Don’t Know Where to Start? How to Use Authentic Materials in the Language Classroom
Does your language classroom need a little spice?
Your teaching is anything but stale, but you need to sprinkle in some new ideas that will keep students engaged and thinking on a higher level.
When used correctly, authentic materials provide the flavor your class needs to complement the use of textbooks, worksheets and other foreign language teaching materials!
Maybe you’ve heard all about the activities you can do with authentic materials and how they increase student achievement, but you haven’t ventured to try them yet.
If it sounds a little intimidating, not to worry.
We’ve got three steps that will make the process easier to get started!
What are authentic materials and why should you use them?
Authentic materials refers to anything that’s created for the native speakers of the target language and that isn’t specifically designed for teaching a language. That would include menus, posters, street signs, news, articles, blogs, TV shows, etc., you get the idea! But why should you use them?
- Authentic materials tend to be more interesting and engaging than the non-authentic materials because they often expose students to real context. And while non-authentic materials are more structured and the vocabulary is at the level of the students, authentic ones will expose the student to the real language and culture.
- Authentic materials increase motivation. Of course, we still need non-authentic language-teaching materials like textbooks, worksheets, grammar PDFs, vocabulary lists and so on. Students benefit from the explicit instruction you’ll find in these that are adapted to the students’ levels. But engagement plays a huge role in student achievement and authentic materials provide just that!
They connect classroom activities with the real world, and thus motivate students to learn the language. The language is “real,” meaning it’s what students will encounter outside the classroom.
- These materials increase students’ confidence. As a language teacher, you’ve probably had to deal more than once with students that are “stuck” and aren’t making any progress. They’ve reached a certain level, but for some reason they can’t move forward and improve their level. It’s very likely that your students are not able to overcome the difficulties and move to the next level because they’re experiencing some sort of a “mental block.” They haven’t found the lessons purposeful.
When a course utilizes authentic materials, students will be able to move to the next level because they feel confident in their skills and can quickly put their new knowledge to use.
Things to consider when just starting out with authentic materials
Ok, so now you’ve decided that you’ll keep the non-authentic materials at a minimum, and you’ll start incorporating some authentic materials into your classroom. That’s a great decision! Here are a couple of things that you should think about as you start using them:
Don’t forget about the level of your students. Oh yes, it’s very important! Remember that the authentic materials are not designed for language teaching purposes, so before giving your students an article from yesterday’s newspaper, make sure that it’s adapted for their level. You can’t give a student that has just started learning a language an article that contains vocabulary and grammar for advanced learners.
Another very important thing that you have to consider is how much your students will be able to learn from those materials. There’s always a risk of using something that’s either too difficult or too easy for them to understand and learn from.
Check the vocabulary and grammar. Are there enough new words to learn but also enough familiar vocabulary that’ll help them understand and get the general meaning of the text? It’s always best to analyze the materials before giving them to your students.
How to Start Incorporating Authentic Materials in Your Classroom in 3 Easy Steps
1. Start with Identifying Goals and Needs
Goals, goals, goals! In order to choose the right material to give to your students, first ask them about their goals as language learners (one of the keys to successfully mastering a language). This will not only help the students keep their objective at the forefront of their mind during any lesson, but it will also help you as a teacher to have a clear idea of the types of authentic materials to use.
What are your students’ future ambitions? Do they want to be doctors? Lawyers? Translators? Obviously, we’d also want to know short term goals like opening a bank account, buying a car or ordering at a restaurant in the target language. Maybe students just want to prepare for an exam or are learning for their own personal edification.
Whatever their expectations, provide them with materials in the target language that will not only help them reach their goals, but will also show that you care. Adapt a student interest survey to the level, age and language of your students to really get to know them. Expect an immediate increase in engagement!
You’ll also have to identify their needs—those prerequisite skills they’ll have to have in order to successfully reach their goals. What are their respective language levels and what are their individual challenges? There can be a big difference between the different needs of each student, and the teacher must be aware of all of them.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about goals without mentioning lesson objectives and curriculum expectations. What material do you need to cover? Do you need to teach new basic vocabulary or new grammar structures?
If you’re teaching them a verb tense they haven’t seen before, then you should find some authentic materials that’ll show them how to use that verb tense. If they’re learning a past tense, you could show them a newspaper article that is talking about an event that occurred in the past.
So before choosing authentic materials, keep student goals, interests and needs, as well as teaching objectives, in mind. This will ensure your lessons are a hit!
2. Collect and Choose Great Materials
So now you’ve identified the goals and objectives you need to hit, and are in search of materials that are relevant to your students. It’s easy to get caught up in collecting awesome materials, so keep yourself focused by writing down a couple of questions that you’ll ask yourself when viewing potential resources. Two helpful questions you should always ask yourself are:
- How does this help me reach my lesson objectives?
- Is this at an appropriate level for my students?
For example, if your students want to learn for personal satisfaction and have shown a lot of interest in traveling, why not show them travel guides or blogs in the target language? It will keep their attention and will contain useful information that can be really fun.
Using children’s books or magazines in the target language is great way to highlight language structures and vocabulary.
Another example of great authentic materials are videos of native speakers because they provide exposure to “real” language! All you have to do is search in YouTube for some interesting (remember the interest survey?) and entertaining videos in the target language to show your class!
Undoubtedly, learning a language by watching movies and TV series is one of the most entertaining ways to learn a language. Television plays an important role in our lives, so why not include it in your syllabus? Find a couple of cool movies or TV shows in the target language and ask your students to watch a portion of them.
How do you select the right ones? It’s easier than you think! Just think about the levels and interests of your students, so you don’t give them a movie that’s too difficult and that they won’t understand (like films that use antiquated language—yikes!).
If you’re looking for other recommendations, check out one of our language learning blogs, which provide lots of movie suggestions for specific languages and levels (beginners, intermediate and advanced).
3. Create Awesome Activities Using Authentic Materials
Once you’ve collected and chosen the materials you’ll be using in your classroom, it’s time to think about what kind of activities you’ll ask your students to do with them.
For example, if you’re working on improving their reading, you could assign them various blog posts in the target language (on a topic they’ll find engaging) and compare and contrast the articles in a class discussion. Or, you can ask students to place book recommendations on your class blog as they finish their reading.
If you’re aiming on improving both their comprehension and conversation skills, ask students to watch a movie in the target language at home. When they come back to the class, ask them to create a role-play by recreating their favorite scene of the movie. This will allow them to have some fun practice using the new vocabulary.
Want to improve their writing skills? Ask them to write an email to a travel agent in response to a brochure you showed them in class. Or show them a movie review on a platform like Rotten Tomatoes and have them write a review of a movie or TV show they’re watching.
The important thing is to make sure that the activities provide practice in skills they can use in their everyday lives and allow them to utilize their newfound language knowledge.
So what are you waiting for?
Now that you know how to get started, spice up your classroom routine with some authentic materials and give your students access to the “real language”!
Mariya is an Italian language teacher with a passion (or rather, an addiction) for coffee and Italian culture. She is the founder of MyLanguage and she creates personalized lesson plans for people who feel the same way about the language and teaches private online lessons.