How to Choose Your ESL Materials: 1 Simple Technique to Avoid an Embarrassing Surprise

Last week, I got started talking about how to choose ESL materials for your students.

The conclusion: avoid tightly-packed pages with lots of different types of questions. You can read that article here if you missed it.

This week I want to talk about another common phenomenon to consider when choosing your ESL materials. It’s best illustrated with a story.

I passed out an assignment to my students that had looked simple enough.

It was a present simple tense fill-in-the-blank worksheet. I had read the first few questions and they were pretty spot on what the students needed to practice.

In class, I spent some time explaining the easily-forgotten present simple ’s’ and when it was needed. Then we went over the first few questions of the worksheet together to make sure they understood how to complete the page. 

I felt pretty good about things up to that point. Everything was on schedule and I had about 10 minutes before the students needed to go home. Just enough time for the students to start the worksheet and then finish for homework.

Then things got messy.

About two-thirds the way down the page, the questions got decidedly more difficult. The fill-in-the-blanks halfway down suddenly required present simple tense negatives and it wasn’t until one of my quicker, brighter students got there and asked me for help that I realized I had messed up.

With about two minutes to the end of class, I found myself trying to explain very quickly how to change the verb for negative sentences.  A bead of sweat rolled down the side of my forehead and I tried not to show my panic as students began to whine, complaining that they didn’t understand.

I didn’t have time to explain it well, and, if I sent it home, I would have parents calling. 

I collected the assignment and told them that we would go over it the next class. A little cheer went up from the students. I smiled in order to cover the frustration I was feeling towards myself.

If I had just read through all of the questions when I was choosing the worksheet.

I know the temptation teachers face. We are busy and usually in a hurry. We read the first few questions on a worksheet and assume they are all like that.

I also know the temptations materials authors face. When we are writing a worksheet, maybe we get a little bored about halfway down the page and want to spice it up a little. Maybe it’s because we want to challenge the students a bit after they have done the easier questions above. Whatever the reason, materials authors often decide to change the difficulty level halfway down the page. 

And for a teacher caught off guard, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When you are choosing materials, read through all of the questions on the page, answering them in your head. You will save yourself the embarrassment I have experienced more often than I would like to admit.

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  • Anne says:

    I have been in that situation a couple of times myself. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

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