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Concourse 2

Making your own teaching material


If you are doing or have just done a pre-service training course, you'll know that many of them oblige you to make your own teaching material rather than just lift it off the shelf.
Why should this be?


What are the advantages of making your own?

Think for a moment and then click here for a list of three:


So what are the disadvantages?

Think for a moment and then click here for a few.


Types of materials

If you have come this far, you are intent on making your own materials so here are some guidelines concerning the types of material you can make and how to make them.


Text-based material

These are the simplest to make but there are still some important considerations.

  1. Fonts and text sizes
    Large text in silly fonts can appear patronising for adults (although children respond well sometimes).
    Compare these, for example:
    fonts and illustrations
  2. Images
    Graphics appeal and are memorable but should reflect the content of the text in some way (even metaphorically) so choose with care.  See the choices made on this page, for example.
    Providing you are only using a picture for non-commercial purposes with your class, there are no serious copyright issues.
    Current estimates are that there are 350 billion images out here on the web (and the number is rising fast).  You should be able to find something appropriate.
  3. Test and exercises
    These sorts of materials can be very finely tuned and targeted at exactly what the content of the lesson is.  However, they don't have to be dull and untidy.  Compare these:
    1. The first text is handwritten and difficult, especially given the level and especially for people whose first language does not have a Roman script (i.e., most people).
    2. The gaps in the first text do not give a clue about what should go in them and are too small for people to write in terms like opposite or in front of.
    3. The second text has a little illustration to provide the instruction and allows the learners to decide whether or not a preposition is appropriate (the first text invites an error with Fill __).
    4. The second text also suggests how long and of how many words the inserts should be and that helps a lot.
  4. Purposes
    Think very carefully about what you are going to use the text for.
    • If you intend to project it, can it be read from the back of the room?
    • If you are going to ask the learners to read it individually, is it the right length for the time you've allowed?
    • If you want people to read for a purpose, have you provided / will you elicit one?


Audio and video material

Audio and video materials are now quite simple to record and take little time.  They can be carefully targeted and are often more intriguing and interesting if they contain recognisable voices and images.
However, you need to consider issues here, too:

  1. Quality
    Recording in a noisy environment or on rinky-dink equipment may result in the unusable.  It may sound OK when you play it to yourself but you are going to be using it in a classroom and may need extra volume for a large room.  The louder it is, the more the flaws are audible.
    For video, in particular, if you plan to project a home-made video, try it on the big screen to check for quality.
  2. Naturalness
    Many people either freeze or become unnatural and sound false when a microphone and/or camera is put in front of them.  Choose the colleagues with whom you want to make a recording carefully and have a couple of practice run-throughs to set them at ease.  When you record, think about these questions and if the answer to any is No, start again:
    1. Are the speakers using natural contractions?
    2. Is the intonation too flat or exaggerated?
    3. Is the word stress clear (and accurate)?
    4. Are both / all speakers equally audible?
    5. Is the language natural, correct and appropriate?
  3. Purposes and time
    Are you taking an hour to prepare the first 5 minutes of the presentation?  If you are, there has to be a better way.


Electronic material

There are a number of on-line quiz and test-building programs which are free to use (and many more that cost money).  Some allow the creation of lots of quiz types and some allow you to use a range of languages.
Some also allow you to create surveys and other types of questionnaires.
They come in two types: those which are purely online and require you to be connected when writing the material and those which provide software for you to run on your own computer.
Any search engine will locate a range.
Electronic quizzes and tests have advantages and disadvantages.  Click here when you have thought of some.


Striking a balance

Don't make your own materials just because you can.
It is often quicker, easier and more effective to use commercially produced materials straight from the shelf or adapt them slightly to suit your purposes.
The disadvantages mentioned above are real and you need to make some professional decisions.

Block, D, 1991, Some thoughts on DIY materials design, English Language Teaching Journal, 45/3, Oxford: Oxford University Press