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TKT Core Module 2: Lesson planning and use of resources for language teaching
Selection and use of coursebook materials, supplementary materials and activities and teaching aids

coursebooks etc.

The principles of evaluating and choosing materials are the same, whether you are choosing a coursebook, a set of supplemental materials or anything else.
This is quite a long guide so you may like to follow it in parts.


Key concepts in this guide

By the end of this guide, you should be able to understand and use these key concepts:

  • prospective and retrospective evaluation
  • reviews and publishers' descriptions
  • evaluation check lists
    • availability
    • layout, graphics and accessibility
    • grading
    • appropriacy and cultural bias
    • authenticity
    • stimulus/practice/revision
    • guidance
  • adapting materials
  • supplementary materials: types, reasons, dangers
  • teaching aids: boards, data projectors, smart phones, video / audio equipment, realia

Look out for these words like this in the text.
There will be tests at the end of the guide for you to check that you understand the ideas.


Two ways to evaluate

  1. Retrospectively,
    by looking at the material to see how well it served its purposes and how the learners and teachers felt about it.  You are probably deciding whether to use it again.  There are three ways to do this:
    1. Ask the students how they felt.  Whether materials pleased and engaged the learners is important.  However, unless the next set of learners are very similar, it is not at all certain that what pleased one group will please the next group.
    2. Ask the teacher(s).  This is more reliable, especially if the teachers are going to teach the same course again.
    3. Test the outcomes.  This can be helpful but it is very difficult to know if success or failure is due to the choice of materials (rather than the learners' motivation, the teachers' skills etc.).
  2. Prospectively,
    By assessing how well the material will perform in meeting course objectives.  To do this, we need to ask some good questions and get some clear answers.


Asking the right questions

Prospective evaluation is what most people understand by materials evaluation.  It is the effort to decide whether whatever material you are presented with is fit for its purpose.
In simple terms: will it work?

We can do two other things before we ask our own questions:

  1. Read a review
    Reviews of new, and not so new, materials appear in the professional press quite frequently.  We can decide on the basis of good reviews and reject on a similar basis.
    1. Problem 1: reviewers may not be using the same criteria that you are.  What's important to the reviewer may not be important to you and your learners.
    2. Problem 2: a reviewer is not looking at the materials with any particular course or group in mind.  What may be usable with a group of adults on a short course will not work with a group of children over a school year.
  2. Rely on the publishers' descriptions
    Read the information on the back cover and the descriptions provided by the publishers to decide whether the material will suit your purposes.
    1. Problem 1: for financial reasons, coursebooks have to be designed to appeal to as wide a range of markets as possible.  This often means that they become a mixture of different approaches and try to cover the syllabus of as many settings and nations as possible.
      Much of what is included may simply not be relevant to you and your learners.
    2. Problem 2: publishers vary widely in what they feel are key characteristics of course materials.  They also vary in their use of terms like 'intermediate' and 'intensive'.  It may, therefore, be just impossible to make useful comparisons or judgements based on what they tell you.

Teachers have to rely on their own judgements and look at the material carefully.  Too often, however, this becomes something like:

It looks nice and is at the right level, so I'll use it.

We need to have some clearer questions to ask and go beyond Is it pretty and at the right level?


Check lists for evaluation

Some check-lists run to over 50 questions and are very difficult to apply.  Here we will try to identify the really important questions but remember that everyone is in a unique setting so you will have to subtract from or add to the list (or both).
Some of these questions will only apply to selecting coursebooks.

Can you get hold of it?
Can you get more of it?
Are all the components (recorded material, websites, teacher's guide etc.) available now?
Is it pretty and appealing or dense and dull?  Younger learners in particular will not respond well to boring or monochrome materials.
Can you and the learners find your way around?
Is there a useful contents page telling you what is in each unit or section?
Is there advice for the learners?
Is self-study directed?
Is it clear what progress is being made?
Is the material at the right level?
Is the learning curve and level of challenge to steep, too shallow, too low or too high for your learners?
Does it cover the material your learners need? (I.e., is it compatible with your syllabus and objectives?)
Appropriacy and cultural bias
Will the content appeal to your learners?
Is it potentially offensive?
Does it cater for your learners' culture(s)?
Are the texts and the language authentic (or nearly so)?
Are the task and activities authentic?  Will your learners want to do them?
Is the teacher's book any good or does it just tell people the right answers and suggest going on to Activity 5 when you have finished Activity 4?
Does the teacher's book cater for inexperienced teachers by setting out how to approach the units and the lessons?



An alternative (and briefer) way to evaluate material is to use a mnemonic (Grant, 1987).
CATALYST stands for:
Aims appropriate?
Add-ons available?
Level right?
Your impression?
Student interest?
Tried and tested methodology?

Again, not all these categories will have the same relevance or importance in all settings.


Keep it simple

There is much to be said for keeping things simple.
Here's the ELT Concourse materials evaluation machine.  It is a way of looking at materials which will also allow you to have the time to use them.

materials evaluation

If you are getting tired, this is a good place to stop and have a break.


Adapting materials

No materials are perfectly adapted for your learners so we have to be able to adapt them and make them fit for our learners.
We do this in response to what we see as a problem.


Task 1: Think about these problems and how you would adapt the materials to overcome them
Click on the eye open when you have thought what goes in the right-hand column.

