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Guide to Incorporating Authentic Material into Your Online Classroom


Put away those course books, workbooks, and curriculums for a minute and let’s focus on putting together some authentic material you can use in your next lesson.

As online trainers, we have an abundant amount of helpful foreign language resources to aid our virtual classrooms. Well-immersed into the 21st century, we are lucky to have technology that enables us to access these tools and resources within just a few clicks of our mouse. However, creating and using authentic material seems to bring us nothing but trouble. That’s where we come in. Check out our guide to help you decide on what’s worth using and how.

Photo via Flickr

What are the benefits of authentic material?

Giving your student the opportunity to experience real language through natural conversation, learning new vocabulary and engaging in different language activities are just a handful of the great benefits. Without a doubt, authentic material exposes your students to culture and customs and, most importantly, how a language is really used.

Since these resources give even more cultural insight, they will also increase a student’s motivation and better meet his or her needs. The goal is to understand and use the foreign language in real life; therefore using authentic materials will teach the student what he or she needs to know to get there.

What does authentic material look like?

Unlike foreign language materials such as study guides, worksheets, and other lesson plans you may download from the web or photo copy from a traditional course book, authentic material is a resource created by you, the native foreign language trainer.

Ideally, there are no reading comprehension questions and vocabulary sections at the end of the article to quiz a student’s understanding. However, these comprehension and retention checkpoints can easily be added if you feel that the student may struggle to understand the main idea/theme of the lesson.

To get an idea of all the different sources, authentic material can include:

Listening: TV shows, radio, commercials, news broadcasts, documentaries, movies, phone messages, TED Talks, YouTube videos, etc.

Visual: Art, signs with symbols, photographs, postcards, picture books, posters, etc.

Printed: Restaurant menus, newspaper articles, bulletin board advertisements, company websites, coupons, sales catalogues, travel brochures, maps, telephone books, signs, blogs, movie posters, food labels, etc.

How do we choose the “right” authentic material?

In order to ensure the materials you have personally designed are beneficial, ask yourself these questions:

Q1: Is the content relevant or interesting?

Aim at picking topics that are relevant and of interest to your student(s). While you may be a fan of technology, your student(s) may not understand the importance of it or simply not find it interesting.

Providing material that is both practical and applicable can spark interest, while helping a student to see the relevance of the lesson in his or her daily life.

Q2: Is the length appropriate?

The length of the content can seriously make or break your lesson. Don’t scare your student(s) off with a lengthy article or video. Instead, provide videos or articles that can be completed in a one-hour class period or less.

Q3: How difficult is the content or subject?

Choosing material that is linguistically appropriate is key. Before handing out authentic material, make sure you read through all of it to plan lessons and in-class activities that will reinforce a known idea, teach a new word, or explain a complex concept. It is helpful to be aware of what a student already knows so that he or she can expand their skills with the new material.

Here are just 3 creative ways to use authentic materials in your next lesson:

Authentic material can be fun, interesting, and seasoned with a dash of creativity. Here are just a few ways you can include authentic material into your next lesson:

1. Reports, Brochures, and flyers:

Familiarize your student(s) with the latest weather or news reports, club or organization brochures, and any flyer from your native country.

All of these options can be tailored for beginners all the way up to advanced language learners. Most of the time there will be plenty of visual descriptions which will also engage and expand a learner’s understanding.

Ideas to check for comprehension and expanding the lesson:

– Summarize key points in the report, brochure, or flyer. For beginners: identify the date, time, main idea/subject, and any other details
– Identify 2-3 vocabulary words and use them in a sentence or conversation with your trainer providing alternative examples.
– Have student(s) write or discuss their opinion/reflection about the material

2. Menus: Order Your Favorite Dish

Food plays an important role in the life of every student. Introduce them to some of the common dishes from your native country so they can order their meals with confidence.

Many restaurants have their menus online so you can easily download them. Try to use local restaurants, though, as this will make it more meaningful for your student(s). Also, be sure the menu is complete with drinks, appetizers, soup/salad, entrees, and desserts available.

Photo via Wikimedia

Ideas to check comprehension and expand the lesson:

– Have student(s) pick out their favorite items from the menu.
– Role play: have student(s) practice ordering off the menu.
– Have student(s) discuss which types of foods they think are the most delicious and why.
– Vocabulary: identify 2-3 new vocabulary terms in the different food groups (vegetables, fruits, wheat, and dairy).
– Asking questions and recommendations: student(s) can practice asking about the different foods on the menu and what is the best or worst.

3. News articles:

This exercise provides the perfect opportunity to challenge a student’s reading comprehension level while still engaging them in real life news.

Have the student(s) go to a news site from your native country. Then have them pick an article that they find interesting to read during the lesson. However, remember that you can also complete this step ahead of time by selecting the article you feel would best suit a student’s learning goals.

Ideas to check comprehension and expand the lesson:

– For lower levels: ask comprehension questions after each paragraph.
– Student(s) can remake or add onto the news story (adding a few personal opinions or imaginary events/people of their own).
– Write a summary and/or main idea topic paragraph.
– Have the student(s) try to find a visual description of the news article about the theme or topic of the article.

To conclude, essentially anything that is not out of a course book or follows the conventional style of a structured curriculum can be used as authentic material in your lessons. As long as you acknowledge the interests of each student, are sensitive to his or her learning needs, connect with your creative side, and think outside the box, you will soon master the art of creating authentic course material.

About the author

Chloe is an American-born world traveler. When she's not globetrotting, she's reading, writing, and learning as much and as often as she can.