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Also Available from Bloomsbury Academic

Changing Pedagogy, Xin-Min Zheng and Chris Davison

Developing Materials for Language Teaching, Brian Tomlinson
English Language Learning Materials, Edited by Brian Tomlinson
Research for Materials Development in Language Learning, Edited by Brian Tomlinson and
Hitomi Masuhara


Teaching Materials and the Roles of EFL/ESL
Practice and Theory

Bloomsbury Academic
An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

175 Fifth Avenue New York NY 10010 USA

First published 2013

© Ian McGrath, 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system,
without prior permission in writing from the publishers.

Ian McGrath has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as
Author of this work.

No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a
result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury Academic or the author.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 9781441194923

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress
To Natasha, as always, and the new generation.


1 Introduction: Materials, the roles of teachers and learners, teacher education

PART ONE External perspectives: ‘Theory’

2 Publisher and coursebook writer perspectives
3 The professional literature
4 Teacher educator perspectives

PART TWO Teacher and learner perspectives: ‘Practice’

5 How teachers evaluate coursebooks
6 How teachers adapt and supplement coursebooks
7 Learner perspectives
8 Contextual influences and individual factors

PART THREE Implications

9 Implications for teachers, managers, ministries, publishers and coursebook writers, and
10 Implications for teacher educators: A practice-based proposal
Author Index
Subject Index

My thanks are due to a number of people who responded to requests for help during the writing
of this book or provided other kinds of support. They are: Lubna Alsagoff, Rod Bolitho, Cheng
Xiaotang and Chen Zehang, Tamas Kiss, Bo Lundahl, Nick Sampson, Phil Quirke, Margaret
Sands, and Saad Shawer.
I am also grateful to those of my former students who agreed to be interviewed or gave their
consent for their work to be quoted; some are named in the text, while others preferred to be
anonymous. My thanks to Afidah Bte Ali, Ramasamy Anusuya, Dhilshaadh Balajee, Jack
Hsiao, Sandra Kanj, Tomo Matsumara, Rayhan M. Rashad, Rong Rong, Asmoraniye Shaffie,
Kitty Yuen and Zheng Yiying – and to the many others who have helped to shape this book
through the insights they provided into their working contexts and needs.

1. Teachers, learners, contexts

The teachers referred to in the title of this book have one thing in common: all teach English to
learners who are not speakers of English as a first language. These learners may be children,
teenagers or adults, in countries where English is spoken as a first, second or foreign language,
and studying English for a specific purpose or for no particular reason. The teachers, who may
or may not be native speakers of English, have different levels of education, training and
experience, and vary in their personal characteristics. The contexts in which they teach will
also be very different, not only as regards the resources available or class size but also in
terms of institutional expectations and the status accorded to teachers (reflected in, for
example, workload, pay, and autonomy). So, apart from the fact that they are all teaching
English, do these teachers have anything else in common? Well, yes: they all use materials.

2. The value of materials

The importance of materials in language teaching and learning is widely recognized. As
Richards (2001a) notes:

Teaching materials are a key component in most language programs. Whether the teacher
uses a textbook, institutionally-prepared materials, or his or her own materials, instructional
materials generally serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the
language practice that occurs in the classroom. In the case of inexperienced teachers,
materials may also serve as a form of teacher training – they provide ideas on how to plan
and teach lessons. (Richards, 2001a: 251)

