4 Great Authentic Materials To Use in ESL Lessons With Teens & Adults
If you teach teenage or adult students and want to give them an engaging, meaningful, and practical English lesson, it’s important to recognize the value of integrating some authentic materials. Authentic materials are real-world resources (YouTube videos, TV series, music, movies, videos, books, news articles, podcasts, emails etc.) that you can use to teach English, but that were not originally intended or designed to be used for language lessons.
Authentic materials used in combination with creativity, good preparation, and high-quality lesson plans generally lead to a great experience for both the teacher and students. Authentic materials also are great tools to use for conversation or small group ESL lessons because the topics presented in the song, video, article, etc. will incite students to share what they have in mind about that particular piece of work.
Let’s take a look into why and how to use authentic materials in ESL lessons with teenage or adult students.
(1) Video – YouTube, TV Series, Movies, etc
Why use video in ESL Lessons?
While there are several good reasons to use real-world videos in your lesson plans, I’ll highlight some of the most important things. First and foremost – watching video engages learners and it brings the outside world to the lessons. Students tend to love watching videos, and another great benefit is that students have exposure to real English how it’s used in natural contexts – movie trailers, music videos, instructional videos, news, vlogs, documentaries, product commercials, and the list goes on and on. All of these types of videos give your students an authentic connection to the language. This is something you don’t get in those ‘English listening exercises’ that you find online, that can often be scripted and awkward.
What’s another good reason to use video content as lesson material? Practicality. Non-native English speakers come across video content in English online all the time. The vast amount of YouTube videos, TV shows, and movies that exist in English naturally drive ESL learners to want to understand it. There’s been a report which suggests that more than 50% of all YouTube views come from a non-English speaking audience. People from all over the world use YouTube for a variety of reasons.
At some point, non-native speakers of English come across some material that they’ll want to listen to and understand in English – either for professional reasons or personal interests. One person may be searching for videos on how to do magic tricks, while another may be looking for tips on preparing for a job interview. In either case, there’s personal or professional intent to understand the content.
There are also many movie watchers who may at some point want to watch a movie in its original language rather than using subtitles or dubbing. Despite being able to sometimes find translated subtitles for these videos, many non-native speakers will agree that they prefer to understand the original content anyway. Non-native learners tend to agree that the content, jokes, or special expressions in a dubbed / subtitled version of a TV show or movie can often be lost in translation or not feel right. It often takes something important and meaningful away from the content in its original language.
Therefore, when you teach using videos or movies as a resource in your lessons, you’re essentially preparing your student to use the language in the real world – which is the point of learning a language in the first place.
How to use video in ESL Lessons?
You could take the time to make some good activities or lesson plans based on some videos, or, if you’re like most teachers, you’re pressed on time. Making activities on your own can be extremely time-consuming and challenging, but the good news is that there is a lot of high-quality and pre-made lesson materials out there based on videos:
Here on Veslio we provide a library of engaging, real-world videos (usually between 2 – 5 minutes) paired up with modern lesson plans for your teenage or adult students. The videos consist of different kinds of news reports, product commercials, short cinematic stories, special interviews, instructional videos, short documentaries, vlogs, performances, and more.
Each video either comes with 3 full lesson plans, which are adapted to student level – pre-intermediate, intermediate, and upper-intermediate, or you can find one topic with 3 different videos, which are also adapted to student level. In both cases, the videos come equipped with printable, comprehensive lesson activities – all designed to help your students improve while having fun in the lessons.
The aim of the lesson plans have parts for students to practice their speaking, listening comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar while also learning something new, interesting, and educational beyond just the language. Each lesson also contains creative cooperation activities where students can use their English working together in practical contexts.
Our lesson plans can be used in a variety of different lessons, for teaching General English, Business English, private one to one tutoring, conversation lessons, small group classes, high school classes, online lessons, and even for some exam preparation such as the FCE, CAE, or IELTS.
