Lesson idea: Tomlinson’s text-driven approach

In Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2013) Tomlinson introduces a text-driven approach to materials development. He goes into quite a bit of detail regarding text selection, offers a suggested framework for the approach and provides a practical example (pages 99-114). I won’t attempt to summarise, I’ll just say read the chapter! It was the most useful and applicable reading I undertook on my recent MA course.

For the purpose of this post, here’s the framework overview, taken from Tomlinson (2013:110, ©Bloomsbury)

click on the picture to enlarge

We had to plan a lesson using the text-driven approach for a unit assignment. I chose to use my favourite poem as the text – Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker. Here’s a nice dramatization of it (I think originally BBC):

You can find the full text here

These activities are pitched at upper-intermediate, for young adults/adults.

I’m based in Bangkok, hence the personalisation in the first activity…


Readiness activities

  1. Imagine…
  • you’re walking around the centre of Bangkok
  • it’s 35 degrees, and you are in the sun
  • you’ve no water and you really need a drink

How do you feel? How does your body feel? What would you do?

Think alone.

Now imagine:

  • all the shopping malls, restaurants, etc are shut so you have to stay outside in the heat
  • no shops have any water or drinks available
  • nobody else can offer you a drink of water
  • the temperature has gone up to 38 degrees
  • you’ve been outside for nearly a day

What would you do? How do you feel now?

Now imagine… you see a water truck across the road spraying fresh water

What would you do?

  1. Share your thoughts with a partner. Did you feel/do similar?

Experiential activities

  1. You’re going to hear a poem about a similar event to above. Change the picture in your mind from your own feelings to the feelings of this person:

4. Teacher reads students the poem

Do you think the man’s feelings/actions are similar or different to yours? Why/how?


Intake response activities

  1. Work with a partner. Look back at the poem.

Partner 1 – read lines 1 – 17

Partner 2 – listen to Partner 1 read the poem. Mime the man’s actions/expressions

Change roles.


Read the poem again.

Partner 1 – pause after lines 2, 6, 8 and 11

Partner 2 – Close your eyes. Listen to the poem. When your partner pauses, say the first word/phrase you think of.


Development activities 1

6. Do one of the following:

  • Imagine you’re the man. Run inside your house and tell your wife what’s happening
  • Write a short newspaper report (80-100 words) on the event in the poem
  • You are an engineer arriving at the scene. Call your manager and explain what’s happening
  • Storyboard the poem (drawing) in 6 – 8 stages

7. In ‘Blessing’ the people need/wish for water during the long, dry season.

Think about something you really need or wish to happen. E.g.

  • Meeting the love of your life
  • Passing a test
  • Seeing an old friend
  • etc

Write a short poem (2 verses). Describe your feelings before (verse 1) and after (verse 2) the event happens.

Share your poem with a partner.


Input response activities

8. Language bits and bobs

A quick matching task just to clarify a few words

Match the words with the correct definition…

flash                drip                 splash              rush                 crash

frantic             scream                        polish              echo                flow

  1. do something very quickly
  2. sound that is produced when sound waves bounce off a surface
  3. cause (water or another liquid) to move in a noisy way or messy way
  4. make (something) smooth and shiny
  5. suddenly cry out in a loud and high voice
  6. appear quickly or suddenly
  7. make a loud noise by falling, hitting something, etc.
  8. of liquid, gas, or electricity : to move in a steady and continuous way
  9. having a lot of wild and hurried activity
  10. fall in drops


Work with a partner. Find words in the text that relate to each of the themes below:


the body/the senses:

materials / elements:

Why do you think the poet has chosen these themes?


Read line 11: ‘a roar of tongues’.

If you don’t know the word ‘roar’, look it up in a dictionary. Why do you think the poet chose this word?


Development activity 2

  1. Learners look back at their poems and improve them based on language work in exercise 10. For example, they could try and include actions, themes, a metaphor, etc.


Two things I like about this approach

  • You can differentiate and give learners choices at various stages
  • It really suits drama activities and encourages lots of personal responses from learners

Two things I dislike about this approach

  • Unrealistic planning time. If you’re writing it for a course book or a published lesson, great. But wow, it took a long time to think through…
  • I feel the approach is more suited to higher levels in general

So, over to you:

  • Have you used this text-driven approach before?
  • What benefits/problems can you see with this approach in general?
  • Would you teach the lesson above? Why/Why not?

Comments appreciated!


Tomlinson, B. (2013). ‘Developing principled frameworks for materials development’. In Tomlinson, B (Ed). Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Bloomsbury

Feature image (c) Bloomsbury


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