May 18

Closing remarks

18th May

During the first session we engaged in a discussion around the prompt “what I want to get from this module”. In doing so I identified a number of initial thoughts to take forward during the module that relate to my current practice and educational development on the course. As noted in the first blog post, these are as follows:

  • Student influence on the development, selection and implementation of materials
  • Successful augmentation of materials
  • The impact of/on assessment
  • Evaluating the authorship of materials and their hidden curriculum
  • Teaching of sensitive or taboo subjects and the lack of materials on such
  • Archiving and retrieving materials

Throughout the module I returned to each of these on occasion, referring the development on the module through class discussions, input, and readings to these thoughts in relation to my context. During the former half of the module I was teaching and therefore utilised opportunities to apply the development in my classroom. Further, a lot has been reflected on and conceptualised in preparation for summer when I am responsible for a large number of teachers and their development. Working in an environment in which course materials are pre-set with little room for augmentation or adaption, it has been interesting to explore materials in a way not approached before.


Upon completion of this module there are a number of thoughts that I will carry forward into practice and further academic and professional development. In the rare creation of my own materials I often blindly followed the structures of my usual courseware, possibly informed largely by the apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975). Through the critique of materials, I have edited such to reflect a clear methodological framework which utilises concepts of learning theories such as task-based learning (TBL). On the thought of TBL, I too have had chance to evaluate such on many occasions and reflect on its use by both myself and my teaching staff in practice. It was identified that whilst the pre-task and task stages were usually very successful and encompassed language learning, the reflective stage was often skipped and hence students had no chance to reconcile their learning within that lesson.


This module has been hugely stimulating in its discussions and sharing of practice. I believe that the development made on this module, in an area that was previously unscathed by myself, will truly continue as I develop in my career.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A Sociolinguistic Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

May 4

Task, activity, exercise?

4th May


Task. Activity. Exercise. Three words that we encounter every day as teacher, three words that we clearly understand, right? Whilst in solitude we use each in day to day practice, however placing the three in juxtaposition may raise issues of definition and use. In attempting to distinguish the each of the terms, difficulties were encountered; the distinctiveness of each being difficult to place as we admittedly use these interchangeably in practice. We opted rather to place these on a scale, all possessing similar traits but on varying levels. Whilst we believed that exercises were very controlled and structured, tasks were often less so and activities even less. Exercises resonate with a feeling of form and precision, their aim for ELT teachers seemingly to practice the correct production of the lesson target, whereas activities connotes less structure, placing a focus on fluency and communication instead. We also believed that exercises were predominantly written, whereas tasks could be written, spoken, kinesthetic, or a take a multitude of various forms, and activities are typically active and physical.

Jack Richards (ND) describes the three as follows:

  • An exercise is a controlled and guided practice of a particular language aspect such as a reading comprehension.
  • An activity describes any procedures in which learners work towards a goal such as play a game or engaging in a discussion.
  • Finally, a task is something undergone by students using pre-existing or scaffolded language resources.


In our initial understanding of the terms, I believe that we were accurate in some aspects such as the decline in control, however it’s apparent they cannot be placed neatly on such a continuum for all aspects. My basic understanding of task comes from that of task-based learning, a teaching procedure I have both researched and implemented in practice. The fundamental of such is that aspects of language or vocabulary are provided to or elicited from students in the pre-task stage which they then use during the task stage in which they are to complete a task with the end goal being non-language related. For instance, students will prepare a presentation or construct a model (Frost, 2015).


Richards (ND) lays out the following criteria for a task:

  • Students use existing language resources or those introduced pre-task
  • The outcome is not language orientated
  • Is relevant to learners’ needs
  • The focus is upon meaning
  • Affords chances to reflect on language use
  • Depends upon students’ communication and interaction skills


Ellis (2003) similarly proposed the following criteria:

  • A primary focus on meaning
  • There needs to be a ‘gap’
  • Learners use own resources
  • Clear outcome that is not language based


As with Richards, Ellis clearly identifies that the task must not be language focused but rather display a non-language outcome, have students use their own language resources in doing so, and thus be focused on meaning rather than form. Whilst Richards identifies that a task should be relevant to learners’ needs, Ellis claims that there should be a ‘gap’. Ellis’s gap is drawn from the work of Prabhu (1987) who outlines three types of tasks:

Information gap; a task in which information has to be shared in order to understand the ‘full picture’. That is to say that perhaps one student is given half the information and the other student, the other half, they must verbally convey the information to each other in order to synthesise such and create meaning.

