students hate getting to ‘Chapter 15’ when there are 20 chapters in the book. If you think you do not have enough hours to do the whole book, then cut out certain chapters before you start. Tell the students you will not do the whole book. This makes them feel more secure and you look more organised.


ADDING, AXING (cutting things out) and ADAPTING can be done during the course.


ADDING means putting something in that you think is missing. Coursebooks cannot be personal to your students as they are written for people in lots of different countries. You may find your students doing a reading comprehension about Liverpool, or Rio de Janeiro. Why not add in a reading about Cairo, or another city they know well? You can easily find one in a local guidebook or on an internet site for tourists.


Many coursebooks are weak on writing exercises. For some of them, writing just means filling in blanks. It is important that your students learn to write letters, descriptions, instructions, and so on, as well as essays. Add a writing exercise that might be fun to do, such as trying to write a simple poem or writing out a favourite recipe. How about writing a short article about their favourite football player?



AXING means cutting something out. We said above that sometimes you need to get rid of whole chapters. But some exercises can go as well. Your students will get bored of too many gap fills. You do not need to do them all.


Axing can also mean cutting out part of a text. Some textbook texts are very long. Try doing just half of the text instead. Listening exercises do not have to be done completely. If questions 8-10 are particularly difficult for Arabic speakers, just do numbers 1-7. If the listening comprehension is too long, then listen to part of it.

It helps if you explain, in a positive way why you have chosen to axe something.


Often axing and adding go together. That means that you may want to cut out an exercise and replace it with one of your own. If the coursebook is out of date it may have an article about the daily routine of a pop star that no-one is interested in. Replace it with a text of your own from a pop website. Most famous artists have information about themselves available. Your students will understand why, and you can still do some of the follow up exercises.


ADAPTING means changing the exercise to suit your class. Sometimes this means copying the exercise on to an OHT or doing part of it on the white board so that you can do it together and you can monitor your class as they learn.


Sometimes you may need to create an information gap. When everyone has the same book this can be difficult, so you may need to adapt a reading comprehension, for example.

How about:

Ø Half the group read the text and the other half make up questions about the topic to ask without looking at their book.

Ø Cut up the text in the book and do a text ordering exercise with the class.

Ø The class finds out about the topic before they read and then checks the information they have with what appears in the coursebook.

Ø Change the question format to make this part of the exercise more interesting. Everyone can still read the text in the book together, but the questions they have to answer vary, depending on the ability of different students within the class. Some have easier questions and some have more difficult ones.


Changing writing exercises is often a big task for teachers, but an important one.

If your textbook says:

Now write about 200 words about your hometown. You will have to give your class more help and guidance. The class can produce a leaflet with pictures, or a small poster to put on the wall, or can even design a short speech to give to someone who is visiting. All these are sensible tasks and have a clear writing task focus.


Age groups are important too. If you are teaching advanced children of 10 years old then you might find some of the coursebooks difficult to use in units where they talk about relationships or crime. Similarly if your class are too old for the book chosen then you will have to adapt the materials to their needs, as well as look for a more suitable book for next year!


So, think about your 4 As when you are using your coursebook and remember - students like personalised and up to date materials. If you find something in your coursebook that is out of date, boring or not relevant to the age group you teach, then take action!!!