Monthly Archives: March 2013

Principles and Frameworks for Materials Design

It is really surprising that most materials writers describe the process of developing materials as ‘ad hoc’ and ‘spontaneous’. That is to say, they rely on their intuition based on their experiences and choose materials that are likely to work. Like tacit knowledge, they cannot explain how they develop materials. Prowse (1998) reports what ELT  materials writers think about developing materials.

Most of the writers agree that:

  • Writing is fun because it’s creative.
  • They rely heavily on their intuition.
  • They view textbook writing in the same way as writing fiction (focus on creative process of writing).
  • They emphasize the constraints of the syllabus.

However;  materials writers need to have some principles of learning and teaching which can guide their writing  and adopt a framework  in order to facilitate coherence and consistency.

This session was so helpful to understand the principles and frameworks for developing materials because we were mostly active in the classroom. We first tried to understand the principles set by Tomlinson who is the founder and president of the Materials Development Association (MATSDA). We talked about these principles with our partners and then there was a class discussion in which we explained them to each other.

These principles are:

  • A prerequisite for language acquisition is that the learners are exposed to a rich, meaningful and comprehensible input of language in use.
  • In order for the learners to maximise their exposure to language in use, they need to be engaged both affectively and cognitively in the language experience.
  • Language learners who achieve positive affect are much more likely to achieve communicative competence than those who do not.
  • L2 language learners can benefit from using those mental resources which they typically utilise when acquiring and using their L1.
  • Language learners can benefit from noticing salient features of the input and from discovering how they are used.
  • Learners need opportunities to use language to try to achieve communicative purposes (2011:7).

Considering the  principles above, I think one of the most important ones is engaging learners both affectively  and cognitively. It  is important because there can  be dull texts in which teachers make so much effort to motivate learners and  engage them affectively. If a student finds a text boring, s/he  won’t be interested in. Therefore, material writers should provide choices of different texts, activities and variety. At this point, I disagree with one of my classmates in the session.  She thinks that if it is a business course, teachers should only use texts relating to business and they can motivate students by using different activities like role-play, group-work, discussion etc . On the contrary, I believe that even the course is designed for English for Specific purposes (ESP) or English for Academic Purposes (EAP), there should be a wide range of texts and learners should be exposed to variety of genres.  Tomlinson noticed the danger of tedium and shared his experiences about this issue . One of the examples he gave is that a group of Saudi Arabian pilots complained that they were bored with reading about aircraft and airports and, almost simultaneously, a group of Iraqi diplomats complained that they were fed up with reading about politics and diplomacy. He also realized that when different texts like poetry were given to these students, they responded very enthusiastically  (2003:112).

As a second activity, we discussed Materials Design Principles – Materials should/shouldn’t…  We wrote our opinions about  ELT materials on strips of paper and grouped them into top, middle and bottom sets. Our views on the key principles that should underline ELT materials are as follows:

1 top



After this fruitful discussion, we have talked about the steps in materials design and looked at Jolly and Bolitho’s materials writing framework incorporating five stages.

1) IDENTIFICATION by teacher or learner(s) of a need to fulfill or a problem to solve by the creation of materials

2) EXPLORATION of the area of need/problem in terms of what language, what meanings, what functions, what skills, etc.

3) CONTEXTUAL REALISATION of materials by the finding of appropriate exercises and activities AND the writing of appropriate instructions for use

4) PEDAGOGICAL REALISATION of materials by the finding of appropriate exercises and activities AND the writing of appropriate instructions for use

5) PHYSICAL PRODUCTION of materials, involving consideration of layout, type size, visuals, reproduction, tape length, etc.


These stages are dynamic, so  materials writers do not need to follow the steps in exactly this order and go through all of these steps. However, they should keep these steps in mind in order to produce appropriate materials for the target learners. The first step, identification of need, is a vital part of materials preparation. Materials writers should be aware of the learners’ needs to satisfy them. They could conduct a needs analysis to identify the needs and objectives for the materials they plan to produce. Next, needs should be analyzed by using appropriate resources like existing materials or different media. By doing so, teachers could decide whether to focus on grammar, knowledge or skill in the classroom.  If the teacher recognizes these needs in step 1, s/he can skip step 2 as the framework is dynamic. Third, contextual realisation is important to identify an appropriate context in which to present and practice the language because if the material is inappropriate, learners will probably gain the culture but they won’t practice it. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, it is difficult to teach “speed-dating” in Turkish context as it is outside the cultural experience of Turkish learners. The fourth stage is pedagogical realisation where materials writers  must focus on the need and design activities that are clear and appropriate. The last one , physical production,  is  also important to attract and motivate  the learners.

