The use of authentic materials in language teaching has been much discussed. On one side of the argument there are some doubts over how unsimplified texts written for native speakers can help in the development of learners whose target language skills are at a lower level, while for the other side of the argument they present ready contextualised language, which if carefully selected is immediately relevant to students.
This may be an area where there are differences between ESOL/ESL and EFL. As an ESOL tutor my learners are surrounded by authentic English materials, all day, every day. One of the skills that they need to develop is to extract the important information from texts that they have to Interact with everyday. This need is perhaps less immediate for EFL students studying in a non English-speaking country.
A Wealth of Resources
A simple source of authentic materials for language teachers is the Internet: there are thousands of websites that can be used to practise using authentic texts: I’ve been trying to keep a list of some here: Authentic Materials – Please add any others that you can think of!
The question is how to best exploit these sites for language development. How can we be sure that learners are genuinely interacting with websites instead of just looking at the pictures?
In the IT suite
First, we should consider how we are going to present the texts to students. If you are lucky enough to have an IT suite, then you probably want to get learners to access the materials “live”.
One way that I have exploited authentic online texts is by including them in larger tasks. Students can be asked to find particular information from different sites to support a particular side of a discussion. Students can then have that discussion, using information found online to support their opinions in order to make a group decision.
Another way that I have found to be successful is to use the live website as the basis for an information gap exercise. I set up a ‘customer service’ dialogue where one student can see the screen and has to ask their partner for the details to enter into ‘the system’ (or website) and then gives their partner the results.
A different approach is the classic webquest approach – there are some nice examples of this here: Internet TESL Journal webquests. The website and worksheets are from 2005, so they are more for inspiration, but this is a more controlled way of exploiting these resources.
I’ve detailed how you can combine this with VLE forums here: Moodle Forums for ESOL Students
In the Traditional Classroom.
If you don’ t have computer access in your classroom, then you will have to print the texts for learners to work on. When printing texts, consider how they were designed to be read – skimming pages for information is much more common in online texts when compared to printed versions; this may be reflected in their layout. Consider how the layout adds to the readability of the text. Browsers are not usually particularly good for printing web pages, you may want to copy the text into a word processor and edit the layout. If a web page provides you with a ‘printable’ page, it is a good idea to use this, as it will need less editing. Another technique that might be useful for finding good quality printable texts is to use Google to search exclusively for .PDFs (insert filetype=PDF into the search box in Google). As PDFs are generally intended to be printed, this should be a useful way of restricting your search query. Once you have printed the resources then you can exploit these in a simlar way to those described above.
Over to you!
I’ve described some of the ways that I like to use authentic web materials in the class, but I’d love to see how other people do this. please comment and let us know how you do it. Are the any great sites out there that you want to share? Are there any more key points to remember? Comment below…