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15 ways to adapt a textbook with too much stuff in it

1. Leave out a unit or units
For example, leave out the first two units of the book because they already know that stuff or leave out the first unit when a new grammar point is introduced as there is a contrasting two tenses (e.g. Present Perfect/ Simple Past) unit later on that does it just as well.

2. Leave out the same section each time
For example, you might be surprised to learn that I found that leaving out the tasks at the end of each unit of Cutting Edge took away almost nothing from its so called task-based approach, and ditto with the Test Yourself sections from New Headway’s attempt at TTT.

3. Let the class choose
With a vocal class who have been trained to take responsibility for their own learning, you can get them to look at the syllabus at the front of the students’ book and decide their priorities and that they are happy to leave out. You can then negotiate a class a syllabus for the term or year. This process is similar to (but perhaps even more demanding than) the more well-known activity of drawing up a “class contract” of rules and responsibilities for students and teacher, and having done that successfully in class before or having heard strong opinions from students on what they do and don’t want to learn are good signs that this could work. For classes that still expect the teacher to take all such decisions the closest equivalent is doing a needs analysis. Getting the students to do needs analysis interviews in pairs can at least prompt natural discussion on priorities etc, and there are other ways of finding a balance between the two extremes such doing a needs analysis and giving the class the two options you come up with, for example “After hearing what you said, there seem to be two alternatives. We can concentrate on the easier parts and work on fluency, or we can try and push your level up with more the difficult grammar structures and idiomatic language”

4. Set textbook exercises for homework/ scrap the workbook
Or if the workbook has a key, set the textbook exercise as obligatory and the workbook as optional extras, perhaps telling individual students which workbook exercises would be most useful to work on their priorities.

5. Turn the book activities into communication games
E.g. turn readings into jigsaw readings by getting students to read half of the text each and compare their answers. Similar things can be done with listenings and gapfill exercises.

6. Check their answers after the first person finishes
As long as all the students have done at least three questions, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem, especially if you explain your reasons for rushing and still let the other students think about each question for a couple of seconds before you give the answer.

7. Stop each exercise when they’ve got the hang of it
Another way of rushing through individual exercises is to work through it together and at some point say- “Well, I think you’ve got the hang of that. Let’s move onto the next exercise/ language point, which is more challenging/ useful/ related to the exam”

8. Stop the exercise and leave the rest for homework
This is a variation on stopping when they’ve got the hang of it that can be more suitable for students who don’t easily accept things being completely left out, e.g. ones who are very sensitive about how much money they paid (maybe directly to your school) for the book.

9. Decide which individual questions you will leave out
For example, “Do exercise three, but don’t bother with questions 7 and 8 because they are only true for British English”.

10. Set different tasks for the slower students
For example, “Leave questions 3 and 6 until the end, and only do them if you have time”

11. Simplify the grammar points
For example, leave out one of the meanings of the Present Perfect or one of the exceptions to almost always using a determiner in English, making sure that you can adapt or leave out later exercises so that these points don’t come up. This can also give you a justification for leaving out further exercises- “Exercise 4 is a bit different from the grammar we learnt, so we won’t bother with that one”

12. Decide what to rush and what to take slow
Try to cover everything in the book, but decide and tell your students which bits you are going to rush or skim through because they are easy, not so useful, too similar to other things you have done, not connected with the test or future classes, have been done before or will be done again later. You can then tell them this will leave more time for the things that are worth spending time on.

13. Do the whole book in a different order
This means that you will cover all the most important points and that the students might never notice that you have missed anything. Ways of making the logic of the process clear to students include having a diagnostic test and/ or needs analysis and telling them the results, and giving them a syllabus for the first few weeks showing them that you have an actual plan for how you are choosing what comes next. This works best with books that are meant to be modular rather than ones that build on the language in the first few units and increase the difficulty of texts as the units go on.

14. Plan by the next book
For example, leave out the bits that are basically repeated in the next book and/ or prioritize doing the bits they will need to make the most of the next book. As with most of these points, letting your students know what you are doing is usually a good thing.

15. Combine grammar points
For example, if the students have done the Present Continuous and Past Continuous before in class in a previous year, in this class do all the Continuous tenses together, choosing a few exercises from the different chapters of the students’ book and workbook to illustrate the similarities and differences between those two tenses and the Future Continuous and Present Perfect Continuous, then consider those units done, going back to other parts of them later only if you need to.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net September 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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TEFL.net : TEFL Articles : Teacher Technique : 15 ways to adapt a textbook with too much stuff in it