15 ways of coping with a textbook that is too easy

1. Use higher level communication games
For example, with a class with an intermediate level textbook take the supplementary activities from Advanced Communication Games.

2. Add exceptions and extra meanings
For example, if the book presents “Use any for questions and negatives”, you could explain the exception of offers with “Would you like some…?”, or if the book gives the point in time meaning of Future Continuous you could also explain its use to talk about very definite plans.

3. Generalise the language
For example, if the book teaches the Past Continuous in one unit, use that as an opportunity to show the similarities of meaning and structure with the Present Continuous and Future Continuous, or if the book presents a more polite way of achieving that function (e.g. polite requests) spend some time on general rules of politeness in English.

4. Add more ways of saying the same thing
For example, give more idiomatic, informal or even slang language for the functions or social English phrases that are dealt with in the book, or add “I am planning to…” to a lesson on “going to for plans”.

5. More feedback
This could mean more correction of errors, especially basic ones they should have sorted out by that level, and/ or “That was fine, but this is a higher level way of saying the same thing”

6. Work on fluency and skills instead
Even if the students are able to do all the written exercises on the grammar or vocabulary point in the book quickly straight through, they are unlikely to be able to use those same forms perfectly when speaking or writing, especially if you give them a “free” communicative task where the places they can or should use those forms is not obvious. The same thing could be true of understanding the forms when used in rapid linked speech.

7. Introduce one more element to the syllabus that isn’t included in the book
-and make that a more difficult one, e.g. introducing the phonemic script, weak forms, linked speech, idioms, British and American English, levels of formality, euphemisms or cultural difference topics.

8. Use a different book for homework
For example, using a whole grammar book, vocabulary book and/ or skills self-study book in place of or as well as the workbook will allow you to give them trickier little points that don’t come up in the textbook and to train them to study language points on their own without tackling them in class at all. You could also give them a graded reader or get them to subscribe to a weekly podcast or graded news story by email.

9. Rush through the book
And then use things from higher level books or revise with more emphasis on accuracy until the end of the course

10. Have a regular slot for more difficult stuff
For example, every third class doesn’t use the textbook or the last 15 minutes of every class is put aside for something a bit more challenging.

11. Skip the first few units
You can then come back to them in part if you need to because students still make basic mistakes connected to the language presented there.

12. Skip/ rush through the easiest parts
This could be by choosing the easiest bits from each unit that you want to skip or spend less time on, or by getting to know which bits they always find too easy (such as gapfill exercises) and skipping them each time they come up. A potential problem with this is that such classes will generally get through the book quickly anyway, so this will leave you needing to supplement it even more. See the other tips for ideas on how to do this.

13. Anticipate the book they will use next year
This is one way of filling in the time made available by them getting through the book quickly or skipping the bits that are too easy. Introduce the same points as the book they will use next year does, although obviously not using the same materials or doing it in so much detail. If this leads onto a point that is actually too difficult or too involved to cover in your classes, telling them that they will do it in more detail next year will probably be enough.

14. Explain every word
Giving definitions for every word they want explained in a text is something we usually try to avoid, especially with lower level or less confident classes, but with a class that is finding the book too easy this can mean they go away with a feeling they have learnt something, that some of the language they learn will be more their level, and (to give a slightly less professional-sounding reason) that you will have a fairly easy way of filling some of the class or homework time made available by how quickly they get through the rest of the materials.

15. Look at the same language another way
For example, after explaining the meanings of the words the book presents, spend some time on differences of formality, nuances of positive and negative meaning, or differences between British and American English.

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

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