Published 11th May 2018
For an English as a Foreign Language teacher, this means thinking of activities which are suited to the learners and the language focus. It means considering the needs of your learners and choosing a language focus appropriate for them, while also taking into account their interests and backgrounds. Then it means finding authentic materials which can satisfy all these requirements and deciding how you can manipulate them into the best lesson.
Being a teacher is mostly fun and quite a few games would actually be more accurate because, as with all jobs, there are aspects to teaching English as a Foreign Language that we may not like as much as others. What can we say: it’s a job, so it’s to be expected.
In fact, possibly the thing most teachers spend most of their time doing is planning which is a far cry from playing 20 Questions or Pictionary. Even just the words “lesson plan” can strike fear and loathing in the hearts of even the most dedicated teachers. You see, as teachers we want to provide our students with the best learning opportunities available so that they can learn English to the best of their ability, as easily as possible.
Read more: Top Tips for Effective Lesson Planning
A piece of cake, right?
Well, what if we told you that you already have all the materials you need?
That’s right, we’re talking about authentic materials.
Why should you use authentic materials?
Why should you use authentic materials? The question here should rather be, why are you not using authentic materials? Authentic materials are the perfect solution for your English as a Foreign Language lesson needs, for so many reasons.
- Authentic materials expose your learners to real language as it is used in the real world. It is not the language of coursebooks, which has been graded to a certain level. There is nothing wrong with the materials in coursebooks but there is a need to expose your students to language that is not graded specifically for their level.
- Authentic materials introduce our learners not only to real language but also real contexts and situations. They connect our learners to the English-speaking world. This makes them inherently interesting, and if the lessons are interesting, our learners will be more invested in the lessons and consequently learn more.
- Authentic materials are confidence boosters. EFL learners expect to be able to handle an ELT coursebook so when they do there is no cause for celebration. When they read and understand a magazine article from an English magazine, on the other hand, there is a real satisfaction in their achievement. Understanding an authentic text is no easy task, so your students will need help from you in the form of scaffolding, but with time and assistance it is totally possible for even lower level learners to interact with authentic materials.
- Authentic materials are usually free. It may take some time and effort to find appropriate authentic materials and you may need to adapt them slightly for your purposes, but authentic materials are, for the most part, free and readily available.
Having said all this, we must admit that sometimes the thought of using authentic materials can be daunting for teachers. First you have to find materials that are interesting and relevant. Then you have to make sure they are appropriate for your learners. Finally you need to assess whether you need to adapt them in any way – either by shortening them or providing a glossary or some other form of scaffolding.
So yes, while it’s worth it, it can be a lot.
But fear not, weary teachers, we have your back!
Here are four of our favourite ways to find authentic materials which will save you time and energy.
Use a public domain database
There are a few online databases which have authentic materials online. The Online Books Library, for example, has links to hundreds of different sources of free texts. If you choose to use a public domain database, it’s a good idea to search for a particular book, author or topic as otherwise you can find yourself going down a very long and winding road trying to find the perfect text.
Read online newspapers
Newspapers are another excellent source of authentic materials. Newspapers provide us with current, up-to-the-minute articles which, if chosen correctly, are interesting and relevant. You can choose to look up a local newspaper or an international one. Using an online newspaper saves you the trouble of finding and buying a newspaper on your way to school. To find online newspapers you can find the online version of your local newspaper or you can access national or international newspapers through their websites. Most newspapers allow access to a certain amount of articles online for free. World Newspapers is a website which has links to loads of newspapers from all over the world.
If you’re looking for videos rather than written text, look no further than YouTube. You can find practically anything you need on YouTube, it’s just a matter of looking for it. To make sure you don’t fall down a rabbit hole, it’s best to have a good idea of what you want before you start looking. Think carefully about what authentic situation would suit your lesson objectives, type in a keyword in the search bar and soon you’ll have thousands of videos to choose from. Just be sure to watch them in full before you use them so as to avoid any awkward situations!
Listen to podcasts
Podcasts are great for listening practice. There are podcasts on every topic imaginable and you can download them to play in class. You can find a podcast to suit your learners and, since podcasts are usually a series of episodes, you can use it as a regular feature in your lessons. The BBC is a great resource for podcasts so start your search here.
The Internet is an obvious place to find authentic materials online, since the materials you can find can be very recent and up-to-date. However, although it is a magnificent resource of authentic materials if it is utilised correctly, it can also be a total waste of time so make sure you know where to look when you are looking for online materials.
Once you have found appropriate authentic materials, consider the best way to utilize them in your lesson. Think about the level of your students and the aims of your lesson. Think about the ways you can scaffold the lesson to make the materials accessible for your students and the lesson achievable. When you have taken all of these into account you can sit back and relax in the knowledge that you have an interesting and effective English language lesson planned. Bravo!
Have you ever used authentic materials in your lessons? We’d love to know how it went so let us know in the comments!