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The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Edited by Ronald Carter, David Nunan

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Online ISBN: 9780511667206

Hardback ISBN: 9780521801270

Paperback ISBN: 9780521805162


Chapter 9 - Materials development pp. 66-71

Chapter DOI:

Cambridge University Press

Materials development
Brian Tomlinson

Materials development is both a field of study and a practical undertaking. As a field it studies the
principles and procedures of the design, implementation and evaluation of language teaching
materials. As an undertaking it involves the production, evaluation and adaptation of language
teaching materials, by teachers for their own classrooms and by materials writers for sale or
distribution. Ideally these two aspects of materials development are interactive in that the
theoretical studies inform and are informed by the development and use of classroom materials
(e.g. Tomlinson 1998c).
'Materials' include anything which can be used to facilitate the learning of a language. They
can be linguistic, visual, auditory or kinesthetic, and they can be presented in print, through live
performance or display, or on cassette, CD-ROM, DVD or the internet. They can be instructional
in that they inform learners about the language, they can be experiential in that they provide
exposure to the language in use, they can be elicitative in that they stimulate language use, or they
can be exploratory in that they seek discoveries about language use.



Studies of materials development are a recent phenomenon. Until recently materials development
was treated as a sub-section of methodology, in which materials were usually introduced as
examples of methods in action rather than as a means to explore the principles and procedures of
their development. Books for teachers included examples of materials in each section or separately
at the end of a book, usually with pertinent comments (e.g. Dubin and Olshtain 1986; Richards
and Rodgers 1986; Stevick 1986, 1989; Nunan 1988a; Richards 1990), but materials development
was not their main concern. A few books appeared in the 1980s dealing specifically with aspects of
materials development (e.g. Cunningsworth 1984; Sheldon 1987) and some articles drew attention
to such aspects of materials development as evaluation and exploitation (e.g. Candlin and Breen
1979; Allwright 1981; O'Neil 1982; Kennedy 1983; Mariani 1983; Williams 1983; Sheldon 1988).
However, it was not until the 1990s, when courses started to give more prominence to the study of
materials development, that books on the principles and procedures of materials development
started to be published (e.g. McDonough and Shaw 1993; Hidalgo et al. 1995; Tomlinson 1998a).

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Materials development

An important factor in changing attitudes to materials development has been the realisation
that an effective way of helping teachers to understand and apply theories of language learning -
and to achieve personal and professional development - is to provide monitored experience of the
process of developing materials. Another factor has been the appreciation that no coursebook can
be ideal for any particular class and that, therefore, an effective classroom teacher needs to be able
to evaluate, adapt and produce materials so as to ensure a match between the learners and the
materials they use. 'Every teacher is a materials developer' (English Language Centre 1997). In
some ways, this is a formalisation of the implicit understanding that a teacher should provide
additional teaching materials over and above coursebook material.
These realisations have led to an increase in in-service materials development courses for
teachers in which the participants theorise their practice (Schon 1987) by being given concrete
experience of developing materials as a basis for reflective observation and conceptualisation
(Tomlinson and Masuhara 2000). It has also led on postgraduate courses to the use of such
experiential approaches and to an increase in materials development research. For example, in the
USA the Materials Writers Interest Section of TESOL publishes a Newsletter, in Japan the
Materials Development Special Interest Group of JALT produced in 2000 a materials develop-
ment edition of The Language Teacher, and in Eastern Europe there are frequent materials
development conferences (e.g. the International Conference on Comparing and Evaluating
Locally Produced Textbooks, Sofia, March 2000). Also, in the UK, I founded in 1993 an
association called MATSDA (Materials Development Association), which organises materials
development conferences and workshops and publishes a journal called FOLIO.


The many controversies in the field of materials development include the following questions:

Do learners need a coursebook?

Proponents of the coursebook argue that it is the most convenient form of presenting materials, it
helps to achieve consistency and continuation, it gives learners a sense of system, cohesion and
progress, and it helps teachers prepare and the learner revise. Opponents counter that a course-
book is inevitably superficial and reductionist in its coverage of language points and in its
provision of language experience, it cannot cater for the diverse needs of all its users, it imposes
uniformity of syllabus and approach, and it removes initiative and power from teachers (see
Allwright 1981; O'Neil 1982; Littlejohn 1992; Hutchinson and Torres 1994).

