NELTAL 2013: Workshop on Authentic Materials

Exploiting Authentic Materials as Alternatives to Textbooks

By F. Johansyah

Since the theme of this year’s NELTAL was ‘Materials and Media in English Language Teaching’, the use of ICT in classrooms and authentic materials were probably the two most popular topics to be delivered in presentations. During the 10.35 – 11.35 session (the parallel workshop session) I attended pak Johan’s workshop on ‘Exploiting Authentic Materials as Alternatives to Textbooks’. It was really useful and interesting. The basic concept is actually simple and that is why I believe the knowledge and skill given in the workshop can be applied by all English teachers despite their teaching concentration, students’ ages, and needs. The only thing I regretted was the time limit. I did not think an hour was enough for such a stimulating workshop.

Even 311 know better. If teachers were entertainers, they had got to come original.

The idea of the workshop as written in pak Johan’s abstract was to “give ideas for teachers to use some authentic materials to suit students’ need and to design really engaging and communicative activities for students to practice their language skills in real situations.” One aspect that he pointed out was how textbooks sometimes fail to provide materials that match students’ needs and class situations. As he put it, (the lessons then can become) “highly superficial”. This is due to the generic nature of textbooks, in which the writer made the books based on only one basic assumption or point of view (of his or hers) of what is important and interesting. This is true and I agree with the notion. During my early years of teaching I used textbooks most of the time, but as I gained experience I see how they can be irrelevant and outdated.

The focus of this workshop was the use of photograph as the source for authentic materials. Although I believe we can use many kinds of media, such as text, recording, video, etc. to do so (again, the time constraint…). In deciding what to do with the media we need to decide the activity that we are going to do. In presenting a model activity, pak Johan showed us a sample photo (slide 5) and began scaffolding the floating ideas with these questions (slide 6):

  1. What photo is it?
  2. Where/ when was it?
  3. Are you in the photo?
  4. If not, where were you?

Voila! An activity was finally created. Participants (or ‘students’) were then asked to ask these questions to a partner (someone sitting next to them). This simple speaking practice was then followed by another speaking activity with different instruction (slide 7). In creating your own activity using a photograph (an emphasis was on the originality of the photo – you can even use your own, or ask students to bring theirs), according to pak Johan, one must follow these criteria:

  1. General interest of the topic
  2. Grammar and vocabulary practiced
  3. Skills practiced
  4. Potential for task

Let me show you how it is done… My team (consisting of a lecturer from State University of Malang (UM), an English teacher from an agricultural vocational school in Jember, and myself) had to create an activity using the photograph below (slide 21):

Authentic photograph.

After some discussions, we finally came up with these findings:

1 General interest of the topic 1. Transaction at the plant market2. Describing plants/ flowers3. Instructions on how to take care of plants/ flowers
2 Grammar and vocabulary practiced 1. Vocabulary related to transaction2. Questions and answers3. Money, numbers, currency4. Types of plant/ flower5. Adjectives describing plants/ flowers’ physical characteristics

6. Prepositions

7. Comparative

8. Verbs/ imperatives for instructions

3 Skills practiced 1. Speaking2. Listening
4 Potential for task 1. Students are asked to create stories about what might have happened at the moment before the photograph and what might happen after (speaking/ listening)2. Students are asked to bring plants to be described/ presented in front of the class in the next meeting (speaking/ listening)3. Students are asked to write a composition about the photo and swap the writing with other students to be reviewed/ commented (writing/ reading)

It seems that there are an endless possibility in answering the 4 criteria above. I believe by the time you are reading this, you must have come up with your own ideas on what to do with the photograph above (I believe all teachers are creative!).

What I learned from this workshop is that how simple it is to actually use authentic materials in classrooms. I used to rely on photos, cards, recordings, and videos that I got from other sources, say for an example downloaded from the internet. Meanwhile authentic means you can use your own collection of photos, videos, etc. In the era where people collect memories wherever they go (with camera, smartphone, etc.) it is more likely that more teachers will use more authentic materials in their teaching practices.

Besides easy to find, authentic materials can also help teachers increase students’ retention. Imagine you give students a photo that does not connect to them in any way. I am sure they will find difficulties in remembering what being given. Then compare it to when you give a photograph of their friend, school, town, or maybe teacher. Same thing happened with the sample photo pak Johan showed us (slide 5). It was taken at the lobby of the hall the conference was held during the morning coffee break. The workshop’s participants were quite familiar with the photo and found it amusing.

Authentic materials help increase students’ retention, especially in adult learners. 

Since I mostly teach English for Specific Purposes (ESP), now I have better understanding on how to prepare my classes. No more confusion on finding the right materials. Use authentic materials! 😀

Here is the full presentation of pak Johan.

By Retno Sofyaniek (Neno)

Ms Neno has been an English teacher for 5 years and is currently teaching in Denpasar, Bali, for an English in-house training and tutoring provider she founded two years ago. She mostly teaches adults Hospitality English and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). Her love of sharing knowledge made her found @EnglishTips4U, a Twitter based English learning portal that is popular among young Indonesians. In seeing the need for English teachers to connect and collaborate, she founded Indonesian English Teachers’ Club on Facebook last year. She can be contacted at Visit her blog: Ms Neno’s Blog.

Photo credits:


2. Pak Johan’s collection.

3. Ms Neno’s collection.