Reasoning gap; using skills of reasoning, deduction, inference, or perception, learners will create new information using select existing information.

Opinion gap; tasks which are centred on students expressing feelings or opinions, such as in a debate or discussion.

A task is clearly distinguished from both an exercise and activity then by non-language orientated outcome and its focus upon meaning, as well as the clear interaction necessary in tasks.

One of the most common complaints I receive from students in my school is that they feel they aren’t learning. Now, my school has a set methodology being that of blended learning using a communicative task-based approach. In doing so students are guided to language production and doing such in context rather than focusing on form and accuracy. I believe that largely the complaints stem from this methodology in that students are actively engaged in language production, constantly constructing new meaning and language in English, however, due to the lack of emphasis on the language and aspects of form students do not realise so. In my observations of teachers, it has been noted that both in the course books and teacher delivery, the reflective stage after the task is often missing and hence no attention is drawn to the aspects of language that were highlighted in the lesson. In providing the reflective stage at the end of a task-based lesson, teachers will be able to highlight these aspects of language and reaffirm to students the language learning that has taken place within the lesson. I aim then, to provide a CPD session that focuses on the nature of a task and task-based learning with particular reference to this reflective stage in order to aid teachers with such.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford Applied Linguistics.

Frost, R. (2015). “A Task-based Approach”: British Council Teaching English.

Prabhu, N. (1987). Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: University Press.

Richards, J. (ND). Difference Between Task, Exercise, Activity.  Retrieved from

March 23

Creating worksheets

23rd March

During this week’s session, we engaged in a workshop peer-evaluating each other’s materials. In my teaching context, I have set courseware developed particularly for my school. Any supplementation that I conduct is typically materials light, consisting mainly of conversational or vocabulary based activities. I, therefore, have very little experience in creating my own worksheets, and hence this was a challenge for myself.

In undertaking this task, I took inspiration from my previous experiences with courseware, namely that of course books. I tried to follow the usual pathway of activities, using the ‘test, teach, test’ method. The worksheet was designed for intermediate level, teenage learners, to last a three hour lesson. The focus of the lesson was to use a number of different question types using the topic of ‘celebrities’. In the lesson, I aimed to incorporate a range of tasks based on both communication and form, invoke a range of interactions, and use a number of media, including photos, video, and text.

Following from the session on visuals, I tried to incorporate visuals in a meaningful way. The multimodality of words and visuals can create enriched opportunities for learning when utilised effectively (Çakır, 2015). This proved more difficult than I had thought and in the end, most images were placed purely for decorative purposes. However, one image was representative of the text, whilst a set of images were used in a matching task and then the basis for conversation and discussion between students.

On commencement of the workshop, the worksheet was unfinished and hence allowed for critique of the current standing production as well as ideas for development to finish the material. The feedback proved highly useful and a number of changes and additions were made to the worksheet to establish the finished product. These included changes to the layout, such as pathways through the page and segmentation of keywords, addition of word match activity, and levelling the ‘who is Rosa Parks?’ text, as well as more substantial changes such as lesson approach and content. The finished worksheet can be found here.

It was suggested in critique that a clear teaching strategy was needed for the progression of the lesson. I decided to use a 2 cycle task based learning approach. Task based learning is founded on students using authentic language through tasks (Frost, 2015). Typically, a lesson would begin with the pre-task stage, introducing students to the topic and eliciting key language. Next, is the task stage where students undergo the task at hand, building to the point when they present their task to their peers. Finally, is the review stage in which students can be granted feedback and focus upon the highlighted language areas. The focal point of the lesson then is the task and production of language in doing so. Ellis, (2003) outlined the following four characteristics of a task: a primary focus on pragmatic meaning; has a ‘gap’; students use their own linguistic resources; and there is a clear non-linguistic outcome. For this worksheet it could be seen that a task based learning approach has been used, whist being structured by a PPP (presentation, practice, production) approach. That is to say that language is introduced to students through elicitation and presentation, and then practiced in structured activities. After such, students are then asked to complete a task invoking the use of language however, language is not the outcome of the task but rather a tool used in the production of such. Whilst this doesn’t follow TBL precisely, it does draw upon the notions of social constructivism and social constructionism on which TBL is founded (Gadomska, 2016).

