LANGUAGE TEACHING MATERIALS
Some factors to consider: an
1. OVERALL APPROACHES
- Have you consulted a sample of your target users
(both learners themselves and fellow teachers) before starting to write -
talking to them about your general intentions and perhaps your initial outline,
- Are you making arrangements to try at least some of the materials out
with appropriate users, before you finalize them?
- Overall, are the materials going to be appropriate/motivating
for the learners - in terms of age, interests, reasons for studying English,
Theoretically, language teaching materials can be about
anything. An opportunity, but also a challenge!
- Will your topics be motivating for your target learners - a good test
might be, will they be the kind of thing they might want to read or hear about
in their first language?
- Will the topics generate all the types of language you want to teach
- descriptive, narrative, interpersonal, etc.?
- Will your materials be clear and uncluttered?
(It's best to avoid too many different colors and fonts, and excessive 'bells
and whistles' - especially tempting with multimedia!)
- Will they be well organized for learning
(is it easy to find your way through each page or screen)?
- Will the overall effect be attractive?
- Do your proposed photos and other illustrations
feel culturally 'right'?
- Are the materials economical in terms of
space - generating maximum learning activity for each page, or screen?
- For on-screen materials, is the system of
navigation within and between individual screens clear? (Above all, if you're
preparing a CD-ROM, be careful not to leave users at a particular screen in
a sequence with no way out - or at best only a return to the main menu. It
does happen! Online, at least there's a browser back button!)
- Again for on-screen materials, have you
formed a clear policy on scrolling? Some people don't like it (how do you
find the current version of this checklist?)
Student progression / sequencing
- Will the learners get regular 'payoffs'?
- Will there be opportunities for them to reflect on their learning?
- Will there be opportunities to revisit learning items encountered earlier
- often called 'recycling', or the 'spiral curriculum'? (The nonlinear nature
of electronic materials actually makes this easier - but you may still need
to build in specific provision for it.)
learns in the same way. (For example, some people seem to find 'rules' genuinely
helpful; others prefer plenty of practice to help them form an understanding
of the regularities for themselves. Beware single-factor gurus, who may really
just be talking about how they learn!)
- Will different learning styles be accommodated
flexibly by your materials?
Individualized / independent study
- Do you plan to include opportunities for this?
- If so, in a class context, or self-access / home study only?
- In coursebooks? In workbooks / photocopyable worksheets? In audio/video/electronic materials?
- Are you planning specific opportunities
for this? Pair work? Group work?
- Do you plan to pay specific attention to
- If so, will it be explicit or implicit?
- Do you plan to focus on one or more specific
- Or is your focus on international communication,
often between nonnative speakers - in which case you may want to sensitize
your target learners to general questions about cultural differences, and
the resulting rich potential for misunderstanding.
- Especially with younger learners, do you
need to start with development of a positive and open attitude to foreign
cultures in general?
- How far
do you want to get into these - reading for information, drawing inferences,
memorization, note-taking etc.?
- Especially in materials for use at school level, can
you help teach something else while you are teaching English? (A little synergy
is always a good idea - especially in today's crowded curriculum!)
- Are opportunities for formative assessment
(i.e. feedback on progress) clearly identified in your materials - and linked
to any local or national syllabus which may be relevant?
- Do they arise naturally out of the teaching
- Is there provision for summative assessment
at the end of the materials - and perhaps at a limited number of strategic
points during it?
- Do the assessment materials allow sufficient
differentiation of the learners' individual achievement levels?
- If so, are they going to achieve that by
offering separate tasks at different levels of difficulty - or by setting
single tasks which allow learners to operate across a wide range of competence?
- For teachers, do you plan to provide notes on
methodology? (Particularly useful for less experienced teachers - but even
old hands may welcome information on what the author intended, and/or shortcuts
in lesson preparation!)
- Will you offer them support for developing
schemes of work, and lesson planning?
- If they have to meet specific local or national
aims and objectives, can you clearly show, activity by activity, how your
materials help to achieve them?
- Will it be helpful to supply answers to
- Are new/recycled language items (structure,
functions, vocabulary) conveniently listed - both for teachers and for individual
- Are user instructions for activities, and
any explanations of language points, totally clear and unambiguous? (Especially
vital for self-access materials.) Incidentally, it always helps to find someone
else to edit what you have written - a second pair of eyes almost invariably
picks up something you've missed.
- For online and CD-ROM materials, is there
clear, comprehensive and easily accessible onscreen help?
