Creating Your Own TESOL Material: Strategy, Form, and Function

Authentic material in TESOLThere are many benefits to making your own TESOL materials. Firstly, commercially-produced materials tend to be generic and not aimed at any specific group of learners or any particular cultural or educational context. Such issues are easily overcome when we develop our own resources. Another advantage is that we can address individual needs. This is important, as we see great diversity in English language classrooms, both in terms of where they are located and in terms of the individual learners within the teaching context. What’s more, teacher-made materials enable us to choose texts and activities at the right level for our learners. With that in mind, personalization is another benefit of teacher-designed materials, as they add a personal touch to teaching that learners really appreciate. Considering the interests the learning styles of our students is likely to increase their motivation and level of engagement. A final benefit of developing our own materials is timeliness. What we mean here is that a teacher’s own material can act as a response to contemporary local and/or international events with up-to-date, relevant and high interest topics and tasks.

Read: Take the 250-hour TESOL DIploma to learn how to replace the textbook with authentic materials!

Despite these many advantages, it’s still important that we don’t take it for granted that our self-made materials will be great successes in our classes; we need to focus on all the things we need to keep in mind when developing our own materials. This post looks at two of these factors; we begin with the importance of strategy training, then move on to the need to accommodate both form and function.

Encouraging Learners to Develop Learning Skills and Strategies

One reality of being a language teacher is that it’s simply not possible to teach our learners everything they need in the time we have with them in our classes. Therefore, in addition to focusing on new language and/or giving practice for the language they’ve already acquired, our self-made TESOL materials must also aim to guide learners in how to learn for themselves.

Read: Encouraging Learners to Become Independent

Typically, any material we produce will have the language learning goal as its primary focus, and that is never a bad thing. Nevertheless, if we have the wider aim of developing active, independent language learners who are able to continue their learning outside our classes, we should be aiming to foster such behavior in our materials. Our self-made materials also need to encourage learners to adopt an analytical approach to the language they come into contact with, and to form and test their own hypotheses about how language works. Well-designed supplementary resources really help with this by creating opportunities for regulated practice in addition to independent and creative expression. One way we can do this is to ask learners to apply the aims laid out in our materials to their lives.

A further goal for our materials is to provide valuable opportunities for self-evaluation by incorporating activities which encourage learners to assess their own language development and learning. If necessary, it’s Ok to utilize our learners’ first language for such evaluation.

Read: Suggestions for L1 Usage in TESOL

Key questions for your materials

  • Do you have statements such as ‘I can do this / I understand this’ with tick boxes anywhere on your worksheet?
  • Is there a balance between controlled practice and freer expression and experimentation?
  • Do learners have the opportunity to rate their own performance in the tasks?

Allowing for a Focus on Both Form and Function

More often than not, what motivates us to design our own materials in the first place is a desire to make activities more communicative. This desire is not necessarily a bad thing, as our resources should take advantage of the opportunity to bridge such gaps in our course books. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to totally neglect and focus on the form of the target language. Any communicative task that explores a specific function of a verb tense, for instance, can benefit from a follow-up that brings us back to a look at the form of the language point. Any lack of balance between these two elements will be to the detriment of your resource.

Read: Context is King in TESOL!

Key questions for your materials

  • What is the main purpose of your material, and have you balanced this with enough focus on form / function?
  • Is prerequisite knowledge of the form necessary to perform the communicative task?

Read: Stimulating Student Interaction with Authentic Material