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Looking out for new teaching resources for your Junior classes?

What often urges language teachers to look out for new teaching resources is their concern whether the new materials ‘out there’ are more appropriate for their learners, centred on their own interests, backed up by other components or more attractive in terms of visuals. More preoccupations stretch from whether their activities take less time to prepare, manage to challenge their learners, expose them to familiar contexts, to whether they provide opportunities to learn through a variety of senses.

 Text by: Paul Bouniol

Interestingly enough, not all teachers expect the same from such materials. Some select them as a(n) (extra) resource for presentation of new language or choose it as a reference source for learners; others select them as a source of stimulation and ideas revolving around classroom activities or as a syllabus with pre-determined learning objectives. There are also teachers who choose them simply for ‘support’, particularly novice teachers who are less experienced and who have yet to gain in confidence.

 Whatever the concerns and expectations, what can help teachers with teaching resources evaluation for their Junior classes?

The back cover blurb

The back cover blurb can indeed reveal some useful information about the content (e.g. approach used, skills developed etc). But beware: a blurb is just a short, brief, general description. To achieve an in-depth evaluation, it is essential to be able to verify any claims in it. More is therefore needed.

Flipping through the materials

Flipping through the materials will certainly turn out to be a little more helpful: having a quick look at short extracts, the lexical selection, the various structures used, how language is recycled, the task types incorporated, the approach adopted by the author, etc. should help identify some of their strengths. But again, more is required.

Materials reviews

Indeed, such reviews with their formal, critical appraisals of the teaching materials quality will prove to be much more enlightening and can be found in the majority of EFL publications, like EFL newspapers/journals. Still, teachers should avoid readily accepting the word of a book reviewer (just in case the reviewer is not an experienced theorist or an academic but simply an … overzealous Master’s student).


Information about the author and the applied methodology
 

Background information about the author will also help: what are they well-known for, what kind of approach do they typically adopt? Let’s not forget all authors adopt a particular stance as to what learning is all about. What sort of impact will their methodology have on the learners? For example, will it involve them actively and how is language assimilation facilitated?


Clear aims and objectives

Do the teaching resources relate to the teachers’ initial aims and objectives? Do they ensure progressive linguistic, social, and cognitive development in young learners? Remember it is the teacher who should set goals and objectives in the first place, not the teaching materials.

Evaluation checklists

Teachers may also refer to popular and ‘classic’ checklists, such as those suggested by Harmer (2015), Moon (2000), Williams (1998), Cunningsworth (1995) or Halliwell (1992).

 

A user-friendly checklist - far from being outdated - is the one proposed by Halliwell (1992) who recommends teachers to draft a list of questions like the one presented below and insert a score from 1 (minimum score) to 5 (maximum score) next to each question. The scores should help with spotting the strengths and weaknesses of the shortlisted materials when comparing them at a later stage.

 

 

 

 

FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE TEACHER

 

1

2

3

4

5

A

Do the book’s priorities match with your priorities? (e.g., if you take learning through communicating as your priority, does the book aim to set up genuine interaction? Real language use?)

 

 

 

 

 

B

Does the book seem to do what it claims to do? (e.g., if it claims to set up real language use, does it provide pairwork which really involves communication and not just learnt dialogues?)

 

 

 

 

 

C

Is it clear how to use the book?

 

 

 

 

 

D

Is the book clearly structured and sequenced?

 

 

 

 

 

E

Does it provide integrated revision of key items?

 

 

 

 

 

F

Are there additional materials provided which you personally can’t otherwise obtain? (e.g. authentic materials?)

 

 

 

 

 

G

Does it offer lots of practical ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

H

Does the book develop a balance of the language skills of listening, speaking, reading, writing which suit your needs?

 

 

 

 

 

I

Does it provide plenty of varied practice of any one set of language items?

 

 

 

 

 

J

Does it help you to set tests if they are required by your school?

 

 

 

 

 

K

Does it manage to avoid sexual, racial and cultural stereotypes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE CHILDREN

 

 

 

 

 

 

L

Does the book look interesting and fun?

 

 

 

 

 

M

Can the children easily see what they have to do?

 

 

 

 

 

N

Does the book provide them much for them to do independently?

 

 

 

 

 

O

Does it give them activities and tasks which are interesting and worthwhile in themselves and which are not just language exercises?

 

 

 

 

 

P

Does it provide plenty for those children who cannot yet read and write with confidence?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OTHER QUESTIONS OF YOUR OWN*: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does it …?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does it …?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does it …?

 

 

 

 

 

 

* This section invites teachers to add more questions related to themselves (e.g. their specific aims) and their learners (e.g. their specific needs).

 

Backing up the new teaching resources

 

As there will never be a perfect fit for any given class, do not forget the ‘winning’ materials may need to be backed up by supplementary materials to cover some of their weaknesses (e.g. the relatively small number of tasks for the teachers’ weak learners or the language not recycled as often as wished for the same learners), and also by the teachers’ own materials (e.g. worksheets with vocabulary lists related to their learners’ current needs).

 

 

From the above it becomes clear that any evaluation of teaching resources requires a number of moves, stepping back and seeing things from different perspectives. Such a cautious approach may be time-consuming but is the safest way for appropriate and effective decision-making.

 

Good luck with your teaching resources search!

 

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