Homemade Materials Issue – Christina

Turning Personal Experiences Into ‘Homemade’ Classroom Material –  Christina Markoulaki 


Homemade… The word itself brings pleasant images to mind. Anything that is homemade is supposed to be of a much higher quality than ready-made stuff. This is a presupposition that seems to have comfortably established itself in our brains. What about homemade EFL materials, though? Can they be as ‘delicious’ as an ordinary course book? As much as I love using an all-inclusive course book, I would definitely argue that self-made materials have a lot to offer in the foreign-language classroom.

The main incentive for devoting personal time to prepare additional classroom activities is that they allow the teacher to cater for students’ individual needs. In a digital era, however, there are more things to consider. Personal materials are directly related to personal ownership. The latter further means that those materials can be used or disposed online in the exact way the teacher wishes them to, without having to face any copyright issues. This is utterly important, in my opinion, especially to the teachers interested in the infamous EdTech.

Turning to EdTech, most teachers, nowadays, are eager to create their own Web 2.0 activities. But when they seem to lack inspiration or the appropriate resources, what constitutes a better springboard than their own experiences? Photos and videos of hobbies, travels, personal belongings, to name but a few, could form the perfect extra activity that will attract students’ attention and ‘sting’ their curiosity, since we all know how interested they are in learning about their teachers’ personal lives.

Here are just a few ways I have turned my experiences into EFL material:

1)     Having to teach the Cambridge FCE (B2 level) every single year, this is what I decided to do to spice the speaking section up a little: I chose photos from different trips I have been, all of which depicted places, this being the word group I wanted students to learn and practise using. Subsequently, I uploaded them on my blog together with nouns and adjectives commonly used to describe places. I have used this blog post with many different student groups since then and I have to admit that it forms the basis of one of my most successful speaking classes, since discussion never stops only at describing the pictures. Students then ask me about my travel experiences in each of the countries, share their dream to travel and sometimes wish to go to the exact places I have visited. If all this discussion is done in English, then it is what can be called a ‘win-win’ situation: students utilise new vocabulary, but also maintain their interest.                                                                                            

2)     Once again aiming at teaching speaking for the FCE exams, the target word group being animal vocabulary, I uploaded a photo of my cat named Giant in an unexpected sleeping position and a photo of two fierce lions I was lucky enough to admire when I visited the Barcelona zoo years ago. Students had to compare and contrast the two (not-so-similar!) photos, also expressing their opinion on animal treatment nowadays. Of course, all students had fun with the task and responded successfully, but most importantly, they took the liberty of talking about their pets in the end, asking me a thousand questions about naughty Giant and daydreaming a little about beautiful Barcelona. They finally left written comments under my post, practising formal writing apart from speaking. I need to point out that if the discussion takes place in English and in such a positive atmosphere, then it is a glorious victory for everyone involved in the lesson.

3)     The most difficult, and therefore most intriguing, athletic activity I have tried is cycling a lot of kilometres. By live streaming photos of such moments from my mobile devices to the television screen, I have managed to sparkle conversations on sports gear, weather, nature and, needless to say, students’ own pastimes. Furthermore, they always grab the chance to ask further questions concerning cycling (how often I do it, with whom, how it all started, whether I prefer mountain biking, city cycling or road cycling and so on). Therefore, whatever a teacher’s hobby may be, a couple of related photographs can sparkle intriguing conversations in a real-life context. 

4)     Reading books is every teacher’s favourite free-time activity, so why not transmit the wisdom obtained to the learners? For instance, as the issue of tolerance is always among the speaking and vocabulary goals during a C2-level course, I blogged an extract from Victoria Hislop’s excellent book ‘The Island’ which illustrated the concept and ignited discussion. The same blog post contains a slideshow with explanations, questions, key words and all the ‘tools’ every teacher uses, but the book extract admittedly did the trick.

