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The experience of using authentic materials and designing my own lessons (so far)

Bio: Marina is an International Relations graduate (Universidade Federal de Goiás), and an English teacher. She teaches from general English to English for Specific Purposes (ESP), with focus on Business English, as well as TOEFL and IELTS prep courses. She has the CELTA certification and has been a language school coordinator.


Since I started studying English, I’ve been fascinated by seeing the language in its authentic forms – it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the coursebooks, but whenever a teacher brought in a snack or soda from abroad, or even a magazine that wasn’t issued here, I was giddy with joy. I remember seeing a couple of beef jerky bags and a Dr. Pepper, and how they treated the language in their products or written material translated to me into the way they saw life.

Nowadays, this has got me thinking about what reasons would bring true excitement to my English lessons. And I realized students are usually thrilled about the idea of perceiving another culture while also incorporating themselves in it, not only viewing it from an outside perspective. This has been my mantra and ultimate goal to bring about effective and exciting lessons.

I’ve been teaching English for almost three years cumulatively, and while I realize I’m only starting out and feel like a novice most of the time, I’m searching relentlessly for self-development. I have developed prep courses for TOEFL and IELTS, been a school coordinator, taken my CELTA certification and designed a small Business English course, along with other lessons. For the Business English course, authentic materials were the only option to provide students with the target language I desired.

I remember putting in a text about negotiations from the Oxford Handbook of Diplomacy. The target language was in bold for students to later use in speaking tasks which asked them about their own thoughts, but they almost never used it, no matter how much I pushed them in that direction. It didn’t feel natural. And as I recalled their confused looks while showing the use of “protracted” or “overwhelm”, I thought I was a total failure as a teacher. It was much later, after reading a Facebook post quoting Penny Ur [link:] on working with vocabulary, that I decided to invest in a different approach.

I’m designing a series of lessons about breakfast places/diners in the United States, and have decided to start by showing students a hash brown recipe as an introduction. Not only would they learn about a typical breakfast food in the US, but they would also learn recipe vocabulary. I didn’t put the target language in bold this time, but I made my own list of vocabulary that I wanted students to learn and kept it to myself. Then I had them read the recipe and search the words they didn’t know. As it turns out, I was able to predict most of the words they picked - “shred and rinse potatoes” won by far. Then I showed a video of the recipe using the vocabulary again, and suggested a speaking task where they would guide me through the recipe without reading or watching it. As simple as it may sound, students were comfortable using language they had never used before, and even taught me some terms when I asked them. This generated intake of the vocabulary proposed instead of only input.

Students seemed excited about understanding an American recipe website, and about the idea of cooking their own hash browns. There it was: taking some feature from another culture and actively incorporating it into ours. Perhaps, if my speaking tasks from the negotiations lesson involved a diplomatic conference as a role-play, it would’ve generated vocabulary intake. These experiences have shown me something very important: authentic materials might just bring in an extra dash of excitement to the classroom if you know how to work with them, and will get students truly engaged with the vocabulary proposed.

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