Film English is a well-established website providing teachers with access to a lot of lesson plans that are based on films. A lot of the lessons are dynamic with clearly guided steps to help you along the way, and the questions and activities are straightforward and easy to follow. Most of the lessons are designed for teens and adults. If you’re ever in the mood to do lesson using a movie, this should be your first spot to go. You can tell that the creator, Kieran Donaghy, has experience,and knows what he’s doing when he creates these lessons, and the lessons are filled with positive reviews.
ESL Brains has a library of printable lesson worksheets based on videos, most of them designed for higher level adult students (Intermediate to Advanced) in the corporate or business English sector. They provide topics ranging from Global Issues, Life, Technology, and Design and Art. A lot of the exercises include vocabulary & word-building, conversation questions, and some comprehension activities based on the video content. A lot of the videos feature Ted Talk videos, but are not limited to only that.
While it will be more difficult to use videos effectively without preparation, it’s still possible. For example, I’ve watched many videos and TV series with some of my students without preparing anything. But as I wrote, it’s much harder than having ready-made material because you’ll have to be doing some double-tasking which can get a bit overwhelming. If you choose to go with no preparation, there’s a few different routes you can go on how to conduct the lesson. For example, you can play the video / TV series / movie, and pause the video…
After a full scene / conversation has finished
Ask students to try to summarize the scene and discuss things like: what they saw, what happened and why it happened, why someone did some action, who was speaking, why somebody got angry, why somebody laughed, etc.
Pay attention to when the scene / conversation started and when it ends. During the scene, you’ll have to be double-tasking – paying attention to the scene while at the same time writing down some vocabulary from the scene and some questions about the scene. So you’ll have to listen and write at the same time.
If you do write down words and questions, you’ll also have to remember yourself how the words were used and the answers to the questions! This is where it can get stressful – keeping up with writing things down and also remembering yourself what happened in that scene or conversation. But after doing it a few times it should get easier and easier.
After a complicated or quickly spoken sentence / line.
Instead of waiting for a full conversation or scene to finish, you could also stop the video after one line / sentence, and then write it down for the student(s) on paper or on the whiteboard. Break down the sentence word by word while helping to explain any unknown vocabulary terms or the grammatical structure of the language, and maybe do some concept check questioning on the grammar point.
While a scene or conversation is happening while the students are watching, write down what you predict or expect students to have a hard time understanding. This comes down to how well you know your students, but use your instincts. What sentences or lines had complicated grammar points, phrases, expressions, phrasal verbs, words that you don’t expect your students to know? These are the ones you want to focus on.
Always make sure you keep track of the questions, discussions, and vocabulary you had from the video or movie. This is because you should review these terms, comprehension questions, and grammar points in the next lesson.
Why use music in ESL Lessons?
Using music in an ESL lesson can fun but also very challenging to integrate effectively. Students usually enjoy working with songs, and for a similar reason to working with video – music engages the listener and can move people emotionally. When you have an emotional connection to some kind of content, you’ll be more driven to understand it. Think about if you were learning a foreign language, and you hear a song that you will really like in that language (in terms of the genre / sound / beat / etc.) but you can’t understand the lyrics completely. Wouldn’t you feel curious to know what the song is about if you really loved the sound of it?
When I was learning Czech language, I loved to discover Czech artists and songs in the hip hop genre. I remember hearing some songs that I thought had a good beat and vibe. I was curious to know the meaning of the lyrics, and so I brought the lyrics to my private Czech language tutor. We went through the lyrics together during the lesson and along the way I learned a lot of new expressions and terms from the lyrics. I would try to explain some of the lyrics in the way as I understood it, which made me think critically. Another benefit is that if it’s a song you love, you’ll probably listen to the song a lot of times, and pick up on some new things each time you listen to it again. The bottom line here is that I was driven to understand it because I had an emotional connection to the music itself.