An interesting conversation that arose numerous times throughout the workshop was that of implicit/explicit instructions in worksheets and lessons. Whilst I would think that my worksheet is very self-explanatory and follows a logical route, in implementing such there would be a lot of content not on the worksheet. Therefore, an accompanying lesson plan would fill the gaps between activities, providing a clearer picture of the intent of implementation. The problem with this thought, however, is that every implementation of the lesson will vary depending on the learners and their needs. A lot of the lesson with remain in one’s head or in brief notes rather than in an explicit lesson plan that can be shared with others. The translatability of ideas then is rather difficult here. For example, on the worksheet, it refers students to watch a video and answer a number of (generic) questions relating to the linguistic content. On the sheet, no particular video is identified for good pedagogical reason. The intended video is that of an interview between a celebrity and interviewer. This video has multiple purposes, to model an interview, to introduce students to different question types, and to continue the theme of celebrities. The video then can be changed for every implementation of the lesson, depending on the students and their interests, as well as current cultural and topical events.   An accompanying lesson plan would obviously be needed here in order to transpire this information.

Whilst most of our materials are centrally made, I have created a number of lessons formed around the excursions students take during their course. These are intended to introduce students to the culture of that city, develop key vocabulary for the excursion, and provide a fun and relaxed Friday afternoon lesson. The difficulty here was providing a succinct lesson, with clear instructions and minimal materials. After creating the worksheet for this workshop, I decided to revisit these lessons and transfer them to a more accessible format in the form of a worksheet. Whilst these will still require an accompanying lesson plan, this can be a lot less detailed, focusing more on the pathway through activities, than instructions for the activities themselves. Two examples of these worksheets can be found here and here.

Çakır, I. (2015). Instructional Materials Commonly Employed by Foreign Language Teachers at Elementary Schools. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 8(1), 69-82.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford Applied Linguistics.

Frost, R. (2015). “A Task-based Approach”: British Council Teaching English.

Gadomska, A. (2016). Using LEGO Blocks for Technology-mediated Task-based English Language Learning. Teaching English with Technology, 15(5), 120-132.

March 16

Meme me up, Scotty

Thursday 16th March

The previous two sessions on images and videos have surfaced a number of thoughts, mainly related to practical classroom affordances. Through outside reading and in class discussions I have explored thoughts that have arisen, and how I may incorporate them in the classroom as useful learning tools. One such thought has been that of ‘memes’ and how they can be used in the classroom.


Memes are a current internet sensation that will be a familiar concept to nearly all teenage learners. These are images that are captioned and shared before being edited with a slightly different caption. The point is that the general theme remains the same (perhaps the photo and sentence opener) but an aspect is changed (the second clause).

Richard Dawkins (1989) originally coined the term ‘meme’ as a “noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”. In short, a meme is a unit which holds cultural ideas and significance, such as a picture, gesture, ritual etc that is spread through a culture, replicating and mutating. Early examples of the meme include the word ‘abracadabra’, a running joke of kinds that has no real meaning but holds cultural significance with its own stylised information. Another example is the ‘Kilroy was here’ image which spread globally during the 40’s, appearing on everything from bathroom walls and school lockers, to monuments and even the moon (or so it is believed). Whilst originating in English, the picture was replicated around the world and modified (mutated) into numerous other languages.

More recently, memes have become very popular in digital format. Using forums such as facebook or 4chan, these images are spread globally in very short amounts of time. On the subject, Richard Dawkins defined an internet meme as one deliberately altered by human creativity rather than through Darwinian mutation.

I have used memes successfully in a number of ways in the classroom, however, these are typically non-pedagogically driven and rather are for amusement. Various memes have been used in presentations, class displays etc to convey information in a more jovial and attentive as manner. I have used the idea of memes slightly more formally in the classroom in two ways; as a discussion point, forming the basis for students to share cultural and personal information, and as practice of a language focus, providing students with a meme including the opening ‘If I were you’ or ‘I was your girlfriend’ and asking them to complete the sentence, hence using the 2nd conditional.

