Making the most of ESL coursebooks & textbooks to your advantage

Are you wondering how to add excitement to your assigned coursebooks?

For many teachers, the use of textbooks in the ESL classroom is a positive way of providing much-needed structure to schemes of work and the academic year. They include audios, they often offer videos, and they even have all your grammar games, photocopiable resources and end of unit tests in one easy to manage location. What’s not to like?

For students, coursebooks can be fun and an excellent way to organise homework and do additional practice at home. They are, without a doubt, a useful learning tool both inside and outside the classroom.

However, they can quickly become a little tedious and monotonous when used all the time, especially for students who may be studying for several years in the same academy and therefore using the same series of books.

In this article, we aim to provide a series of ideas for how to make the most of your assigned coursebook. Have a look at our ideas for how to add a bit of flair and additional interest to your book-based classes outlined below. We are well aware that many schools expect their teachers to follow the coursebook and this is no bad thing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun at the same time!

“While teachers often complain that their students seem to do very little thinking, teachers who simply follow the manual should understand that they are actually contributing to the problem. Students seldom learn to think under the tutelage of teachers who do not think either.”
– Donovan L. Graham

Top 4 ideas for adding excitement to the ESL coursebooks:

1. Gap fills and answers race
2. Word splat fly swat
3. Textbook race
4. Buzzers, bells and props

You can read through all of our suggestions or just choose the ones that stand out to you.

Gap-fill and answers race

Gap-fill tasks, vocabulary and comprehension questions frequently appear in student textbooks and although useful, can become tiresome when used again and again to ‘check understanding’. One way to ‘jazz up’ this type of task is to try out one of the following.

Provide the answers on pieces of paper for each of the missing words in a gap fill or vocab and definition task and stick them around the classroom. Students must run-up to a word, note it down and run back to their pair or team. They can choose to collect all the possible answers and then work together to complete the text, or they can work with one solution at a time. This is an active, fun and far more interactive approach to standard tasks often found in ESL course books.

Alternatively, you can make a ‘slow reveal’ task (which works with many activities found in textbooks). To do this, you need to reveal answers on the board one by one (either write them up and cover them with paper or use animation on PowerPoint). Students then work out which question they answer or which keywords match each definition and so forth.

Word splat fly swat

This activity is fun for all ages and can be easily adapted to any level. All you need is a board, a pen and a couple of fly swats! If you don’t have fly swats available, then just a rolled-up newspaper will do!

Write up a series of words on the board from a particular text or reading from the coursebook. This works well with phrasal verbs too! You need two volunteers to stand next to the board with their fly swats in hand. To ‘check understanding’, the teacher provides a definition and the volunteers try to hit the correct matching word as fast as they can.

This activity can be done in teams too and brings a bit of fun to the class, thus brightening up the textbook for everyone!

“Tell me, and I forget. Teach me and, I remember. Involve me and, I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Textbook race

A textbook race has to be one of the simplest activities ever and requires zero preparation! All you need is for your students to have a textbook each or between two. You need to provide something for the students to race to find in the book. This could be ‘Someone wearing green’ ‘An example of the perfect’ ‘3 phrasal verbs with go’ and so on. It can be as easy or difficult as you like and can be narrowed down to particular chapters or pages as necessary.

This activity works for all levels from total beginners up to advanced learners and can also be used for Young Learners. It is an excellent filler task and can also be used to liven up a class.

“Isn’t it a pleasure to study and practice what you have learned?”
– Confucius

Buzzers, bells and props

Having props of some kind usually goes down well with students as it adds a bit of fun and creates a relaxed atmosphere.  Always ensure you know your classes before introducing new ideas such as these. Teenagers will be less inclined to wear a comedy hat, for example, and you want to create a comfortable atmosphere, not embarrass anyone.

Props can include ‘sound makers’ for students to ‘buzz in’ when they know an answer with points awarded for correct responses. Depending on the age of your students, a selection of hats can be used to assign roles and responsibilities during tasks.

Additionally, dice are always useful to have in your classroom and can be used for speaking activities, paired games or even just to decide in which order to answer a series of questions.

Simple things like this are easy to implement, often appeal to kinaesthetic learners, and take away the monotony sometimes associated with using a textbook in an ESL classroom.

Conclusion: To conclude, although we are in no way suggesting you forget about your textbook altogether, we do think there are some straightforward ways of making it more interactive and enjoyable for your ESL learners. By making small changes, introducing new activities and adapting your classes slightly, you can make the day to day use of course books a little more exciting and more appealing to your students.

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This article was published on September 23, 2020.

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