‘Easy’ teaching materials have no place ELT?
Willy A Renandya, 20 May 2022
Teaching materials come in many different forms these days, e.g., coursebooks, teacher-made videos, YouTube learning channels, podcasts and web-based materials.
When choosing materials for teaching purposes, teachers are often guided by some selection criteria, i.e., whether the contents are interesting and relevant, whether the length is about right, and also the level of linguistic difficulty of the text.
Many teachers usually go for instructional level texts, i.e., texts that contain some unknown vocabulary words and/or grammatical points. The texts are said to be in the students’ stretch zone, or proximal zone of development.
These are texts that students might not be able to understand without the help of the teacher or other learning resources (e.g., dictionary). The presence of unfamiliar language features often serves as the new learning points of the lesson and provides the teacher with the opportunity to explain and illustrate these to help students move to the next level of their language development.
There are times when teachers use texts that are way beyond students’ zone of proximal development. These texts are often referred to as frustration level texts, which, we all know, serve little or no purposes in language learning, except to give a sense to the students that these are the kinds of texts that they will need to handle at a later stage of their learning.
At the other end of the text difficulty continuum are those texts that are either at or below students’ current level. These texts are considered ‘easy’ or ‘too easy’.
Easy materials, many believe, have little or no role in language learning as students will not learn anything ‘new’. In other words, the texts do not contain new vocabulary or grammatical items and therefore do not serve any pedagogical purposes.
Research however tells us repeated exposure to known words and familiar grammatical structures play a critical role in supporting student learning. Frequent encounters of familiar language allow students to consolidate and strengthen their previously learned language features and in time helps them improve ability to use the language more fluently and accurately (Day & Bamford, 1998; Nation & Waring, 2019).
The idea that easy, highly comprehensible texts play a critically important role is supported by research that investigates the effect of input-based approaches to language development.
Input-based approaches (e.g., extensive reading, listening and viewing) are founded on the belief that language learning happens optimally when students are exposed to a large amount of comprehensible and compelling language learning materials through daily reading, listening and viewing of the target language.
Empirical data to date provides compelling evidence that extensive reading, listening and viewing should be made an indispensable part of students’ language learning experience (Krashen, Lee & Lao, 2017; Robb, 2022).
In sum then, extensive reading, listening and viewing provides students with lots of easy and interesting materials that allow them to practice known language in meaningful and authentic contexts.