Throw away the course book and adapt authentic materials


Use authentic materials?

If asked why they rely heavily on course books for English language teaching, among a variety of other reasons, one that emerges is the seeming unsuitability of available authentic materials. Principal reasons cited for this “unsuitability” can include:

  • Unsuitable material level
  • Too difficult
  • Too long or short
  • Use of grammar or language
  • Irrelevancy of themes
  • Not adapted for specific use
  • Not adapted to student learning styles

While these factors are certainly present and accountable, they need not prohibit the use of authentic materials in the English language learning classroom. Let’s briefly examine how authentic materials might be incorporated into an English language teaching curriculum or course of study.

Availability of Authentic Materials

Authentic, that is, materials produced primarily for the use of native speakers of the target language, are easily available from a number of sources for most of the world. Some more common sources include:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Internet
  • Videos
  • Audiocassettes
  • Course books
  • CDs
  • Libraries

Most of these sources are readily available even in remote or poor regions of the world. In more highly “developed” regions, they may all be potential sources of materials for the English language learning classroom.

Adapting Authentic Materials

Successfully utilizing a continuing series of authentic materials in your English language learning classroom is simply a matter of adapting those materials to suit the needs of your language learners. Some keys to successful adaptation of authentic materials include:

  • converting them into workshop activities
  • adjusting the length of the materials
  • simplifying or explaining key language elements
  • converting authentic materials into a variety of exercise types

Learners benefit from listening materials spoken at “normal” conversational speed vs. English language learner directed listening materials which have been “altered” or “slowed” to enable “improved comprehension”. All well and good, but if the learners ever need to apply that learning and listening practice in a real-life situation – they’re lost. Why? Because – no – body – talks – like – this – in – real –life – in – any – language. (gasp!)

Authentic language videos, CDs, newscasts and radio programs can provide invaluable insight into current events and cultural aspects of English-speaking countries for language teachers and learners in other parts of the world. A benefit of recorded material is the ability to be able to rewind and repeat it as many times as necessary in order to effect increased levels of listening comprehension. The impact of the imagery provided in these clips is incalculable. Course books which are written and marketed for “use in all the world”, simply cannot hold up to this level of cultural knowledge and impact.

So even if you can’t “throw away your course book”, do realistically consider adapting more authentic materials for use in your English language learning classroom. You’ll ultimately be glad you did.

Written by Larry Lynch
Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an ELT Teacher Trainer, English language learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. He has published more than 350 articles and academic papers and presented at numerous EFL teacher training and TEFL conferences throughout North America, South America and Europe. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail:


  1. Lyn says:

    I think you could also include letters, bills, city, theatre and cinema guides, advertisements and the students’ own texts amongst the authentic materials. Using authentic materials is certainly very beneficial to the students learning – the main drawback is the amount of time the tutor has to spend creating the activities!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Authentic materials are great… BUT…. it can be hours of work to adapt them, and when you consider sometimes 2 to 3 hours of work for every hour spent in the classroom, they become less appealing to prepare, although this, of course depends on your teaching schedule.

  3. Prof. Larry Lynch says:

    While it is certainly true that adapting some materials can be time-consuming, it’s also true that once you’ve done the work, you can re-use the materials over and over again with other groups, private students and again the next course, next year or next institution, for that matter. If you continue to build your personal teaching library of adapted authentic materials your workload will ultimately decrease – often dramatically – instead of being a continual hassle. Many materials never go “out-of-date” so you could use them virtually forever. I still have materials which are 10 or more years “old” that are as useful today as they were more than a decade ago. Remember, you don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel. Thanks for posting your comments everyone!

  4. Debbie says:

    I suppose we have to be careful of how we use and ‘adapt’ the use of authentic material. Many times there is copyright rules (unfortunately) and this limits the use even in modifying the content.

  5. Xiomara says:

    I would like to know if adapted material is still authentic material? I mean, if you have to adapt some authentic material because of your students’ linguistic competence, is the adapted material still authentic?

  6. Joe says:

    Could you give me some practical examples of how to adapt materials such as newspaper/magazine articles? Aside from:

    – creating gap-fills (for grammar or vocabulary learning)
    – comprehension questions
    – inserting deliberate errors to be edited
    – getting students to summarize the text

    I don’t have much creativity in this area and would like to use authentic materials much more than I do at present. My students are generally upper-intermediate – advanced. Thank you for any suggestions.

  7. Karen says:

    Hi there, I can offer one more idea for how to use materials… if it is something like an interview article, you can ask the students to read it from the point of view of one of the subjects, e.g. “The fire chief said that people should…” becomes “I think that people should…” In this way they get practice in changing pronouns and manipulating the text.

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