Should materials be learning or acquisition focused?

Despite the theories of researchers such as Krashen (1982, 1988) who advocate the implicit
acquisition of language from comprehensible input, most language textbooks aim at explicit
learning of language plus practice. The main exceptions are materials developed in the 1980s
which aim at facilitating informal acquisition of communicative competence through communica-
tion activities such as discussions, projects, games, simulations and drama (e.g. Maley et al. 1980;
Maley and Moulding 1981; Frank et al. 1982; Porter Ladousse 1983; Klippel 1984). These
activities were popular but treated as supplementary materials in addition to coursebooks, which
still focused on the explicit learning of discrete features of the language.
The debate about the relative merits of conscious learning and subconscious acquisition
continues (R. Ellis 1999), with some people advocating a strong focus on language experience
through a task-based or text-based approach (e.g. J. Willis 1996) and some advocating experience
plus language awareness activities (e.g. Tomlinson 1994); however, most coursebooks still follow
an approach which adds communication activities to a base of form-focused instruction (e.g.

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Soars and Soars 1996; Hutchinson 1997). The experiential advocates argue that learners need to be
exposed to the reality of language use and can be motivated by the sense of achievement and
involvement which can be gained from communicating in a language whilst learning it. The
counter-argument is that learners can gain confidence and a sense of progress from focusing on a
systematic series of discrete features of the language.

Should texts be contrived or authentic?

Materials aiming at explicit learning usually contrive examples of the language which focus on the
feature being taught. Usually these examples are presented in short, easy texts or dialogues and it
is argued that they help the learner by focusing attention on the target feature. The counter-
argument is that contrived examples over-protect learners and do not prepare them for the reality
of language use, whereas authentic texts (i.e. ordinary texts not produced specifically for language
teaching purposes) can provide meaningful exposure to language as it is typically used. Most
researchers argue for authenticity and stress its motivating effect on learners (e.g. Bacon and
Finnemann 1990; Kuo 1993; Little et al. 1994). However, Widdowson (1984a: 218) says that
'pedagogic presentation of language . . . necessarily involves methodological contrivance which
isolates features from their natural surroundings'; Day and Bamford (1998: 54-62) attack the 'cult
of authenticity' and advocate simplified reading texts which have 'the natural qualities of
authenticity' and R. Ellis (1999: 68) argues for '"enriched input" which provides learners with
input which has been flooded with exemplars of the target structure in the context of meaning
focused activities'. See also Widdowson (2000).

Should materials be censored?

Most publishers are anxious not to risk giving offence and provide writers of global coursebooks
with lists of taboo topics, which usually include sex, drugs, alcohol, religion, violence, politics,
history and pork (e.g. Heinemann International Guide for Writers 1991). They also provide
guidelines to help their writers to avoid sexism and racism (e.g. On Balance 1991). Whilst some
form of censorship might be pedagogically desirable (distressed or embarrassed learners are
unlikely to learn much language) and economically necessary (publishers lose money if their books
are banned), many teachers argue that published materials are too bland and often fail to achieve
the engagement needed for learning. Wajnryb (1996: 291), for example, complains about the 'safe,
clean, harmonious, benevolent, undisturbed' world of the EFL coursebook. Affect is undoubtedly
an important factor in learning (Jacobs and Schumann 1992; Arnold 1999) and it is arguable that
provocative texts which stimulate an affective response are more likely to facilitate learning than
neutral texts which do not. Interestingly, textbook projects supported by a national ministry of
education often suffer less censorship and their books are sometimes more interesting to use. For
example, the popular Namibian coursebook On Target (1996) contains texts inviting learners to
respond to issues relating to drugs, pre-marital sex, violence and politics.
Some further unresolved issues in materials development include whether materials should:
be driven by theory or by practice (Bell and Gower 1998; Prowse 1998);
be driven by syllabus needs, learner needs or market needs;
cater for learner expectations or try to change them;
cater for teacher needs and wants as well as those of learners (Masuhara 1998);
aim for language development only or should also aim for personal and educational
aim to contribute to teacher development as well as language learning.

