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

There are many benefits to making your own TESOL materials. 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 are 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.

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 article begins with the challenges of creating your own materials and then looks at the need for a strategy that encourages learning and accommodates form and function.

Recommended:  250-hour TESOL Diploma by OnTESOL

The Challenges Of Using Authentic Material:

At some point in our TESOL careers, we all take the plunge and decide it’s time to make our own worksheet or supplementary activity. However, creating our own material isn’t as plain sailing as it might at first seem.

There are several issues that may actually prove to be quite disadvantageous when compared to using professionally published resources.

1. Organization

The road to the truly effective self-made resource is full of pitfalls.

For instance, while course books maintain a level of organization around particular controlling principles, a teacher’s own work may lack overall coherence, leading to poorly focused activities that lack clear direction and can frustrate your learners. What’s more, English teachers have to have the organizational skills required to store and manage the great resources we’ve prepared. It’s all too easy to lose our work before we get the chance to reuse it.

Read: Home-Made or Off-the-Shelf Authentic Material?

2. Quality

In addition to the need for organization, there’s the issue of quality.

Things that quickly negate the effectiveness of any self-made TESOL material include grammatical or spelling errors, poorly constructed activities, a lack of clarity in layout and print, and, just as importantly, a lack of durability in terms of long-term usefulness.

A further factor could be a lack of experience and understanding on the part of the teacher resulting in important elements being left out or inadequately covered. Typically, issues include a poor choice of text or unclear instructions for learners in terms of how to use the material.

Read: Context is King in TESOL

3. Time

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is time. However passionately we may believe in the advantages of teacher-designed materials, the reality is that for many of us it is simply not viable to make our own materials, at least not all the time.

Despite the many things that potentially hold us back, we shouldn’t be deterred from making our own TEFL materials, especially when we remember all the advantages that doing so can offer us.

Does your Strategy Encourage Learners to Develop Learning Skills?

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 the 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.

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 behaviour 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 that encourage learners to assess their own language development and learning. If necessary, it’s Ok to utilize our learners’ first language for such evaluation.

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?

Does The Material Allow 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 coursebooks.

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 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.

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?

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