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Cambridge Books Online The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Edited by Ronald Carter, David Nunan Book DOI:

Online ISBN: 9780511667206 Hardback ISBN: 9780521801270 Paperback ISBN: 9780521805162

Chapter Chapter 9 - Materials development pp. 66-71 Chapter DOI:

Cambridge University Press

Materials development

Brian Tomlinson



Materials development is both a field of study and a practical undertaking. As a field it studies the principles and procedures of the design, implementation and evaluation of language teaching materials. As an undertaking it involves the production, evaluation and adaptation of language teaching materials, by teachers for their own classrooms and by materials writers for sale or distribution. Ideally these two aspects of materials development are interactive in that the theoretical studies inform and are informed by the development and use of classroom materials (e.g. Tomlinson 1998c). 'Materials' include anything which can be used to facilitate the learning of a language. They can be linguistic, visual, auditory or kinesthetic, and they can be presented in print, through live performance or display, or on cassette, CD-ROM, DVD or the internet. They can be instructional in that they inform learners about the language, they can be experiential in that they provide exposure to the language in use, they can be elicitative in that they stimulate language use, or they can be exploratory in that they seek discoveries about language use.



Studies of materials development are a recent phenomenon. Until recently materials development was treated as a sub-section of methodology, in which materials were usually introduced as examples of methods in action rather than as a means to explore the principles and procedures of their development. Books for teachers included examples of materials in each section or separately at the end of a book, usually with pertinent comments (e.g. Dubin and Olshtain 1986; Richards and Rodgers 1986; Stevick 1986, 1989; Nunan 1988a; Richards 1990), but materials development was not their main concern. A few books appeared in the 1980s dealing specifically with aspects of materials development (e.g. Cunningsworth 1984; Sheldon 1987) and some articles drew attention to such aspects of materials development as evaluation and exploitation (e.g. Candlin and Breen 1979; Allwright 1981; O'Neil 1982; Kennedy 1983; Mariani 1983; Williams 1983; Sheldon 1988). However, it was not until the 1990s, when courses started to give more prominence to the study of materials development, that books on the principles and procedures of materials development started to be published (e.g. McDonough and Shaw 1993; Hidalgo et al. 1995; Tomlinson 1998a).


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Materials development


An important factor in changing attitudes to materials development has been the realisation that an effective way of helping teachers to understand and apply theories of language learning - and to achieve personal and professional development - is to provide monitored experience of the process of developing materials. Another factor has been the appreciation that no coursebook can be ideal for any particular class and that, therefore, an effective classroom teacher needs to be able to evaluate, adapt and produce materials so as to ensure a match between the learners and the materials they use. 'Every teacher is a materials developer' (English Language Centre 1997). In some ways, this is a formalisation of the implicit understanding that a teacher should provide additional teaching materials over and above coursebook material. These realisations have led to an increase in in-service materials development courses for teachers in which the participants theorise their practice (Schon 1987) by being given concrete experience of developing materials as a basis for reflective observation and conceptualisation (Tomlinson and Masuhara 2000). It has also led on postgraduate courses to the use of such experiential approaches and to an increase in materials development research. For example, in the USA the Materials Writers Interest Section of TESOL publishes a Newsletter, in Japan the Materials Development Special Interest Group of JALT produced in 2000 a materials develop- ment edition of The Language Teacher, and in Eastern Europe there are frequent materials development conferences (e.g. the International Conference on Comparing and Evaluating Locally Produced Textbooks, Sofia, March 2000). Also, in the UK, I founded in 1993 an association called MATSDA (Materials Development Association), which organises materials development conferences and workshops and publishes a journal called FOLIO.


The many controversies in the field of materials development include the following questions:

Do learners need a coursebook?

Proponents of the coursebook argue that it is the most convenient form of presenting materials, it helps to achieve consistency and continuation, it gives learners a sense of system, cohesion and progress, and it helps teachers prepare and the learner revise. Opponents counter that a course- book is inevitably superficial and reductionist in its coverage of language points and in its provision of language experience, it cannot cater for the diverse needs of all its users, it imposes uniformity of syllabus and approach, and it removes initiative and power from teachers (see Allwright 1981; O'Neil 1982; Littlejohn 1992; Hutchinson and Torres 1994).