Music exposes learners to train their ears to different kinds of tones, voices, and accents. Think about the difference between the voices you’ll hear in AC-DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ compared with Tupac’s ‘Me Against the World’. In the AC-DC song, your students will have to train their ear to a louder tone, pitch, and intonation, while in the Tupac song they’ll have to train their ear to the speed of the rapping. There’s also going to be all different kinds of terminology in both songs – different lingo, slang, and pronunciation which is great to be exposed to as a learner.
Music is a form of artistic and inner expression. Musical lyrics are often filled with all kinds of great rhymes, metaphors, similes, analogies, poetry, alliteration, etc. This type of artistic expression that you find in song lyrics offers a type of linguistic education that you won’t find elsewhere. It can be a good mental challenge for learners to figure out what the artist is trying to express sometimes, and this turns out to be a great critical thinking activity.
How to use music?
While there’s a number of different directions you you can go with a song as a lesson activity – of course you have your most basic fill-in-the-blank type of exercise, where you take a song, and create an activity where students must fill in the missing blanks with vocabulary words, expressions, prepositions, etc. But there’s some other outside-the-box activities you can create with songs. It might take some time to find the right song and to prepare for it, but often it’s well worth it, especially if you can recycle the activity among a number of students or classes.
I would say the most important thing when making an activity using a song is to have a goal. If you’re teaching a grammar point, try to find a song where there’s at least 3 different examples of that grammar point in the song. If you’re teaching vocabulary, make sure the vocabulary terms are somehow connected to one theme. If you’re teaching prefixes, make sure there’s a few different examples of prefix usage in the song. Now let’s take a look at a few ways and ideas on how to integrate or make activities for songs in your lesson.
Choose the Right Word
(1) When preparing an activity for a song, instead of just a standard fill-in-the-blank activity (described above), listen to the song a few times and go through the lyrics. Listen for words that might be misunderstood with other words. Make a worksheet where students have two choices of words that sound similar, and students must choose the right one. Here is an example from an excerpt of AC-DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’, where students must listen to the song and choose the word they think they hear.
“No stop (signs / sites)
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a (wheel / whale)
Gonna (skip / spin) it
Nobody’s gonna mess me around
Payin’ my (dues / dudes)
Playin’ in a rockin’ band
Look at me
I (am on the way / ran away) to the promised land”
What grammar point could you focus on with this song? How to form and use negative sentences. (No stop signs / Nobody’s gonna slow me down) or also contractions (Payin’ / Playin’ / Gonna). You could also do something with phrasal verbs or prepositions – (slow down / mess around / look at)
Put Song Lyrics in Order
Put students in pairs. Print out and cut up each line of a song verse (or part of the song verse, depending on how many lines it is) into paper slips, and play the song verse by verse. Students must put the lines of the song in the correct order that they hear them in the song. Stop the song verse by verse, go over the correct order from each student pair. Make them read the verse, line by line, in order to practice pronunciation.
Then you can move on to the next verse or chorus, and hand out the next stack of cut-up paper slips to the student pairs and just repeat the same procedure. Then, if you’re doing a grammar point, you can make some kind of competition or race where the students must collaborate and pull out “three examples of present perfect” or “three words with prefixes”. After this, have another follow-up activity prepared for your students to do some more active work with the grammar point, prefixes, etc.
Focus on a Theme
Do a theme-focused song, concentrating more on the vocabulary / conversation related to the theme. For example, let’s take the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” by Jimmy Buffet. For a lower level, you could pair students up, play the song, and instruct them to write down all of the different types of foods and drinks they hear in the song. After, go through some of the vocabulary – “medium rare” or “draft beer” and the different ways to cook a burger or serve a beer, while facilitating a conversation about burgers and meat. After doing this, you can follow it up with a video lesson plan about the Impossible Burger. This way, you combine two different authentic resources (music + video) and then focus on building student’s vocabulary around one theme – burgers, meat, etc.
Create, Compare, and Discuss
Have students create something relative to the song theme. Do an introduction activity to start, for example, you could put students in pairs or groups and give them the task of creating their own ‘Highway to Hell.’ This means they’d have to cooperate and come up with some ideas together for:
– What does the highway look like?
