3 Steps to Innovate TESOL Curriculum

If necessity is the mother of invention, as TESOL educators, we may want to develop our own or adopt new materials for a few reasons. Sometimes, we find ourselves in teaching contexts without the materials that we need or would like to use, so we have to make our own. Other times, we have great ideas that have not yet been developed in the field, so we can contribute by developing materials to fulfill a specific niche. Whatever your reasons for wanting to develop your own materials or adopt new ones, here are three steps to consider when the need to innovate strikes, either out of necessity or creativity.

Step 1: See what is already out there. Review materials that already exist at your own institution, ask around at other schools or programs similar to yours, or email schools or teachers that work in other places. You can also search online bookstores like Amazon using content- or approach-specific key words. Attending local or international conferences and visiting the bookstore area is another way to “take the pulse” of existing and new materials. Make notes of the methodological approaches and/or language skills underlying the materials—are they more of a grammar translation approach? Are they more communicative in nature? Do they focus more on reading and writing or listening and speaking? Then, note their strengths and weaknesses—what does that text or material do well? What does it neglect or leave out? Finally, decide whether the text or material aligns with YOUR approach and philosophy toward language materials.

Step 2: Determine what learners in your context really need. You might refer back to notes you made during your last session, semester, or school year as you taught a unit or lesson. You can also conduct interviews with current or past learners, as well as other teachers in the context, about their opinions on the materials being used and their perceived needs. Distributing a survey via a site such as surveymonkey.com can help you reach larger groups of people if you are working at a large school or university. Be sure to ask not just about language learning needs and goals, but also life or career goals, social goals, academic goals, and so on. Also consider the needs or objectives of your institution, and the boundaries that are set at that level.

Step 3: Design or adopt your own curriculum. Include text, activities, multimedia, assessment measures, and other items that match the needs you discovered in Step 2, and also fill in a gap that the materials in Step 1 did NOT cover. Be sure to reflect as you adopt or design to ensure that the curriculum also matches your pedagogical approach, as well as the parameters of your context and institution. Being able to elaborate on why you have chosen a particular text, or designed a particular unit, can help you more clearly articulate your own learning goals, as well as help your students understand why they are working with a particular set of materials. If you need to convince administrators or other teachers why the text or material should be adopted, this will help you further your rationale.

If you’d like to share your original materials or curriculum design with the greater TESOL community, consider submitting them in the contest for The Mary Finocchiaro Award for Excellence in Unpublished Pedagogical Materials . This award was created more than 20 years ago in honor of Mary Finocchiaro, an educator, author, and TESOL president (1970-1971), to recognize a TESOL member who has developed outstanding, practical pedagogical materials not currently under consideration for publication. It can earn you US$500 and a free TESOL convention registration if you win, so submit your materials by 1 November 1!

About Kristen Lindahl

Kristen Lindahl
Kristen Lindahl holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in L2 teacher education from the University of Utah. She is currently assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches pre-service ESL/TESOL educators at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Dr. Lindahl has taught K–12 and college ESL, and actively pursues consulting and coaching teachers of English learners in public and English language schools around the globe.
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