This is an excerpt from my NILE MA Materials Development assignment submission. NILE run courses covering a wide range of professional development pathways. Next week I’ll post my IATEFL 2022 talk, which will include some tips for creating a similar checklist yourself.
Please note: This excerpt is intended for reference. Plagiarism is a very serious problem, and could result in you being removed from any course you study. Please ensure that all work is your own, not copied from mine.
This is an A2.2 group of twelve students aged 11-15 at a private language school in Poland.
The group is newly formed. Four students are new to the school and probably unfamiliar with our focus on communication in lessons. Four progressed from A2.1 young learner classes, where they had a less explicit focus on grammar with minimal use of metalanguage. Four progressed from A2.1 teen classes.
One learner has dyslexia, causing problems with reading and the understanding and production of sound-spelling relationships; another has dysgraphia, causing problems with spelling and writing, especially by hand.
These students are most likely to use English while playing games on their phones or computers (reading, listening, sometimes speaking), watching Netflix (listening) or travelling (listening and speaking, encountering a range of L1 and L2 English accents).
Lessons are face-to-face, with two 90-minute lessons per week, extensively over one academic year. Learners get homework every lesson, and the school advocates independent English practice outside class.
Their teacher will be fresh from CELTA, and has not taught teenagers before.
At our school, students complete half a CEFR level per academic year. By the end of this year, learners should meet the A2+ CEFR descriptors set out in Appendix 1 [not included in this post] for receptive skills, productive skills and language.
Evaluation pro-forma – general layout
My evaluation criteria
To what extent do the topics covered in the materials match the interests of these learners, as described in the learner profile?
To what extent do the materials support the development of positive group dynamics in a face-to-face classroom, particularly regarding relationships between students?
To what extent are learners shown how they can continue to work on their language learning outside lessons?
To what extent are learners made aware of their progress while using the materials?
[Note: The numbers in brackets referred to the descriptors I’d included in the Appendix, but which aren’t shown here.]
To what extent does work on listening teach the skills required to work towards the A2+ CEFR receptive skills descriptors (RS1)?
To what extent does work on reading teach the skills required to work towards the A2+ CEFR receptive skills descriptors (RS2)?
To what extent are opportunities provided for learners to produce spoken language enabling them to work towards meeting the A2+ CEFR productive skills descriptors (PS1, PS3, PS6, PS7)?
To what extent is scaffolding provided for productive skills tasks to improve learners’ ability to produce spoken language to A2+ level (PS1) and interact successfully (PS3, PS5, PS6, PS7)?
To what extent are opportunities provided for learners to produce written language enabling them to work towards meeting the A2+ CEFR productive skills descriptors (PS2, PS4, PS5, PS7)?
To what extent is scaffolding provided for productive skills tasks to improve learners’ ability to produce written language to A2+ level (PS2) and interact successfully (PS4, PS5, PS6, PS7)?
To what extent is the lexis introduced through the materials relevant to routine, everyday situations in which 11-15 year old Polish learners might find themselves using English, as described in A2+ CEFR language descriptors (L1, L2)?
To what extent is the functional language introduced through the materials relevant to routine, everyday situations in which 11-15 year old Polish learners might find themselves using English, as described in A2+ CEFR language descriptors (L1, L2)?
To what extent is the meaning, use and form of grammar analysed in a way that would be accessible to these learners, including those who are unfamiliar with metalanguage?
To what extent is phonological control focussed on in the materials, particularly the pronunciation of familiar words which may cause problems for Polish L1 speakers (CEFR A2+, L4)?
To what extent is contextualised practice of new language items provided which allows learners to demonstrate their mastery of vocabulary range, grammatical accuracy and phonological control (L1-L4)?
To what extent are learners encouraged to personalise new language items?
To what extent do the materials include varied activities to cater to a range of learner preferences?
To what extent do the materials allow for differentiation to enable all of the learners in the group to progress towards meeting the A2+ CEFR descriptors, regardless of their prior experience of language learning?
To what extent do the materials lend themselves to coherent 90-minute lessons, with only one or two topics or skill/language focuses throughout?
To what extent do the teacher’s notes provide linguistic guidance and support for an early career teacher?
To what extent do the teacher’s notes provide methodological guidance and support for an early career teacher?
To what extent are activity rubrics clear?
To what extent is the design of the materials suitable for learners with dyslexia or dysgraphia?
To what extent are a range of voices represented within the materials, for example different genders, nationalities or ages?
To what extent do the materials avoid stereotyped, inaccurate, condescending or offensive images of gender, race, social class, disability or nationality?
On Monday 8th November 2021, I gave a webinar for IH Cairo with the following abstract:
Are you a language teacher looking for practical tips on adapting materials? Would you like to know more about the principles behind adapting materials? Do you teach online and need to know how to adapt materials for your online classroom? How can you get your students to interact with your materials? Looking for ways to get your students more in control of their own learning?
