SARS-ing coursebooks

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sarsing from coursebooks?

Ever had the feeling that you’re not lifting off the page enough? Ever thought that someone was doing something much flasher than you, with the same pieces from a coursebook?

I thought it would be fascinating to discover how 6 teachers would SARS a piece of material from English File Pre Int.  Not out of nosiness, but really to see if I could make my lessons more engaging for the learners.

What is S.A.R.S? Is it medical lexis?

It’s simply a mnemonic for dealing with coursebook material.





Do the task below to see what you would do and then use your experience to look at the findings on how 6 IH teachers would make a lesson.  There are some really interesting results!


Go and get a copy of English File Pre-Intermediate and look at p66 + 67.

Here is the letter and task I asked people to do. Before you read what they said, try it for yourself! Click here – Adapting Coursebooks task limit yourself to 5 minutes.

→ Now compare your results to those of the six teachers/teacher trainers I asked.


– – – –  Click on the image to read the text in a larger format. – – – –

Chia Zara
Jess Catriona
Kristina Dave
  • Who were you most like in your SARSing?  Chia? Kistina? Dave?

Results and jing

As you can see  from the results  there are loads of different ways to use this material.

Look at this Jing to see how I would create a lesson.  I think it’d be much more engaging than the one I actually taught.

Here are my 5 top conclusions.

1. Almost everyone rejected the exercise – PRONUNCIATION stress and rhythm.  Instead pronunciation could be done either when you are looking at form in the quiz or with personalised sentences.


2. Only one person used the text ‘Nature’s Perfect Killing Machine,’ Others suggested that it was a display text  and catalogue of death.  The result may have been different if we were living in Australia.


3. Many suggested lots of visuals and prediction before they start the activities. This would help with being engaged before the reading and listening task.  Prediction would also make it more memorable.


4. One popular choice was making tasks more kinaesthetic. Having a board-rush where students run to the board and grab the sentence they think is correct for controlled practice.  Also walking round making sentences in pairs to feed back to the group.


5. One common idea was to set the controlled practice for homework.  Lesson time should be for communication. Having a nice semi-controlled practice which is personalised is popular and this could be done as a mingle.


  1. Julian Siret says:

    What would you do?

  2. David Riddell says:

    This is great stuff Julian – and very useful for a CELTA input on using books.

    For what it’s worth, and going against the flow, I would use the text and the task. I have no problems with either. I wouldn’t do the Pron for the reasons others gave. The lead in is nice but I would add pics at the start. I would adapt the grammar quite a bit, but I do consider it to be useful language (I hear and read the 2nd conditional all the time). Speaking task is really nice. I would add something for after the reading (maybe move the speaking to after the reading). A ranking of favourite animals perhaps, and then language feedback.
    Overall, I look at these two pages and i think “nice”, but a bit of SARS needed for sure.
    Definitely not the song – like Kristina, I hate all the cover versions in some books!

  3. Catriona says:

    Thanks for a really useful post Julian.

    I think you’ve summarised all our SARSing attempts really well and have come up with a list of helpful reminders for when we’re feeling a bit uninspired with the coursebook. The Jing ties it all together nicely too.

  4. JoRidd says:

    Great post Julian. Really interesting to see what other people would do.

    I like all the kinaesthetic ideas, especially putting pictures around the classroom and getting students to discuss what they’d do.

    If I had time I would take the tapescript, get it onto one page, blank out some words in the conditional sentences (the verbs) and get sts to listen again after finishing 1 a, b and c, and complete the gaps. We’d listen to the whole thing, check, and then just the key parts (he has a conditional sentence in each answer). We would board the three sentences, discuss the referencing in the first one and figure out what was meant, and then use those sentences for guided discovery incl MFP. I like the repetitive ‘If you were lucky…’ because it reinforces the past simple in the if clause.

    After some controlled practice with positive sentences, if the students seemed pretty confident with the positive sentences, we could also use these sentences to look at negatives. Then we could use the quiz to get the question form. I’d play that by ear.

    Love the booklet idea of Chia’s. Would encourage a lot of communication.

    Interesting task!

  5. Richard Chinn says:

    Fantastic post Julian! I most definitely will be adapting the post to use on CELTA as it’s a great way to show trainees the choices you face when looking at material which they often feel they never own.

    Thanks very much for putting the time into making and authentic and valuable resource!

  6. Melissa says:

    Great post Julian and everyone else that contributed. Good for the Celta and I might use it on the Delta too….matching choices to teacher beliefs.

    My first instinct would be to skip this page, but now I’m having a re-think with all the possibilities presented above.

    Def start with the vocab as a lead-in and then the quiz. I think that the quiz could easily fall flat so need to perk it up a bit so I’d go with clips off you tube and some kind of ‘back to the clip’ describing and drawing the 3 situations. This also draws out a lot of the lexis ss will need to really discuss the situation.

    They can then decide what they would do in those situations. I like the listening text and would keep it in to get the answers to the quiz. We could then revisit it maybe the next day to look more language. I’m thinking patterns/expressions with ‘to’ e.g. ‘Your only hope is to…’/ ‘it’s difficult, although not impossible to…’ / ‘this would give you time to…’/’ the best think to do is…’ etc

    I think the way i’d deal with the language focus very much depends on the students. I’d be tempted to board their language use and compare it to the examples from the text. Ss could then notice any differences in form and meaning would be easy to clarify. This might be too challenging for some classes though.

    I’m not that keen on ex 5 speaking as it seems rather forced. Does controlled practice work with this structure? I’ve done quite a few conditional mingles and when it comes to freer practice the same old form errors/avoidance occur. I’d rather go for Chia’s booklet idea and incorporate an exploration task (grammaring up?) to get students really thinking about their choice of structure.

  7. David Riddell says:

    This is such a fantastic task – a brilliant idea, Julian. It would be a great TD session, particularly if we selected material from a book that is generally regarded as ‘difficult to use’ / needing a lot of adapting and supplementing and seeing how we CAN make it work. This would be so useful and we could even make it into an occasional series featuring different books. This for me is the real discussion. Not ‘should we use course books?’ but ‘what is the best way to use them?’.

  8. Jan Madakbas says:

    This is a really sensible and useful post. Thanks to all. I find myself bamboozled by the variety of SARSations! Certainly any texts about crocodile attacks are an absolute must in my lessons so I wouldn’t omit that. As for the pron, I would ditch it in favour of a more integrated approach. A sort of shift from’ input’ to ‘response-put’ as and when necessary.
    Anyway, what I’m really thinking as I write is: Any chance of doing the same for Straightforward advanced? At the moment my emphasis is on R and the final S….

  9. Danny says:

    This is a really useful post Julian and I think an excellent template for CELTA trainees to use. Gone will be the days when a trainee says in feedback “But I thought you wanted me to follow the book…”

    I do a similar type of input on my CELTA using a two page spread from Face to Face in a session called ‘Options and Outcomes’. However, my trainees look at 4 lesson plans and discuss why they might be different, speculating on teacher beliefs. With your template though, they would have a planning tool they can use for the rest of the course. I’m now thinking of doing a follow up SARS session straight after ‘Options and Outcomes’.

    Great post thank you


Leave a Reply