Should materials be learning or acquisition focused?

Despite the theories of researchers such as Krashen (1982, 1988) who advocate the implicit acquisition of language from comprehensible input, most language textbooks aim at explicit learning of language plus practice. The main exceptions are materials developed in the 1980s which aim at facilitating informal acquisition of communicative competence through communica- tion activities such as discussions, projects, games, simulations and drama (e.g. Maley et al. 1980; Maley and Moulding 1981; Frank et al. 1982; Porter Ladousse 1983; Klippel 1984). These activities were popular but treated as supplementary materials in addition to coursebooks, which still focused on the explicit learning of discrete features of the language. The debate about the relative merits of conscious learning and subconscious acquisition continues (R. Ellis 1999), with some people advocating a strong focus on language experience through a task-based or text-based approach (e.g. J. Willis 1996) and some advocating experience plus language awareness activities (e.g. Tomlinson 1994); however, most coursebooks still follow an approach which adds communication activities to a base of form-focused instruction (e.g.

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68 The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Soars and Soars 1996; Hutchinson 1997). The experiential advocates argue that learners need to be exposed to the reality of language use and can be motivated by the sense of achievement and involvement which can be gained from communicating in a language whilst learning it. The counter-argument is that learners can gain confidence and a sense of progress from focusing on a systematic series of discrete features of the language.

Should texts be contrived or authentic?

Materials aiming at explicit learning usually contrive examples of the language which focus on the feature being taught. Usually these examples are presented in short, easy texts or dialogues and it is argued that they help the learner by focusing attention on the target feature. The counter- argument is that contrived examples over-protect learners and do not prepare them for the reality of language use, whereas authentic texts (i.e. ordinary texts not produced specifically for language teaching purposes) can provide meaningful exposure to language as it is typically used. Most researchers argue for authenticity and stress its motivating effect on learners (e.g. Bacon and Finnemann 1990; Kuo 1993; Little et al. 1994). However, Widdowson (1984a: 218) says that

'pedagogic presentation of language

necessarily involves methodological contrivance which

isolates features from their natural surroundings'; Day and Bamford (1998: 54-62) attack the 'cult of authenticity' and advocate simplified reading texts which have 'the natural qualities of authenticity' and R. Ellis (1999: 68) argues for '"enriched input" which provides learners with input which has been flooded with exemplars of the target structure in the context of meaning focused activities'. See also Widdowson (2000).

Should materials be censored?

Most publishers are anxious not to risk giving offence and provide writers of global coursebooks with lists of taboo topics, which usually include sex, drugs, alcohol, religion, violence, politics, history and pork (e.g. Heinemann International Guide for Writers 1991). They also provide guidelines to help their writers to avoid sexism and racism (e.g. On Balance 1991). Whilst some form of censorship might be pedagogically desirable (distressed or embarrassed learners are unlikely to learn much language) and economically necessary (publishers lose money if their books are banned), many teachers argue that published materials are too bland and often fail to achieve the engagement needed for learning. Wajnryb (1996: 291), for example, complains about the 'safe, clean, harmonious, benevolent, undisturbed' world of the EFL coursebook. Affect is undoubtedly an important factor in learning (Jacobs and Schumann 1992; Arnold 1999) and it is arguable that provocative texts which stimulate an affective response are more likely to facilitate learning than neutral texts which do not. Interestingly, textbook projects supported by a national ministry of education often suffer less censorship and their books are sometimes more interesting to use. For example, the popular Namibian coursebook On Target (1996) contains texts inviting learners to respond to issues relating to drugs, pre-marital sex, violence and politics. Some further unresolved issues in materials development include whether materials should:

• be driven by theory or by practice (Bell and Gower 1998; Prowse 1998);

• be driven by syllabus needs, learner needs or market needs;

• cater for learner expectations or try to change them;

• cater for teacher needs and wants as well as those of learners (Masuhara 1998);

aim for


language development

only or



aim for




• aim to contribute to teacher development as well as language learning.