Audio and video material
- Will your material be enjoyable?
- Will it have an authentic feel?
- Will it be scripted, briefed or genuinely unscripted?
- How long should each 'chunk' of material be?
- What is your attitude to speed - native-speaker, or something less?
- What about sound effects?
- Will the material have good cross-referencing to other materials, and
good internal organization, for easy access and use?
and online material
- What is your policy on graphics? (Still pictures? Animation?
Video?) They can motivate and contextualize - but they can also waste space.
Pictures aren't language - at best they are starters for (or support for)
- If your materials are primarily on-screen,
do you still want to provide support through other media for some activities?
(Workbooks for extended writing, say; or a cassette for listening when a computer
- If the on-screen material is a subsidiary
component, is it well cross-referenced to the rest?
- What hardware availability are you going
to assume? Educational institutions, of course, aren't necessarily at the
cutting edge of computer development! (Ironically you can probably expect
a higher minimum specification if your target users are going to be working
Other computer-based activities
- If your target users do have computer access,
do you want them to use other software for language activities - writing with
a word processor, for example; or designing a magazine with a DTP package;
or classifying material with a database program. (More opportunities for cross-curricular
- If you do have plans of that kind, have
you checked your target users will definitely have appropriate software -
and can use it?
- Do you want to get your target
learners to think, at a conscious level, about how languages in general -
and English in particular - work?
- If so, how are you going to integrate this
into your materials?
Use of first language
- Do you plan to use the target language only? This may
be inevitable where your target learners have mixed language backgrounds -
and it certainly maximizes exposure, which is clearly desirable. But where
it is possible to use the first language, could that be more efficient for
such things as quick explanations and background information - and even sometimes
for direct translation equivalents? Pragmatism is probably preferable to dogma
in this area (as in so many other aspects of language teaching!)
Handling of new language
- The time-honoured sequence of presentation è
consolidation/extension (surveys, simulations/role-play etc.) still has much
to recommend it. But whatever approach
you adopt to introducing new language, it needs to be clear and systematic.
Range of language types
- Do you need to reflect the full range of ways in which
language is used: instrumental (using language to get things done) / interpersonal
/ creative (stories, poems, songs etc.)
- Or do the particular needs of your target learners require
you to zero in on a narrower range?
Approach to structure and functions
- Do you intend to offer explanations, or simply
give intensive exposure to particular grammatical aspects in the hope that
learners will internalize their own 'rules'? (Or both - see the earlier comments
on learning styles.)
Approach to vocabulary
- Will you make expansion of learners' vocabulary
knowledge an explicit goal, or leave them to acquire it by 'osmosis' from
their exposure to the target language?
- What approach are you adopting to vocabulary
control in your materials?
- If you are providing word lists, how will they
be organized: a list for each section of the materials? topic-based lists?
overall alphabetical lists? (You can offer more than one type, of course!)
- If you want learners to approach the lists systematically,
whether for initial learning or revision, have you organized them in 'chunks'
of some kind, to make them easy to learn/revise?
- Will you offer explicit coverage of pronunciation?
- What level of accuracy are you looking for
- i.e. how close to whatever native-speaker model you are adopting?
- Will you offer linked listening material?
- How do you plan to represent the sounds
of English orthographically? (Are you going to bite the IPA bullet?)
Listening (to cassettes etc.)
(See the comments on audio and video materials
in the first section.)
Conversational speaking and
- How do you plan to introduce the target learners to
the more extensive and open-ended aspects of oral communication - planning
what you want to say; responding appropriately to unpredictable contributions
to a conversation; gambits for interrupting or politely disagreeing; and so
- What provision do you plan to make for intensive reading
- looking at how text is organized within and beyond the sentence, for example?
- What about extensive reading and the skills which go
with it - guessing from context, skipping and skimming; use of headings, contents
lists and indexes; and so on? (And don't forget reading for pleasure, and
the opportunities it gives for enticing learners to continue their exposure
to English outside the classroom!)
- Is the controlled è
free sequence appropriate?
- Or have your target learners progressed to a
point where they can skip the earlier stages?
- On the other hand, if they use another script
in their first language, will they first need some introduction to the conventions
of writing Roman script?
Mixed skill activities
- Do you plan to include activities which enable learners
to move from use of one of the 'four skills' to one or more of the others?
(One of the basic features of 'real world' language use!)
Have you avoided:
English for No
examples and exchanges which could not possibly occur anywhere outside a language