– Why do people drive on this ‘highway to hell’?
– What happens while riding on this highway? What are some rules? What activities do people do on this highway?
– What are some other special things about this highway? How is the ‘highway to hell’ different from other highways?
Before playing the song, have some example sentences prepared with the important vocabulary terms from the song in context. One of the words that a lot of students probably wouldn’t know in the song “Highway to Hell” is the word stride. Give students a context for this word, and then have them try to deduce the definition or synonyms for the word stride.
“The company president walked into the room with a confident stride.”
Do some concept check questions, clarify the meaning of the word, and then repeat the process with the other vocabulary words you want to focus on in the song.
Listen to the song together. Have students compare their highway to AC-DC’s highway. How are they different? You can talk about the symbolism of the song too. Use the lyrical content to lead into a discussion about other things and the cultural connections in the song – talk about your students’ favorite party they’ve been to or one time when they broke the rules, which are both themes in Highway to Hell.
(3) News Topics & Articles
Why use news articles in ESL Lessons?
Using news topics or articles is great practice for your students to train their reading comprehension skills. Each article is usually filled with useful vocabulary terms to learn, and you can even turn it into a listening activity if you take the article and read it aloud to students.
However, using news topics as a resource for speaking and conversation works great as well. The reason for this is because the topics are relevant and up-to-date, which means that students will probably have more on their mind about it. Most times, when I bring up a news topic, most of my students have heard or read something about it already from the radio, TV, or internet, which means it’s fresh on their mind.
For example, I remember when the Czech Republic passed a law which banned smoking in all restaurants and bars, and this was quite a big change for a country which has always been more open to smoking. The topic proved to be a great one to speak about for both smokers and non-smokers – because it was relevant, new, and controversial. Everyone had an opinion about it, and the conversations about it could last a while.
Try to follow and stay on top of the important news topics in the city or country where you teach because this will give you a lot of fuel for your lessons and great conversation topics. Just by following the relevant news going on in your city, you will get a lot of good lesson material and ideas, and you may not even have to plan much for it.
How to use news articles?
Introduction & General Discussion
What I like to do is browse the different news sources in English in the city where I teach (which in my case is Prague). I have 3 or 4 main news sources in English language which have all kinds of articles that I use often with my Czech students, from politics to sports to culture to entertainment. For example, for my Czech students learning English I often use Expats.cz, Praguemonitor, and Radio.cz – all which have great articles in English language. When you’re searching, keep an eye out for topics which looks significant (e.g. elections), controversial (e.g. the smoking law), or interesting (e.g. new technology / cultural event).
I remember bringing up the Rolling Stones concert that came through Prague to some of my adult students, and this naturally sparked some great conversation about rock and roll, the cultural influence of music, global music festivals, and my students’ favorite concert experiences. I didn’t even plan anything specifically in terms of activities or instruct my students read an article about it, I just mentioned it and facilitated conversation on the topic. For some lessons, we were able to stay on that topic for over 45 minutes, and I introduced a lot of new concert/festival related vocabulary words for my students during the conversation (wristband, crowdsurfing, stage, etc.). I eventually went on to find a video about music festivals to watch with my students, and ended up with a lesson plan about the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium.
Read an article before / during the lesson
Another way to use news articles is to send it to the student before the lesson, or give students time to read it on their own during the lesson. Have students underline the parts of the article or vocabulary that they don’t understand. For lower level students, you may have to take some time to rewrite the article in some simpler terms and cut down the length. For intermediate and advanced students, you can usually get away with just using the original article. In either case, go through the article with students sentence by sentence, and explain the vocabulary terms or grammar points. After this, you can focus on the conversation. Prepare 3 – 5 questions beforehand about the article to discuss after reading.