Surfing through google, most of the recommended uses for memes in the classroom seem to be that of creating rapport; including memes in presentations, in the classroom, to display rules etc. There were, however, a few practical ideas that may be useful in my future teaching practice. These include using memes as writing prompts; providing the students with a popular meme without the writing and directing students to write a short story or passage detailing the possible context behind the picture. There are also ideas and suggestions for a number of language foci that can be practised through memes.


Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene. Oxford: University Press.

March 9

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

Thursday 9th March

Illustrations are key in language learning course books. In fact, it would be almost impossible to find a modern course book which doesn’t contain illustrations. According to Olshansky  (2008), “Pictures [Illustrations] provide a universal language” (p.1). They can, to a certain extent, be understood by speakers of English as a first language as by speakers of English as a second language. Illustrations can help us to see that which we cannot with words (Evans, Watson, & Willows, 1987). This is hardly a new concept; illustrations have been used for communicative purposes since the beginning of humankind (Basal, Celen, Kaya, & Bogaz, 2016).

In our everyday lives we rarely receive information that is solely textual, and so why should it be presented as such in course books. Kuzu, Akbulut, and Sahin (2007) claim that without the use of illustrations, materials may provide excess information and lead to inefficient learning. The use of words and illustrations simultaneously can increase the comprehensible input for learners (Çakır, 2015).

This week I was tasked with evaluating the illustrations in a face2face course book for ESL learners (Redston & Cunningham, 2006). It is acknowledged that illustrations have numerous benefits to learners and therefore it can be assumed that these images are not randomly placed but rather serve a number of purposes. The objective of this evaluation was to view the uses of the imagery and draw conclusions relating to my practice. In order to begin evaluation a number of things must be first identified:

  • What is an illustration?
  • What is the data?
  • What framework will be used in evaluation?

What is an illustration?

The Oxford dictionary defines an illustration as; “A picture illustrating a book, newspaper, etc.” or “The action or fact of illustrating something”, with illustrate being defined as; “Provide (a book, newspaper, etc.) with pictures” or “Explain or make (something) clear by using examples, charts, pictures, etc.”, This would assume that any illustrations in course books are there to give definition or explanation of text. For the purposes of this evaluation then I took Hewing’s (1991) definition of Illustration within course materials: “any input except for text such as drawings, cartoons, photographs, flow charts, pie charts, graphs, and tables” (p. 237). For this evaluation, it was decided to not acknowledge recurring illustrations present for organisational purposes, such as headers and footers.

What is the data?

As a group, we chose to evaluate the entirety of one select module within the book. This was to reduce the data sample but evaluate such in a rich manner. It was assumed that a module in the middle of the book would have established flow and be fully focused on language. A module was chosen that was seen to have potential use for all of our contexts. Whilst the first double page spread was evaluated collectively, the rest was done divided among the group, myself taking the back matter including group work tasks, self-study activities, and grammar guides.

What framework?

To evaluate the assumed systematic placements of illustrations we decided to use Duchastel’s (1978) taxonomy which outlines five purposes of illustrations:

Affective: provided to enhance interest and motivation;
Attentive: intended to attract and direct attention;
Didactic: intended to facilitate learning by showing something difficult to convey in words;
Supportive: provided for less able learners;
Retentional: provided to facilitate memorisation.


Initially, it was assumed that the images would be used predominantly to represent text, providing deeper context and acting as an anchor to aid retention. Secondly, as an advanced level book, it was assumed that there would be relatively few images in the books.

The module chosen contained a large number of illustrations, an average of 5 or 6 per double page, of varying type. Among these, were photographs (landscapes, portraits, and screenshots), drawings, tables, digital designs, and authentic materials. An evaluation of the first double page spread revealed that the majority of illustrations were provided for decorative purposes; enhancing interest or drawing attention. Whilst some of the illustrations accompanied text in a representational manner, they show little resemblance to the text in question. Further, none of the illustrations were used as or accompanying, an activity. In the back pages there are a number of tables which are used to represent concepts in a clear manner, and hence are didactic. However, these were the only illustrations that were perceived to have much purpose beyond that of decoration. The level of the book, being that of advanced, may be the reason for the affective/attentive foci of illustrations. Observations about the illustrations were also made regarding the overall graphic design, with discussions revolving around choices made by designers to limit copyright infringements and photocopying of materials etc.