I think this framework is very useful for materials writers and teachers as it shows “A teacher’s path through the production of new or adapted materials” (2011:113).


Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2011) Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2003) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.


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Materials Evaluation

In our second session, we discussed materials evaluation that  refers to attempts to measure the value of materials. My friend and I tried to evaluate  chapter 7  from  the coursebook called ‘English Unlimited’ and  predict whether it will work or not in EFL context. Whilst analyzing the chapter, we have considered the checklist that Ansary and Babaii set as a result of scrutinizing 10 EFL/ESL textbook-evaluation checklists and 10 EFL/ESL textbook reviews. Their evaluation checklist is as follows:

Content Presentation

  • Stating purpose(s) and objective(s)
    • For the total course
    • For individual units
  • Selection and its rationale
    • Coverage
    • Grading
    • Organization
    • Sequencing
  • Satisfaction of the syllabus
    • To the teacher
      • Providing a guide book
      • Giving advice on the methodology
        • Giving theoretical orientations
        • Key to the exercises
      • Supplementary materials
    • To the student
      • Piecemeal, unit-by-unit instruction
      • Graphics (relevant, free from unnecessary details, colorful, etc.)
      • Periodic revisions
      • Workbook
      • Exercise and activities
        • In the classroom
        • Homework
        • Sample exercises with clear instructions
        • Varied and copious
      • Periodic test sections
      • Accompanying audio-visual aids

Physical Make-up

  • Appropriate Size & weight
  • Attractive layout
  • Durability
  • High quality of editing and publishing
  • Appropriate title

Administrative Concerns

  • Macro-state policies
  • Appropriate for local situation
    • Culture
    • Religion
    • Gender
  • Appropriate Price

We could say that the book meets most of the criteria listed above but we  cannot assume whether it will work well or not with regard to specific learners by only looking at a chapter of the book or we cannot say  it is a good or rubbish coursebook since “coursebook evaluation is fundamentally a subjective and rule of-thumb activity and that no formula, grid or system will ever provide a definite yardstick”  (Leslie Sheldon, 1988:245). However; in the process of evaluating a teaching material, checklists should be taken into account as they  could give teachers and materials evaluators some ideas and make it easier for them to distinguish between what is likely be more or less suitable in relation to suitability for the age group,  level, cultural appropriateness, skills, teacher’s book etc.  I won’t mention everything but I want to point out two things that I found useful and interesting in this coursebook. The first one is teacher’s book which may help and give practical ideas to both novice and veteran teachers. It not only guides teachers but also offers alternative ways for teaching. There are also variety of actitivities for weak and strong students and extra activities such as printable worksheets with activity instructions and answer keys on the Teacher’s DVD-ROM that can alleviate teacher’s heavy workload. The second one is that the book isn’t culturally-biased. I think the writers take  EFL learners  into account while designing the coursebook. You can find reading texts and activities regarding different countries like Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Argentina, Turkey etc.  Although I taught for four years, this is the first time I’ve seen examples from Turkey in a coursebook which really interests me and my Turkish students will probably engage in these activities more as they know the context.  For example, in the exercise part of unit 7, there is a sentence comparing two famous singers in Turkey  and as a discussion activity teachers can ask the students whether they agree or not. There will probably be a good class discussion as students know about the topic. Based on my experiences, most Turkish students don’t know the famous singers,actors, or films in the world and it is sometimes really challenging to make them participate in the lesson.  In unit 9, there is also a listening activity regarding Turkish context which made me surprised. Therefore, students are not only exposed to British or American accent, they can listen to people from a wide range of places and different accents will familiarise them with the hearing both native and non-native speakers which they need in the real world. Finally, an English coursebook published by a renowned publishing company, more than an activity regarding Turkish context is unbelievable! I think this indicates there will be  more localized and culturally appropriate teaching materials in the future.

If you want to learn more about what some writers think while designing this coursebook, listen to their ideas behind the course.


Ansari and Babaii’s article can be accessed at:

Sheldon, L . E. (1988) Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT Journal 42 (4) : pp.237 -246

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