Material Development

· @tasali · ELAN453, Week 4-1

Adapting Materials, Unit 4.

After adopting a material what a teacher certainly would do is adapting to the environment or for learners so that materials can achieve some level of authenticity. A good teacher will always adapt.

This chapter focuses on how you can adapt adopted materials within particular classroom environments.

As stated by Tomlinson (2006), “Most materials, whether they be written for a global market, for an institution or even for a class, aim to satisfy the needs and wants of an idealized group of target learners who share similar needs and levels of proficiency . . . . No matter how good the materials are, they will not by themselves manage to cater to the different needs, wants, learning styles, attitudes, cultural norms and experiences of individual learners.”

Adaptation ensures that the parts targeting learners all of around the world are relevant to learners that will study them and that it matches the needs of a particular environment that learners will study it in so that the time span and capabilities (technologies/needs to utilize) of it won’t limit what the materials want to teach as a whole.

Adoption (not to be confused with adaptation) happens prior to this, is a result of external and internal evaluation, and covers the material as a whole whereas adaptation concerns with individual units that make up the material.

Madsen and Bowen refer to this matching as the principle of congruence: “Effective adaptation is a matter of achieving congruence …. The good teacher is … constantly striving for congruence among several related variables: teaching materials, methodology, students, course objectives, the target language and its context, and the teacher’s own personality and teaching style” (Madsen and Bowen, 1978: ix).

Similarly, Madsen and Bowen says: “the good teacher is constantly adapting. He adapts when he adds an example not found in the book or when he telescopes an assignment by having students prepare ‘only the even-numbered items’. He adapts even when he refers to an exercise covered earlier, or when he introduces a supplementary picture…. While a conscientious author tries to anticipate questions that may be raised by his readers, the teacher can respond not merely to verbal questions . . . but even to the raised eyebrows of his students” (Madsen and Bowen, 1978: vii).

External (what we have)connectionInternal (what materials offer)
Learner characteristicsa, ca. Choice of topics
Physical environment b. Skills covered
Resourcesbc. Proficiency level
Class size d. Grading of exercises
. .

Reasons for Adaptation

Or the problems that cause non-congruence:

  • Not enough grammar coverage in general.
  • Not enough practice of grammar points of particular difficulty to these learners.
  • The communicative focus means that grammar is presented unsystematically.
  • Reading passages contain too much unknown vocabulary.
  • Comprehension questions are too easy, because the answers can be lifted directly from the text with no real understanding.
  • Listening passages are inauthentic, because they sound too much like written material being read out.
  • Not enough guidance on pronunciation.
  • Subject matter inappropriate for learners of this age and intellectual level.
  • Photographs and other illustrative material culturally acceptable.
  • Amount of material to much or too little to cover in the time allocated to lessons.
  • No guidance for teachers on handling group work and role-play activities with a large class.
  • Dialogues too formal and not representative of everyday speech.
  • Audio material difficult to use because of problems to do with room size and technical equipment.
  • Too much or too little variety in the activities.
  • Vocabulary list and a key to the exercises would be helpful.
  • Accompanying tests needed.

Cunningsworth generally agree with the list above but adds learner perspectives to his list such as expectations and motivation.

Tomlinson and Masuhara (2004:12) summarize what factors may trigger feelings of incongruence among teachers. They categorize the sources as:

  • teaching contexts (e.g. national, regional, institutional, cultural situations)
  • course requirements (e.g. objectives, syllabus, methodology, assessment)
  • learners (e.g. age, language level, prior learning experience, learning style)
  • teachers (e.g. teaching style, belief about learning and teaching)
  • materials (e.g. texts, tasks, activities, learning and teaching philosophy, methodology)

Principle and Procedures

  • Adding, including expanding and extending
  • Deleting, including subtracting and abridging
  • Modifying, including rewriting and restructuring
  • Simplifying
  • Reordering


The notion of addition is, on the face of it, straightforward, implying that materials are supplemented by putting more into them, while taking into account the practical effect on time allocation.

The point to note here is that adding by extension is to supply more of the same. This means that the techniques are being applied within the methodological framework of the original materials: in other words, the model is not itself changed.

Deleting or omitting

Deletion is clearly the opposite process to that of addition, and as such needs no further clarification as a term. However, although material is taken out rather than supplemented, as a technique it can be thought of as the other side of the same coin.


‘Modification’ at one level is a very general term in the language applying to any kind of change. In order to introduce further possibilities for adaptation, we shall restrict its meaning here to an internal change in the approach or focus of an exercise or other piece of material.


Currently the most frequently stated requirement for a change in focus is for materials to be made more communicative. Rewriting, therefore, may relate activities more closely to learners’ own backgrounds and interests, introduce models of authentic language, or set more purposeful, problem-solving tasks where the answers are not always known before the teacher asks the question.


For many teachers who are required to follow a coursebook, changes in the structuring of the class are sometimes the only kind of adaptation possible. For example, the materials may contain role-play activities for groups of a certain size.


Strictly speaking, the technique of simplification is one type of modification, namely, a ‘rewriting’ activity. Many elements of a language course can be simplified, including the instructions and explanations that accompany exercises and activities, and even the visual layout of material so that it becomes easier to see how different parts fit together. It is worth noting in passing that teachers are sometimes on rather dangerous ground, if a wish to ‘simplify’ grammar or speech in the classroom leads to a distortion of natural language.


This procedure, the final one discussed in this section, refers to the possibility of putting the parts of a coursebook in a different order. This may mean adjusting the sequence of presentation within a unit, or taking units in a different sequence from that originally intended. There are limits, of course, to the scale of what teachers can do, and too many changes could result, unhelpfully, in an almost complete reworking of a coursebook.