Yet Another 15 Ways of Dealing with a Book That is Packed Full of Material

By Alex Case
1. Combine the small talk with the classwork If you have a class who want to be asked about their weekend (and that is almost anyone as long as they don’t think it’s a waste of time for language learning purposes) but lack classroom time, try to lead naturally on from that conversation to the […]

1. Combine the small talk with the classwork
If you have a class who want to be asked about their weekend (and that is almost anyone as long as they don’t think it’s a waste of time for language learning purposes) but lack classroom time, try to lead naturally on from that conversation to the grammar point for the day (“Really? Do you like football? How much? Like, quite like, or love?” or “That’s interesting. How often do you do that?”). Alternatively, introduce the grammar point very quickly and then get them talking about their weekend using that language (e.g. “Find things about your weekends that were the same” for practice of auxiliary verbs with “So do I” etc.)

2. Make sure all warmers are relevant
This is another way of looking at the point above. As well as the warmer leading into the day’s topic or language point, it could be revision of a previous point, a taster of the speaking task they will need to do at the end of the lesson or unit (so they can see where they are doing and so will hopefully be more keen on getting there as quickly as possible), or a way of linking to checking the homework answers.

3. Time your individual attention to students carefully
For example, leave questions from students until after the class or during the next groupwork stage.

4. Cut down on the number of tasks for each reading or listening text
For example, many books give two sets of different detailed comprehension questions or detailed comprehension questions for each section. These can easily be cut down or left out. You could also combine lead in/ prediction tasks with previous stages such as the sentences you use for the grammar presentation.

5. Leave the detailed comprehension questions for homework
This means you can do the fast and fun stuff in class and leave them to do the slow and careful stuff at home, that they will see or hear the text at least twice with a gap and so hopefully remember it better, and cut down on the danger of the detailed comprehension stage turning into 25 vocabulary questions.

6. Present new language near the end of the class
Then let them do all the controlled practice at home before doing the controlled speaking and/ or free speaking activities in the next class.

7. Make sure they have copies of the class CD
Or that it is in the self-access centre. If this is not possible, photocopying the tapescripts, either in their entirety at the beginning of the term or as students do the listenings in class, is the next best option.

8. Make sure they get all the missing skills work elsewhere
For example, give them all a graded reader. Once you are sure they are all reading regularly using that, you can cut down on the amount of reading work in class. Ditto with English podcasts for listening; self-study grammar, vocabulary, skills and exam practice books; or conversation classes and conversation exchanges for speaking.

9. Set homework they can find the answers to elsewhere
For example, researching a grammar point on the internet and with self-study books.

And 6 ideas below that are cheating a bit, because they are really about not getting stuck with such a book in the first place or involve administrative things that you might have no control over:

10. Use a short course book
For adults, popular series from the big UK publishers include Clockwise, Language To Go and Accelerate, and equivalent course are increasingly available for Business English and exam classes. Although they do have weaknesses due to the lack of pages, it is much easier to supplement a course like this to make up for that than it is to cut down a 120 – 160 hour coursebook down to 80 or 90 hours. It may also be lighter on your students’ pockets.

11. Don’t sell the students a workbook
Just set exercises from the students’ book or photocopy exercises as you need them.

12. Have different textbooks for “low Elementary” and “high Elementary” etc.
This will mean that lower level classes won’t get stuck struggling through a book and can spend more time mastering fewer language points.

13. Have longer classes less often
As there is less “How was your weekend?” chitchat and settling down as people arrive late per classroom hour, this can mean that you get through more pages of the book, as long as the teacher doesn’t use the longer class as an excuse to stretch activities out.

14. Have self-access time built into the course
This can even be scheduled, e.g. 2 hours a week at times decided with the school receptionist every week, and can include students using parts of the textbook that they might have otherwise missed out on, such as videos and workbook CD ROM games.

15. Move more things out of class time
For example, do student tutorials one at a time for 5 minutes after class over the weeks or give a written test at other times (as a teacher isn’t needed as long as someone is there to check there is no cheating).

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet September 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet

One Comment

  • John Brezinsky says:

    Hi Alex,

    It’s always pleasant to read your advice to instructors for working with and adapting textbooks.

    One of the biggest issues publishers have to grapple with is how much material to include in a given book. Since the book will (one hopes) be used by a large number of students in courses all over the world, there are bound to be conflicts between the different groups. It’s always a balancing act for us to try to include just the right amount of material for a given course type.

    One question I get asked, then, is “How am I supposed to cover all this?” Not all teachers are happy to hear from a publisher that we don’t anticipate every person will complete every exercise in every book in every classroom. I do my best to explain that the book should not dictate their curriculum, but rather support it, and I generally offer advice for adapting it to their classrooms.

    This set of lists, though, is a great resource that I will certainly be recomending to teachers in the future.

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