Simple ideas for getting the most out of your course book

Teachers always put their heart and soul into their classes – not only during the lesson but also the planning stages. At certain points of the year, we can sometimes feel tired and overwhelmed with the amount of work we have to do. This article will introduce some ideas that you can use time and time again, with minimal preparation, so that you can extend activities in the course book to consolidate learning, or to help push your students into achieving more.


First of all, I’d like to say that course books are brilliant. They are full of ideas and have been written, then checked, rechecked, tested and checked even further before they are published. As course books are designed to work anywhere in the world, they often contain far more than we actually can use in a given academic year for our own students. For that reason, it is not obligatory to go through, in order, the activities presented on each page. Write out a clear lesson aim, look at each activity and ask yourself ‘does this activity help my students to reach this aim?’ If the answer is yes, use it. If the answer is no, don’t be afraid to discard it. You might be able to go back to this activity in another lesson which better suits another aim. Or not, that’s fine. Then look at those activities you want to include and don’t be afraid to change the order if it makes better sense for your students to do that.

Ideas to extend reading texts

Jigsaw readings

This activity is where you treat the reading text like a jigsaw puzzle. You divide the text into different sections and you ask students to each read a different section, and only that section, and then verbally tell their other friends in their group what their section was about. At the end, all of the students will understand the text. This has several benefits – if it is a long text, students do not feel overwhelmed to read all of it, and they can read it themselves slowly after the lesson has ended. This is great for slower readers who hate the feeling of everyone waiting for them to read the text before the class can continue! It also requires students to process and memorise key, new vocabulary from the text in order to retell it properly. It helps students to practise their listening and speaking skills too. For you, the work only lies in your instructions for how to do that task – and once students have done one jigsaw reading, they do it much better the next time, and so on. Some teachers photocopy the text and cut it into small pieces, but for minimal prep, you can simply say – Student A, paragraphs 1 and 2, Student B paragraph 3, and so on. They can also continue to work together to answer any comprehension questions that come later . For example, if a question relates to their section, that student tells everyone the answer.

Finish the sentence

Once all the activities for the reading text have been completed, a fun extension to revise the text once more is to play this game. Students work in pairs to locate a sentence from the text, read it aloud for their partner but omitting the final word – can the students remember what it was?

Find the sentence

In this activity, you can provide the first couple of models, and then let students take over. Find a sentence in the text, and then give your students only the first letters of each word – students then scan the text to find it. For example, here is a text from Real World 3. If you put M S B W S W A 7 Y O, then the correct answer is Martha started baking when she was about 7 years old. This allows the students to revisit the text again and again, which leads to greater understanding and familiarity, plus students are noticing sentence construction and then practising their pronunciation.

Add a sentence

Students choose a paragraph and then compose a sentence that could fit into the paragraph so that it makes sense. They then read the whole paragraph aloud for the partner, including their new sentence. Can their partners locate the sentence? You can also do this on a single word level with adjectives and adverbs and it helps students to understand parts of speech.

Treasure hunt

Give students mini treasure hunts, such as, can you find 3 adjectives / three verbs / three words associated with cooking.

Ideas to extend listening texts


Before listening, show students an image that sets the context – it can be from the book or one you have found yourself. For example, this listening in Real World 4 about work has two good photos at the bottom of the page to show the speakers, Max and Hannah, at work. However, you can easily find an image on the internet if you like.

Only show the pictures if you can, not the subsequent tasks (such as by using the hide tool on your IWB software). Ask students to describe what they see and ask for predictions about the task. Write their ideas on the board. Then, you read out choice sentences from the audio script that are a bit ambiguous, or contain a small clue. Ss then either confirm their predictions or change their minds. Finally, students listen to the recording to check. This allows greater confidence when listening and helps you to introduce any vocabulary that may block their understanding.


This classic activity is where you choose a section of the listening, roughly 3-5 sentences long, to play to your students. Before you begin, tell your students that they will only listen to the audio 3 times, but they must write down as accurately as possible what the speaker says. After the third time, students work together in pairs or small groups to try and reconstruct what was said as closely as possible. The idea here is for students to try and make logical sentences, with correct grammar conjugation and spelling. This highlights any areas of weakness. Even if students do not reconstruct the text 100% accurately, but they manage to write the main message with the correct spelling and logical grammar – highly praise the work and effort, as the idea is for them to be able to write accurately.

Spend the card

After the listening has finished, ask students to tell you what was the most challenging word or phrase from the text for them. Write these on the board and make sure students have understood the meaning. You should now have a collection of words. Ask students to choose 4 words and write them down on little pieces of paper or card (if you’re teaching online, students can just make a note of them). Now, give your students a topic to talk about and ask them to try and use their words in the conversation in a natural way. If they can, they ‘spend’ the card by giving it to their partner, who now has to spend their own cards plus this new one. The winner is the person who gets rid of their cards first. If you’re teaching online, students cannot give their cards to their partner, instead they tick it off their list if they use it, and then shout ‘bingo’ when they are out of words. To extend this activity, play again and swap partners.

treasure hunt

The same activity as the one above for the reading, except students are listening for the key words rather than reading the text.

Grammar and Vocabulary

lexical chunk swap-out

Many phrases in the English language are fixed, and the only thing we change is the noun, verb or adverb we wish to express. Help your students to notice words and phrases that commonly go together by taking advantage of the grammar sentences in the book. For example, here in the Real World 2 book, we can see these phrases of I enjoy / I hate / I would like / I don’t mind. You can ask students to try to fill in the gaps or finish the sentence with as many variations as possible that is true for them. For example, in activity 6, lift the first sentence: ‘I can’t stand _____ all the time.’ Students could tell you, I can’t stand doing my homework all the time, I can’t stand tidying my bedroom all the time and so on.

Use the discarded word

Very often course books have a multiple choice option in order to test understanding of grammar or vocabulary, such as this activity on comparatives and superlatives in Real World 2. To further extend this, when students have finished, ask them to go back to the discarded sentence and to use that word to write their own sentences. They can then swap sentences with a partner who checks it for them.

positives, negatives and questions

Take any grammar activity, and after completing it, ask students to change the sentences one more time into another form – for example, the question form or the negative form. This activity from Real World 4 is practising reported commands and requests.

Once students have finished sentences 1-4, they can go back and write the same information in another way. For example, number 1 can be rewritten as She told me not to put a bandage on my arm’. This helps students to notice the grammar patterns.

sentence blank outs

Once students have finished a grammar activity, for example the reported commands activity we have just seen, ask them to work in pairs. One person closes their book, and the other partner reads out a sentence but omits one or some words. Can their partners remember how to complete the sentence?

I hope that these activities will help your students to extend their knowledge and to have fun at the same time, and also to help you to plan a really comprehensive lesson without needing to reinvent the wheel!

Real World helps students develop not only the ability to communicate well in English but also the skills and confidence to participate as educated citizens in the global community. Find out more about the course here.

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