Check out Breaking News English
This is resource with free lesson plans all based on up-to date news articles. While a lot of them might not be relevant locally, there are great topics on a broader scale. Each lesson plan comes equipped with a range of activities that you can do with your students – discussion questions, true / false comprehension activities, vocabulary matching, grammar activities, and more. I personally enjoy using their mini lessons 2-page printable lessons, which is packed with a lot of content that can take you a long way in your lessons.
(4) Emails & Social Media
Why use emails & social media in ESL Lessons?
People spend a lot of time these days writing emails, responding to social media messages, and posting status’ or comments on FB or Twitter. Similar to YouTube videos, most of your students will at some point come across content in English via email or social media – whether it’s direct emails, promotional offers, Facebook status’, event invitations, posts, comments, image captions, etc. This means that it’s both practical and valuable to focus on communication in these two mediums during your lessons.
How to use emails and social media?
While there’s a lot of activities out there that you can do for email practice, the most useful task I’ve done with my own students is to take some time to go over some of the most basic and important expressions or phrases that we typically use in emails. Show them a few actual, real-life emails that you’ve exchanged (obviously emails that aren’t too private and that you don’t mind sharing). Show students the last email written, and then have them write a response to that email using some of those expressions or phrases, as if they were the recipient.
You can also have students pick out some of their emails written in their native language (that they also don’t mind sharing) and translate these emails to English for homework. Go through their email with them in the next lesson and correct any mistakes that they’ve made. Take the translation away, and make them rewrite the email in English, and have them plug in some of those expressions / phrases that they’ve just learned.
Another thing that works great is to start a conversation with your student about the context surrounding the email, asking them questions about it. E.g. Who is this person? How do you know each other? What were some topics you guys have written about before?
A successful activity that I’ve done many times is have students write an imaginary, positive response that they’d ideally like to hear from the recipient of their own email that they wrote to that person. You can then do it the other way around too, and have the student write an imaginary negative response that they’d ideally not like to hear from the recipient of the email.
You can do something similar for Facebook messages to email activity above, as long as the students don’t mind sharing the contents of some of their messages.
One activity that was really successful that I did with my teenagers is to search Google for some really funny Facebook status updates (or you can take actual ones from your Facebook feed, just don’t display the names of who posted them) and have students make their own comments to those status’ or posts. Some of the examples I did with my students are:
John: I have a parenting tip for other parents during Christmas. Wrap empty boxes and put them under the tree. Every time your child acts up, throw one in the fireplace.
Allison: My parents just went on vacation and I have the house to myself for 10 days. Yeah!!!
Status # 3
Ben: Adulthood is like losing your mom in the grocery store for the rest of your life.
Instruct students to make comments on each of these posts. For each one, you could have students make one funny comment, one angry comment, one rude comment, etc. You can even make up your own and give them to students to make comments on.
Another similar activity I’ve done with social media is to get students to imagine that they are somebody famous and write a social media status update on Facebook or Twitter during certain times of their life. For example, students could write the status update for Donald Trump the day he won the elections in America, or the status update for a football player on France’s national team the day they won the World Cup in soccer. Each student then passes their status updates to other students in the class, and the other must respond to it.
Alternatively, you could take actual posts from celebrities, and have students comment on them. I’ve also had students do some work with memes – where you take an image from the internet and then students have to make their own ‘meme’ text for the images.
Integrating authentic materials will benefit both the teacher and student in terms of practicality and value, and is an effective way to prepare your students for using the language in real-life situations. There’s often an emotional or personal connection to the content that you’ll find in these real-world resources, which will inspire students to learn and engage with the language. If you’re looking to add something new and creative to your lessons that will get teenage or adult students prepared for the real world, you can resort to some of the activities and resources above to guide you.
Jake Young is a creative teacherpreneur who has been living and teaching ESL in Prague, CZ for over 7 years. He’s the brain behind Veslio.co – a resource dedicated to providing teachers with comprehensive and modern lesson plans based on real-world videos. He’s also a passionate language learner, fluent in Czech language and an intermediate Italian language speaker.