Teaching Material | Teaching English Better

Supplementary materials: the what and why

There are two types of classrooms; the one that I came across as a student and the one that we are all trying to create with our students nowadays. The first classroom was a big classroom with desks in a row and with a chalkboard. There was a noticeboard but most of my teachers used it in order to announce tests, grades and things like that. No posters, no drawings were allowed there. Of course there were some computers but no meaningful use of new technology; the only thing that we cared about was to learn about the mother board and other parts of the computer (a knowledge that did not help me a hundred percent afterwards). There was a TV and we used it in order to watch some documentaries every now and then. There were audio materials of course (cassettes and then CDs) but again we rarely listened to anything. The teacher and the book were there to help us in what we needed. For those who were wondering, I am not that old but the school ran late to understand the importance of technology.

Text by Tanya Livarda(BA/ MA in TESOL,Delta (M3), CELTA), EFL teacher, Oral Examiner

Let’s move on to now. From the beginning of my career, I was trying to practice what I preach and basically not do the things that my teachers have done to me. Therefore, I decided to understand what my students need and use practically anything. So I started using interactive materials, videos, flashcards, mup pets to manga, music, theatre, anything that I would find useful for my students. So, bright coloured papers appeared with my students’ work. I am not the centre of the lesson and neither is the book, I do not know everything and I am open to discussion and meaningful feedback.

Which class do you prefer?

One of the main and most important differences is that in the second classroom there are lots of supplementary materials depending on the learners’ needs. As teachers we often find the coursebook inadequate and we see that our students need something else, something more that will motivate them and lead them to the correct path. Supplementary materials are anything that can supplement the existing materials and as constructivists have pointed out, such materials provide sufficient exposure and opportunities for language skill’s practices (Kessler, 1992).  There are jokes, fairy tales, proverbs, cartoons, anecdotes, poems, articles, public speeches, television programmes, films, forums, debates, literature, songs and many other. Ur (2013) acknowledges the presence of the digital supplementary materials as well, which are IWBs, Websites, interactive tools, blogs, digital recordings, e-books, online games.

One of the main reasons why we learn a language is to communicate with other people. Ishihara and Chi (2004) mentioned that learners are motivated about learning a language when new and exciting materials appeared and used. As we know, motivation is a key determinant of successful language learning (Kim, 2011; Hofer & Peetsma, 2005). Another reason why supplementary materials in class are necessary is because there are different learners with different needs and styles and they might feel that the topics found in the coursebook are not relevant to them or the textbooks inhibit teacher’s creativity (Riasati & Zare, 2010). Supplementary materials help to motivate the learners by encouraging them to use the language in and out of the class. They are useful because students have the opportunity to get to know the culture of the target language. Believe it or not, they are timesavers and you can see your students contribute, work together and be engaged. As Tomlinson (2006) pointed out, materials should be developed for learning rather than for teaching and they should always be informative, instructional, experiential, eliciting and exploratory. In other words, they should give information about the language, give the learner opportunities to practice the language, encourage them to use the language, provide the learners with enough input and help them discover the language.

When we choose such materials we should be aware of:

  • Our learners’ needs
  • Our learners’ age
  • Our learners’ interests/ experience
  • Our students’ level
  • Our aims/objectives
  • Our learners’ social and emotional development
  • Whether these are fair and objective
  • Whether these promote critical thinking
  • Copyright issues
  • Whether these are visually clear/attractive
  • Whether these are well-organised
  • Whether the learners can follow the materials
  • Whether these give learners as many opportunities as possible to use the language meaningfully and effectively


In a nutshell, before choosing any sort of supplementary materials you need to take different things into account. In addition, supplementary materials are there to help us become flexible and change the way we teach; they are there to help us adapt and reconsider our techniques and methods. Each supplementary material is different from the other and if I use a song in one class that does not mean that I will be able to use it with another class even of the same level. To be honest with you, I will not be able to use even with the same class. A student is not the same from Monday to Friday. What we can do is to tactfully select and use what is relevant and meaningful.

Always ask yourself: “What do I want to do and what my students will gain from it?”



  1. Hofer, M., & Peetsma, T. (2005), “Societal values and school motivation. Students’ goals in different life domains”, European Journal of Psychology of Education, 20(3), 203-208.

2.Ishihara, N., & Chi, J. C. (2004), “Authentic video in the beginning ESOL classroom: Using a full-length feature film for listening and speaking strategy practice”, Forum,42(1), 30-35.

3.Kessler, C. (1992), Cooperative Language Learning- A teachers’ resource book, UK: Prentice Hall Inc.

4.Kim, K. J. (2011), “Reading motivation in two languages: An examination of EFL college students in Korea”, Reading and Writing, 24(8), 861-881.

5.Riasati, M. J., & Zare, D. (2010), “Textbook evaluation: EFL teachers' perspectives on "New Interchange"”, Studies in Literature and Language, (54-60) , 1 (8).

6.Tomlinson, B. (2006), Materials development for language learning and teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

7.Ur, P. (2013), A course in English langauage teaching,  New Delhi: Cambridge University Press.