Other course books

The evaluation of the face2face course book found some rather surprising results so I decided to evaluate this book against one of the books that I use day to day in my school. 10 pages were chosen at random from the face2face book and another 10 from the advanced book created by ‘EF’. These were evaluated using Levin’s (1981) typology which was seen to be less restricting, containing more purposes. The typology is as follows: (1) decoration, (2) remuneration, (3) motivation, (4) reiteration, (5) representation, (6) organisation, (7) interpretation, and (8) transformation. The first of the three functions are non-pedagogical whilst the last five are pedagogical.

It was found that the EF book contains a vast amount more illustrations throughout than the face2face. The illustrations in EF’s book were often collated as collages, accounting for the large number of images but relatively less space dedicated to such. The use of these illustrations also varied quite distinctly between the two books. Whilst the face2face used illustrations predominantly for decorative, remunerative, and motivational purposes, the EF textbook contained a larger proportion that were for representational, organisational and interpretative purposes. It can be seen that the EF textbooks use of illustrations were more pedagogically driven. Further, on most pages selected from the EF textbook, at least one illustration was used as, or part of, an activity, for example, eliciting vocabulary or matching image to text. It was noted however that whilst the EF textbook explicitly stated activities for the illustrations, the face2face images had, perhaps greater, potential to be utilised by the teacher and students. The face2face images were often rich landscape illustrations that could be used to form the basis of much lexical and pragmatic discussions and activities.


The evaluation undertaken would indicate that the textbooks I currently use within my school use illustrations in a pedagogical way to assist students in language learning. These too explicitly incorporate the illustrations into the tasks undertaken by students and teachers. However, the evaluation too identified that both textbooks have great potential for the use of illustrations if utilised by the teacher. Perhaps, the teacher’s use of the illustrations has a greater impact than the intended purpose. A further thought was that of utilising images outside of the textbook, mainly those of students’ own images. An image owned by the student could possibly possess greater context and interest to the student, electing richer vocabulary and affording greater retention due to the personal and emotive nature. In using students’ images there is also a wider selection to choose from, perhaps more appropriate to the foci of the lesson.


Basal, A., Celen, K., Kaya, H., & Bogaz, S. (2016). An Investigation into Illustrations in English Course Books in a Turkish Context. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 8(3), 525-536.

Çakır, I. (2015). Instructional Materials Commonly Employed by Foreign Language Teachers at Elementary Schools. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 8(1), 69-82.

Duchastel, P. (1978). Illustrating instructional texts. Educational technology, 18(11), 36-39.

Evans, M., Watson, C., & Willows, D. (1987). A naturalistic inquiry into illustrations in instructional textbooks. In H. Houghton & D. Willows (Eds.), The psychology of illustration (Vol. Vol.2: Instructional issues, pp. 86−115). New York: Springer.

Hewings, M. (1991). The interpretation of illustrations in ELT materials. ELT Journal, 45(3), 237-244.

Kuzu, A., Akbulut, Y., & Sahin, M. (2007). Application of Multimedia Design Principles to Visuals Used in Course-Books: An Evaluation Tool. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 6(2), 8-14.

Levin, J. (1981). On functions of pictures in prose. In F. Pirozzolo & M. Wittrock (Eds.), Neuropsychological and cognitive processes in reading. New York: Academic Press.

Olshansky, B. (2008). The Power of Pictures: Creating Pathways to Literacy through Art. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Redston, C., & Cunningham, G. (2006). Face2face: Advanced student’s book. Cambridge: University Press.


February 16

Principles and Frameworks

16th February

Both the readings from this past week and the discussions from today’s session have illuminated a number of interesting thoughts that I wish to explore further here. To begin, I would like to refer to the learning outcomes for the module;

  1. a critical awareness of materials design processes and principles, and the ability to relate these to language learning and teaching materials;
  2. the ability to consider learner needs and other contextual factors in the selection, adaptation, use or production of language teaching and learning materials;
  3. a critical understanding of the complexity and importance of media, functionality, and technology choice when selecting, using and evaluating materials;
  4. the ability to identify relevant teaching or learning theories evident in the design and use of teaching and learning materials;
  5. the ability to systematically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of materials using a synthesis of current approaches to materials evaluation.


