17. Adapting Materials


Adapting materials

During last Thursday’s session we talked a lot about materials adaptation, and while we were doing so, I made a few brief notes of what sprung to mind about the way I adapt materials.

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We then worked in groups to explore the topic further.  Although in my group we briefly discussed when, why and what, we chose to focus primarily on how, as we felt this to be the most interesting area in terms of reflecting on our own practice – what we actually do in the classroom.  Here’s a photo of what we came up with:


I really felt the benefit of working on this collaboratively, and although my initial notes were jotted down in a far shorter time period – and were more focused on my specific teaching contexts and experiences, it’s easy to see how much more content is generated when there’s a dialogue going on.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to redraw these notes, primarily for clarity, but I also find that doing so aids my own processing of thoughts and ideas.


The phrase that particularly struck me during this process was ‘lift it off the page’.  I’ve used this expression before with reference to coursebook-based teaching, and consider it such an important part of the dynamic between teachers and materials.  If we don’t lift the material off the page, then do we risk negating the need for the teacher at all?


But there’s a dichotomy here, because if the materials need the teacher to lift them off the page, does this decrease their value?  Does it make them dull and/or impenetrable?  Should they jump off the page of their own accord?

This must – in part – come back to context and the purpose of the materials, whether they’re meant for self-study or classroom use.

I think there are two factors at play here:

  1. Are the materials designed to be flexible / universal? Only we, as teachers, come close to really understanding the specific context in which we’re using the materials, and thus what’s needed by way of adaptation.  Which means that materials designed to reach wider markets (coursebooks, primarily), will inevitably need to be adapted to suit the specific learners.
  2. Do the materials communicate the instructions for each activity? Should they?  Again, it depends on whether or not they’re meant for self study, but I would argue that sometimes less is more.  Which takes me back to a point I made in an earlier post: materials should be important.


  1. Having just designed worksheets and updating them, I have found that for me personally, less is more. It was you who actually suggested I take away the instructions on my worksheets and I think you were right; in my first draft, having instructions all over the page felt like stapling the activities firmly and rigidly down on the paper. Now that they’re gone, it’s been automatically lifted off the page because not only has it allowed the content to be more adaptable for the teacher, but I think it incites curiosity from the reader to know more of what it’s about.

    1. That’s a nice analogy about ‘stapling’ activities to the page, and a good point about curiosity.
      As a teacher I feel more at ease with an ‘unaccompanied’ text (and by text I include audio and image) than with step by step instructions as it allows me freedom to adapt to suit my class.
      Last week I used a text from a magazine (The New Philosopher – recommend checking it out) with a B2 class. Essentially it was a pretty high level text (C1/C2), but by adapting (the activities, not the text) we were able to get a lot out of it. Had there been accompanying instructions I’d have felt restricted, and probably thought ‘oh that’s too high level, I can’t use it’.
      It’s important to remember though that the confidence to adapt comes with experience, so an accompanying ‘potential activities’ sheet for teachers could be the way forward.

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