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Materials development


There has been little published research in materials development (though in many universities postgraduate students are conducting research in materials development and publishers are commissioning confidential research). The published research has mainly focused on macro- evaluation of materials projects (Rea-Dickins 1994; Alderson 1985), publishers' pilot materials (Donovan 1998) and the evaluation of coursebook materials (Cunningsworth 1984, 1996; Breen and Candlin 1987; Tribble 1996; J.B. Brown 1997; Johnson and Johnson 1998). One of the problems in materials evaluation is the subjective nature of many of the instruments of evaluation with the views of the researcher often determining what is measured and valued; e.g. in J.B. Brown's (1997) evaluation, extra points are awarded for coursebooks which include tests. However, recently there have been attempts to design objective instruments to provide more reliable information about what materials can achieve (R. Ellis 1998a; Littlejohn 1998). No one set of criteria can be used for all materials (Johnson and Johnson 1998), and attention is being given to principles and procedures for developing criteria for specific situations in which 'the framework used must be determined by the reasons, objectives and circumstances of the evaluation' (Tomlinson 1999b). Another problem is that many instruments have been for pre-use evaluation (and are therefore speculative) and they are too demanding of time and expertise for teachers to use. However, recently there have been attempts to help teachers to conduct action research on the materials they use (Edge and Richards 1993; Jolly and Bolitho 1998) and to develop instruments for use in conducting pre-use, whilst-use and post-use evaluation (R. Ellis 1998a, 1998b). Research on the merits of different ways of developing materials - and on the effects of different types of materials with similar goals and target learners - is still needed. There is little work on theories of materials development, although Hall (1995) describes his theory of learning in relation to materials evaluation, and I have listed theoretical principles for materials development (Tomlinson 1998b) and outlined a principled and flexible framework for teachers to use when developing materials (Tomlinson 1999a). There are also published accounts of how textbooks are produced: Hidalgo et al. (1995) include a number of chapters on how textbooks are written, and Prowse (1998) reports how 16 EFL writers develop their materials. These accounts seem to agree with Low (1989: 153) that 'designing appropriate materials is not a science: it is a strange mixture of imagination, insight and analytical reasoning.' Maley (1998b:

220-221), for example, argues that the writer should trust 'intuition and tacit knowledge', and states that he operates with a number of variables which are raised to a conscious level only when he encounters a problem and works 'in a more analytical way'.



There are a number of trends noticeable in commercially produced materials. First, there is a similarity between new coursebooks from different publishers. I compared nine recent lower level coursebooks from different publishers and found that all followed a similar presentation, practice and production (PPP) approach (Tomlinson 1999b). There is a return to a greater emphasis on language form and the centrality of grammar, especially in lower and intermediate level course- books, such as Lifelines (Hutchinson 1997) and New Headway Intermediate (Soars and Soars 1996). More books are now making use of corpus data reflecting actual language use, rather than using idealised input (for suggestions on using corpus data, see Fox 1998; for an example of a teaching book based on corpus data, see Carter and McCarthy 1997). There are more activities requiring investment by the learners in order for them to make discoveries (e.g. Bolitho and Tomlinson 1995; Joseph and Travers 1996; Carter and McCarthy 1997). Also, there are more interactive learning packages which make use of different media to

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The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

provide a richer experience of language learning and to offer the learner choice of approach and route (Parish 1995). There are also more extensive reader series being produced with fewer linguistic constraints and more provocative content (e.g. the Cambridge English Readers series launched in 1999). For a detailed evaluation of current EFL coursebooks, see Tomlinson et al.



In many countries groups of writers produce local materials. From observation of such projects in Bulgaria, China, Indonesia, Ireland, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Norway, Romania, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Vietnam, the following trends are noticeable:

Writing teams often consist of teachers and teacher trainers who are in touch with the needs and wants of the learners.

