REALize it! Use Authentic Materials.

This past week, I had a guest lecturer visit my student teachers. He lectured on lesson planning but the last half, he spent outlining some of his great lesson ideas (including the Subservient Chicken!) . As he went through them, I realized a strand that ran through them all – using “real” materials or what we call, “authentic materials”. That was his passion, bringing reality into the artificiality of the classroom.

Authentic materials are great and I think teachers should always filter their lesson plans with the question, “What “real” item could I bring to class to contextualize the lesson topic/theme and bring it to life?”

The things you can use can range from real postcards, catalog, shopping flyers, menus, subway newspapers (free), maps, items from your own household – to online audio/video. In fact, the internet has been a boon to the teacher – allowing them to bring “real” (not made for teaching) materials into their classroom, easily and conveniently.

Please check my presentation for some thoughts and a good overview of the topic.

Here though, I’d like to offer what I wrote on the back of an envelope while listening to the lecture. A handy list linking functions to authentic materials. I hope you will find the list handy and stimulating for your own lesson planning!

Function / Organizing Principle and the Authentic Materials that might be used

Plan it! Find it! use a map and plan a journey. Give students a budget. What will they spend. Watch “Where the hell is Matt” and get them to plot his journey. Use real maps of the city to give directions to important landmarks!  Use Google Earth/Maps!


Read it! Steal free copies of tourist magazines from hotels / restaurants and prepare scanning activities forstudents. Subway newspapers are wonderful too!


Make it! Bring in real ingredients and get the students making drinks and sandwiches. Even carve a pumpkin maybe? Watch “How to” videos on eHow and get real directions/steps! Try the ones on magic. How about origami or a science project? Bring in a recipe book!


Give it! Bring in a catalog and have student find gifts for each classmate. They cut them out and then walk around giving them and saying thank you.


Teach it! So powerful! Students teach each other how to do something they are skilled at. Songs, games, computer games too. There are all kinds of possibilities. Brochures and manuals work well.


Do it! Get outside! Play soccer, garden, take a field trip, all in English. The classroom needn’t have 4 walls! Put on a real dance video and do it!


Order it! Bring in real menus. Give students a budget and they decide what they will order/have. Then,
roleplay. Use real money if possible!


Sell it! Swap it! Students bring in stuff they don’t need. Have a swap or give a set amount of money and have them sell it. Raise money for charity and sell things!


Show and Tell it! Students bring in favorite things and share them!


Retell it! Listen to some real stories or interviews and get students to retell them. Even use the news. Smories is a wonderful authentic source or NFB.


Communicate it! Bring guests into your class with Skype! This teacher did. Get some air and reality in your class.


Search for it! Webquests are wonderful and real! Get students searching the web and discovering through connective learning. Demonstrate it! Make posters and get out there and protest. There are lots of causes and events!


Speak it! Debate real issues in class, things that are important to the students. Call real people on the phone. Get
students to call you for homework!

Write it! Get some real postcards and send them to epals! Write real letters to the editor or write to retirees in old age homes. Fill in real application forms, bank and credit card applications.
Fill in applications to university and for scholarships.

Watch it! Online cams now stream reliably and bring into our classroom “live” video. Watch puppies or owl chicks being born, look at a Marineland aquarium cam or scan and describe Time Square! I’ve spent a whole lesson watching “random cams”. Ustream offers a wide variety. The possibilities for discussion, learning are endless and breathless. Even the Gulf oil spill cam is possible for classroom use.

What ideas do you have for using Authentic Materials in the language classroom?


If you liked this post, you might like – Using the Guinness World Records Book as curriculum

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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