Authentic Material in TESOL: Giving Clear Instructions and Incorporating Flexibility

Giving instructions in authentic TESOL materialWhen we develop supplementary TESOL material, our intentions are that it will work well and be appreciated by those who use it, namely teachers and learners. However, if we want to avoid unnecessary complications further down the line, it’s critical that we consider our rationale for designing the materials we want to create from the very outset. One simple but effective way is to reflect on the three ‘Cs’: concepts, contents and customers. In other words:

  • What is the main objective that we want to achieve (the concept)?
  • What kind of activities will help us achieve this objective (the content)?
  • Who are our learners and what will please them (the customers)?

The three Cs are a good starting framework for all materials production. There are however, other considerations for those of us who are looking to develop TESOL resources of a truly high quality, such as the roles of context, authenticity and physical appearance. This post highlights two of these factors, namely the importance of giving clear instructions and incorporating flexibility into your materials design.

The TESOL Diploma will teach you how to replace the textbook with engaging authentic material!

Instructions should be appropriate for all potential users

One of the most frustrating things that you’ll quickly learn as a materials developer is that sometimes people simply don’t ‘get the point’ of your worksheet. More often than not, this has little to do with your tasks and activities, but rather it is down to poorly written instructions.

Intriguingly, this need for effective provision of instructions applies as much to other teachers who may use the materials as it does for your intended learners. For instructions to be effective, they should be written in language that is appropriate for all of the target users. One thing you can do to make your instructions more effective is to develop a set use of meta-language, i.e. the words which you use to describe activities and grammar in particular. The use of the correct meta-language can greatly aid in making instructions more concise and efficient.

Key questions for your materials

  • Are your instructions more difficult to understand than the activities?
  • Can you explain the aims of your material to a colleague without having to refer to your written instructions?

Read:  Simplify the Language of Instruction When Teaching Beginners!

Provide a degree of flexibility in your materials

This is perhaps the most difficult factor to build into your materials, as it requires flexibility not just in the material itself, but also in the minds of those using the worksheet. So, what does it mean to incorporate flexibility?

An example could be a written text that you’ve prepared. The primary use of such a text could be to fulfill reading-based objectives such as ‘identifying important aspects of a text’ or ‘integrating your own experiences with information in a text to create meaning’. However, such a text could also be used flexibly as a springboard for recognizing grammar structures if we were to use questions such as the following:

  • How many examples of the passive voice can you find?
  • How many verbs in the past tense can you find?

Read: Creating Handouts for the ESL Class

This notion of flexibility is perhaps more relevant if you’re hoping to put together a series of TESOL materials rather than a one-off worksheet, but is nonetheless applicable to both situations. Learning how to look at your material in a different way and find other potential uses will help to extend the durability and usefulness of what you’ve produced.

Key questions for your materials

  • Can you identify at least two possible uses for your material?
  • How can you find out how other teachers have used your material and how well it worked for them?

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