Cut, cut, cut… Steps to adapt during writing and speaking

Throughout my professional life, I try to be flexible! Flexible to the lesson plans I create, to the materials, to the way I manage and lead my classes. This is sometimes difficult as we have to take several factors into account; time, parents, student’s needs, general aims and learning outcomes. I am not sure whether this is called flexibility or it is my inner need to change and adapt whatever materials I am going to use, even mine, both at the planning stage and while teaching a class.

Text by:  Tanya Livarda

So, why should we adapt the materials we are going to use?

Before doing that, I would like to clarify that materials that can be used in the classrooom can be practically anything, printed, online, audiovisual and so on. Adapting printed materials and especially a coursebook is a common practice among teachers. Madsen and Bowen state that “Effective adaptation is a matter of achieving “congruence”. The good teacher is, constantly, striving for congruence among several related variables: teaching materials, methodology, students, course objectives the target language and its context and the teachers’ own personality and teaching style”(cited in McDonough et al., 2013 p. 65).  On the other hand, Tomlinson and Masuhara focus on the teacher side as they take into consideration the “teaching environment, teachers’ own preferences and the course objectives” (cited in Mishan et al., 2015 p.67). Furthermore, authenticity in language teaching materials plays a crucial role in adaptation and learning. First of all, in that way students feel the “direct relation between the language classroom and the outside world” (Gebhard, 2006 p.105).               

Adaptation can be done into different aspects of the coursebook, such as “language, process, content and linguistic and cognitive learners’ level” (McGrath, 2013 p.63).

Another important issue is the way we can adapt. This can be achieved by deleting, “adding” or “changing” either a task/an exercise or a whole unit ”(McGrath, 2013 p.62). Richards (2001) also identifies the “reorganization or modification contents” (in other words re-ordering) or McGrath acknowledges “restructure” and “change” in all levels including ‘classroom management’ ”(McGrath, 2013 p.64). McGrath also summarizes the principles that are behind the adaptation issue. Those are “localization, modernization, individualization, personalization, humanizing, differentiation, variety” (McGrath, 2013 p.66). A final strategy is called ‘branching strategy’ (Mede & Yalcin, 2019) in which the teacher adds option to the existing activity or suggests alternatives. In nutshell, we adapt because we feel that we need to ‘humanise’ the materials, to make them more authentic and relevant to our students’ level and needs, to increase interaction and collaboration among students.


How am I sure that what I am doing is correct?

Well, as I always say you can try and see what work for your specific students in this specific classroom. It is important that you conduct a needs analysis first in order to identify your students’ needs and the main objectives. You can also ask them about their main interests and hobbies are and ‘use’ these to your lessons. After doing that, you can adapt at any time and at any point. As mentioned before, think about relevance. Are the materials relevant to my students’ age and needs? Also, prioritise. Think about both your learners’ and your main aims and objectives and think about what activities or tasks are absolutely essential to reach these.

I will only focus only on how to adapt speaking and writing, as I believe that these are the most challenging skills to teach for most teachers.


How to… adapt speaking?

  1. Role-Play. For example, if you talk about jobs instead of just presenting them, you can let your students pick a job and then conduct a job interview.
  2. Skit/Parody of a story, of an experience
  3. Find someone who… (has the same experience, the same clothes, the same favourite food)
  4. Debates
  5. Information gap activities. Divide your students into two groups. The one group will have half of the information and the other half will have the rest. Students discuss and complete the missing information.
  6. Chant it, rap it, rhyme it!
  7. Ask challenging or provocative questions.
  8. Interview a famous person/ professionals in your area
  9. Instead of describing a picture let your students bring a picture and describe it to you. If they have drawn it’s even better.
  10. Speculate something about the picture. You can use famous paintings here.
  11. Dilemmas
  12. You are members of a city council. Decide which photos would be the best for the cleaning campaign? Turn into writing.


How to… adapt writing?

  1. Use stories: Re-write a story. / Continue the story, Create a sequel
  2. Write short messages
  3. Use the topics found in the coursebook or in other materials and create a project
  4. Create Infographics
  5. Strange topics: Instead of writing about your favourite food, you can write about ‘the most disgusting sandwich’
  6. Instead of a plain brainstorm activity, students can just write down on a post it note what they know about the topic. After that they check and discuss.
  7. Create poems or comics (using your own illustrations) or animated video dialogues
  8. Find a problem in your area and write a letter to the mayor suggesting solutions.
  9. Research a topic and actually conduct research


Yes, but…what if I am not allowed to do that? I feel that the biggest challenge for most teachers is the amount of freedom they have when they think that they should adapt their materials. To me, adapting materials is essential and important and it is a way to truly meet your students’ needs.



  1. Gebhard,J.G. (2006), “EFL/ESL Materials, Media and Technology”, In: Gebhard,J.G. Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language, S.A: University of Michigan Press  pp. 101-118.
  2. McDonough, J., Masuhara, H., Shaw, C. (2013), “Adapting Materials”, In: McDonough, J., Masuhara, H., Shaw, C. Materials and Methods in ELT, Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, pp.63-78.
  3. McGrath, I. (2013), “The professional literature”, In: McGrath, I. Teaching Materials and the Roles of EFL/ESL Teachers: Practice and Theory, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 49-80.
  4. Mede, E., Yalçin, S. (2019), “Utilizing Textbook Adaptation Strategies: Experiences and Challenges of Novice and Experienced EFL Instructors”, TESOL International Journal, 14 (1) pp. 91-104.
  5. Mishan, F., Timmis, I. (2015), “Materials evaluation and adaptation”, In: Mishan, F., Timmis, I. Materials Development for TESOL, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 56-74.
  6. Richards, J.C. (2001), “The role and design of instructional materials”, In: Richards, J.C. Curriculum Development in Language Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.251-284.