ESL materials for teens

ESL Materials For Teens Should Make Teaching Easier And More Rewarding

Bridging Gaps Between ESL Materials For Teens And Teaching In Korean Second Language Instructional Contexts

This article looks at ESL materials for teens in Korea and suggests that course books should make teaching easier for English teachers, however this is often not the case.  For this reason, we have created a set of course materials specifically aimed at teaching teens which are easy to use and rewarding for students and can be found on our website at

ESL teaching materials and reflective practice-some questions

Over the years I have become increasingly interested in a set of interdependent and important, yet often overlooked, issues in Second Language Teacher Education (SLTE): how ESL and EFL teachers can be enabled to use their materials as a vehicle for their professional development, how doing so might contribute to the promotion of effective learning in situated instructional contexts and how, as a materials developer myself, pedagogical resources might be constructed in ways which not only meet the practical needs of teachers working with teenage EFL students in unfamiliar contexts, but also contribute positively to their reflection on, and evaluation of, those resources through the prism of their classroom experience. In short, the design and provision of instructional materials which harmonize with the needs of both novice and expert teachers, support a structured and principled approach to classroom practice and which might be of practical benefit to learners and teachers alike.


Planning lessons in Korean ESL contexts-some constraints

ESL teachers working at public schools in Korea can normally expect to teach around twenty-two hours per week while for their counterparts in the private sector this number may be much higher. Here at least some attempt is often made to place students in classes where instruction can be pitched at a more or less appropriate level of proficiency. In the public sector, on the other hand, teachers can expect an unhealthy range of levels of proficiency in any given group. However, time set aside for planning in these contexts is at least likely to be included as part of the paid program. While class sizes tend to be smaller in the private sector, the pressure teachers work under may be just as great since their students will almost certainly have spent much of their already long days in classroom environments. Additionally, expectancies from parents (and at times their intrusiveness) can be great and a test-focused attitude towards pedagogy is likely to be predominant. Under both scenarios the pressure is most definitely on and although even the most expert of teachers ‘are likely to acknowledge that lesson planning should take place’ (Johnson, 2008, p326), it is all too easy for all teachers, understandably given the very real constraints just outlined and many others besides, to rate this activity as something less than the priority issue it should arguably be.

Planning for instruction with teen ESL learners

As is the case elsewhere, for many students of school age, teenagers in particular, instruction in a second language can appear as a superfluous irritation. They can, after all, communicate quite well enough and conduct their thinking and socializing adequately and naturally using their L1. (Cook, 2008) For others the English class will be seen as a valued point of access to a more or less accurately imagined global community of English language users which someday soon many would hope to join. This likely imbalance in motivational stance within any given group of students reflects just one aspect among many on which workable decisions need to be made in the complex process of planning classes for teenage EFL students. If such issues are not addressed adequately, lessons can be all but destined for early and embarrassing implosion. It is easy to underestimate both the number of factors to be considered and the amount of time that effective planning can involve, especially for novice practitioners and when materials are perceived as a hindrance rather than a help. It would, therefore, seem incumbent on those who design and provide classroom resources to attempt to ensure that teachers gain as much support as possible from materials themselves in order to enable those using them to ‘handle the multifaceted nature of classroom teaching’ (Tsui, 2003, p177) and allow for flexible and timely adaptation when this is deemed to be in the best interests of learners. It is with these concerns in mind that we decided to create a set of materials which could be used with little planning required but also coving a wide range of topics and skills to benefit the students.

Ways materials could support novice and expert teachers

In Korea, as in most contexts in which second language learning instruction takes place, mediation between materials and learners plays an important, if not crucial, role in promoting effective learning. (McGrath, 2002) This truism is perhaps nowhere more relevant than when applied to classrooms into which newly-qualified or inexpert teachers find themselves thrust with maximum initial enthusiasm yet minimal or inadequate training and oftentimes given little support where it counts most. Educational research clearly ‘reveals that the change in role from student to teacher is not an easy transition.’ (Farrell, 2009, p183) Fresh to the often confusing cultural, educational and linguistic norms now pervading their working lives it shouldn’t be surprising that many will experience high levels of anxiety. Planning for them tends to be discrete, overelaborate and time-consuming, leaving little time to focus on, for example, developing knowledge of their students or deepening their knowledge of how English works in order to pre-empt conceptual confusion in their explanations of linguistic form and usage. For teachers still finding their feet, working with materials aimed at teenage ESL students could benefit from at least the following;

