David Petrie: Adapting your coursebook

Looking at a coursebook and not knowing what to do with it is one of the most frustrating things in teaching.

Very often, this happens because what is on the page doesn’t match what the learners want or need, or because what is on the page doesn’t fit with our beliefs as teachers.

There are a number of areas that can cause us problems:

  • Mis-matched methods
  • Language content / selection
  • Topic areas
  • Balance of skills
  • The sequence and scope of language items
  • The cultural context
  • Visual appeal

(adapted from Cunningsworth, 1995, p.136)

Whenever we look at the pages of a coursebook there are a series of questions that we ask ourselves to try and work out if and what we are going to use from those pages. The diagram below tries to encapsulate the process of assessment and adaptation that we go through when we ask ourselves those questions.
It starts with a teacher opening a coursebook at the pages to be dealt with in that day’s lesson:

(click here to download a larger version in pdf format)

As you see, it ends with one of five possible outcomes:

  1. The book lesson. When your assessment suggests a perfect match between material and learners, then the book lesson is the best option. This is quite rare and I suspect most book lessons occur due to other constraints upon the teacher, time pressures and the like, rather than because of a principled choice.
  2. The alternative lesson. If you are not obligated to use the book, then you may be able to draw on different coursebooks and supplementary books for suitable materials, or to create your own version of the lesson.

  3. Light supplementation. If the main focus of the materials works well enough then it is possible to “bookend” this with other resources. You can find, or create, a different start and a different end to the lesson. Alternatively, you can swap one or more parts of the materials for something different, for example a more meaningful language practice activity.
  4. Heavy supplementation. If you are obligated to use the material AND to work with the language feature / skills focus on the page, then heavy supplementation may be the only answer. This might involve finding or creating an alternative lesson around the key focus and then selecting one or more aspect from the book to fit into that alternative lesson. In essence, you use your coursebook to supplement the alternative lesson. One example might be to use a single grammar practice activity from the coursebook as part of a larger lesson on the same language point.

  5. Skip it and move on. If the material has absolutely no redeeming features, then you have to question why you are trying to use it. If the material is in the syllabus and you must deal with it, or more importantly if you think your learners need to work on this area, then either option 2) or option 4) above should be your choices. But if there is no need to do it? Why bother?

The diagram represents a thought process and it is probably a process that most teachers follow instinctively and intuitively on a daily basis. However, it is often the case that when the frustration of dealing with a difficult piece of material hits you, there is an element of stress and irritation in your thinking which only complicates the evaluation and lesson planning process. In these circumstances, taking a step back and using diagrams like this can help to reach a quick and easy decision about what to do with the material before you.

Cunningsworth, A. (1995). Choosing your Coursebook. Macmillan Heinemann.

The diagram was made with a trial version of the online diagramming software from http://www.gliffy.com/


Average: 1 (3 votes)

Submitted by rina.58 on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 14:41


I am from St.Petersburg, Russia. I have worked as an English teacher for more than 30 years. In my opinion the problem of coursebooks is vital especially for those students who are going to pass the State exams at the end of their school studies. I think that whether the teacher use a book the whole lesson or only the part of it depends on lots of things. The experienced teacher should take into account the aim of the lesson, the level your students are at, their age, the time and lots more. Still you cannot depend only on your textbook all the lesson. To make your lesson more interesting, to achieve your goals you need more.

Research and insight

We have hundreds of case studies, research papers, publications and resource books written by researchers and experts in ELT from around the world. 

See our publications, research and insight

Sign up to our newsletters for teachers and teacher educators

We will process your data to send you our newsletter and updates based on your consent. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of every email. Read our privacy policy for more information.