Materials Development Task 9: Functional language

This is a new series of blog posts for teachers looking to become materials writers. It aims to help future writers explore topics and issues in writing, encourage deeper insight into the content of published materials, and promote a principled approach to materials development.

Think…

  • How would you define functional language?
  • To what extent does transactional language differ from interactional language?
  • How do you approach teaching functional language?
  • In your experience, how is teaching functional language approached in published materials such as coursebooks? How do you feel about the approach(es) used?
  • In a general sense, how might the functional language needs of YLs, teens and adults differ?

Analyse

Below is an activity taken from an A2+ level global coursebook aimed at teens.

(c) Beyond A2+ Macmillan. In case you’re wondering why I’m always using this book for examples, it’s because the student book is also my mouse mat.

Choose the correct opinion based on your own views. Then explain your answer.

  • I think / don’t think this task suits teens because…
  • This is a sound / good / meh / problematic / [your own idea] approach to teaching functional language, because …

Rate this resource out of 10 for the following categories, keeping in mind it is aimed at a general A2+ teen audience.

  • Relevance
  • Challenge
  • Support
  • Potential for purposeful speaking practice
  • Authenticity of the dialogue

Consider this activity from the same resource.

(c) Beyond A2+ Macmillan (mouse mat edition)

Consider the following:

  • Do you think ‘Speaking’ is an appropriate title for this section? Why/Why not?
  • What might the title ‘Speaking’ imply to both teacher and learner?
  • How would you rate the authenticity of the language in the dialogue?
  • What are your views on the target items chosen for the language input?
  • What are your views on the amount of target items chosen and the text length?
  • How much have the writers anticipated problems that the learners might encounter (based on the core content only)?
  • How well supported is each activity?
  • Would you say there is anything missing from this activity on the whole?

The structure trap

This analysis is not meant to be an exercise in rinsing existing material. Let’s face it, critique is the easy part. Suggesting workable solutions or enhancements is the real challenge!

The second activity shared above falls into the structure trap. Excessive repetition of target grammar structures in a text can really limit authenticity. A pseudo-authentic text like the one shown can, given its length, come across as contrived. Varied functional phrases serving a similar purpose can mask such repetition, but in reality they may just add to the problem as it can seem variety is even more forced!

The ideal workaround IMHO would be to use authentic material, although that can present its own challenges. If you’re tasked with writing your own dialogues that include a target language focus, then you may need to strike that balance between contrived and ‘authentic’.

Task

Step 1: Choose an aspect of functional language that is relevant to a general Secondary market. Good luck – that’s a task in itself for me! (lol)

Step 2: Write a lesson for half a page of a coursebook in the style of the examples given (shared from Beyond A2+). This is published work so practice writing in that style first.

DON’T READ NEXT STEP UNTIL YOU COMPLETE STEP 2

Step 3: Think of four ways that the resource can be enhanced. Bear in mind, however, that the space given to the activity in the book will remain the same. Some prompts that might help:

  • So, you want a longer dialogue? Can you think of any workarounds?
  • If you choose to focus on a transaction, does that solely require transactional language?
  • What might the learners already know about performing the chosen function in both L1 and English?
  • Could there be a focus on phonology? Where – in the student-facing material or confined to the notes?

When you finish, answer these questions about your own resource:

  • I think this task suits teens because…
  • This is a better approach to teaching functional language than the examples I saw, because …

Rate this resource out of 10 for the following categories, keeping in mind it is aimed at a general A2+ level teen audience.

  • Relevance
  • Challenge
  • Support
  • Potential for purposeful speaking practice
  • Authenticity of the dialogue


Categories: General, materials writing, teacher development

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: