How I plan with coursebooks

Coursebooks. Arrgh.

I write and read so many rants about them. Global coursebooks are too ‘catch-all’, they’re not aligned with what we know about second language acquisition, they’re a straightjacket, the images promote certain ideals, the content is too diluted, etc.

Like them or not, many teachers are bound to using a coursebook. Maybe a syllabus is coursebook-driven, the school demand it, the expectation from parents is that they’ve shelled out for the book so it must be completed cover-to-cover. Whatever. It happens. I can rant about it on my blog until the cows come home, but at the end of the day I’ve got to find a way to use it.

My school mostly use their own in-house materials, but we have a coursebook-driven syllabus for the teens (well, until next year). Here’s an example of some of the steps I go through when planning from the book. These are meant for less-experienced teachers. They are representative of my classroom practice but I can’t guarantee they’ll be effective (!). Every class is different.

Here we go. I have a copy of Beyond A2+ (Macmillan). I’m opening it at random… and we got…


For my teens? COME ON! Can I start again? No? Right. Ok…

Right. Step 1. Turn the page. See what’s coming up just for a bit of context. It’s a massive reading, forget that. That’s for next week.

Step 2. What is the aim? I don’t just want to plan a series of activities. Have a quick glance at the syllabus map at the start of the book. This looks fairly isolated to be honest. It’s more of a review – topic vocabulary for later in the module. You know what? I reckon I can get a fun 90 minutes out of my teen class (13 year olds) with this stuff.

Oh yeah, the aim. Well, the speaking is ‘How often…?’ and there’s adverbs of frequency, so…

Student’s will be better able to ask and answer questions using adverbs of frequency in the context of (joy of joys) household chores…

Sub aims? Bear with me. I’ll get there once I plan backwards.

I think students will know/have a passive knowledge of a lot of the vocab here.

What the students need (CONSIDER STUDENT NEEDS FIRST):

  • plenty of speaking practice
  • a more comprehensive production stage (I find coursebooks rarely have these, but their supplementary books or teachers notes sometimes do)
  • to have fun and build confidence
  • varied interaction patterns

To achieve the aim we’re going to need:

  • some revision of household chores
  • to review word order for that question form ‘How often do you…?’
  • to review adverbs of frequency and probably add more to upgrade language a bit

The book wants…

  • a basic review of house-related language for some reason (just context setting and stuff)
  • some pronunciation work on silent sounds (just because cupboard has one – someone’s definitely shoehorned that pronunciation point in)

Stage 1

Aim: activation, stirrer – show students they already have a lot of topic related vocabulary.

  • Make that table some kind of board race activity.

The whole thing: 12 mins? Just for fun, gets them engaged, gets them speaking English. Minimal correction at the moment, I don’t want to put them in a bad mood. I’ve just got them interested!

Stage 2

Aim: activate prior knowledge of chores

  • Students look at picture in pairs. Quick fire ‘say word and partner points’ just for fun (door, kitchen, etc)
  • Make sure Exercise 2 is hidden. Students ask each other ‘What are they doing? He/she is…’ to see what they already know. Then do Exercise 2 matching task.

  • Students have a whole list of chores in the book (including those in Exercise 3). Check any terms they don’t know (probably only a few). Students test their partner. One student says a verb (e.g. tidy) and their partner must say a/the correct collocation (my/your his room). Take turns. Quickfire whole class test from teacher after.
  • Students do exercise 3
  • I see some contractions practice here. Drill the contraction where relevant (Nick is – Nick’s). Check they can understand and produce. Play contraction or not? Students take turns to read the sentence. They decide if they use the contraction or not. Their partner checks that they can identify it (2 mins, should be straightforward)
  • They are definitely ready for something active. Do the miming task (exercise 6)

Total time… hmmm… about 30 minutes I reckon. Lots of good practice though. It’s all about getting them using the language somehow, even if it’s just controlled stages. Building confidence and all that.

Note: scrap that pronunciation task in the book. It’s not relevant here.

Note: There are a lot more things you can do with that picture. A true or false type game would work well and produce quite a bit of language I imagine

WARNING: There’s a video sign on that image…..PETE DO NOT USE THE VIDEO. You know what happened last time, the slow freeze frame thingy and the computer crash…

Stage 3

Aim: check prior knowledge of adverbs of frequency / word order related to adverbs of frequency

Adapt this a bit…

  • Board a sentence like ‘I never do the dishes’. Why not? Because Teacher Pete is lazy. Underline ‘never’. Ask a few questions about it – ‘if I do the dishes everyday, what would I say? I…’ elicit  other adverbs of frequency. Or just board them and get the students to come and put them in order. They probably know most of them so add some more (‘hardly ever’, ‘normally’, etc)
  • Make some scrambled questions ( often / do / how / bed / make / the / you / ?). If you’ve got time you could make these cut ups. You could also make them a grass skirts/rip and run style activity. Students work together to order the sentences (about 5 is enough, including the ‘Who usually…?’ question).
  • When completed, backchain the sentences. Draw attention to any pronunciation features to focus on. Personally I’d highlight the possible weak form of often (/ɒfən/) as the book wanted a silent sound (Ha!). Maybe the falling intonation as it’s an open question…
  • Students ask their partner (probably a new partner) the questions. Listen carefully. Check word order is correct, pronunciation is correct, and the answers are correct. Do some delayed correction if needed

Probably about 20-25 mins

Stage 4

Aim: Freer practice

  • Students make a grid in their book like this:


Student 1

Student 2 Student 3

Student 4

1. How often…


  • They write 6 of their own questions using any of the language covered. They can think of others if they want
  • Set up some kind of snaking or dialogue lines, or do a mingle. Students must ask their questions to 4 different students and record answers in the table
  • When they finish they work with a partner to make comparisons about the people they interviewed. Give them some process language to do this:

STUDENT A and STUDENT B were similar/different because ….

STUDENT A is the most similar to me because…

Something like that.

20-25 mins

Possible extension:

  • Students have 4 slips of paper. They look at the information they’ve gathered. They write one piece of advice for each person (if they know ‘you should…’). Provide a model:

‘You should ________________ more. Help your parents! Don’t be lazy’.

  • They can feedback on the advice they got

That took me about 1 hour 20 mins to write. But I wouldn’t normally be writing in such detail. It actually took me about 25 mins to think about. My planning time is 1 hour, so I’d have just enough time to make any additional handouts… well, if it wasn’t for the INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARD FLIPCHARTS that EAT UP MY PLANNING TIME… grrrr!

There’s a lot of interaction in the lesson I think – enough. The students should speak a lot. Realistically, I could eat up the remainder of a two hour lesson with some more personalised speaking using the target language.

So there you have it. That’s what I do. I remember Matt Noble writing something similar to this on his blog. Always good to get into the mind of another teacher.

Ah no! I forgot about those sub-aims. Fingers crossed I’m not being observed…

Categories: General, reflections

Tags: , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. I really liked that, and seeing your thought process. Do you really spend an hour planning each lesson? I’m currently at a school with no books or materials of their own and I have to plan the lot, for 30 lessons per week ranging from kids to business lessons. I’m pulling my hair out as I type 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ben. Cheers for commenting. Yes, I do spend an hour planning. However, I’m paid to do so. I teach 21 hours a week, and I’m paid for the full time equivalent of 21+10.5 hours, with a few extra hours for professional development. I’m very lucky! But ya know, sometimes things just fall into place and I plan in no time. It all depends.


      • Sounds great! Maybe a little lucky, but you’re obviously respected there!

        I’ve already got a few great ideas from this one blogpost, so I look forward to reading the others!

        Just out of interest, if you were in my position (maybe you were in the past) how would you go about managing your time and planning lessons? Doing an extra 30 hours unpaid prep is just not feasible at the moment. However I don’t want my lessons and students to suffer.


        • Your situation does sound like a tough one. 30 hours teaching, no book or materials?! Coursebook-driven courses often get criticized and some of that criticism is valid, but it sounds like you’ve got a real challenge on your hands planning without any crutch in place to support you! I’d imagine that doing a thorough needs analysis with your classes would be the best way to inform your planning.
          While there are plenty of places to find resources online or through buying resource books, it sounds like you need a longer term approach rather than a short term fix. Perhaps reading some literature related to task based language teaching might help? Just a thought. That might not work for every class though…


    • Hi Ben how do you feel about not using course books, as an advantage or disadvantage?


      • Hi, in general I feel it’s a disadvantage. As a new teacher I could have done with some books to guide me and take the stress out of planning, even now that is true!

        Although not having books to fall back on forced me to become creative and search for my own ideas. Other teachers I know that use books would never think to read a blog like this for example, because they just stick to the book and believe that there is nothing new out there!

        I commented here almost 2 years ago, right now I feel much more confident planning courses without material but it still takes up a lot of my ( unpaid ) time. The newer teachers here don’t get any material or books given to them, so I make sure to help them with some general ideas and how to plan a slightly longer course.

        For me, I split the school year up into 3 sections, and planned for one at a time. I looked at similar groups or students and identified where I could use the same lesson for multiple groups, saving me planning time.

        That really helped, but in general having a book, especially from the start, would have been great. 🙂



  1. Review: Off the Page – ELT Planning

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