As the module progresses, these will be developed through seminars, literature, and these blog posts. Reviewing the LOs made me think of the blog post from last week and how my initial thoughts sit with these. Hence, here I will begin by framing last week’s discussion within the LOs. The main points of this discussion are as follow:

  • Student influence on the development, selection and implementation of materials
  • Successful augmentation of materials
  • The impact of/on assessment
  • Evaluating the authorship of materials and their hidden curriculum
  • Teaching of sensitive or taboo subjects and the lack of materials on such
  • Archiving and retrieving materials
  • Quality assurance of self-made materials

Exploration of these topics, both in class discussions and out-of-class research, will help to meet these learning criteria. All of the above will require an understanding of one’s principles, a topic discussed later in this post. All material is created and implemented as a response to underlying principles and must be acknowledged when doing so. An understanding of taboo subjects and the question of their place in the classroom cannot be achieved without evaluation of the beliefs and values associated with taboos, for example. In order to discuss the influence students (can) have on materials, we must evaluate our principles surrounding students’ participation in material development as well as students’ principles. Exploration of material augmentation and issues of archiving will undoubtedly involve discussions of media and technologies.

Both the quality assurance of self-made materials and evaluating the authorship of existing materials will inevitably include the evaluation of both types of materials. Whilst I have no formal experience of materials evaluation, informal evaluations are not unknown to myself. In the creation of new course books, I have informally evaluated both the previous materials in use and aspects of the new materials both in terms of the materials themselves and their implementations in the classroom.  Throughout the module, formal evaluation will be conducted on both self-made and published materials. The basis of next week’s seminar being evaluation, the pre-seminar task is to evaluate a published course book, an experience that I’m sure will be interesting.

Processes of material development

Looking at the descriptions of the process of material creation as given by material developers, evoked a number of questions. There was a stark difference between descriptions such as ad hoc and spontaneous, and those like principled and frameworks. I did question however whether these two categories are dichotomous or whether they are more interlinked. For this reason, the word intuition was probably the most interesting. In literature, the word intuition has varied meanings across different fields. In early philosophy, intuition was largely defined as the conscious awakening of pre-existing knowledge through contemplation (Dariusz, 2015). In modern psychology, however, intuition is seen as the use of pre-existing expert knowledge and experience to make informed decisions (Klein, 2003). My understanding of the term is that of a ‘gut feeling’: using one’s experience and knowledge to make choices, often quickly and without consultation. In this understanding then, materials developers can make ad hoc and spontaneous decisions, however, these will be informed by their own principles and previous experiences of materials and hence founded upon frameworks. Tomlinson (2012) claims that materials writers use a number of techniques:  retrieval from repertoire, cloning successful publications, and spontaneous inspiration, all of which could be argued to be aspects of using intuition.

This, of course, relies on the identity of ‘expert’ or ‘experienced’, with novices perhaps relying less on intuition and more upon structure and frameworks. A notable difference between novice and expert materials developers is that whilst novices solidly run with one idea and fully conceptualise it until the end, experts are happy to form a number of ideas and abandon anything that does not work (Tomlinson, 2011). This may be due to novices largely consisting of teachers in practice who face a number of issues developing materials. Teachers face large time restraints and hence abandoning materials during production could easily be seen as counterproductive. Expert developers don’t face the same constraints and thus may not mind doing so. They may also have more room for spontaneity and actualisation of ideas in development due to their extended window of time.

Exploring principles

It is important to note that materials extend beyond that of mere course books. Tomlinson (2011) identified materials as “a textbook, a workbook, a cassette, a CD-ROM, a video, a photocopied handout, a newspaper, a paragraph written on a whiteboard: anything which presents or informs about the language being learned” (p. xiii-xiv).  In an exploration of my thoughts on materials I identified that in my perception materials should:

  • contain learning beyond the language & be socially relevant
  • be adaptable to contexts and learner needs
  • be inclusive
  • contain free space

As a group, we identified a number of complimenting principles that we agreed upon, and a number of which we had contrasting opinions about. Whilst such issues of engagement, expense, creativity, and adaptability were agreed upon, others, such as graded language, authentic materials, and free space were debated. It was clear in such that experience and context were highly influential in personal principles.

