Teaching resources come in a variety of forms. When preparing to teach a course, we need to consider which resources are available to us, which ones we should use, and how we can get the use them to the maximum benefit.

Teaching resources are often equated with teaching materials, but the concept is much wider. Resources (human and otherwise) include:

  • the teacher
  • the students in the group
  • any native speakers who happen to be around
  • the syllabus
  • the official course description
  • the detailed course outline
  • commercially published courses (including student coursebooks, teachers’ books, CDs, links to related online course materials, slides, flashcards etc.)
  • in-house (departmental) coursebooks or course materials
  • the teacher’s own materials
  • online language learning materials (websites, repositories such as the CEELBAS Language Repository or Language Box etc.)
  • personal learning environments (PLE), which aim to provide a learner with all resources online, with no (or minimal) tutor support
  • websites or books providing background information on the language, country and culture.

It is also worth remembering that a large number and variety of resources have been created for other languages, particularly so-called mainstream languages (French, Spanish, German etc.). These are an invaluable source of ideas and methods which can be adapted for use by teachers of so-called ‘less commonly taught’ languages including Slavonic and East European languages. For example, if a teacher of another language has found a successful way of presenting a grammar point which also exists in the language being taught (for example, verbal aspects), then why not use this experience and adapt the approach for your language? Facilitating the sharing of resources, approaches and ideas, not only among teachers of one language, but across languages and institutions, is one of the functions of repositories such as the CEELBAS Language Repository, the Open Courseware section in the Cambridge University Language Centre’s website, Language Box and others.

The teacher

As a language teacher, you are not only the person with responsibility for facilitating your students’ learning, but, as someone with native, near-native or very good competence in the language, you are a resource in yourself!

This is both your knowledge of the language and ability to communicate this to the students, and your knowledge and experience of the country and its culture. Evidently, your main focus will always be on teaching the language, but this cannot be done in isolation, so, consciously and subconsciously, you will also be teaching language through culture and culture through language.

Students enjoy finding out about the context in which the language is spoken, so it’s a good idea to have a stock of interesting material about the country, its language and culture. These could be interesting facts, stories, anecdotes or jokes, songs, proverbs and the like, all of which can be used in a variety of ways.

Right from the start of a course, authentic materials in the original language can be included in the lesson. This can work even with beginners, as long as the materials are carefully selected.

Even when you are aiming to use the target language as much as possible during teaching, it does no harm (and can be a welcome change of activity) to set aside a few minutes for a whole-class discussion (in English, if this is more inclusive) on a topic relating to the literature, culture or current affairs of the country. Students always enjoy this, and you, as an informed person, are an excellent resource in yourself.

The students

Your students are learners of the language you are teaching. They are, though, also likely to have experience in a number of other languages and cultures, and you can use this in your teaching. So your students are a valuable resource in themselves.

If, say, you have in your class students who are learning a range of languages, why not pair up students who have no knowledge of each other’s languages to practice phrases asking for help in the language being taught. For example, student A, who knows Spanish but no Mandarin, tries to tell student B, who knows Mandarin but no Spanish, how to get to the centre of town (being as helpful as possible, but using only Spanish). Student B uses the language being taught to try and understand the Spanish, thus providing practice of phrases such as “Please could you repeat”, “I don’t understand”, etc. Students then change over. This not only provides practice in the language being taught, but engages and motivates students by drawing on what they already know, and providing a fun activity into the bargain.

Harnessing your class’s experience is an excellent way of engaging even the most timid members of the group. Someone who lacks confidence in learning your language may well have confidence or expertise in another area. This can be tapped into to share with the class and to give the learner greater confidence and engagement with the group.

Some suggestions on how this could be done:

  • using students’ knowledge of other languages (whether related to the one you are teaching or not) and encouraging them to compare and contrast vocabulary and grammar in the different languages
  • exploring students’ knowledge and experience of the country whose language you are teaching and its culture: do they go there on holiday? do they have family links or heritage? or friends or partners? do they like the food? or other interests?
  • in the group there may be students who know a related language, and will find some aspects of the course easier; why not use these students to support others, in pair or group exercises; most students enjoy helping others in the class and find this rewarding
  • getting students involved in preparing short sections of a lesson, for example an oral presentation or (if the student’s competence is up to it) a brief presentation on a grammar point or a vocabulary group
  • asking students to create course materials in groups (this could be a PowerPoint presentation, a short audio or video clip etc.); obviously, the ground for this type of activity would need to be carefully prepared, to ensure appropriacy and accuracy; this may be time-consuming, but it is worth the effort, and is an excellent way of engaging and motivating learners.

And a final point: if the teacher establishes good relations with a class, and asks for students’ informal and constructive feedback, as the course progresses, this can improve the focus of what is being taught and enhance student satisfaction. In this, too, students can be a useful resource.

Material resources

Textbooks and in-house materials

Textbooks, whether commercially published or produced in-house at the institution, are the most obvious teaching resource you are likely to rely on.

If a set of materials has been produced in-house by your institution, this is likely to have been aimed at a specific course, and will therefore match, quite closely, the course content you are expected to deliver.

If you are expected to use a textbook, you may find that the order in which the topics are presented, the emphasis placed on particular skills, etc. may differ from the content you are expected to teach. This often happens with commercially-published material, which has been published generically, without a specific target audience in mind. Many teachers find, therefore, that they need to supplement the textbook materials with their own, or with extracts from other books.

Independent learning

Teaching is helping students to learn and supporting their learning. All students will need to consolidate what is done in class, through homework assignments and independent learning. The increasing use of online language resources allows students to consolidate material at their own pace, and, if they wish, to cover more material independently.

Some online courses aim both to provide consolidation and to make students’ learning completely independent from the teacher. An example is PROeLANG, a CEELBAS-funded project to design e-learning toolkits for independent learners of Polish and Romanian, with the intention that similar toolkits could be produced for other languages.

Course documents

If your department is running efficiently, your line manager will ensure that you have all the official syllabi, course outlines, handbooks and other documents which the department has produced to support teachers. These are an essential resource, which will enable you to plan your teaching, see what is already available (so that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel!), understand the aims, objectives and outcomes of courses you are teaching, and know where to go to ask for help when you need it. Some university departments will be more prescriptive, other more liberal, but it is always worth checking that you have access to all the guidance which is available.

What’s next?

Teaching Authentic Materials