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Materials evaluation and adaptation

An overview of materials design and adpatation
© Edge Hill University

What are materials?

Language teaching materials are “anything that can be used by language learners to facilitate learning of the target language (Tomlinson & Masuhara, 2018, p. 2). Traditional language teaching materials include the ubiquitous textbook and other reference material such as dictionaries. Furthermore, practically anything can be transformed into a teaching material if it has a pedagogic purpose attached to it. For example, a music video on YouTube that is designed to entertain can be turned into a listening activity with the addition of comprehension questions.

Materials evaluation

According to Tomlinson (2013) materials evaluation is “a procedure that involves measuring the value (or potential value) of a set of learning materials” (p. 21). Materials evaluation is key to a success of a course as is helps us to assess the suitability of the course materials to the course goals and students needs. There are various criteria that can used to evaluate materials, and this will vary from context to context according to the needs of learners, teachers and institutions; however, Sercu, Mendez Garcia, & Castro Prieto (2004 cited in McGrath, 2013, p. 118) offer a useful list of criteria for selecting materials that can be adapted to suit individual contexts:

  1. The degree to which the book can motivate my students.
  2. The degree to which the book is attuned to the level and the age of my students.
  3. The fact that additional materials come with the book.
  4. The degree to which the textbook meets the curricular requirements.
  5. The degree of matching between the amount of materials offered and the number of teaching periods assigned to my subject.
  6. The quality of the teacher’s manual.
  7. The amount of cultural information the book offers.
  8. The pace of the book, the speed with which the book progresses.
  9. The lay-out.
  10. The price.
  11. The textbook authors’ nationality.

It is also important to consider research into SLA when evaluating the usefulness of materials as SLA gives us insight into factors that help to facilitate effective and lasting L2 acquisition. Tomlinson (2013) highlights some of the most salient findings from the SLA research that we can apply to our evaluation of materials:

  1. Learners need to be exposed to rich, meaningful and comprehensible input of language in use.
  2. Learners need to be engaged affectively and cognitively in the language learning experience.
  3. Learners need to achieve positive affect to foster communicative competence.
  4. Learners need to notice the salient features of the language they encounter and how they are used.
  5. Learners need to be given opportunities for contextualised and purposeful communication.
  6. Learners need to be encouraged to interact.
  7. Learners need to be allowed to focus on meaning.

Materials adaptation

Materials adaptation “a general term for the process that involves making changes to existing materials to better suit specific learners, teachers and contexts for the purpose of facilitating effective learning. This may mean reducing mismatches between materials, learners, teachers and contexts or making fuller use of the potential value of existing materials” (Tomlinson & Misuhara, 2018, p. 82). Prior to using materials, they can be systematically evaluated to decide whether adaptation is necessary and also to decide the type of adaption that is suitable. An example of the choices that can be made in the evaluation and adaption process from Cunningsworth (1995) can be found in the links below.

Adaptation techniques

The main ways in which materials can be adapted are by addition, deletion, and modification.


Addition can be done by either extension or exploitation of materials. Extension is a modification of the quantity of materials when a language item isn’t covered sufficiently; extension differs to supplementation as the design and learning goals stay the same with the former and differ with the latter. Addition by exploitation is a qualitative addition to the way in which the materials are utilised; that is, the materials are used beyond there original purpose; for example, a picture used to illustrate a theme can be used to predict content or activate target vocabulary. Deletion, in very simple terms, is the opposite of addition—“two sides of the same coin” (McDonough, Shaw, & Masuhara, 2013, p. 72), in which materials are reduced because the quantity is too much for the learners or no not fit the intended purpose of learning.


Through modifying, we change the approach or focus of an exercise or piece of material. The change can relate to language, the context and content of the language, procedures for teaching and classroom management, and organising the components of the materials in a different way. Modifications can a time-consuming affair and there must be a solid rational for the change (identified through evaluation). Examples of reasons to modify are making the materials more relevant to the local context, personalising materials to learner needs and learning styles, simplifying the materials, and modernising out-of-date materials.

In the next step you have a go at evaluating and modifying a set of materials.


Cunningsworth, A. (1995). Choosing your coursebook. Heinemann.

McDonough, J., Shaw, C., & Masuhara, H. (2013). Materials and methods in elt : a teacher’s guide (3rd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.

McGrath, I. (2013). Teaching materials and the roles of efl/esl teachers : practice and theory. Bloomsbury.

Tomlinson, B. (2013). Developing materials for language teaching (2nd ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing.

Tomlinson, B., & Masuhara, H. (2018). The complete guide to the theory and practice of materials development for language learning. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

© Edge Hill University
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