In this session, Sandy will look at some of the principles behind adapting materials, and consider how they can be applied in the online classroom. Among other things, she’ll consider ways of presenting materials that go beyond PowerPoint, ways that students can interact with them, and how to hand over control to the students as much as possible.
My webinar was part of a series, all of which will be/are (depending on when you read this!) available on social media:
The webinar itself wasn’t just about adapting materials for online lessons, but more about principles for adapting materials for any kind of lesson, with mentions of how some of these tweaks could be made online. I generally believe that a lot of ways of adapting materials are equally valid in the online and face-to-face classroom.
Here are the slides:
I’ll add a recording when it’s available.
We started by looking at where the attendees fall on these continuums:
I use materials exactly as they are. < ——————— > I adapt everything – nothing is used as is.
My lessons are similar – I use a small range of activities. < ——————— > Every lesson is different – always use new activities.
I emphasised that there is no right place to be on the continuum – different points have different advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to consider our students’ and our own needs when we think about adapting materials. For example, if we adapt everything, it can create a lot of work and reduce our free time, whereas using (good) materials as they are can be useful if we’re not confident about how to stage a lesson. If we use a small range of activities, students become familiar with these and they can be set up quickly and efficiently, whereas if we always use new activities, students might feel uncomfortable about the lack of routine.
When reading the rest of the post, think about an upcoming lesson you’re going to teach. How might these ideas influence your lesson planning?
Before you plan
Consider your course objectives – how does this lesson fit in to them?
Find out your learners’ needs and wants, perhaps through conversations, questionnaires, getting to know you activities, diagnostic testing…
Based on these two sets of knowledge, decide your lesson objectives: what would it most benefit your learners to focus on next? If you have to use a coursebook, aim to pick and choose, rather than simply doing the next page. If you have to work through a coursebook page by page, make sure that your objectives are focussed on what the learners ‘can do’ (will be able to do) at the end of the lesson that they couldn’t do (as well) at the start, rather than having objectives which focus purely on completing the exercises on the page.
Consider ‘backwards planning‘ – start with what you want learners to achieve, and identify all the stages needed to reach this point. It’s probably best to identify these stages before you spend too long looking at the materials if you can, as otherwise you’re likely to get distracted by the materials themselves – it’s easy to lose site of the objectives of the lesson as a whole.
Why adapt materials?
Cunningsworth (1995:136) says:
Every learning/teaching situation is unique and depends on factors such as these:
– classroom dynamics
– personalities involved
– syllabus constraints
– availability of resources
– learner expectations
– learner motivation
Material can nearly always be improved by being adapted to suit the particular situation where it is being used.
Think about how these factors might influence the lesson you’ve got in mind e.g.
syllabus = double-page per lesson to get through in a year
personalities = quiet, prefer individual work, dominate the group
dynamics = only just met – don’t really know each other yet, don’t take risks, don’t want to switch cameras on – voices only
resources = do students have access to copies of the book? notebooks? cameras they can hold things up to?
expectations = do they expect you to cover every exercise in the book? did they ask for lots of speaking activities and no writing?
motivation = Friday after lunch?
Four evaluative processes
McGrath (2016: 64-65) lists these four processes as a starting point for deciding what you might need to adapt in your materials:
Selection Material that will be used unchanged.
Deletion Complete – omitting a whole activity, or even lesson Partial – cutting one or more stages within an activity
Addition Adaptation = Extension or exploitation of existing material Supplementation = Introducing new materials
Change Modifications to procedure Replacement = Changes to context/content
Be careful not to make extra work for yourself or make activities too challenging for your students, for example by deleting a key preparation stage before a speaking activity.
Areas to think about
When going through the four evaluative processes above, there are a large number of areas you could consider. This list might seem overwhelming at first glance – you’ll probably find you think about at least some of these areas already when lesson-planning, but maybe there are some you haven’t considered before. It’s not exhaustive – the six areas could include many other ideas, not just those listed here.
Methods movement heads-up/heads-down interaction patterns feedback techniques
Language content amount meaning/use form pronunciation
Subject matter interest authenticity relevance
Balance of skills reception v. production written v. spoken training v. testing
Progression and grading order of items scaffolding memorization time/prep time
Design images layout readability cultural content
The list includes ideas from Cunningsworth (1995: 136).
This double-page spread has been taken from p56-57 of English File Pre-Intermediate 3rd edition by Christina Latham-Koenig, Clive Oxenden, and Paul Seligson.
