Adapting Instructional and Learning Materials

Instructional materials should generally be authentic and communicative, and even if they are already nearly perfect, adaptation of materials nevertheless happens. Here are some reasons for materials adaptation.

  • Not enough grammar coverage in general
  • Not enough practice of grammar points of particular difficulty to learners
  • The communicative focus means that grammar is presented unsystematically
  • Reading passages contain too much unknown vocabulary
  • Comprehension questions are too easy, because they sound too much like written material being read out
  • Not enough guidance on pronunciation
  • Subject matter inappropriate for learners for a particular age and intellectual level
  • Photographs and other illustrative materials not culturally acceptable
  • Amount of materials too great or too little to cover in the time allocated
  • No guidance for teachers on handling group work and role play activities with a large class
  • Dialogues are too formal, and not really representative of everyday speech
  • Audio material difficult to use because of problems with room size and technical equipment
  • Too much or too little variety in the activities
  • Vocabulary list and a key to the exercise would be helpful
  • Accompanying tests needed
  • Personalizing materials refers to increasing the relevance of content in relation to learners’ interest and their academic, educational or professional needs.
  • Individualizing addresses the learning styles of both the individuals and of the members of a class working together.
  • Localizing takes into account the international geography of English language teaching and recognizes that what may work well in one region may work in another.
  1. Adaptation can be seen as a kind of matching process or ‘congruence’ where techniques are selected according to the aspect of the material that needs alteration.
  2. Content can be adapted using a range of  techniques; or conversely, a single content technique can be applied to different content areas.
  3. Adaptation can have both quantitative and qualitative effects.
  4. Techniques can be used individually or in combination with others.

Most teachers are not creators of teaching materials but providers of good materials. Dudley-Evans and St. John (1988) suggest that a good provider of materials will be able to:

  1. select appropriately from what is available
  2. be creative with what is available
  3. modify activities to suit learners’ needs
  4. supplement by providing extra activities (and extra input)

Commercial textbooks can seldom be used without some form of adaptation to make them more suitable for the particular context in which they will be used. This adaptation may take a variety of forms.

  • Modifying content. Content may need to be changed because it does not suit the target learners, perhaps because of factors related to the learners’ age, gender, social class, occupation, religion, or cultural background. Modifying (including re-writing and re-structuring) refers to the internal change in the approach or focus of an exercise.
    1. Re-writing is done when some linguistic content needs modification. It is currently the most frequently done because there is a need for the materials to be ‘more communicative’.
    2. Re-structuring applies to classroom management. For many teachers who are required to strictly follow a coursebook, changes in the structuring of the class are sometimes the only kind of adaptation that is realistically possible.

 Modifying tasks. Exercises and activities may need to be changed to give them additional focus. A listening activity may focus only on listening for information, so that students listen a second or third time for a different purpose. An activity may be extended to provide opportunities for more personalized practice.

  • Adding or deleting content. The book may contain too much or too little for the program. Whole units may have to be dropped, or perhaps sections of units throughout the book omitted because a course may focus primarily on listening and speaking skills, and hence writing activities in the book will be omitted.
  • Reorganizing content.  A teacher may decide to reorganize the syllabus of the book, and arrange the units in what she considers a more suitable order.
  • Addressing omissions. The text may omit items that the teacher feels are important. For example a teacher may add vocabulary activities or grammar activities to a unit.
  • Extending tasks. Exercises may contain insufficient practice, and additional practice tasks may need to be added.
  • Expanding brings about a quantitative change. That is, expanding adds to the methodology by moving outside it and developing it in new directions, for instance by putting in a different language skill or a new component.

Deleting (subtracting and abridging)

  • Subtracting means reducing the amount of the material
  • Abridging happens when the materials are not only subtracted but are replaced with something else that does not alter the balance of the lesson or the material.

    Example: The material contains a discussion section at the end of each unit. However, the learners are not really proficient enough to tackle this adequately, since they have learned the language structures but not fluency in their use. The syllabus and its subsequent examination do not leave room for this kind of training.