After having spent quite some time looking for the most suitable textbook for our student(s), we feel satisfied that we have eventually made it! Now, we are looking forward to showing the material to our students: A textbook with all its state-of-the art components boastfully advertised as the most update, engaging and exciting in the market. If this is the case, why, sooner or later, do we find ourselves searching for extra resources on the Internet or creating our own supplementary material?
By Vassiliki Lismani
Is there something wrong about this particular textbook? It is argued that the best way to evaluate a textbook is “to critically examine the claims made by the authors of the book, with regard to its content and goals, and to ascertain to what extent these claims can be justified” (“ESL Textbooks”, n.d., para 1). Although not impossible, it might be far-fetched to blame material writers and publishers, question their intentions to create excellent material especially since nowadays, behind new EFL publication there is usually loads of multidisciplinary research. Nonetheless, the question still remains: what makes EFL teachers spend so much time making their own additions to the textbooks?
In many cases, teachers themselves cannot predict their students’ needs unless they start teaching them and the truth is that it is practically impossible even for the best coursebook to cover the infinite needs of EFL learners and therefore their teachers’ who want to rise to this challenge. Even if one textbook seems to be perfect for some students, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can equally cater to other students’ needs or be equally engaging. Eventually, it turns out that “there are innumerable textbooks available for language teaching but each one is insufficient, to some extent, for the purpose.” (Thakur, 2015, p. 1)
The “Aha!!!” moment!
Teachers’ “Aha!” moment comes when they actually come up with the idea of this kind of supplementary material that will eventually boost their students’ understanding and engagement! Although teachers do not always realize it, it is not a matter of an inspiration, something effortless that simply pops-up. The “Aha!!!” moment is often compared to insight and as such it cannot be conceptualized as a moment of sudden enlightenment. On the contrary, it results from putting together information related to prior knowledge and experiences leading to new associations and connections (Carpenter, 2019). In other words, creating supplementary material presupposes among other things that:
- We have evaluated our teaching material, reflected on it and questioned our choices assessing their impact on our students.
- We acknowledge our students as a heterogeneous group that cannot be served following a one-fits-all material.
- We are ready to invest our time. True, designing additional material can sometimes be time consuming, especially if we create our own material from scratch time However, plenty of authentic material is easily accessible on the Internet and although not designed for instructional purposes per se, not only can it serve but also spice up our lessons. Integrating authentic material can help students develop their communicative competency but also motivate learners with the exciting new additions (Thakur, 2015).
- We have been trained to acquire the know-how to choose, create, adapt and eventually adopt the extra material in order to serve specific objectives and goals.
- We have made the decision to teach out of the box.
- We have made the decision to question writers’ choices. After all, they don’t claim the absolute truth; in addition nobody knows our students better than we do!
- We are prepared to defend and support our additions to parents and/or director of studies who insist on finishing the coursebook from cover to cover (“otherwise, books are a complete waste of money!”).
Using supplementary material to engage students.
One of my favourite reasons why to look for or create supplementary material is to construct their content schemata “referring to the familiarity of subject matter of the text” (Al-Issa, 2006, p. 42); in other words, to attract students’ interest and develop their background knowledge about a topic. Content schemata activation takes place in the pre-teaching stage of every lesson and despite the fact that all textbooks include the so-called warm-up activities, these cannot always serve students’ needs or do not always refer to students’ real life situations! The Internet is an inexhaustible source of authentic material (newspaper articles, journals, reports, TED Talks, podcasts, videos, photographs etc.) that covers all students’ needs depending on their age, social, cultural and linguistic background.
Additionally, supplementary material gives teachers’ the opportunity to integrate skills. For example, in a reading or listening lesson teachers can integrate extra speaking or writing material and vice versa to activate and further develop their students’ knowledge and sparkle their interest. Alternatively, teachers can even ask their students to do their own research to find any kind of supplementary authentic material to enrich their understanding over a subject. This way, teachers
- create a realistic communicative environment within a student-centred lesson
- offer necessary input before output
- help students develop their critical thinking skills
- decrease students’ affective filter
If we decide to design our own supplementary material (for example a short questionnaire, a presentation, a game) or bring authentic realia in the classroom, we can offer additional excitement to our students. In the first case, they appreciate the fact that we have spent some time creating something for them; in the second case, they value the feeling of sharing something personal with them. In both cases, besides engaging our students we have also achieved to establish good rapport.
Most of the times, the use supplementary material comes out of necessity. Nonetheless, instead of complaining about the inefficiency of the books to cover our students’ needs, or our students’ weaknesses which dictate extra material, we should see supplementary material as a way to develop professionally, the moment when we can put in practice our attitude towards teaching, a moment to show our students that we really care! Our ultimate teaching moment!
Al-Issa, A. (2006). Schema theory and L2 reading comprehension: Implications for teaching. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 3(7), 41 – 48. DOI: 10.19030/tlc.v3i7.1700
Carpenter, W. (2019). The Aha! Moment: The science behind of creative insights. In S. M. Brito (Ed.) (2020). Toward super-creativity. Improving creativity in humans, machines, and human-machine collaborations (pp. 11-24). IntechOpen.
ESL Textbooks – The Importance of Cultural Content Analysis (n. d.). TESOL ADVANTAGE. https://tesoladvantage.com/esl-textbooks-the-importance-of-cultural-content-analysis/
Pardede, P. (2017). Integrate skills approach in EFL classroom: A literature review. In P. Pardede (Ed.) (2019). EFL Theory and Practice: Voice of EED UKI, pp. 147 – 159.
Thakur, V. S. (2015). Using supplementary materials in the teaching of English: Pedagogic scope and applications. English Language Teaching, 8(12), p. 1-6.