I was thinking this morning about the role of authentic materials in ESL classes. It’s of course covered during the CELTA course and several reasons are given about why they should be used in the classroom. First, it can be very motivating for a student to engage with an authentic source as it gives them a chance to see how English is used in the real world. It removes that filter you get when you’re using a coursebook where all the language has been graded down making it accessible, but not quite the real thing. It’s also very empowering when students have been able to work through an authentic source and are able to get meaning out of it. Plus, it adds for a level of personalization when materials in a coursebook don’t quite line up with student interests.
For my own part, I agree with a lot of these ideas and like to use authentic sources when possible. However, there is the issue of matching a text to a student’s level, and here I’m not quite as satisfied with the answers you currently get from a CELTA course. The standard answer seems to be that theoretically any material could be used for any level. It’s just a matter of how the tasks are set up. Yet, I don’t find this entirely satisfying, because as readers of a text, we don’t usually read just to complete some kind of exercise. Most of the time, if we’re reading a book, we’re reading for enjoyment, and if we’re unable to make sense of a text, we’ll likely put it down out of boredom. So it seems that the idea of any text could be used for any level as long as the tasks match the level seems a little naive. It feels like that depending on the level of the text, a student would need at least a certain minimal level of English in order to keep engagement with the text high enough to complete the tasks.
I’m curious as to your ideas. How often do you use authentic materials in your classrooms? What difficulties do you have using them with your students? What successes have you had with using them?