Authentic materials for English teaching

Using authentic materials for English teaching in the classroom can be a controversial topic amongst teachers and educators. Most teachers agree that to be able to use authentic materials with learners is a good thing, but differ greatly when it comes to agreeing upon what constitutes authentic materials and when to use them.

To use or not to use – this is  a topic that can generate heated comment amongst teachers such as, you can’t use them at lower levels of teaching, what exactly constitutes  ‘authenticity’ in the classroom?  Are authentic materials really useful considering the time it takes to prepare them when there are plenty of good already-prepared materials? etc etc.

All these are valid opinions and if that is what some teachers think then fine, but personally I think that opting not to use authentic materials for teaching purposes is to ignore a vast store of fantastic teaching material that can stimulate interest both for the student and indeed for the teacher.

But first, for those usure of the meaning of ‘authentic materials’ for teaching purposes they are simply anything that appears in the world outside the classroom that can be used for teaching purposes. For example, a newspaper article is an authentic piece of material. It is used by many people to inform themselves of the world news. However, it can be exploited in the classroom in an English or ESOL lesson for reading comprehension,  a vocabulary lesson etc, part of a project etc.

TV and radio similarly can be classed as authentic. Teachers can do so much with these, either recorded or in real time. The news, the weather, documentaries, drama and even soaps can be used in class or set for homework tasks. The possiblities are endless. Similarly songs in the classroom are real authentic matierials with which a teacher can exploit any amount of teaching activities – and the students invariably love them!

And what about ‘realia’? Real items brought into the classroom to illustrate and help with a lesson? Examples could be bringing in a ‘history box’ in an English lesson when teaching the past tenses, food and food leaflets for teaching how to shop in English or another language, and even real money for learning how to pay and get change. I use these regulary in my Spanish language classes and students seem to enjoy the  hands-on  practical aspect of these ‘authentic’ materials.

So – authentic materials – if you have never used them or wondered how to incorporate them into your classes my advice is just do it. Properly pre-prepared, they offer a great contrast to text books or internet material, lighten the mood in class and engage interest and promote learning. You’ll be glad you tried them.

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