100 Things to Consider When Testing and Reviewing ELT Materials

How to judge textbooks, self-study books, online materials, photocopiable worksheets etc when writing a review or choosing something for your school.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

Here is a list of things that you should think about and try to find answers for when testing and reviewing ELT materials, e.g. when choosing materials for your school or when writing a TEFL book review.

Introduction

1. Why did you choose these materials?

2. What did you expect from the materials from what you knew about them before you received them?

3. What were your first impressions?

4. What reaction did you expect from your students?

Appearance

5. How much white space is there? Is that a good or bad thing?

6. Is anything about its appearance particularly attractive?

7. Is anything about its appearance distracting/ off-putting?

8. How is the use of pictures? Could they be actually be used in class, or are they random pictures of people holding phones and staring into space that look like they could have come from clipart?

9. Do the materials have a particular look? How distinctive is that look? Is that a good or bad thing?

10. Do the materials stick to one look too much, or does the look change sometimes to do particular things?

11. Is anything already out of date (appearance, celebrities, technology mentioned, etc) or likely to date quickly? How much does that matter?

Organisation

12. How long are the materials (in terms of pages and time needed to cover them)? Is that the right length? If not, what would you cut or add to reach the right length?

13. How are the materials divided up? What are some typical titles/ topics of chapter/ sections? What do you think about those things? How would you improve them?

14. Is there a regular structure to the materials (e.g. each chapter, page or lesson following a fixed format)?

15. How easy are the materials to navigate? What help is given and how well does that work?

16. How easy is it to use the materials in a different order to what is given or suggested?

17. What is at the beginning and end?

Language

18. Did you learn anything about the language by using/ reading through the materials?

19. Did you disagree with anything that was said about the language?

20. Was there anything unusual about the order the language was dealt in? Was it logical?

21. What is the general approach to teaching language? How does that compare to other materials for the same language?

22. How are the example sentences?

23. How are the descriptions of the language?

24. British English, American English or other? If the book is specifically British or American English, how much impact will that have for people who are interested in other varieties?

25. Does the book take into account ELF?

26. How was the language in the book decided? Were corpora used?

27. What is the balance between revising things the students already (half) know, expanding on things they already (half) know, and introducing something completely new?

28. How many typos are there? How important is that?

29. Are the instructions clear (for teachers and students)?

Texts

30. How interesting were the texts? Were there any interesting facts?

31. What accents are in the recordings, how much variety is there, how strong are they, and how realistic are they (if voiced by actors)?

32. Are the recordings scripted, rehearsed or spontaneous?

33. What genres are most of the written texts? How much variety is there?

34. How long are the written texts? How much variety is there? What do you think about that?

35. Where do the texts come from?

36. How many factual errors are there? How much does that matter?

Other content

37. What extra materials and help (for teachers and students) accompany the materials? Are they free or not?

38. Is there an answer key? Does it give extra help, or just the correct answers?

39. Is there a tapescript? If so, is there extra information on it such as important words being highlighted?

40. Were there any kinds of exercises that you’ve never or rarely seen in similar materials?

41. Were there any examples of exercises that are generally overused in such materials?

Uses

42. Who are the materials said to be aimed at? Are they being honest about that?

43. How suitable are the materials for the people they are said to be and seem to really be aimed at?

44. How suitable were the materials for your classes?

45. Which of your classes were the materials most suitable for? Which other kinds of classes might they be as suitable or more suitable for?

46. What ages would the materials be most suitable for?

47. Are the materials suitable for class use?

48. Are the materials suitable for self-study use?

49. How niche or generally useable are the materials? What would you need to do to use the materials outside that niche?

50. What would be the absolutely perfect student/ group for these materials? What others might they also be suitable for?

51. How might the materials need adapting?

52. What level are the materials claimed to be? How accurate and consistent is that?

53. What level of qualifications, language and experience would teachers need to be able to fully exploit these materials and find them rewarding?

54. What kinds of teaching and learning styles would these materials most and least suit?

55. What kinds of students (age, personality, nationality, learning styles, beliefs about language learning, etc) would these materials best suit? Which kinds of students would they be least suitable or totally unsuitable for?

56. How would you need to prepare students before using the materials?

57. Are the materials photocopiable? If so, is it easy/ worthwhile/ a waste of paper to photocopy them? Can they easily be adapted before doing so?

58. How long would it take a teacher from looking at the materials for the first time to be ready to step into class? How about if they wanted to prepare a perfect lesson?

59. What materials might be good before and after using these?

Issues

60. What theories of language learning seem to be behind the materials?

61. Do the materials have a national or regional bias (Eurocentric, Anglocentric, etc)?

62. Do the materials have a political bias?

63. Do the materials have a gender bias?

64. Does this title tell us anything about the state of ELT publishing?

65. Does this title tell us anything about the state of ELT?

66. Are there any cultural assumptions?

Finances

67. How much do the materials cost? How does that compare to other materials?

68. How do the materials compare to others which cost more/ cost less/ are free?

69. What would the teacher or students need to do to get the same thing as these materials provide but for free?

70. How soon are people likely to need to update or replace the materials if they buy them now?

71. What expenses could buying these materials save you?

Comparisons

72. How do the materials compare with ones that make similar claims?

73. How do the materials compare with ones that are aimed at the same market?

74. How do the materials compare with previous editions?

75. How do the materials compare with previous generations of materials for similar purposes?

76. How does do the materials compare with previous stuff by the same author(s)/ from the same publisher/ in the same series?

Summary/ Conclusions

77. What feedback did you get from your students? How much do you agree with those conclusions? How might other people’s reactions vary?

78. What were your favourite parts? How might other people disagree with those conclusions?

79. What things are completely new about it?

80. What things are revivals of things that aren’t so common nowadays?

81. What would you want from a future edition of the materials?

82. Does it do what it claims on the back of the book? (And how relevant are those things?)

83. How likely would you be to base a future class around these materials?

84. How likely would you be to use these materials to supplement a future class? What percentage of the materials would you be likely to use for that purpose?

85. What are some examples of things in the materials you would and wouldn’t use again?

86. Did your teaching improve by using these materials?

87. Do the materials do what the publisher claims in the catalogue or website (including in author videos etc)?

88. Do the materials prioritise things properly?

89. Could you have written something better? How much time and effort would it have taken you to do so?

90. How successful are the materials likely to be in the ELT market (and/ or segments of it)?

91. When are the next generation of materials likely to come along? Is it worth just waiting for them instead?

92. If you already have similar materials, is it also worth paying for these?

93. Are the materials likely to be influential? Should they be?

94. Would you recommend these materials to other students/ teachers? If so, who to and for what purposes especially?

95. Do these materials fill a gap in the market, or do they directly compete with materials that are already out there?

96. What were the motivations for releasing these materials now, do you think?

97. Is there anything surprising about the materials?

98. Is there anything about the materials that you predicted before looking at them and turned out to be the case?

99. Did your impressions change as the materials were being used?

Misc

100. How big and heavy are the materials?

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
June 2013 | Filed under Teaching
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.