There are many reasons we cannot meet our students “on location” outside the classroom, as movie people say. Due to large class size or other restrictions, we are often confined to the classroom.
Much of the coursebook is tedious but there are ways to spice things up. I already explained how we change the routine boring role play of booking a hotel room into an actual phone call to a five-star hotel in New York. That really gets students stirred up, scared to death, tuned in and awake.
Every time we have to teach from the book, we look for some exercise that we can really activate. One book had an exercise on speaking about charts and graphs from a survey. The survey was about types of cars people liked and there was some information about some rather old cars and unknown in our country but there were some good examples of language for discussing a survey and preferences.
To activate it, we skipped the car stuff and we asked the students to make their own survey. Work together with a partner. Choose a topic. Make a list of questions. Go around the room and survey at least ten other students. The room became full of activity. Everyone was talking. Everyone was smiling. They were completely engaged. Afterward they compiled the results of their surveys and prepared presentations with charts and graphs to explain their findings to the class. They did surveys on popular mobile phones, sports shoes, music stars, fast food restaurants.
One unit was very passively talking about environmental problems. To activate it students worked in pairs to choose one problem and decide on a solution. They prepared posters on a normal A4 size paper. They then took positions around the room something like at a trade fair or exhibition and tried to attract other classmates acting as “visitors” or “passersby” to ask for their support and a donation. These “visitor” classmates had an imaginary $100 to give out to the causes that appealed to them the most. Students looked to the coursebook for language to help them present their causes. The classroom was lively and the English speaking was at a roar level.
Activate any pairwork or groupwork activity in a coursebook by having the students work together with people they are not sitting with. Students always sit with their “buddies” but are often very passive with these friends. Get students out of their seats and working together with others that they are not so passive with. Make sure the boys don’t always bunch up.
Try to flip the topic on its head to grab the students’ minds and not let go. One teacher was going to explain how to do a résumé. We suggested he have the students also make a basic résumé and practice applying for a job from other students who act as employers but with a catch. They should make the résumé as a superhero; ie: Spiderman, Batman, Superman, etc. There was tremendous interest in the activity. The basic English is the same whether you are Superman or John Doe but the interest was tremendous and the students highly activated.
The class does not need to consist of only exercises that are so engaging. If you have just one exercise like this each class the students will then be much more alert with active minds and even ready to tackle something more routine or normally boring.
 When we call New York, we don’t book a room but we do ask for information working from a list of predetermined questions. For example, what kind of restaurants does the hotel have, what is the price of a room, do they provide airport pick-up, is there a beauty salon, can we bring our little Pekinese Shou-Shou?