Face-to-face: mingle for 3a, work with different partner 1d/5b,
Online: running dictation – 1d – teacher dictates 1a sentence, students run from other side of room to put letter in chat
Both: copy words onto paper in 4a and organize; 3d – stand up = T, sit down = f or right hand/left hand
Display questions on screen rather than in books, speak to partners = heads up, writing = heads down
Pairwork, groupwork (e.g. 3a, 5b – can prompt more discussion)
Hand over control – let students choose speed they progress through (parts of) the page, and you’re there to help?
Offer choices to students – do they want to do the reading or the listening? write about the school (1d) or their own ideas, use 5b questions or their own ideas / choose 2-3 of the questions from 5b, add 1 own idea to 4b
Cascade in the chat for 1a (write but don’t send, then all press enter at the same time)
Annotate for 4a, 4b = why are they comparing – how similar are you?
Have a specific task for 5b = talk to a partner + choose one language learning tip from your experiences to share with the group
Make a student the teacher (e.g. give one student all the answers + switch your camera off/stand at the back of the room)
Put them in pairs whenever you can
Focus only on modals / modifiers? Could be too much especially in online classes when things take longer!
Might need to give the rules rather than elicit, might focus on this after they’ve tried an activity e.g. 1d / 4b before they do the rules
Highlighting of the form on the screen/board
Remember the words and write the spellings (esp. mustn’t, quite…)
Point to signs and get them to remember the sentences/cline and remember words
Show first letters for sentences for students to remember
Practise saying minimal pairs sentences in 2b
This spread is probably pretty motivating, but you could start at a different point on the page to get them into the topic – 3a to get them involved (post question in chat, not from book), or tell them the situation (3b) and the title for them to predict content before they read, or start with 5b
Seems fairly authentic. I wouldn’t change anything
Very! I wouldn’t change anything
Balance of skills
Reception v. Production
Pretty good balance, unless you decide to take something out – keep an eye on it
Written v. Spoken
No writing really (Ex 6 is probably a separate lesson), apart from a little in 1d – maybe replace 5 with creating an article/blogpost with your own tips if learners need practice
Think about how much you use the chat v. get students to say things in open class (and how many SS *really* participate in open class speaking)
Training v. Testing
All testing, so you probably need to add training
Focus on sentences from the listening, reflect on techniques used (metacognition)
Underline answers in the reading
Spend more time on either reading/listening and skip the other one (just summarise the important info if needed for the rest of the lesson)
Progression and grading
Order of items
PPP structure now, maybe make it more TBL – put 1d/5b first
Choose what to focus in on – maybe the skills are more important than the language or vice versa – may need to just think about the grammar for example, if that’s what your learners need (make sure they really do need that and that the grammar work is clearly contextualised if you make that decision though!)
3b/3d = do first one together?
2b = help them with number of words, do one at a time, working in pairs
5a/5b – add prep time before speaking
Memorization time/Prep time
Memorization of modifiers – look, cover, write, check
Memorization of form/structures – look at signs and write sentences
Memorization of interesting language from reading/listening text
Remember some of the have you ever…questions in 5b for a future speaking
Prep time = 5a/5b – thinking time before speaking/writing (depending on how you set this up
Give time to choose 3 questions to ask in 5b, rather than covering them all
Highlight them in some way – pull them off the page (on a slide? blown up copy? – only spend time doing this if you’re going to spend more than that amount of time exploiting them in the lesson though!)
Exploit them more = what’s the conversation between the two men? How might it change between two women?
Use images for prediction (along with the headline?)
Assign a symbol to each modifier for students to use as a prompt for memorisation or creating their own activities
Very busy pages – lots going on – focus in on particular parts
Mask other parts with paper if in book
Make them bigger on screen
Use circles/arrows to draw attention
Text could challenge students with reading issues as very closely spaced – masking (as above)
Retype and space more (if necessary – don’t spend precious time on this if it won’t make a noticable difference for a learner!) Note: English File texts are available as downloadable/editable Word documents from the Oxford Teacher’s Club (requires login)
Colours probably fine – yellow background with black text for reading. Worth asking learners what they find easiest/most challenging to read though
Cultural content = going to a bar? Might be problematic in some contexts. Better in a café? > Change the picture
A planning checklist
Once you’ve planned/As you plan your lessons, it can be useful to have a short checklist of different dynamics you find it important to include in your lessons. For example, you could ask what balance of the following areas you have in your lesson:
Moving around / Sitting down
Teaching / Testing
Head up / Heads down
Teacher in control / Students in control
Individual work / Pair work / Group work / Whole class work
As with the clines at the start of the post, there is no single correct way to run a lesson – it depends on many different factors. But it can be useful to ask yourself these questions, and to consider whether the balance you’ve created is beneficial/suitable for your learners/your teaching style.
What tips would you give teachers to think about when choosing how to adapt materials, especially for online lessons?
If you’d like more ideas for exploiting activities, try these: