Set aside those amazing ESL curriculum and teaching materials for a sec.
I want to put something else in your hands: authentic materials.
Can you feel the power they hold?
Can you see the various forms they take?
Do you know exactly how to use them?
Probably not yet, but that’s exactly what I’ll share with you here!
But a great ESL teacher will also recognize the limitation of ESL materials and try to introduce authentic materials to expose students to English in the real world.
What Do Authentic English Materials Look Like?
Unlike the ESL materials, worksheets, study guides and other lesson plans you download from the web, authentic materials are resources created for native speakers of the target language.
There are no reading comprehension tests and vocabulary sections at the end of an article to quiz students’ understanding.
To get your mind thinking of all the possibilities, authentic materials can include:
- Listening: TV shows, radio, commercials, news broadcasts, documentaries, movies, phone messages, etc.
- Visual: photographs, art works, signs with symbols, postcards, picture books, etc.
- Printed: restaurant menus, newspaper articles, bulletin board advertisements, company websites, coupons, sales catalogues, travel brochures, maps, telephone books, signs, blogs, movie posters, food labels, etc.
Here’s a bonus tip: For a great selection of authentic videos, head over to FluentU. FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. You can browse videos by difficulty (beginner to native), topic (arts and entertainment, health and lifestyle, etc.) and format (video blog, news, shows, etc.).
Students can get the most out of the clips by spending time in FluentU’s unique “learn mode” before or after watching a video to learn all that the clip has to offer. “Learn mode” takes a student’s learning history into account, asking questions based on what he or she already knows, which sets students up for success.
Benefits of Teaching ESL with Authentic English Materials
Give your students authentic materials to boost their confidence and experience “real” language with the support of constructive feedback.
The main benefits of using real English are clear. By using authentic materials, students will encounter words and constructions that they’d probably never see in formal ESL materials. They’ll learn abbreviations when looking and handwritten notes, and hear the true tone, see body language and encounter filler “umm”s of native speakers when listening.
If listening to an authentic audio source, students will also have to filter out the background noises, and at times really concentrate to understand friends talking over one another. It could prove more challenging than clear ESL recordings, but it’s a taste of what’s really out there.
Authentic materials will no-doubt expose your students to culture, so you can actually take the context into consideration instead of just looking at how language is used.
The fact that these resources are the real deal will also increase students’ motivation and better meet the learner’s needs. The goal is to understand and use English in real life, so using authentic resources will teach the student what he or she needs to know to get there.
Choosing the “Right” Authentic Materials for Teaching English
Maximize the benefits of authentic materials in your ESL lesson by evaluating its content and readability. Ask yourself these questions:
Q1: Is the content relevant or interesting?
Try to pick topics that are relevant and of interest to your students. While you may be a fan of the American Revolution, your students may be overwhelmed by the names, geographic locations, dates and other theoretical facts.
Providing materials that are both practical and applicable can spark interest, while helping students to see the relevance of ESL classroom lessons in real life.
Q2: Is the length appropriate?
The length of the content can cost your lesson (and your students) more than you ever imagined. Don’t scare your students off with a lengthy article. Instead, provide articles that could be finished in a two-hour class period or less.
Q3: How difficult is the content or subject?
Remember to choose material that is linguistically appropriate. Before handing out authentic materials, make sure you read through them to plan lessons and in-class activities that will reinforce a known idea, teach a new word or explain a complex concept.
4 Creative Ways to Use Authentic Materials in Your ESL Classroom
Make authentic materials fun and interesting by seasoning your classroom activities with a dash of creativity. Here are some great ideas to integrate authentic materials into your ESL classroom.
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 do your search of “weather reports” on Google, www.weather.com is the perfect place to go.
As a national and local weather forecast, Weather.com features a wide range of weather reports as well as some interesting aftermath disaster analysis. 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 Weather.com is that not only does it provide short weather write-ups, but also mini-clips to brush up your students’ listening comprehension.