  • A structured and supportive framework which can quickly become familiar to both teacher and learner and from which departures can be easily made when confidence is built up and some stability achieved in the running of the class
  • This would include clear and detailed instructions for classroom management embedded in lesson content and which could be followed or rejected in accord with what actually happens in the classroom as dynamics there unfold among the people who inhabit it
  • Materials where focus on planning can consequently shift towards the learners. Time gained here might also be utilized for more structured reflection or in exploration of aspects the language itself which emerge from student interaction in class
  • Gradual development of closer alignment between planning and teaching phases of teaching, and a build-up of a repertoire of routines and practices suggested in the materials and later evaluated by the teacher post hoc as viable, or otherwise, for their contexts
  • Reduced levels of anxiety which will be noticed by students who will respond positively, thus nurturing the organized, focused and vibrant learning environment ultimately desired by all stakeholders

If novice teachers ‘tend to be overwhelmed by multiple simultaneous events’ (Tsui, 2009, p193) and post-actively focus on their own performance as teachers, expert teachers tend to concentrate on developing a deeper knowledge of the needs and necessities of their learners as individuals or as group members and on strategies they can employ to meet these effectively. (Calderhead, 1996) They are also more likely to be concerned with how lessons flow, how to maximize classroom resources and tend to focus on language rather than classroom management issues. (Nunan, 1992) Planning for them also tends to be longer term, brief and to the point and starts with the learner rather than from content. Such teachers might benefit from;

  • Teaching materials which have been designed to promote understanding of language function and meaning and provide copious opportunities for extended practice in language use within a suitably flexible framework • Supplementary materials which are easily accessible and relevant to issues as they arise in context and thus circumvent a need for extensive, replacement, supplementation or adaptation
  • Core materials that can be quickly and effectively supplemented and extended through localization and personalization without unrealistic investment of time or energy
  • Being enabled to provide more accurate and informed information on form and avoid spending precious time on substituting the type of contrived form-focused activities which tend to dominate most published materials
  • Achieving a high level of integration between, activities, task, lessons, and units of work which supports opportunities for students to work together to use language holistically

The focus on designing course materials for teenagers at was to fulfill the above requirements and ensure that teachers would feel supported by the materials and allow them to provide useful, stimulating lessons.

With reference to teaching teenage ESL learners in Korea, I have argued that materials can usefully be seen as both instruments for development and as a means for supporting teachers on a day-to-day basis, principally through helping them to reorient what they focus on during pre-planning, in-lesson and post-lesson reflection phases of their teaching. With this in mind, there would seem to be some room for materials themselves to be designed in such a way as to allow for such reorientation. I tend to agree with the view that if ‘coursebook teaching’ cannot be justified, ‘coursebook-based teaching’ certainly can. (McGrath, 2002, p57) If this so, then materials designed for use with teenage ESL students could be more than a little friendlier towards their users and be flexible enough to reflect their level of development as second language educators, as well as recognizing the constraints under which they work.


Calderhead, J. (1996). Teachers: beliefs and knowledge. In D.C. Berliner and R. C. Calfee (Eds.). Handbook of educational psychology. New York: MacMillan.

Cook, V. (2008). Second language learning and language teaching. London: Hodder Education.

Farrell, T. S. C. (2009). The novice teacher experience. In A. Burns and J.C. Richards (Eds.). The Cambridge guide to second language teacher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Johnson, K. (2008). An introduction to foreign language learning and teaching. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Longman.

McGrath, I. (2002). Materials evaluation and design for language teaching. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Nunan, D. (1992). The teacher as decision-maker. In J. Flowerdew, M Brock and S. Hsia (Eds.). Perspectives on language teacher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tsui, A. B.M. (2003). Understanding expertise in teaching: case studies of ESL teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tsui, A. B.M. (20o9). Teaching expertise: approaches, perspectives and characterizations. In A. Burns and J.C. Richards (Eds.). The Cambridge guide to second language teacher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tony is a practiced teacher educator and currently works on designing courses, lessons and supplementary materials aimed primarily at teachers working with teens, and at a leading UK University as an EAP tutor during the summer months. He did his Masters in TESOL at the same university and is also working on doctoral research in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA). You can retrieve free lessons materials and supplements produced by the author and his team at Try these out in class and if satisfied you might like to consider becoming a member!

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