The notion of materials being adaptable and inclusive was regarded by all as important. Remembering that materials exceed just course books, it was agreed that multimodality is important as well as room to adapt and supplement materials rather than being forced to adhere to a strict framework. Similarly, all were in agreement that any learning is social and must include more than just the language. In my context of working with teenagers, I feel this is even more important, contributing to their social education. This may include soft skills, like teamwork and leadership, social knowledge of the language, like taboos and appropriacy, or subjects, such as politics and social justice. This was an issue seemingly discussed by other groups, as shown in the following photo taken of another group’s principles.

After discussion of our principles, we equated these with the principles featured in a number of writings. Whilst some of our ideas were identified in the literature, such as materials being socially relevant (Nunan, 1988; Tomlinson, 2011) and materials being adaptable (Bell & Gower, 1998; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987), others were not. That is not to say that these ideas are of no value or not discussed in the literature, but rather are not discussed in these specific writings. For example, whilst the idea of free space in materials was not acknowledged by any of the given principles in question, it is apparent in the literature (Tomlinson, 2011).

Identification and evaluation of these principles is important in discussions of materials as they will inevitably impact the development, choosing, and implementation of materials. As a teacher creating my own materials, it is important that I understand these, not only to ensure my materials encompass my own principles but that these principles are founded upon more than just belief.


Bell, J., & Gower, R. (1998). Writing course materials for the world: a great compromise. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials Development in Language Teaching (pp. 116-129). Cambridge: University Press.

Dariusz, P. (2015). The Concept of Intuition and its Role in Plato and Aristotle. Organon, 47, 23-40.

Hutchinson, T., & Waters, A. (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-Centred Approach Cambridge: University Press.

Klein, G. (2003). Intuition At Work. London: Doubleday.

Nunan, D. (1988). Principles for Designing Language Teaching Materials. Guidelines, 10, 1-24.

Tomlinson, B. (2011). Introduction: principles and procedures of materials development. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials Development in Language Teaching (2nd ed., pp. 1-31). Cambridge: University Press.

Tomlinson, B. (2012). State-of-the-Art Article: Materials development for language learning and teaching. Language Teaching, 45(2), 143-179.

February 9

Opening reflections

9th February

Today’s introduction to teaching materials raised a number of interesting thoughts, both during discussion within the session and upon further reflection of such. This post aims to provide a commentary of these thoughts and explore them with reference to future development. This includes development on this module and further on the MA course, as well as professional development in my dual roles as ELT teacher and academic manager.


Mind-map of initial group discussion on the topic ‘what we want to get out of TE714’

Beginning by discussing ‘what I want to get from this module’ allowed me to identify how this module relates to myself and my development, and frame such in relation to that of my peers. In doing so I identified the following points, from both my initial thoughts and those formed from discussion with peers;


  • Student influence on the development, selection and implementation of materials
  • Successful augmentation of materials
  • The impact of/on assessment
  • Evaluating the authorship of materials and their hidden curriculum
  • Teaching of sensitive or taboo subjects and the lack of materials on such
  • Archiving and retrieving materials
  • Quality assurance of self-made materials

I will now briefly discuss each of these points in turn, with particular focus placed upon the interest of each area and how to carry these forward.

Student influence on the development, selection and implementation of materials

My first, and perhaps most important, thought was of the impact students (can) have on the materials we use in our classrooms. The company within which I am currently employed is an international operation with English schools on every inhabitable continent. Being so, materials and their implementation are extremely centralised meaning that a monolingual group of French students studying in Australia, and a multinational group of European and Asian students studying in Ireland will use the same materials, and their teachers trained and instructed to deliver such in a unified manner. Whilst the implementation will inevitably vary, even if only slightly, from teacher to teacher due to factors of their experience, culture, background and personality etc, there is little room/consideration for the individuality of the group of students in question, and further, the students within that group themselves. Currently designing new materials, this has been a major concern of mine and one which we have tried to address, albeit in only minor ways. Throughout this module and my further development, I am interested in exploring the ways in which students currently do, as well as have the potential to, influence every aspect of the materials; from creation to implementation.

