The experience of using authentic materials and designing my own lessons (so far)

Since I started studying English, I’ve been fascinated by seeing the language in its authentic forms – it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the coursebooks, but whenever a teacher brought in a snack or soda from abroad (I’ve seen a couple of beef jerky bags and a Dr. Pepper), or even a magazine that wasn’t issued here, it was a riot to me. To perceive how they treated the language in their products or written material translated into the way they saw life. And isn’t it why we do what we do as teachers? To get a deeper understanding of others’ lives and ultimately translate it to ourselves? 


I’ve been teaching English for almost three years cumulatively, and while I realize I’m only starting out and feel as a novice most of the time, I’m searching relentlessly for self-development. I have developed prep courses for TOEFL and IELTS, been a school coordinator, taken my CELTA certification and designed a small Business English course, along with other lessons. For the Business English course, authentic materials were the only option to provide students with the target language I desired. 


I remember putting a text about negotiations from the Oxford Handbook of Diplomacy. The target language was in bold for students to later use it in speaking tasks, but they never did. As I recalled their confused looks, I thought I was a total failure as a teacher. It was much later, after reading a post by Cecilia Nobre quoting Penny Ur on working with vocabulary, that I decided to invest in a different approach. 


I’m designing a series of lessons about breakfast places/diners in the United States, and have decided to start by showing students a hash brown recipe as an introduction. Not only would they learn about a typical breakfast food in the US, but they would also learn recipe vocabulary. I didn’t put the target language in bold this time, but I made my own list of vocabulary that I wanted students to learn and kept it to myself. Then I had them make a list of their chosen words to search. As it turns out, I was able to predict most of the words they picked – “shred and rinse potatoes” won by far. Then I showed a video of the recipe using the vocabulary again, and suggested a speaking task where they would guide me through the recipe without reading or watching it. As simple as it may sound, students were comfortable using language they had never used before, and even taught me some terms. This generated intake of the vocabulary proposed instead of only input. 


This has shown me something: authentic materials might just bring in an extra dash of excitement to the classroom if you know how to work them. Students were excited about understanding a true American recipe, and about the idea of cooking their own hash browns.

Marina Mahfuz

International Relations graduate (Universidade Federal de Goiás), Marina is an English teacher. She teaches from general English (all levels) to English for Specific Purposes (ESP), with focus on Business English, as well as TOEFL and IELTS prep courses. She has the CELTA certification and has been a language school coordinator.

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