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Supplementing ESL Textbooks with Authentic Material

The reasons for having a textbook in the ESL classroom can be varied; maybe it was chosen by the Director of Studies or maybe you insisted on having a textbook for the class. Whatever the reason, it is important that teachers are aware that the textbook is not ‘the be all and end all’ of your class.

This article explains some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a textbook in the ESL classroom, and shows how English teachers can supplement textbooks with authentic material at different levels.

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Advantages Of Using An ESL Textbook In TESOLTeaching ESL online resources

For practical reasons, having a textbook is good for the environment since it saves on photocopying handouts and wasting paper.

This, in turn, cuts down the prep time for classes and the time it takes to distribute copies when doing an activity in class, thus making teachers more efficient with their time management in lessons. Other advantages include color pictures and an easier way to assign homework based on the activities in the book.

Furthermore, having a syllabus ready is a lot of help for teachers, especially those who have recently entered the profession. And, most lessons included in a textbook should have been tested or tried with students at least once and that gives teachers some confidence.

ReadAbout the Communicative Approach

Disadvantages Of Using An ESL Textbook In TESOL

It is important to bear in mind that despite the advantages mentioned above, being confined by a textbook means that teachers feel limited or restricted in what they can or cannot do in class.

First of all, no matter how good the textbook is, there is no textbook that will benefit all the students in a class in the same way, and it will probably never exist either because every student is unique and so is their progress.

Textbooks are often written to fit a majority of students and, even then, fail considerably at addressing all the issues necessary for most students. When learning English as a second language each student has his/her own pace and rhythm, so a textbook can feel too restricting not only to the teacher but also to the students themselves.

When textbooks do not inspire the students to learn the language, they can drive students to become disengaged and disappointed. What’s more, textbooks are so expensive that they are not replaced or updated as often as they should, and this causes them to soon become outdated.

Finally, having one textbook for your class is certainly not conducive to including the concept of multiple intelligences or learning styles in your lessons, and only students who are strong in their logical-mathematical, and visual skills will be able to succeed.

Read: How the online TESOL course works

To Use Or Not To Use An ESL Textbook?

The best way to solve the problems mentioned above is to supplement your lessons with authentic material. When this is done, the content can be kept current and up-to-date with global events, for example. This will keep the class interesting and motivating as it caters to the needs of all the students.

Using a checklist or lesson plan template that reminds you of the skills, learning styles, and topics you need to bear in mind daily or weekly can be a positive way to prevent some of the restrictive and repetitive effects a textbook can have in lesson planning.

Finally, if you must, choose textbooks wisely making sure that at least 80% of them are useful and appropriate for the class you will be teaching, and supplement with authentic material on every lesson. It is quite tempting to rely solely on an ESL textbook under the assumption that it works well for our students because it has been tried by professionals. The reality is that the material in the textbook often looks or sounds forced and unnatural, so it becomes necessary to supplement the textbook with authentic material.

 -Learn to plan ESL lessons using authentic material. Take an accredited TESOL course online –

What is Authentic Material?

Anything that was written or recorded in English without the purpose of teaching English as a second language is authentic material.

The following is a compilation of authentic material sources; however, it is not an exhaustive list, since more and more material gets created on a daily basis.

  • Ad Banners, advertisements, billboards
  • Catalogs, college and university brochures, flyers, travel brochures
  • Movies, scripts, commercials
  • Radio shows, newspapers, Internet websites, magazines, TV shows
  • Social media, YouTube, Phonebooks
  • Ticket stubs, manuals, menus, maps
  • Greeting cards, horoscopes

The English used in authentic material is natural and its sole purpose is communicating whatever the material was created for, rather than teaching a particular structure. This can make the overall language in the material a little challenging, especially for students in beginner or lower intermediate classes; however, authentic material is an excellent source of new vocabulary. In fact, the interest level rises so much when students are presented with authentic material, that their need for comprehension compensates for the difficulties they encounter.


Some people argue that authentic material should be used with higher-level students only, but a menu, flyers, or even a newspaper (if you only focus on the headlines or certain words) can be used with beginner students.

The key is to make sure that the instructions and activities are aimed at the correct level. A simple ‘word search’ where students have to find words they already know and highlight them, or cut them out of a magazine, for example, can expose beginner or lower intermediate students to authentic material in a successful way.

Using Authentic Material at Different Levels

Authentic material can be used in many different ways. Here’s a very short list of suggestions.


Activity / Task


Flyers & CataloguesVocabulary and Bingo gamesBeginners
MenuPractice ordering / Role-playBeginner – Low-intermediate
HoroscopesFuture Tense / ConditionalsIntermediate
Ticket stubs & Travel BrochuresWriting a travel journal or a short storyHigh intermediate
AdvertisementsReading Comprehension, Vocabulary and Media studyAdvanced

Authentic materials have an indefinite number of uses for all kinds of lessons and levels. When we include authentic material in our ESL lessons, the way students learn is more natural and resembles acquisition of the language rather than forced learning of certain grammatical structures.

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