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.