Sunday, March 8, 2009

Using Student-Created Material

By Ela Newman

Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

Don’t tell them what they can tell you.

This advice was pinned to a cork board in a classroom where I was taking one of my EFL Teaching Methodology courses. At that time the suggestion sounded intriguing, but somewhat unrealistic. Now, fifteen years later, I know it is far from impractical.

Still, I have discovered recently that there is another dimension to that teaching suggestion:

Don’t prepare materials which students can prepare themselves.

I know. It may sound as if I’m trying to avoid one of the teacher’s basic chores: lesson preparation. Well, not this time. In fact, following that motto, I must admit, has added minutes to my lesson planning time, but it has been worth the effort.

I engage students in creating lesson material in two ways, for two reasons.

  1. I use student-created material as a springboard for introducing and practicing new grammatical structures.

    Whenever possible, before introducing a new grammar point, I ask students to create material incorporating an already familiar structure, one that we can build on. I find that students are regularly motivated by tangible evidence of their progress. Clear, objective, and immediate proof of their progress is provided when they can compare their original work to a “new-and-more-advanced” version. It is very concrete, and as such, it brings them a feeling of perceptible accomplishment.

  2. When the original material is in its more advanced version, I use it as a basis for allowing students the opportunity to become expert peer reviewers.

    As we know, teaching a new concept can be very self-instructive. (How many of us really understand the intricacies of some grammar point mostly because we have had to teach it – and appear confident while doing so?) I have noticed a wonderful tendency: as peer-reviewers, students want to provide accurate and thorough feedback. At times, that feeling of responsibility sends them back to their notes, prompts them to discuss the issue with a partner, and encourages them to give that new grammar structure some extra attention. And because that drive is psychologically authentic, it puts students’ learning in a meaningful, and therefore, productive context.

Let me add here that most student-created work is used anonymously in class. It is also submitted electronically, which allows me to create worksheets more easily. I’d like to share with you an activity I have used which incorporates students’ ideas: Lesson on Reduced Adverb Clauses

I always look for new ways of using student-created material in my lesson planning. Do you know of any? How do you incorporate students’ ideas into the teaching of grammar?


Comment from Betty
March 8, 2009 at 1:06 pm

I really like Ela’s strategy for incorporating student-created materials in lessons. Asking students to prepare learning materials is an excellent teaching device. In addition to creating worksheets, students enjoy making up short quizzes for their classmates. As homework, assign students the task of creating a quiz on a certain grammar point, and then during class have them swap quizzes during pair work. Students like being the teacher at times.

We’re so lucky to have Ela and the other bloggers to share their ideas with all of us!

Comment from Ela Newman
March 9, 2009 at 10:51 am


I’m glad you like my examples of using student-created material. I love your idea of asking students to prepare quizzes for one another. While using this technique, I often ask students to evaluate their partners’ performance and to give one another a “mock” grade. Such activity works very well as a review. It also allows students to feel like “experts”; that, in turn, is a wonderful way of building students’ confidence!

Comment from Anthony Paul Joseph
March 9, 2009 at 11:19 am

I’ve lost track of how many points I truly grasped while in the process of explaining them to a student! Thanks for a great blog! Be sure that’ll be putting your ideas to work.

– Anthony Joseph
English Language Arts Teacher
Quebec City

Comment from Ela Newman
March 9, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Hi Anthony,

I’m glad to hear that you have found some useful ideas in my blog and in Betty’s comment. Basing lessons on students’ ideas and involving the group in creating class material may be a bit more time-consuming than preparing for a “regular” class, but it really pays off. Students have fun and learn faster, and you enjoy their creativity and geniune involvement in the task. Good luck! Let us know how effective this method turns out to be for your students!

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