Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

X is for (e)Xtra things

X is for extra things

When we write material for a publisher, for example text-based materials to develop reading skills, we write (1) a text, (2) a sequence of exercises, and sometimes (3) teacher instructions. Then, very often, we’re asked to provide something else too, an extra thing. This blog post is about some of those extra things.

An extra instruction

Depending on the context, extras can be anything from an optional homework task, usually found in the Teacher’s Book, to a ‘tip box’ with an exam strategy, on a Class Book page.

If you are writing materials for your own classes, it’s worth replicating what the publishers do and asking yourself, ‘What kind of extra things could I include?’ This might be an extra activity with a focus on a non-reading skill, or just something short and sweet on the page, that learners will find useful.

An instruction for an extra activity can come at any stage in your sequence of materials.

Here are a few suggestions that work with a typical reading lesson:

An extra speaking task

Record yourself giving a brief summary of the text.

Tell your partner three things you remember from the text.

Record a short message to the writer of the text, to …

  • say what you found most surprising/shocking/worrying
  • say why you agree/disagree
  • ask a question about something they wrote
  • share your own experience of the subject
An extra writing task

Write …

  • a summary of the main points of the text
  • a short review of the text
  • an email to the author of the text
  • a message recommending someone read (or not read) the text
  • a dialogue between two people who have just read the text
An extra vocabulary focus

First, choose 5 to 10 words in the text to highlight (bold works well). Then add one of these instructions:

  • Find synonyms for the words in bold.
  • Find opposites for the words in bold.
  • Write definitions for the words in bold.
  • Write another sentence using each of the words in bold.

Little boxes

Sometimes extra activities focus on a broader range of skills or competencies, beyond those which are strictly linguistic. For example, primary materials often include things like values or life skills. Business English materials might include a focus on intercultural awareness. You might also like to include a focus on aspects such as diversity or sustainability. All of these can easily be addressed in a number of ways. In traditional course books we often include and highlight standalone boxes with headings on a reading page. There are two main kinds of boxes.

  • Information boxes with tips, useful language, ‘fun’ or cultural facts, or anything that works within the learners’ context.
  • Extra task boxes with a homework idea a ‘Find out! Research task, or, again, anything that works with a particular target user.

Have a look at a couple of current course books. What kind of boxes are included?

Here are a few examples:


Why is it important to be kind to your classmates?


Would a club like this be popular in your country? Why (not)?

Intercultural awareness

Find one thing in the text that is similar in your country and one thing that is different.

Find out!

How do you say ‘Hello’ in Welsh?

Fun fact!

Did you know that it’s impossible to lick your elbow. Try!*

[*This is from an actual course book]

Next time you write some materials for your learners, consider adding some extras.

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