I’ve talked about how I don’t really like to use textbooks that much and if possible, I’ll design my own lessons. A big part of this is that I think most of the topics in ESL textbooks are overdone and the students (and myself) are bored of them, especially at the higher-levels when students have been studying English for 10+ years.
Textbooks=Not Real Life
Another reasons is that I think it’s better for students to get practice with “real-life” stuff. You know, the stuff that they would encounter out in the real world. Isn’t this the goal of most of our classes anyway-preparing students for life, outside the classroom?
Authentic Materials for Lower-Level Students?
Authentic materials are useful because they give students confidence that they can function in English in an authentic kind of way and I also like them because it’s “real” language as opposed the artificial stuff that you’ll often find in textbooks (especially the bad ones). They can also push students to learn some new vocabulary that you often can’t find in the textbooks.
Of course it’s possible (and necessary!) to use authentic materials for language learning with higher-level students, but is it possible for intermediate or beginner students? My answer: yes, kind of. I’ll explain more about what I mean.
Low-Level Students: Choose Authentic Materials Carefully
Careful selection of authentic materials is needed so that the students don’t become frustrated. Nothing is worse than choosing something that is higher-level than your students actually are. If you choose something easier, it’s possible to adapt it on the fly to make it harder, but it’s very hard to do this with something that is too high of a level.
I remember back when I was taking a Korean class and the teacher brought in an article for us to read. I quite literally knew only about 10% of the vocab on the page. It was the most painful hour of my life and I felt like my head was going to explode. My general rule is that most of the students in the class should know at least 70% of the vocab or it’s too difficult. The top students will probably know 80-90%, which is okay.
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Lower-Level Students: Some Ideas for Authentic Materials
For lower-level students something like a restaurant menu, greeting card, or “kids” newspaper from an English-speaking country is definitely possible and will be simple enough for them. The language is usually not so complex and more of a vocabulary challenge than a grammar one.
For intermediate-level students, you have a wider range of choices including short newspaper articles that deal with “facts,” as opposed to “opinions,” teen fiction, or simple TED talks (non-native English speakers are a good choice usually because they’ll speak more slowly and use less slang).
Semi-Authentic Materials: Not a Bad Choice
If your students are not at a high enough level to use authentic materials, you could venture into the realm of semi-authentic materials (very suitable for low-intermediate levels). My favorite site for these kinds of materials is Breaking News English. The articles are categorized into easier/harder and they 2-page mini lessons are extremely teacher (and student) friendly and are perfect for a 1-2 hour class. It’s almost hard to believe that all this stuff is free!