In this extract, Brian Tomlinson looks at why we should be creative with our coursebook and suggests some interesting ideas for teachers to experiment with in class.

Here is the second extract from the British Council publication 'Creativity in the English Language classroom' edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey. In this chapter, Brian Tomlinson looks at why we should be creative with our coursebook and suggests some interesting ideas for teachers to experiment with in class.

"For me, fostering learner creativity is a vital role for any teacher as doing so can help learners to develop predictive, analytical, critical and problem-solving skills, to develop confidence and to develop self-esteem. Fostering creativity is even more important for a teacher of a second or foreign language as it can help to achieve the affective and cognitive engagement vital for language acquisition as well as helping learners to understand language used for natural communication and to use language for effective communication themselves. Teachers of EFL therefore need to be creative in order to encourage their learners to be creative too. I have been involved in teacher training/teacher development for over fifty years in many different countries and I have yet to work on or visit a course where developing teacher creativity is an objective or is even encouraged.

Most language teachers still rely on course-books to provide the activities they will use in the classroom and most course-books do not typically provide activities which foster creativity (Tomlinson and Masuhara, 2013). It is therefore important that teachers make use of their course-book as a resource rather than follow it as a script and that they develop the confidence, awareness and creativity to adapt course-book activities in ways which can foster creativity. One way of adapting course-books so that they foster creativity is by opening up their closed activities so that they invite a variety of personal responses instead of requiring all the learners to give the same correct answer.

Examples of modifications of course-book activities

  • The teacher acts out a text from the course-book. For example, when reading a passage about a park in China which activates spikes when somebody sits on a bench for too long, the teacher actually acts out going to the park, being tired, sitting down on a bench, falling asleep, being woken up by spikes, screaming with pain, jumping up and running away.
  • The students act out a text from the course-book as the teacher reads it aloud as dramatically as possible. For example, before reading aloud a Korean folk tale about a hard-working but poor farmer and his lazy, greedy and rich brother, the teacher divides the class into two halves and tells one half to act out what the hard-working brother does and the other half to act out what the lazy brother does.

After this dramatisation of the text the teacher asks the Yes/No questions from the course-book, as personal questions to the brothers. For example, instead of asking ‘Was X lazy?’, the teacher asks ‘Were you lazy? Why?’

Then, instead of asking the question from the course-book about the lessons to be learned from the story the teacher asks the students in character to think about what they have learned, if anything, from what happened to them. These small changes are easy to make and, in my experience bring the story to memorable life.

  • The teacher writes and performs a bizarre story using the words of a course-book drill. The students in groups then write and perform another bizarre story using the same words. This way the students hear and pronounce the target sounds many times in ways more engaging and memorable than repeating them without context in a drill. For example, the teacher performs the story below which makes use of these words from a drill.

Cycle; cyclist; cycling; thunderstorm; bike; tornado; gym; dog; vacuum; chores; clouds; rainbow.

‘It’s not been a great week to be a cyclist. On Monday I went cycling in a thunderstorm and was blown off my bike. On Tuesday I went cycling in a tornado and was lifted off my bike. On Wednesday I went cycling in the gym and was knocked off my bike by a dog who was vacuuming the floor. On Thursday, after doing my household chores, I went cycling in the clouds and was washed off my bike by a lion who was cleaning a rainbow.’

  • The students perform dialogues in character. For example, in a dialogue in which A is a salesman in a shoe shop and B is the customer, A is told that he is the ex-husband of B and has not seen her since the divorce. Or in a dialogue in which A asks B how to operate her new office computer, B is told that he is in love with A but she doesn’t know this.
  • The students find ways in which wrong answers could become right.


‘In pairs, decide on the rules for a library. Complete the sentences with: can, can’t, have to or don’t have to.’

‘You __________ keep quiet in the library.’

Changes to:

‘Use ‘can’t’ and ‘because’ to complete each of the sentences.’

‘You __________ keep quiet in the library.’

The examples above of additions and modifications are easy to think of and to apply and yet they make the experience of using a course-book much more creative and potentially much more enjoyable and rewarding for both the teacher and the students. Other creative adaptations I have made to course-books include:

  • The students drawing their interpretation of a text rather than answering questions about it.
  • The students interviewing characters from a text.
  • The students developing a text by, for example, continuing it, re-writing it from a different perspective or in a different culture or location, responding to it with a letter or e-mail.
  • The teacher turning a closed activity into a competition by getting each group to develop an extra question to challenge their peers with.
  • The teacher giving the students the comprehension questions and getting them to create the text.
  • Groups of students chanting out a drill in different voices (e.g. a very young child; a headmaster; a very old person)."

Extract from chapter 2, 'Challenging teachers to use their coursebook creatively' by Brian Tomlinson in  'Creativity in the English language classroom'.

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