Teaching Material | Teaching English Better

Do ‘easy’ teaching materials have a place in the classroom?

Teaching materials come in many different forms these days, e.g., coursebooks, teacher-made videos, YouTube learning channels, podcasts, and web-based materials. When choosing materials for teaching purposes, teachers are often guided by some selection criteria, i.e., whether the contents are interesting and relevant, whether the length is about right, and also the level of linguistic difficulty of the text. Many teachers usually go for instructional-level texts, i.e., texts that contain some, but not too many unknown vocabulary words and/or grammatical points. These are texts that students might not be able to understand without the help of the teacher or other learning resources (e.g., a dictionary). The presence of unfamiliar language features often serves as the new learning point of the lesson and provides the teacher with the opportunity to explain and illustrate these to help students move to the next level of their language development.

There are times when teachers use texts that are way beyond students’ zone of proximal development (Antonacci, 2000). These texts are often referred to as frustration level texts, which, we all know, serve little or no purpose in language learning, except to give a sense to the students that these are the kinds of texts that they will need to handle at a later stage of their learning. At the other end of the text difficulty continuum are those texts that are either at or below students’ current level. These texts are considered ‘easy’ or ‘too easy’.

Easy materials, many believe, have little or no role in language learning as students will not learn anything ‘new’. In other words, the texts do not contain new vocabulary or grammatical items and therefore are believed to serve no pedagogical purpose. Research, however, tells us that repeated exposure to known words and familiar grammatical structures plays a critical role in supporting student learning. Frequent encounters with familiar language allow students to consolidate and strengthen their previously learned language features and in time help them improve their ability to use the language more fluently and accurately (Day & Bamford, 1998; Nation &Waring, 2019).

The idea that easy, highly comprehensible texts play a critically important role is supported by research that investigates the effect of input-based approaches on language development. Input-based approaches (e.g., extensive reading, listening, and viewing) are founded on the belief that language learning happens optimally when students are exposed to a large amount of comprehensible and compelling language learning materials through daily reading, listening, and viewing of the target language. Empirical data to date provide compelling evidence that extensive reading, listening, and viewing should be made an indispensable part of students’ language learning experience (Krashen, Lee & Lao, 2017; Robb, 2022; Waring, 2009)

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