5)     Speaking of reading, here is some food for thought: Doesn’t a text become much more interesting if you find the person who wrote it interesting? Readers’ psychology does work in mysterious ways sometimes. Based on that, part of the online texts I suggested to my advanced learners was Barbara Goodison’s article about New Zealand, where she has moved. Barbara used to work in my school and was one of my childhood’s favourite teachers. Consequently, I had a lot of beautiful stories to share with my current students about Barbara, encouraging them to read her article and exchange opinions on it.

6)     Back to teaching speaking with personal material, here is a collection of photos of animals in different zoos I have been, which can be shown on the projector or television screen for all the class to see.

7)     The final link I am going to present is this Voice Thread with family scenes I often use with students to elicit their holiday news. After Christmas, to their surprise, I was willing to share private family moments (excessive food, games and a visit to the village, which are all very typical of Cretan people) in slides accompanied by questions urging learners to put their own holiday reality in words.

The logic behind all previous seven ideas is the same: sharing personal experiences in visual form can work (learning) miracles! Have you ever done a similar activity in your classroom? I would really love to read about it in the comments below.


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Published by

Christina Markoulaki

Christina Markoulaki is an Athens university graduate and an EFL teacher in Maria Markaki Language School in Heraklion (Greece), where she was also born. She is fortunate enough to have been trusted with students of all ages and levels within her working years, their ages ranging from 5 to 50 years old! Using all types of modern technology along with traditional books to create new learning experiences is what fascinates her. In her free time, she relishes in blogging and cycling, while she never fails to attend her favourite book club sessions. All links concerning the school she works in can be found on this colourful glog!

8 thoughts on “Homemade Materials Issue – Christina”

  1. I love these ideas, Christina! You have given some great examples that can work as models for us to create personalized materials based on our own experiences! It’s great to see how you’ve taken something teachers have always done — supplement their lessons or coursebooks with additional materials — and shown how to use web tools to do it digitally! Thank you.

  2. I love the way you have expanded the meaning of the term “homemade” into something so meaningful. The ideas are useful and practical. This is really the way to engage students!
    Naomi Epstein

  3. Christina, you’ve just reminded us that we don’t have to come up with revolutionary ideas to be creative and effective. You showed you know your students and also you’re a real ‘full-time’ teacher, by turning your personal experiences – and theirs as well – into thought-provoking (or should I say leraning-provoking) activities. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  4. Good post, Christina! Love the way you involve your students in the lessons. Creating your own web 2.0 activity, using photos/videos and other personal things take more time in preparing for the lesson but it’s such fun and enjoyment for students. So it’s worth a lot!

  5. Thank you both for your comments, Marcelo and Larisa!

    The preparation time needed for these activities is not as much as it may seem. All teachers have ended up being a sort of tech wizard, so with a few swift movements of the fingers on the keyboard, magic begins to happen! Plus, with such activities, teachers can go completely paperless, which saves time and is environmentally friendly.

    As for the ‘revolutionary’ teaching practices we may find ourselves passionately looking for, sometimes the simple everyday methods (even the more traditional ones, I dare say) can make the real difference.

    Thank you once again for the thought-provoking comments. Keep them coming!

    Christina 🙂

  6. Great ideas Christina! I like it when teachers possess that passion of transforming what is part of their daily life into teaching material. I have tried something similar with an adult student once. We had a unit on theater and cinema with some basic dialogues for buying tickets at the box office. Being a theater (especially musicals)lover myself I still keep theater guides, tickets, brochures etc I got when I was studying in the UK. I brought a theater guide with a list of all running theater performances and I asked the student to actually go through the guide, see what’s on and choose a performance she would like to go to. She was highly motivated and enjoyed the process so much! ( At the end of our lesson she had called me more than four times to book tickets for her favorite plays).
    I can also remember bringing photos from my trip to Scotland when we had a lesson on Scotish traditions. I put the most interesting ones (like a Scotish man in kilt playing the pipe, pictures of traditional dishes) on powerpoint and showed them to students. I remember that they were very eager to learn more about this culture and kept asking so many questions which was all I wanted to keep motivation high through the lesson…

    Using personal shots and spreading enthusiasm for what we did to our students can be great for building rapport as well. I think all teachers should give it a try!

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