Problem Adaptive solution
The material is too short with not enough practice
eye open
Two possible ways forward:
Write more practice items in the same format.
Find more materials that will follow on from what you are doing but cover the same target.
The text is too long
eye open
Cut it if you can but be careful not to cut out anything the learners need to do the tasks or understand key points.
Divide the text and give different parts to different groups so they can cooperate later in doing the task
The material is too easy
eye open
Re-write parts of the text to make it more difficult.
Cut up a text so that the learners have to order it and then read for information.
Ask harder questions (grading the task), for example, ones which get the learners to think about the author's intentions (reading between the lines).
The material is too predictable
eye open
Take things in a different order.
Pre-teach lexis rather than focusing on it in the texts.
Alter the text to make it personal to your students (changing names, ages etc.).
The material is useful but dull
eye open
Find graphics / TV clips etc. that focus on the same topic.
Get the learners to illustrate the text with drawings and ideas.
Explain its usefulness and get the learners to ignore its dullness (older learners, in particular, can respond well to this).
The material is useful but it doesn't focus enough on form.  It expects the learners to know the language forms already
eye open
Make sure you insert your own focus on form at the appropriate time.  This may mean you have a short presentation and controlled practice phase before you even open the book.
Get the learners work together to see if they can extract the rules of the grammar from the examples in the materials.
The material is good for formal language work but there isn't enough skills practice, especially of speaking and listening
eye open
Find recordings / TV clips etc. that focus on the same topic.
Design a speaking activity to use at the end of each unit which gets the learners to apply the language / skill they have learned in oral practice.
Introduce each unit's topic by using live listening to you discussing a personal aspect of the topic of the unit.  For example, if it's about holidays, tell the learners to listen to a holiday experience that you had and to write down the two good and two bad things that happened to you.


Supplementary materials

types of supplementary materials

There was a time when anyone working outside an English-speaking setting had a hard time finding extra materials with which to supplement the diet of a coursebook.  No longer.
If you are reading this, you are connected to the web and there you will find billions (really) of pieces of material you can bring into your classroom to brighten up the day and provide much-needed practice.  Of the estimated 1.2 billion websites out here, over 60% are in English.  (The next three biggest languages have less than 15% between them.)
Additionally, there are the 'traditional', text-based supplementary materials such as books focused on particular skills, communication games and so on as well as printed media in English (mostly newspapers and magazines).
TV and radio
Media globalisation has meant that a good range of English-language TV and radio programmes are available to anyone who has an internet or satellite connection.  If you also have the ability to record and play back to the class, you have a powerful and rich resource base to draw on.
Around 375 million people speak English as a first language and the same number use it as a second language (at work etc.).  In addition, 750 million people use English as a foreign language.
English is an official or widely used language in 60 countries.
Even if you are not teaching in an English-speaking environment, therefore, it is usually not too difficult to find expert users of English who are willing to come into your classroom, or to whom your students can go, to provide supplementary communication practice.
It would be strange not to take advantage of them.

Why use supplementary material?

There are a number of good reasons:

  1. Because the class needs more.
    Most people can read an entire coursebook in an hour or so, cover to cover.  Coursebooks are not usually very rich sources of language.  If you accept that one of the most powerful aids to learning is repeated and continual exposure to examples of language in use, then we need to supply a much richer environment than any coursebook can hope to give us.
  2. Because people get bored.
    We can simply work through a coursebook from Unit 1 to the end but this means
    1. that you think all the units and topics are relevant
    2. that the class is very tolerant
    3. that the same approach will be followed in every lesson (because coursebook writers usually have a clear idea of what they understand as 'best practice')

the dangers of supplementary materials

Be careful.  Taking texts, songs, supplementary materials, video clips, magazines and newspapers etc. into your classroom can certainly add variety and give your learners exposure to authentic English but:

  1. Many materials are intended for native-speaker users of the language and may be over the heads of your learners (and you).  You may think they are useful but if nobody can understand them the lesson will be boring and demotivating.
  2. The one-off lesson syndrome.  Something may be attractive, interesting and at the right level but if it is not relevant to your learners' needs and isn't integrated into the syllabus, your learners may not be getting a balanced diet.
  3. Too many supplementary materials may require lots of careful planning and preparation.  Do you have the time for that?


Teaching aids

blackboard projector books phone
think write Task 2: There are four kinds of aids in the pictures: boards, projectors, books and phones.  Can you think of one more?
Make a few notes and then click here.
think write Task 3 Think now about how you might use these aids and make a few notes.
Then click here.

self test

Self-test questions

Before you go on, make sure you can answer these questions.  If you can't, go back to the sections which give you trouble.

If you are happy with your progress, go on.


Tests and practice for TKT

This is quite a long guide so there are tests for each part.

Test 1 A matching task to do with selecting coursebooks
Test 2 A matching task on adapting materials
Test 3 A quiz: choose the WRONG answer!

This is the end of the Module 2 course.  Thank you for doing the course!
If you have now followed all the guides to Module 2 of the TKT, you can:
Revise Module 2 by doing all the tests in the course.
Try a full practice examination for Module 2.
Return to the Module 2 index: blue arrow
Return to the TKT Course index

Grant, N, 1987, Making the most of your textbook, Harlow: Longman