Five ways to Jazz up the Coursebook

by Kylie Malinowska

Leading up this year’s YL Conference in Bucharest, it dawned on me that as YL teachers we are kind of spoilt (for choice) – it’s never been easier to find, and in abundance, information, resources, and new ideas. But, we are also kind of saturated and in danger of that age old struggle – making sure the activities and materials aren’t taking over and weighing us down. I therefore, when deciding what to talk about myself, shunned all the latest and greatest things out there and gave a presentation on using the coursebook. Partly I wanted to facilitate a discussion and remind us all that although, yes, Pinterest is great and Twinkl amazing, we actually already have a great resource right under our noses. I also shared some practical ideas too as, let’s face it, we all want something new (or in my case not so new but maybe forgotten) to try on Monday. So, in the afterglow of the amazing conference that was the 2017 IH YL Conference (thank you IH Bucharest, you were amazing!) here it is, this issue’s five in a (rather long) flash…

1. Use the pictures

  • You know that page at the front of each unit in numerous YL coursebooks that introduces vocabulary? It’s also great to use for games, e.g. as a background for battleships, for learners to draw things and find where their partner has drawn it, to talk about what people are doing, to describe and draw to partners, e.g. picture dictation. The list is endless. They can be re-used over and over all year long!
  • Are you teens regular teens and therefore not fond of talking about themselves too much? I’m sure you’ve done, as I have, the thing where they create a fictional identity and answer questions from their fictional characters perspective, but why bother going to google and printing them out? Get them to choose any photo or picture of a person in the coursebook.
  • Got 5 minutes and not sure what to do? How about a revision treasure hunt? Call out prompts/ key words and the students individually, or in pairs/teams race to find a corresponding picture in the coursebook, e.g. you could call out ‘find someone angry, find something ugly, find someone doing something, find a picture where two things are happening at the same time’, etc. The best bit, there is no correct answer and the activity can be differentiated. Students justify their choices as they are able to/see fit.

2. Jazz it up. Literally!

  • Carolyn Graham may be the original Jazz chant queen, but thanks to being inspired by Jane Harding de Rosa many moons ago, I like to consider myself a bit of a Jazz machine too. Any activity can be turned into a jazz chant. Practicing prepositions? Got a picture in the book?

Is Molly in the car? In the car?
Yes, Molly’s in the car, in the car.
Yes, she is! Yes, she is!
Yeeeeaaah *insert jazz hands*

  • Use vocabulary pages (or actually any page) for a basic 2,3,1 Jazz chant. Set it up, then let learners create their own. Not only will they practice saying the sounds together, they’ll have fun! That’s 2,3,1 as in syllables.

Apple, Banana, Pear
Apple, Banana, Pear
Apple, Banana, Apple, Banana
Apple, Banana, Pear
Yeeeeaaah *insert jazz hands*

  • Almost any controlled practice activity makes for a great drill. My new favourite drill is inspired by Diana England. For example, you know those exercises when learners need to match sentence halves? After they’ve completed the exercise and we’ve checked the answers, I ask them to read the full sentences out to each other. I then read them and get them to copy my intonation – it’s always exaggerated and connected to an emotion, e.g. I tell them I’m really excited by each of the sentences. In pairs, one has the book, the other doesn’t. One learner reads out the first part of the sentence (copying my crazy intonation) and the other learner, without looking at the book, finishes the sentence. My 8-year olds find this hilarious and actually ask for it now!

3. Personalise it

  • Are you learners bored by the follow up questions after a reading? Or answering with one unenthusiastic word or shrug? Get them to write their own questions. Or get them to give one false answer and the rest of the group must guess which answer is a lie and ask follow up questions to try and catch them out.
  • Ever feel no joy from the coursebook song? Get the learners to either change the words or the tune. Or to sing it zombie style, robot style, rap style.
  • Get learners to change the names in texts or gap fills to themselves/ classmates/ celebrities/ family members. Just for a giggle.
  • Turn a boring gap fill or reading into a mad lib. Practicing past simple (or anything really) and have nothing but 5 gapped sentences? Without showing learners the book, get them to write down any 5 verbs. They then write them in the corresponding numbered gaps while you stand back and watch them giggle when they don’t make sense. Of course afterwards they work with a partner to work out the ‘right’ answer. But they might enjoy the opportunity to read out their crazy texts to the class.

4. Let them use L1

  • You know those activities to practice deducing meaning from context after a reading? Get them to close their books. If there are, for example, 6 words, get them to write the numbers 1 – 6 on paper. Read out a description or show a clue. Learners can write as many possible words next to each number; the correct word if they know it, synonyms, and/or the word in their own language. They then open their books and try to find the answers in the text.
  • Let them discuss a text/ listening/ story with their partner in their L1. We all know their receptive English is generally much better than their productive English. Sometimes learners do want to talk about what they’ve read or heard and what it means or how they feel, but don’t have the resources to do so in English. This can be useful for generating yet more discussion afterward, in English.

5. Rev up the review

  • Turn a multiple-choice exercise into a game of who wants to be a millionaire, and don’t just limit yourself to that unit. Go back through the coursebook.
  • If you’re sick of cutting up bits of paper for grammar races and grammar auctions, why not try an electronic option. There are loads of online quiz games that learners love and the review pages provide you with a huge bank of questions. As a bonus they are easily saved and used numerous times. Kahoot is a great way to make tasks more fun and tactile for learners if they have access to mobile devices, and for those of you into retro, classtools have a Pacman quiz generator.
  • Instead of completing the whole page, let learners choose which of the review exercises they want to do.
  • Musical tables. Give learners a time limit to complete as much of the page or exercise as they can. Encourage them to skip difficult questions and fill in the ones they know (monitoring will give them teachers useful info), then get them to pair up and help each other fill in the gaps, then bigger groups, the one person from each table moves to another table. Also encourage learners (especially teens) to look at grammar references and other pages in the book to support their answers and to challenge each other.
  • Have a race. But without all the cut up bits of paper. Put them in teams and get them to fill in the page as quickly as possible. BUT they get -1 for any incorrect answers. Encourage them to cheat. They can use the internet, dictionaries, the coursebook, anything at all to help get the correct answer.

So, there we have it – five ways to adapt your coursebook and a few ideas for each. Try one in class and see how it goes. You never know, it might just be better than trawling through the internet for hours looking for the perfect game.

Author’s Bio: Kylie Malinowska is a teacher, trainer, presenter, writer, sleep- deprived mum of twins and coffee addict. She is the Young Learner Advisor and IH CYLT Coordinator for International House World Organisation and currently based in Prague where she also teaches and trains part-time for International House Prague and Akcent College.