Designing effective language learning materials

Designing effective language learning materials

By Dr Jeremy Koay

In most language teaching environments, one or more prescribed textbooks are available, and teachers are often expected to supplement these with their own materials. These materials are often more relevant or interesting for learners than the standard textbook resources. teachers are expected to create learning materials if the course does not have a standard textbook. Some teachers create materials to supplement prescribed textbooks. This blog presents seven questions for you to consider when designing learning materials.

1. What do you want the material to achieve?

Material designers should consider the learning goals that they would like their materials to achieve. Creating materials aimlessly is likely to result in wasting time and resources. Materials designers can use learning goals from the course syllabus as a guide. This is to ensure that the goals of the materials are consistent with those of the course.

2. Does the content of the material reflect the local context?

Topics in commercially produced textbooks tend to focus on Western cultures. To have a balance of Western and local cultures in an English classroom, materials developers can adapt articles from local newspapers. Also, outdated topics can be replaced with recent ones. This is not to say that outdated topics are irrelevant and should be entirely removed. The point is there should be a balance of old and recent topics.

3. Are your instructions clear?

Task instructions in learning materials should be as clear and coherent as possible. For example, identify the main idea of each paragraph is less clear compared to write the main idea of each paragraph in the table below. In the first example, the word identify does not tell learners what to do after they have found the main ideas.

4. Does the formatting of the material make reading easier?

Formatting, such as font size and style, can affect readability. Consider learners’ age and the formality of the learning context. If the material has more than one page, number the pages. Page numbers can help both teachers and learners communicate more effectively. Printing out a copy of the material before making copies for the class is important. A printed copy may look slightly different from the version you see on the computer screen.

5. Do you need an image in the material?

Images include photos and illustrations. It is important to think about what you would like to achieve with the image. Do selected images help learners understand the content more effectively? Is the image related to the topic? Is the image too abstract for young learners? Does the image distract learners from focusing on the task?

6. Are your tasks appropriate for your learners’ age?

Tasks that you design should be achievable and reflect your learners’ age or general experience. For example, selecting a correct answer by colouring it would be more appropriate for young learners than for adult learners.

7. Does your material encourage learners to collaborate?

Perhaps something to consider is whether the materials you design promote collaborative learning. Do the materials provide opportunities for learners to interact with one another? For example, learners can ask each other questions from a list and write each other’s responses in a worksheet.

I hope these seven questions will help you design effective learning materials.


Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based Independent Researcher and a Research & Development Consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/ESB Professional

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