Five English Lesson Ideas Based on Authentic, Real-World Content

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By Naomi Baker –

We know that using authentic content is important in English language instruction, and there are dozens of ways to do it, from having students write Yelp reviews to watching YouTube videos. However, the bigger question is how to use authentic content in a way that is needs-based, personalized, and relevant. To effectively use real-world materials, focus on the learners’ objectives. Once you know what English-language experiences students are hoping to navigate, you will be able to appropriately select authentic content and design activities.

Another way to ensure you are using relevant content is to have learners think about a recent English-language situation where they struggled or had misunderstandings. For example, did they have difficulty communicating at a doctor’s office? Download some patient forms and use them to structure a conversation between a health professional and a patient. Learners will appreciate the personalized content and will find it rewarding to troubleshoot areas that they have previously stumbled over.

Here are some authentic materials that you can easily align to learner objectives and that you can adapt to different learning environments, whether it is in an online class, in a face-to-face class, or at home.

  1. Career-Related Materials
    With so many learners studying English for career purposes, using real-world career content such as cover letters, resumes, and job applications can certainly add value to your students’ experience. Writing a cover letter or resume might be out of the scope of a class, but for a more achievable writing assignment that can work with a variety of levels, you can craft a lesson around a LinkedIn profile and then have students write their own personal bios.
  2. Menus
    Ordering at a restaurant is one of the few conversations that learners will encounter repeatedly, so it benefits learners to feel confident and comfortable with this interaction. Many restaurants have their menus posted online; pick restaurants learners are likely to go to and use these menus to teach new vocabulary and to set up a role-play conversation between a customer and a waiter. If learners are studying at home, they can write a dialogue.
  3. Voice Recordings
    With no visuals or human interaction, listening to recordings can often be a challenging exercise. Where allowed, call up a business that learners might encounter (such as a movie theater) and design a lesson based on the information in the voice recording. Connect your phone to speakers if you’re doing this activity live in a larger face-to face class. In a live online class, place your phone near the computer’s speaker, and if learners are studying alone, they can call the number themselves.
  4. Schedules
    Whether it’s tour operation schedules, transport timetables, class schedules, or meeting agendas, you are sure to find a schedule that is relevant to your learners. Have students scan a schedule for a variety of information, and then set up a scenario where they use the schedule in conversation.
  5. Reviews
    Nowadays we rely on reviews to decide what to buy, where to eat, and where to go. Have students read reviews on products or businesses they are interested in or familiar with, and then ask students to write a review on a site like Yelp, Trip Advisor, Rotten Tomatoes, Goodreads, or Amazon for a product or service they enjoy. Before publishing their review, learners can revise their work according to student or teacher feedback.

Lessons based off authentic content can be engaging and entertaining for students and teachers alike. Most importantly, authentic content that addresses learners’ needs prepares them for language interactions and encounters outside the classroom.