Image: Cataratas del Iguazú by Littletroll

Hold it! Step away from the photocopier. Do you really need those extra materials for your next class? Are those handouts going to help your students learn or just clear a couple of inches of Brazilian rain forest? Before printing anything more, check your materials (or ‘mateRRRRials’) against the four ‘R’s (real life, relevance, reaction and recyclability) and make sure you and your students get the most out of them.

1. Real life

They don’t necessarily need to be ‘real’, but your materials should to resemble whatever your students see in their real lives outside the classroom.  Teaching tweens? A news story about a local celebrity will be more ‘real life’ than an article on a foreign festival your students have never heard of and don’t care about. Teaching airline staff? A boarding pass or an in-flight menu will seem ‘real life’ than a newspaper cutting or an email from your mum.

2. Reaction 

You want your materials to provoke a reaction from your students. Not like, “oh no, not another worksheet”, but closer to “wow, what’s this?” or “these look interesting”. Create and choose materials you know your students will be interested in but aren’t often included in course books. Got students who are interested in cooking? Show them a video recipe. Teaching pretty housewives? Try a glossy magazine article on makeup. When your materials create a reaction, your students are more likely to remember what they see and learn.

3. Recyclability

Instead of causing confusion and cluttering desk space by giving students handout after handout, recycle and reuse your materials. Take a tour brochure for example. Start by getting students to predict vocabulary that might be in the brochure. Then ask them to read and circle any new words. Towards the end of class use it as a prop in a role play at a travel agent. Want to show your class an episode of Friends? Ask the class to watch the first half and then write their own script for how the show might end. Perform these out for the rest of the class and finally show the end of the episode and ask students to judge which group’s script was closest to the real ending.

4. Relevance

Your materials need to be relevant to your lesson aim and get your students to use whatever they’ve just learned in your class. Teaching a class on giving directions? Handing out a pile maps might only result in a lot of pointing and nodding if all the students can see the maps at the same time. Create an information gap by hiding the maps from half the students for example by sitting students back to back or by putting half in a different room and asking them to call each other so not everyone can see the map. Teaching an IELTS writing class? Get your students to use the marking rubric to give each other feedback on their work.

Instead of blowing your students’ minds with half a dozen handouts, develop one awesome material instead. You’ll have less confusion for your students, fewer bits of paper for you to worry about, a smaller carbon footprint and more successful language learning. Now you can go back to the photocopier.