7 Creative Ways to Use Authentic Materials for Teaching English
As ESL teachers, we have many helpful resources to aid our classroom teaching. And we’re lucky we can take advantage of technology to find excellent ESL teaching tools online.
But a great teacher will also recognize the limitations of ESL materials and introduce authentic resources to expose students to English in the real world.
Here are some great ideas to integrate authentic materials in English into your classroom.
- 1. Weather Report: There Is a Blizzard on the Way!
- 2. Menus: Order Your Favorite Dish
- 3. Job Opening: 1-2-3 I Need a Job!
- 4. Written News: Fact or Fiction
- 5. Radio: Listen and Learn
- 6. Comics: Tell a Story Through Pictures
- 7. Films: Sit Back, Relax and Review
1. Weather Report: There Is a Blizzard on the Way!
Familiarize your students with the U.S. climate by exposing them to weather reports. While you can definitely search for “weather reports” on Google, Weather.com is the perfect place to go.
The site features a wide range of weather reports as well as interesting aftermath disaster analyses. Want to know what happened to the MS World Discover Cruise ship after it was wrecked in 2000? Weather.com will tell you!
Another great feature of this site is that, aside from short weather write-ups, it also provides mini-clips to brush up your students’ listening comprehension.
You can read a weather report or watch a video from Weather.com in class. Feel free to ask your students to do further research on the subject and make a mini-lesson/presentation that:
- summarizes key points in the weather report
- teaches 2-3 vocabulary related to current weather conditions
- gives practical tips on how to prepare for this kind of catastrophe
Is there a blizzard on the way? Your students can tell you all about it!
2. Menus: Order Your Favorite Dish
Introduce your students to some of the most common dishes in America so they can order their meals with confidence.
Many restaurants have online menus so you can easily download them without driving around the neighborhood. You can also make this exercise easier with popular food-ordering apps like Grubhub and Doordash. Do try to use local restaurants, though, as this will make it more meaningful for your students.
For this activity, you need several copies of restaurant menus and follow the steps below.
- Designate “stations” for the restaurant menus. Each station should have a set of different menus to represent Drinks/Appetizers, Salads/Soups, Meals/Entrees and Desserts.
- Give students a worksheet where they can write down what they “order” at each station. Include a section for prices.
- For each station, pick random students to be the waiter/waitress and use the back of his/her worksheet to take orders.
- The rest of the students will be divided into teams of “customers” who will make their orders.
- Have the students calculate their spending at the end and figure out how to tip their waiter/waitress for a complete restaurant experience.
Students can take a dictionary with them to look up food terms. If needed, students can call the manager (you, the teacher) for help.
3. Job Opening: 1-2-3 I Need a Job!
Give your students the full experience of job hunting by directing them to sites like Indeed.com, CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com.
On Indeed, for example, all they have to do is to fill out the “Job Title” and “Location” boxes and Indeed will generate a list of matching jobs. Have your students look through the job descriptions and bring three of them to class for discussion.
Form a small group and have each person present his/her job search process. Some questions you can ask your students include:
- What keywords did you use to find the jobs you really want?
- What is the job and what are your duties?
- Why did you pick this job? Discuss your decision-making process to help other students to find their dream jobs too.
Depending on the level of your students, you might want to model the process and go through the steps of filtering through job openings in class. If you like, you could pick a job, print out its description and hand it out for a lively in-class discussion.
Make the exercise fun and practical to help your students prepare themselves for future careers in English-speaking roles. Questions such as “What are some qualifications for this job?” and “What can you do to prepare for it?” are particularly thought-provoking.
Because many companies use online application forms to screen their candidates, you can have a class lesson set aside to have students fill these out.
Using the sites mentioned above, have students fill out basic information about themselves, upload a resume or submit a profile photo. You can go through the profile and discuss essential points related to them or have them actually send out those applications and see what happens!
4. Written News: Fact or Fiction
This exercise provides the perfect opportunity to challenge students’ critical thinking skills. Specifically, students will learn how to evaluate the validity of a report and read between the lines.
To start, have students go to the The New York Times website to find an article that interests them. (You cannot access the articles for free, but as this is a valuable resource for students, a subscription can be a great investment.)
On the other hand, if you’re teaching British English, have them look at sites like The Guardian or BBC News.
Once this is done:
- Ask students to remake the news by adding a few personal opinions or imaginary events/people of their own. This is also the perfect opportunity to discuss the importance of paraphrasing as well as the academic and social consequences of plagiarism.
- Ask the students to bring the finished product to the next class.
- Divide them into groups to distinguish fact from fiction. Try to have groups of 4-5 students. Ask the students to give a copy of their rewritten work to each group member.
- Readers are responsible for circling information they think is fictional. The writer should also keep an original copy for himself or herself to provide answers at the end of each round.
Visit this post for a selection of the best news sources for ESL lessons:
5. Radio: Listen and Learn
You may want to track down some English radio programs for use in the classroom. For example, the VOA Learning English Podcast has tons of materials on a variety of topics designed for beginner and intermediate English learners.
This exercise is pretty straightforward: Ask your students to listen to the audio materials and give them a list of questions to test their comprehension.
When using audio materials for teaching:
- As much as possible, keep the audio clip below 1 minute. Otherwise, it’ll be too difficult for students to remember everything they hear and valuable class time will be wasted listening to it over and over again.
- When coming up with your general comprehension questions, aim for ones with answers that can be found near the middle of the recording. This way, students have to really listen to the audio but not necessarily finish it.
- Make sure to write the questions in the order in which the answers will be found. This way, students will not become flustered if they miss one: they can simply move on to the next question.
6. Comics: Tell a Story Through Pictures
Beginners may not be ready to be fully immersed in long fictional materials like books and novels. However, you can give them comics instead. You can study these short fictional scenes with students or ask them to imitate via their own comic strips produced in class for a fun activity.
When you’re teaching English using comics:
- Make sure to select comics your students can understand. Remember that humor is often just as much—if not more—about culture as it is about language.
- Make sure the jokes in the comics will be comprehensible to your students. If you can’t avoid things like puns or references only native speakers can understand, give your students the tools to make sense of these.
One place you can find easy-to-understand comics is GoComics. It has all the classics including Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts and Garfield.
7. Films: Sit Back, Relax and Review
Beginners can also be shown short films, particularly films for children and animated features (e.g. Disney films). To make it easier to use authentic films English learners can watch, use a language-learning platform like FluentU.
FluentU features movies, trailers, clips, newsreels and other video materials with interactive subtitles. If there are any difficult words in the film, you can click on it in the subtitles to show important information like definitions, pronunciations, example sentences, tips and other videos where that word is used to add even more context.
Intermediate and advanced students can progress into authentic resources created for native speakers. Consider devoting an entire unit to the study of one film. Use it as a primary source for vocabulary, grammar points and discussion topics.
Give your students authentic materials in English. Ask them to look over weather reports or apply for a few jobs on the web to make learning a part of their everyday life. Your students will appreciate the lessons and remember new words much better when they need to use them the way they should be used.
So let’s put away the ESL workbooks and experiment with the “real stuff” out there!