Other writers have pointed to particular functions fulfilled by textbooks. For instance, where
learning objectives have already been specified in the form of a syllabus, a textbook can ‘put
flesh on the bones’ of that syllabus (Nunan, 1991: 208), and ‘suggest the intensity of coverage
for syllabus items, allocating the amount of time, attention and detail particular syllabus items
or tasks require’ (Richards & Rodgers, 1986: 25); more generally, textbooks support learning,
stimulate interest, and are a source of information about the language (Cunningsworth, 1995;
Dudley-Evans & St John, 1998). In short, they support the teacher, complement the teacher and
support the learner. It is therefore hardly surprising that ‘the most commonly found elements in
second and foreign language classrooms around the world are teachers, learners and textbooks’
(Richards, 1998a: 125). Yet, as Richards points out in the same paper, ‘while the roles of
teachers, teaching and learners have been the focus of a vast body of discussion and research
over the years, much less attention has been given to textbooks’ (ibid.). The implication is
clear: since textbooks, and materials more generally, are such a key component of language
classrooms, their appropriateness and usefulness require our critical attention.
3. Materials as an object of study and research
Richards was right in his contention that, relatively speaking and at the time he was writing,
research had focused more on teachers, teaching and learners than on textbooks. However, we
cannot infer from this that materials had received very little attention in the professional
literature. In one area of English language teaching in particular (English for Specific
Purposes – ESP), there had been concerted activity around course and materials design since
the 1960s, particularly relating to English for science and technology (EST). This activity was
to be reflected in such major publications in the 1970s as Allen and Widdowson’s English in
Focus series, Bates and Dudley-Evans’ Nucleus series and the 4-volume Reading and
Thinking in English coordinated by Moore, and in collections of academic papers such as
Perren (1969, 1971, 1974); British Council (1975, 1978); Richards (1976); Holden (1977);
Mackay and Mountford (1978); and Todd Trimble, Trimble and Drobnic (1978). In the United
Kingdom, in 1972, lecturers responsible for pre-sessional courses for overseas students set up
an organization initially known as Special English Language Materials for Overseas University
Students (SELMOUS) specifically to share materials (see, for example, Cowie & Heaton,
1977; Johnson, 1977), and material development has remained a focus for ESP and its various
sub-branches such as English for Academic Purposes (EAP) – see, for example, Alexander
(2007). Robinson (1980) contains a very helpful review and detailed bibliography of early
Interest in materials was not confined to ESP. By 1998, when Richards’s paper was
published, several more general book-length publications dealing with materials had appeared
(Madsen & Bowen, 1978; British Council, 1980; Cunningsworth, 1984; Grant, 1987; Sheldon,
1987; McDonough & Shaw, 1993; Byrd, 1995a; Cunningsworth, 1995; Hidalgo, Hall &
Jacobs, 1995); and this steady stream has continued (see, for example, Tomlinson, 1998a;
Fenner & Newby, 2000; McGrath, 2002; Renandya, 2003; Tomlinson, 2003a; Mishan, 2005;
Tomlinson, 2008a; Harwood, 2010a; Mishan & Chambers, 2010; Tomlinson & Masuhara,
2010a). A second edition of Tomlinson (1998) was published in 2011; a third edition of
McDonough and Shaw, with Masuhara as third author, was scheduled to appear in 2012, and a
second edition of McGrath in 2013.On a broader front, this recognition of the importance of
materials has also been reflected in conferences devoted to this topic, and the setting up of the
British-based Materials Development Association (MATSDA) and the Materials Writers
Special Interest Section within TESOL, the American-based international association of
teachers of English to speakers of other languages. Outside the world of English language
teaching, the International Association for Research on Textbooks and Educational Media
(IARTEM) was founded in 1991; it holds biannual conferences and publishes conference
reports (see and an e-journal (see

4. The focus of this book

It appears to be the case, then, that materials have for some time been receiving the kind of
serious attention that Richards called for. However, it has been argued that materials
development is still seen in applied linguistics circles as ‘an essentially atheoretical activity,
and thus unrewarding as an area of research’ (Samuda, 2005: 232), and that such research as
has been carried out has been too narrowly focused (Tomlinson & Masuhara, 2010b). A focus
on the textbook, for example, to the exclusion of the teacher and learners fails to take account of
their interconnected dynamic relationship. The better materials are, the more helpful they will
potentially be; but since they are merely designed to be aids to teaching and learning their