Successful augmentation of materials

In the age in which we are living, we as teachers have unlimited amounts of resources available to us in a range of formats and media. Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of such is using a variety of materials together appropriately. Whilst often still the main material in ESL classrooms, course books no longer stand alone and are often accompanied by complementary digital media. The school for which I work relies heavily still on print material although adheres to a blended learning approach. Teachers are therefore encouraged to incorporate a range of materials in their classes, print, digital, authentic etc, with very little guidance on how to do so. Authentic materials are often praised as useful tools of language learning but incorporating such into a rigidly planned, course book based lesson poses many challenges. Further to this, in the creation of new course books currently underway, a ‘digital layer’ is being produced which is complementary of the corresponding books. In doing so, challenges have been faced in ensuring effective and quality lessons in contexts where the digital layer is non-accessible as well as those in which it is.

The impact of/on assessment

An interesting line of thought that emerged from a conversation with peers was the impact that assessment plays on materials, and vice versa. Whilst opinions varied from peer to peer, each working in varying contexts with drastically different purposes, assessment is a part of each and every one of our jobs. In some institutions, the syllabus and accompanying materials are devised or chosen around the assessment criteria, in others the assessment is created around the existing syllabus and materials. In others still, like my own, the materials and assessment are, seemingly, unconnected. I wonder if these two should be connected, and in contexts in which they are how this impacts the learning taking place.

Teaching of sensitive or taboo subjects and the lack of materials on such

A discussion that was of particular interest to me was that around taboo subjects in teaching materials and classrooms. In my opinion, some of the most productive and engaging lessons have been those arisen from spontaneous teachable moments, often around taboo issues. For example, in a recent conversation class a student listed hunting as a hobby of theirs which sparked strong reactions from their peers and initiated an interesting debate. Just this week when asking students openly what topics of conversation and debate they wished to conduct, answers included ‘gay rights’, ‘gender equality’, and ‘religions’. Personally, I believe that teaching culture is encompassed within teaching the language and that taboo subjects are an important aspect of any culture. Students often learn English to engage socially and hence must be aware of taboos and appropriacy. Further, such discussions are usually inherently motivating and rich sources of language and language skills.

Of course, there are issues with discussing taboo subjects: they are taboo for a reason and may provoke emotional responses from students and cause offence, especially in multicultural environments. Harmer (2007) uses the acronym PARSNIP to identify universal taboo issues that are often omitted in EFL classes; Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, and Pork. Whilst there have been some materials published focusing solely on taboo topics (Smith, et al’s ‘PARSNIPs in ELT’ collection for example), for publishers and writers of courseware including such topics would pose large risks in sales, losing whole markets because the content is deemed as culturally inappropriate. Despite this, such issues are prevalent in media and are encountered regularly in students’ lives and can be argued, therefore, have an important place in the classroom (Condis & Alexander, 2010).

Archiving and retrieving materials

As teachers, we often spend large amounts of time sourcing and creating materials. With the availability of materials both online and in print, it is often hard to know even where to begin looking. I have often struggled with finding both new materials as well as retrieving previously used or created materials, and spend time not only searching for such but then having to (re)create the desired materials. More in-depth discussions on the archiving and retrieving of materials would be extremely interesting, both in terms of peers’ personal methods and digital aids available.

Quality assurance of self-made materials

As aforementioned, I often result in creating my own materials or amending those already available. Whilst I tailor such to the specific needs of my students, something that premade materials cannot do, I do so often from nothing other than my own judgement and personal pedagogy. Any evaluation of one’s own materials then is always going to be subjective (Tomlinson, 2012). Throughout this module, I hope to explore techniques in evaluating one’s own materials and ensuring a high quality of product that serves its purpose.

Condis, M., & Alexander, S. (2010). Teaching Taboos: An Annotated Bibliography of Unconventional Resources for the Rhetoric Classroom. Enculturation, 7.

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Tomlinson, B. (2012). Materials Development for Language Learning and Technology. Language Teaching, 45(2), 143-179.