You don’t really need to be a genius to produce highly successful, dynamic lessons using authentic materials. You do need to know about your EFL or ESL students, what they can do, what they like, how they think and their motivations for learning English (or another foreign language).
In this first part of the series on creating materials for the EFL, ESL or foreign language learning classroom, we’ll discuss “Why we need to adapt materials”. Following parts of this series will address where to get authentic English or other foreign language materials, some recommended websites for EFL or ESL English Teachers, and exactly how you can modify authentic language materials to meet learner needs.
Why we need to adapt materials
The first stop is to adapt existing or easily available materials to suit the teaching / learning needs we may have. Using existing materials can save time, effort and expense in acquiring new English as a foreign language materials or materials for teaching or learning another foreign language. Key reasons existing or easily available materials may have to be adapted include:
Unsuitable material level
Whatever materials we may have or be able to get may not be suitable for our learners’ needs. Authentic materials are usually produced for native speakers. This often means that an adjustment is required before we can may effective use of the materials.
If our learners are beginner level, we may well have to simplify vocabulary or context elements to render passages and listening comprehension segments useable.
Too long or short
Lessons and study sessions are most often time-controlled. If we need an activity or segment for a short classroom practice activity, a longer authentic language piece might need to be excerpted or shortened to make it fit into our lesson’s context. A shorter piece may need additions in the way of activities or discussions to flesh out its usefulness in the classroom setting.
Use of grammar or language
Extensive use of grammar or structures not known to the learners may be featured in the authentic language passage. Adjustments, then, would likely be necessary in the way of glossaries, key word definitions or explanations of language aspects before the use of the passage.
Using language in a relevant context to promote meaningful input and output from the learners is a key aspect of foreign language learning. If material has no obvious relevancy for the learners, it will be that much more difficult for them to approach its acquisition.
Adapt for specific use
At the time of using an authentic language reading or listening passage, we may well be working on a specific context, grammatical point or language structure in class. This might mandate that we adapt materials to reflect use of those grammar or structure elements.
Adapt to student learning styles
“Student learning styles may be an important factor in the success of teaching and may not necessarily reflect those that teachers recommend” says Jack C. Richards, noted Linguistics professional and an author of the INTERCHANGE EFL / ESL series course books. Knowledge of our students may tell us that certain learning styles should preferably be addressed. So changing authentic language materials from one form to another might be called for. A reading passage then becomes a listening. A listening passage molts into a grammar-themed one. Writing or discussions might be the outcome of controversial or newsworthy passages, the list goes on and on.
We’ll continue in part 2 of this series with more suggestions for where to get authentic English or foreign language materials for learning English as a foreign or second language. The same techniques will apply for developing foreign language learning skills in other languages.