Authentic Materials: Grading the Task

Authentic materials are materials that are not created or adapted specifically for language learners. The language is real and raw just as it is in everyday life.

When used cleverly and blended with graded materials (ELT textbooks and mats), authentic materials can keep learners interested and engaged in language learning.

Many teachers think that it’s too difficult to use authentic materials with low-level learners. The truth is, you simply need to choose items that allow you to work on a specific task or target (grade the task). In fact, you can even use materials that have very little text (cartoons, quotes, captions) with your high-level learners.

An Example

Let’s have a look at how a charming video of a pre-schooler saying goodbye to random folks on an escalator can be used to practice English with all levels (and arguably all ages) of language learners.

Although there is very little language in this video, it can be used to exploit language in a variety of ways.

Like many videos that go viral on social media sites, this video is also highly engaging and can provide a nice break from textbook lessons (just two of many important reasons for incorporating authentic materials into your lessons).

For the Absolute Beginner

Play the video. The little girl can act as the model. Your students can practice saying bye and waving and smiling just as the people in this video do. This top-down approach (context before language) can inspire and motivate your learners. You could show this video before you introduce a ready-made lesson on Saying Goodbye that extends the language (see you, later, bye for now).

For the Beginner – Low-Intermediate Learner

Play the video to review a target vocabulary item you’ve been working on such as clothing or hairstyles. Point to the people and pause the video as you go. Alternatively, you could show this video as an introduction to a unit on Going Shopping.

  • What is the little girl wearing?
  • What is he wearing? (point to people going down)
  • What color hair does she have?
  • What style of hair does she have?
  • Whose outfit do you like best, and why?
  • Which shoppers look fashionable/outdated?

For the Intermediate Learner

You could use this lesson to introduce a unit on emotions and feelings. You could also use it to follow-up on a lesson on making predictions.

  • How does the little girl make people feel?
  • How might the parent feel?
  • How does the little girl make the other people feel?
  • What body language do the people use to express their feelings?
  • How does the video make you feel?
  • Where do you think this scene takes place?
  • Why is the girl’s family standing there?

For the High-Intermediate to Advanced Learner

You could use this video with high-level learners to inspire a critical thinking discussion or group activity. Have a group discussion using the questions below, and ask students to respond to their favorite question in a selfie video or personal response. You might even get students to create their own social experiment by having one student stand at the exit and say bye to students after school. Have another person record a video of the students’ reactions.

  • Who does the little girl NOT say goodbye to? Why do you think she avoids this person?
  • What do you think the people said to each other when they got to the bottom of the escalator?
  • What effect do you think the little girl had on the people who waved back?
  • How do you think the person who was filming this video was feeling? Would all parents allow or even encourage their kids to do something like this?
  • Why do we find pleasure in a simple video like this?

Further Reading

As is often the case with language learning methodologies, many ELT experts now believe that “grading the task” is not as simple as we were taught in teacher training courses. Here is some further reading to do on this topic:

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  1. lisa.brickman@neric.org'

    Lisa Brickman says:

    Mar 28, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Using YouTube clips of children or animals in humorous situations works well with my adult English Language Learners. It sparks conversation and helps to relax my easily intimidated students.

    I have used them successfully with student who have very limited experience with English. I recommend dividing a class in half. Show the video to one group only. Then briefly discuss the video with them. Once the students return put the student in pairs and have the student who viewed the video try to describe the video to the student who did not see it. The funnier the video the better the language results.

    I have also “demonstrated through charade motions” the parts of the story for the students to “put together.” This is enjoyable too. Braver students can do the charades for the class. Students can try to draw the story for the others to “put together.”

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