Writing teams are often large (e.g. 30 in Namibia; seven in Romania, five in Bulgaria), deliberately pooling the different talents available.

• Materials are content and meaning focused, with English being used to gain new knowledge, experience and skills.

Furthermore, the needs, wants and views of learners and teachers are given consideration (e.g. through questionnaires, meetings and piloting on the Namibian project). Also choices are offered to learners and teachers in the books; e.g. between original or simplified versions of text in Search 8 (Naustdal Fenner and Nordal-Petersen 1997); of optional activities or 'pathways' in On Target (1996) and A Cow's Head and Other Tales (1996). The materials are often text driven rather than language driven and the texts are often authentic, lengthy and provocative, e.g. texts on drug dealing and pre-marital sex in On Target. Additionally, the focus shifts from local cultures to neighbouring cultures to world cultures, especially in On Target and English for Life (2000). Experiments have also been conducted in generating materials for courses rather than relying solely on commercially produced materials; e.g. Hall (1995) reports on a genre-based approach and a student-generated, experiential approach developed at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand, and a number of researchers are currently experimenting with experiential approaches to literature on ESP courses in Singapore and Thailand.

Possible future directions

Materials will continue to aim at the development of accuracy, fluency and appropriacy while placing more emphasis on helping learners achieve effect. They will provide less practice of co- operative dialogues and more opportunities to use the language to compete for attention and effect. Materials will stop catering predominantly for the 'good language learner' (who is analytic, pays attention to form and makes use of learning strategies in a conscious way) and will start to cater more for the many learners who are experientially inclined. Materials will move away from spoken practice of written grammar, taking more account of the grammar of speech (McCarthy and Carter 1995; Carter and McCarthy 1995, 1997; Carter et al. 1998). Materials will contain more engaging content, which will be of developmental value to learners as well as offering good intake of language use. Materials will become more international, presenting English as a world language rather than as the language of a particular nation and culture. However, teachers and learners will be helped to localise materials in global coursebooks. Most second language (L2) learners of English are not learning English primarily to communicate with native speakers, either abroad or in English-speaking countries; they are learning it for academic or professional advancement and/or to communicate with other non-native speakers of English at home or overseas. Already major global coursebooks series are moving away from a

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Materials development


mono-cultural approach and soon coursebooks focusing on daily life in the USA or the UK will be rare. More materials will be available on the internet and many will make use of internet texts as sources. For example, in Singapore an English coursebook (English for Life 2000) makes extensive use of web search activities and offers accompanying readers on the web. Numerous websites make learning materials available (e.g. Planet English:; and a joint collaboration by several European universities puts language learners in contact for bilingual email exchanges ( Also the US Information Service is active in encouraging the use of American educational websites (e.g. American Studies Electronic Crossroads: ndx.htm) and electronically published materials (e.g. ELLSA American Literary Classics:


The study of the design, development and exploitation of learning materials is an effective way of connecting areas of linguistics such as language acquisition, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, language analysis, discourse analysis and pragmatics, of developing teacher awareness of methodological options, and of improving the effectiveness of materials. I believe that it will become increasingly central in teacher training and applied linguistics courses and that the consequent increase in both qualitative and quantitative research will greatly improve our knowledge about factors which facilitate the learning of languages.


Balan et al. (1998) English News and Views 11 Byrd (1996) A Cow's Head and Other Tales Grozdanova et al. (1996) A World ofEnglish Naustdal Fenner and Nordal-Petersen (1997) Search 8 On Target (1996) (teachers' book) Tomlinson et al. (2000) English for Life

Key readings

Byrd (1995) Material Writers Guide Cunningsworth (1984) Evaluating and Selecting EFL Teaching Material Cunningsworth (1996) Choosing Your Coursebook Hidalgo et al. (1995) Materials Writers on Materials Writing McDonough and Shaw (1993) Materials and Methods in ELT: A Teachers Guide Sheldon (1987) ELT Textbooks and Materials: Problems in Evaluation and Development Tomlinson (1998a) Materials Developmentfor Language Teaching

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