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How to select EFL material at the right level for my TEFL class?

Considerations for appropriate class material

Selecting the appropriate material to use in your teaching is a skill you will develop as you become more experienced as a teacher. Considerations should include ensuring that the material is age appropriate, non-discriminatory and culturally sensitive and uses language that can be understood or easily explained to all class members.

In an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom these requirements are particularly pertinent and sometimes not always obvious to a teacher who may not share the language or culture of their students. Asking other teachers about appropriateness is a good way to check if you are unsure, especially to ensure that your materials are culturally sensitive.

The following suggestions will help you get started on finding suitable material for the English language level of your class.

Selecting the appropriate material to use in your EFL class
It's important to choose your English teaching material carefully.

Understanding language levelling

One way language learner levels are codified and defined is through the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (abbreviated in English as CEFR or CEF or CEFRL). Used world-wide the CEFR categorises learners into three groups, Basic users, Independent users or Proficient users with these levels further subdivided into the six levels A1 and A2 (Basic users), B1 and B2 (Independent users) and C1 and C2 (Proficient users) (Council of Europe, 2021).

Standardising students this way helps teachers and students understand where the students sit on the language learning continuum and where and how they need to develop.

General level

Before you begin your teaching placement, probably when you are interviewing for it, you will be told the language proficiency level of your students. This will give you a broad understanding of where they sit on the CEFR in terms of learning English. Preferably you will do your own assessments as well so that you gain a more fine-grained understanding of their individual and group abilities.

Understanding your students more closely

Following these more general levels you will find that prior knowledge activities will assist you to find exactly where your students are at in respect to the unit you are about to teach. Prior knowledge activities assess what the students know and can be as simple as a class discussion and as complex as a formal assessment.

Mind maps, created either individually or in small groups, are a great way for students to get down all they know about a subject. They are very simple to create and very simple to assess and can be used before and after the teaching of a unit to clearly show what knowledge has been gained.

Keep in mind also that student may have differing levels for each skill in the language. Many EFL students for example are stronger readers and writers of English than listeners and speakers of the language. This often reflects the academic focus on reading and writing and the amount of time teachers have for students to communicate together in class. Ideally students would be equally proficient in each skill, you can work towards this aim by allowing class time for students to speak and listen at least to each other. You must keep in mind however what they will be tested on at the end of your course and balance your teaching accordingly.

Obtaining appropriate material

Once you understand where your students are and how well they understand the various aspects of the English language you can search for appropriately levelled material. You can find online resources simply by searching the appropriate level, for example 'B1', and what you want to teach, e.g. 'narrative'. You can also use text books or create your own resources using YouTube clips or other authentic (real life as opposed to educational) material. Creating your own materials can be a great way for ensuring that they are levelled perfectly for your students but this way is also very time-consuming.

Suggested websites

One Stop English run by MacMillan Education is a website where you can enter details of your students and what you are planning on teaching, choose the focus language or skill, your student level, format of learning (e.g. lesson plan, printable worksheet, game) and the age of your students and it will provide you with resources and materials that can be downloaded and used immediately. Many of these are free once you register online.

The British Council also has a wealth of resources and materials specifically levelled to the CEFR or for a specific age range with lesson plans and worksheets to be downloaded. Found at: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/resources

The BBC Bitesize also has great resources for UK school students that can be adapted for EFL contexts. These are free, are very engaging and include videos and games. You can sign up and create your own personalised Bitesized curation.

The BBC also has a teacher section with free curriculum-mapped videos, arranged by age-group and subject which would be useful for International British schools or anywhere else with possible adaption.

Assessing your students ie. assessing the material, your teaching and their learning

Once you have completed teaching the unit, the summative assessment will show you how well the students have learned what you have taught. Poor overall grades could be an indication of work that was too hard, high overall grades could be an indication of work that was too easy. Of course there are other factors that come in to play as well, how well you taught, how well students learned, even how well they understood you could be factors affecting student grades. Ideally your class's grades should mimic a 'bell curve', so only a few students score poorly, only a few score highly and the majority are in the middle, with average grades.

Spending time investigating any issues that may have arisen in the course of your teaching, such as using inappropriate materials, will help you prevent these same issues returning and make your classes more productive and enjoyable for all, yourself included!