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Materials development

There has been little published research in materials development (though in many universities
postgraduate students are conducting research in materials development and publishers are
commissioning confidential research). The published research has mainly focused on macro-
evaluation of materials projects (Rea-Dickins 1994; Alderson 1985), publishers' pilot materials
(Donovan 1998) and the evaluation of coursebook materials (Cunningsworth 1984, 1996; Breen
and Candlin 1987; Tribble 1996; J.B. Brown 1997; Johnson and Johnson 1998).
One of the problems in materials evaluation is the subjective nature of many of the instruments
of evaluation with the views of the researcher often determining what is measured and valued; e.g.
in J.B. Brown's (1997) evaluation, extra points are awarded for coursebooks which include tests.
However, recently there have been attempts to design objective instruments to provide more
reliable information about what materials can achieve (R. Ellis 1998a; Littlejohn 1998). No one set
of criteria can be used for all materials (Johnson and Johnson 1998), and attention is being given
to principles and procedures for developing criteria for specific situations in which 'the framework
used must be determined by the reasons, objectives and circumstances of the evaluation'
(Tomlinson 1999b). Another problem is that many instruments have been for pre-use evaluation
(and are therefore speculative) and they are too demanding of time and expertise for teachers to
use. However, recently there have been attempts to help teachers to conduct action research on the
materials they use (Edge and Richards 1993; Jolly and Bolitho 1998) and to develop instruments
for use in conducting pre-use, whilst-use and post-use evaluation (R. Ellis 1998a, 1998b). Research
on the merits of different ways of developing materials - and on the effects of different types of
materials with similar goals and target learners - is still needed.
There is little work on theories of materials development, although Hall (1995) describes his
theory of learning in relation to materials evaluation, and I have listed theoretical principles for
materials development (Tomlinson 1998b) and outlined a principled and flexible framework for
teachers to use when developing materials (Tomlinson 1999a). There are also published accounts
of how textbooks are produced: Hidalgo et al. (1995) include a number of chapters on how
textbooks are written, and Prowse (1998) reports how 16 EFL writers develop their materials.
These accounts seem to agree with Low (1989: 153) that 'designing appropriate materials is not a
science: it is a strange mixture of imagination, insight and analytical reasoning.' Maley (1998b:
220-221), for example, argues that the writer should trust 'intuition and tacit knowledge', and
states that he operates with a number of variables which are raised to a conscious level only when
he encounters a problem and works 'in a more analytical way'.



There are a number of trends noticeable in commercially produced materials. First, there is a
similarity between new coursebooks from different publishers. I compared nine recent lower level
coursebooks from different publishers and found that all followed a similar presentation, practice
and production (PPP) approach (Tomlinson 1999b). There is a return to a greater emphasis on
language form and the centrality of grammar, especially in lower and intermediate level course-
books, such as Lifelines (Hutchinson 1997) and New Headway Intermediate (Soars and Soars
1996). More books are now making use of corpus data reflecting actual language use, rather than
using idealised input (for suggestions on using corpus data, see Fox 1998; for an example of a
teaching book based on corpus data, see Carter and McCarthy 1997).
There are more activities requiring investment by the learners in order for them to make
discoveries (e.g. Bolitho and Tomlinson 1995; Joseph and Travers 1996; Carter and McCarthy
1997). Also, there are more interactive learning packages which make use of different media to

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provide a richer experience of language learning and to offer the learner choice of approach and
route (Parish 1995). There are also more extensive reader series being produced with fewer
linguistic constraints and more provocative content (e.g. the Cambridge English Readers series
launched in 1999). For a detailed evaluation of current EFL coursebooks, see Tomlinson et al.


