In the vast majority of ESL/EFL schools you’ll teach at and classrooms you’ll teach in, there will be a syllabus or curriculum to follow with at least one key textbook. And this textbook will provide the bulk of the learning materials you’ll use to instruct your students.
But even the best textbooks won’t cover everything that you’ll need for your class – because individual finite written materials can’t be expected to address the infinite number of learning issues that you can potentially face in English language teaching.
Some of these learning issues include:
- You need a 10 – 15 minute ‘filler’ because you’ve run out of material for the lesson.
- You concurrently have students in your class at both the higher end and lower end of the level you’re teaching. You need to give the faster students something useful to do while you’re helping the slower students.
- A student asks a question and your textbook either doesn’t cover the topic at all, or doesn’t cover it enough.
- Because most textbooks have exercises that are accuracy-focused, you want to focus more on fluency.
In all of these cases, you’ll need supplementary materials to augment what is outlined in the syllabus – either ready-made ones (generally found online) or resources you create yourself.
Either way, teachers who truly want to give their students every opportunity to reach their potential get in the habit of preparing supplementary materials on a regular basis.
Whether you’re a new or experienced teacher, this option at first glance would appear to be the optimal choice. It’s common sense, isn’t it? Why spend a lot of hours creating something from scratch when there are hundreds of excellent choices online?
While it’s true that the search-and-print method will give you access to teaching ideas that you haven’t seen before and you may never have thought of on your own, there are definitely pitfalls to avoid.
Let’s take a look at what makes an off-the-shelf option a GOOD option. I’ve compiled a checklist that I’ve found works really well for me – and I’ve included it below.
Checklist For Online Supplementary Materials
Any materials you find online should be:
√ well-developed – you might be surprised how many times I’ve seen supplementary materials with spelling and grammar mistakes, learning steps that don’t follow a logical progression, or elements that are incomplete in some way.
√ suitable for your class level and/or age group – if materials are too hard or too easy, your students will quickly lose interest. Also, it’s highly unprofessional to teach adult topics to children – and extremely condescending to teach childish topics to adults.
√ culturally sensitive / appropriate – for example, it’s unwise to attempt to discuss the China situation with a class that includes students from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
√ time-friendly – I’ve seen some teachers get in the habit of trying to find what they think are ‘whiz-bang’, ‘X-factor’ exercises online – but then spend ages ‘learning’ how to teach them. It’s very easy to get burnt out if you have poor time-management skills.
I’ve found that as a general rule, more often than not it is better to create your own materials than to try to find something online.
Because when you teach a class of students, all classroom learning materials should meet the specific needs of that particular cohort. And only you know what they are. Online materials usually only tick some or most of the boxes you need to tick – not all of them.
Dealing with Learning Issues
Previously in this article, I referred to four common learning issues. I’ve included example materials that I’ve successfully used in my classes on multiple occasions that address each issue.
- 10 – 15 minute filler
One of the best options is having a discussion in small groups of 3 or 4 about a topic that the all the students like and understand. A very ‘safe’ topic is ‘Movies’.
- Concurrently teaching faster and slower students
Do you have a problem with higher and lower level students being in the same class? One solution that works is to add an extra dimension to a textbook exercise.
For example, when you’re helping your slower students complete a reading comprehension exercise, ask your faster students to complete one or more of these activities.
- Student questions
Most experienced teachers agree that the area of English that textbooks often don’t cover sufficiently is grammar.
Let’s say a learner asks about the difference between an adjective and an adverb. I would suggest making a chart with vocabulary used during that week (highlighted) and then adding the relating nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.
After going through the definitions of each word category, using the chart as a visual aid, ask students to write 16 grammatically correct sentences using the 8 adjectives and 8 adverbs.
Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives and Adverbs
- Focusing on fluency
Roleplays are good for improving fluency – for two reasons. One is the script writing phase where you put students in pairs to create and practice the dialogue. The other is the acting phase where the pairs present their role plays to the class.
One last thing
If you’d like to learn more about English language teaching, check out our other articles on our TESOL Advantage website.