FOCAL SKILLS programs make extensive use of authentic materials, while they use few if any of the textbooks and related materials that are so prevalent in the field.
There are two major reasons for our reliance on authentic materials. First, authentic materials are, on the whole, more interesting, more motivating, and more readily available than textbooks. Second, it is difficult to find textbooks that are well suited to the FOCAL SKILLS curriculum and methods.
What do we mean by authentic materials? We mean materials that were created, or at least appear to have been created, for the use and enjoyment of people who are not studying English as a Second Language. A movie such as Shakespeare in Love is authentic. A newspaper such as USA Today is authentic. An essay that you might write about the major attractions of your home town is authentic.
Authentic materials need not be difficult, and they need not be intended for competent native speakers. They may be simplified or adapted in various ways for the uses of ESL students. What makes them authentic, in our sense of the term, is that have the feel of materials that are meant to be used in authentic ways — for information, self-expressions, enjoyment, and so on.
The main pedagogical points about authentic materials are:
- They engage our students' attention — and our attention as well.
- They provide vast amounts of comprehensible input.
- They keep affective filters low.
- They offer unparalleled variety.
- They are available everywhere.
- They are perfectly suited for the FOCAL SKILLS curriculum and teaching methods.
- They offer unsurpassed opportunities for creative teaching.