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 the weather condition
- 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
Food plays an important role in our students’ lives. Introduce them to some of the common dishes in America so they can order their meals with confidence.
Many restaurants have their menus online so you can easily download them without driving around the neighborhood. Do try to use local restaurants, though, as this will make it more meaningful for your students.
For this activity, you will need several copies of restaurant menus. Each station should have a set of different menus to represent: Drinks/Appetizers, Salad/Soups, Meals/Entrees, and Dessert.
- Give students a worksheet where they can write down what they order at each station. Include a section for price.
- Divide students into teams so they will need to move together from one station to another.
- At each station, a team member should be the waiter/waitress and use the back of his/her worksheet to take orders.
Students can take a dictionary with them to look up food terms. If needed, students can call the manager (you, the teacher) for help. Have the students calculate their spending at the end and learn to figure out how to tip their waiter/waitress for a complete restaurant experience.
3. Job Opening: 1-2-3 I Need a Job!
This is by far the most popular activity. After all, who doesn’t want to find a good job and live a comfortable life?
Give your students the full experience of job hunt by directing them to the easy-to-use site indeed.com. All they have to do is to fill out the “What” and “Where” sections, and Indeed will immediately generate a list of job openings. Have your students look through the job descriptions and bring three of them to class for discussion.
While in Class…
Form a small group and have each person present his/her job search process. Some questions students should be answering include:
- What keywords did you use in your “What” section 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 student, you might want to model the process and go through the steps of filtering through a job openings list 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 applicable to help your students think ahead and prepare themselves for future careers. Questions such as, “What are some qualifications for this job?” and What can you do to prepare for it?” are particularly practical and thought-provoking. They inspire students to dream and overcome learning challenges for a greater purpose.
Because many companies use an online application form to screen their candidates, you can have a class lesson set aside to have students fill out online job searcher profiles. Websites like CareerBuilder.com and Moster.com are great places to start.
Both websites give job searchers the option to create an online profile. The process emulates that of an online job application because students will be asked to fill out basic information about themselves, upload a resume and even submit a profile photo. There is also a section for students to briefly introduce themselves to the hiring world.
4. The Reporter: Fact or Fiction
This exercise provides the perfect opportunity to challenge students’ critical thinking skills. Students also gain valuable learning experience in data interpretation so they could effectively evaluate the validity of a report and consider it beyond face value.
To start, have students go on The New York Times website to find an article of their interest. (You can only access a limited number of NYT articles per month for free, but as this is a valuable resource for students to be able to use from your classroom, a subscription can be a great investment.)
Students then remake the news by adding a few personal opinions or imaginary events/people of their own. This is also the perfect opportunity for you to discuss the importance of paraphrasing as well as the devastating academic and social consequences of plagiarism.
Ask the students to bring the finished product to class and work in groups to distinguish fact from fiction. For maximum effect, try to have groups of 4-5 students. Students will then print out copies of their rewritten work and give a copy to each group member.
Readers are responsible for circling information they think is fictional. The writer should also keep an original copy for him or herself to provide answers at the end of each round.
Connect Your Classroom to the World
Authentic materials bridge the gap between classroom language use and real life language use by bringing familiar linguistic situations and materials right into the classroom. When teachers use authentic materials, they are in fact helping ESL students to make a comfortable transition into the L2 culture.
Give your students some weather reports and ask them to 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 for survival.
So let’s put away the ESL workbooks and experiment with the “real stuff” out there!
Elena is a linguist who enjoys helping ESL teachers and students to find ingenuity beyond the conventional ESL learning process. Besides teaching, Elena is also a freelance content writer who provides engaging and SEO content for business of all niches. Read more about her writing service at My Content Hopper.
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you’re really digging these authentic activities, then you’ve got to try FluentU.
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. These are videos that your students already love watching, so they’ll be beyond excited to interact with them in the classroom.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
Worried that students might be stumped by some of the harder videos? No way. FluentU brings authentic content within reach by providing interactive captions and in-context definitions right on-screen. For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.