In many countries groups of writers produce local materials. From observation of such projects in
Bulgaria, China, Indonesia, Ireland, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Norway, Romania, South
Korea, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Vietnam, the following trends are noticeable:
Writing teams often consist of teachers and teacher trainers who are in touch with the needs
and wants of the learners.
Writing teams are often large (e.g. 30 in Namibia; seven in Romania, five in Bulgaria),
deliberately pooling the different talents available.
Materials are content and meaning focused, with English being used to gain new knowledge,
experience and skills.
Furthermore, the needs, wants and views of learners and teachers are given consideration (e.g.
through questionnaires, meetings and piloting on the Namibian project). Also choices are offered
to learners and teachers in the books; e.g. between original or simplified versions of text in Search
8 (Naustdal Fenner and Nordal-Petersen 1997); of optional activities or 'pathways' in On Target
(1996) and A Cow's Head and Other Tales (1996). The materials are often text driven rather than
language driven and the texts are often authentic, lengthy and provocative, e.g. texts on drug
dealing and pre-marital sex in On Target. Additionally, the focus shifts from local cultures to
neighbouring cultures to world cultures, especially in On Target and English for Life (2000).
Experiments have also been conducted in generating materials for courses rather than relying
solely on commercially produced materials; e.g. Hall (1995) reports on a genre-based approach
and a student-generated, experiential approach developed at the Asian Institute of Technology in
Thailand, and a number of researchers are currently experimenting with experiential approaches
to literature on ESP courses in Singapore and Thailand.

Possible future directions

Materials will continue to aim at the development of accuracy, fluency and appropriacy while
placing more emphasis on helping learners achieve effect. They will provide less practice of co-
operative dialogues and more opportunities to use the language to compete for attention and
effect. Materials will stop catering predominantly for the 'good language learner' (who is analytic,
pays attention to form and makes use of learning strategies in a conscious way) and will start to
cater more for the many learners who are experientially inclined. Materials will move away from
spoken practice of written grammar, taking more account of the grammar of speech (McCarthy
and Carter 1995; Carter and McCarthy 1995, 1997; Carter et al. 1998).
Materials will contain more engaging content, which will be of developmental value to
learners as well as offering good intake of language use. Materials will become more international,
presenting English as a world language rather than as the language of a particular nation and
culture. However, teachers and learners will be helped to localise materials in global coursebooks.
Most second language (L2) learners of English are not learning English primarily to communicate
with native speakers, either abroad or in English-speaking countries; they are learning it for
academic or professional advancement and/or to communicate with other non-native speakers of
English at home or overseas. Already major global coursebooks series are moving away from a

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Materials development

mono-cultural approach and soon coursebooks focusing on daily life in the USA or the UK will
be rare.
More materials will be available on the internet and many will make use of internet texts as
sources. For example, in Singapore an English coursebook (English for Life 2000) makes
extensive use of web search activities and offers accompanying readers on the web. Numerous
websites make learning materials available (e.g. Planet English:; and a joint collaboration by several European universities puts language
learners in contact for bilingual email exchanges ( Also the US
Information Service is active in encouraging the use of American educational websites (e.g.
American Studies Electronic Crossroads:
ndx.htm) and electronically published materials (e.g. ELLSA American Literary Classics:

The study of the design, development and exploitation of learning materials is an effective way of
connecting areas of linguistics such as language acquisition, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics,
language analysis, discourse analysis and pragmatics, of developing teacher awareness of
methodological options, and of improving the effectiveness of materials. I believe that it will
become increasingly central in teacher training and applied linguistics courses and that the
consequent increase in both qualitative and quantitative research will greatly improve our
knowledge about factors which facilitate the learning of languages.

Balan et al. (1998) English News and Views 11
Byrd (1996) A Cow's Head and Other Tales
Grozdanova et al. (1996) A World of English
Naustdal Fenner and Nordal-Petersen (1997) Search 8
On Target (1996) (teachers' book)
Tomlinson et al. (2000) English for Life

Key readings
Byrd (1995) Material Writers Guide
Cunningsworth (1984) Evaluating and Selecting EFL Teaching Material
Cunningsworth (1996) Choosing Your Coursebook
Hidalgo et al. (1995) Materials Writers on Materials Writing
McDonough and Shaw (1993) Materials and Methods in ELT: A Teachers Guide
Sheldon (1987) ELT Textbooks and Materials: Problems in Evaluation and Development
Tomlinson (1998a) Materials Development for Language Teaching

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