The following blog post was written by Andrea Kiss-Parciu, an ELL instructor at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.
At the Centre, we are lucky to have an almost endless amount of resources that we can use in our classes, most of which are specifically assigned for particular levels. In my CLB6 class, I also use authentic materials, such as news articles, lectures, and videos. Selecting appropriate material for any English language learning class takes careful consideration.
Through my years of experience teaching English to immigrants, I have developed a few strategies for choosing classroom material:
- Before taking new material to your class, try to “read it with your learners’ eyes”. What words/phrases will they not understand? Will they understand what they need to do? Will the topic be of interest to most? Pre-read the text and mark the words you think will be new to most of the learners. Then give it to the class and ask them to underline the new vocabulary. Compare what most learners underlined to your list. If your list is much shorter, you overestimated your learners’ understanding; if it is longer than their list, you underestimated them. You need to think about the reasons for the issue. Is the topic too specific or too far removed from their areas of background knowledge? Is it too easy or too difficult just for some or for most? Did you notice interest in the topic, or did the learners seem bored or frustrated? After repeating this strategy a few times, you should be able to judge whether the material you would like to use is right for them.
- Sometimes the material is at the right level, but the task is just not working. It might be something that worked amazingly well with a previous class, so you thought it would work the same with your current class. There is no point in pursuing something if it is boring, uninteresting, too complicated and/or frustrating for most. Be flexible: either try doing it in a different way, or simply give it up. “Feel the pulse” of your class, and act accordingly.
- Keep in mind that your learners might have very different background knowledge from you. They also come from many different cultures, with different learning styles and different ideas about what their role is in the classroom. Be open-minded when deciding on materials you use in class and try not to make any assumptions.
- Don’t assume that what you consider “easy, fun” activities, are actually going to be easy or fun for your learners. Sometimes games are more complicated than so-called “serious” activities. Make sure your instructions are clear, and don’t start the activity until you make sure everyone understands what you expect them to do. If the activity doesn't work, don’t push it. Try something else that is truly “fun” for them rather than frustrating.
Choosing classroom material that is suitable for your learners helps to create a positive, engaging and ultimately fun learning environment.