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Vol 33 No 3, July - September 1995 Page 12 PREVIOUS ... CONTENTS ... SEARCH ... NEXT

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Developing Appropriate Materials
The Vietnam Project
by Ursula Nixon

Since 1985, a United Nations Development Program project has enabled a group of Vietnamese EFL teachers to study each year at the University of Canberra. Though this UNDP program has recently ended, international aid still brings Vietnamese teachers to Australia. These scholarship holders study in the TESOL Centre within the Faculty of Education. As part of the graduate program in TESOL, students have the opportunity to design a kit of materials for use in their own teaching situation back home in Vietnam. They see this as important, since much of the commercially available material is of limited relevance in a country which has yet to experience automatic tellers and multi-channel TV. Of course, it can be argued that topics such as these-so commonly treated in EFL coursebooks-open up the world to the student; but it is difficult to see any real benefit when teachers who have neither experience with microwave ovens (to take another example) nor access to glossy advertising literature about them, face the daunting task of explaining these artifacts to their students.


The groundwork for the development of teaching materials is done during the first semester. Students are encouraged to think about needs and situational analysis, so that the materials they design will be relevant both to their own pupils and to the teaching environment in Vietnam. For many Diploma students the concept of needs analysis is like a light on the road to Damascus as they consider a framework for analysis, drawing principally on Munby (1978), McDonough (1984), Hutchinson and Waters (1987), and Nunan (1988). They are able to try out their checklists with groups of language learning students on campus who come from Vietnam and are similar to their students at home. This is not a perfect solution but does provide a reasonable approximation of learning needs for the Diploma students to work with.

With needs identified, students then think about objectives. The process used in familiarizing students with a statement of objectives is to move from a practical task to stating objectives for the completed exercise. For example, students are given sets of colored shapes such as a black rectangle, a green square, a small red triangle, a yellow circle, and so forth. Students work in pairs, sitting back to back and with each individual having a set of colored shapes. Partner A instructs partner B to make a pattern or picture with the shapes and at the same time builds the required pattern. Then the partners compare their results and are either delighted at their accuracy in giving instructions and asking check questions or collapse in laughter at the disparate patterns. From this experience, the students move into groups to frame objectives for the work they have just done. This activity also serves to underline the point that a statement of objectives is not necessarily where the design of teaching materials begins. Equally, it is possible to take content or method or classroom feedback, as a starting point.

A third component in preparation that is carried out in the first semester is the evaluation of commercially available materials, looking particularly at how the content is structured and at the approaches taken in teaching it. Checklists such as those in Harmer (1991) or the criteria suggested by Sheldon (1988:4) are used at this stage. The Diploma students are critical of many of the materials surveyed, for reasons such as reliance on technology (even a cassette player may not be available in the Vietnamese classroom) steepness of progression and cultural bias. Nevertheless, the survey of materials is valued for the variety of techniques and activities which emerge.

Collection of resources

By the end of the semester, most of the trainees have formed small design teams of two to four people. Occasionally a student will have to work alone because of having a very specific work situation, but usually it is possible for students to form groups according to the type of teaching they are responsible for at home. The design is often skills-based as the teachers from Vietnam usually have responsibility for teaching listening or teaching reading rather than teaching through integrated macro-skills. This is the context in which they must work and it is respected, though less compartmentalized ways of teaching EFL are discussed and demonstrated. During the midsemester break, students have the opportunity to collect the raw material from which they will develop their kits of teaching materials. They do so assiduously, visiting exhibitions, business centres, hospitals, libraries, and museums to collect samples of spoken and written text.

Design frameworks

At the beginning of the second semester, the trainees face what they find especially difficult and time-consuming, that is, selecting a framework for the design of their materials. Two frames are suggested as a starting point. The first is the "focus wheel" guide to planning units of work, adapted from the Australian Language Levels (ALL) Guidelines (Scarino et al, 1988). See Figure 1 .

The second suggested framework is that developed in the late 1970s for the Adult Migrant Education Program (AMEP) in Australia. It offers a clear matrix for planning units of work and is shown in Figure 2 .

What happens is that as a result of their study of the two planning models and their evaluation of commercially produced EFL materials, the design teams adapt a framework that suits their own purposes. One which combines elements from both the ALL and AMEP models appears in Figure 3 .

The unit is run on consultative lines. Design teams meet the lecturer twice weekly to discuss and edit the materials being designed and to consider what may need to be condensed, clarified, or expanded. There is also an opportunity to peer-teach segments of the materials. The printed components of the kits are word-processed, and binding and laminating facilities available for student use in the Faculty of Education ensure an attractive and professional finished product.

The variety of materials produced is some indication of the enormous ELT needs in Vietnam. These include English for doctors, Business English, English for tourism, to name only the more salient. Since 1986, when I began to teach the unit in materials for language teaching, the kits produced have fallen into three broad categories, namely, ESP, skills-based English, and English as communication. The last represents a move away from the more traditional grammar-based approach often used in Vietnam. The ESP titles included: Restaurant English, Commercial Correspondence,English for Physics, Reading Medical Material, English for Receptionists , and Foreign Trade English .

The skills-based kits almost without exception focus on listening and speaking with titles such as Learning to Listen and English through Listening. The kits which aim at developing communicative use of English included: Communication in Context, Communicating in English, and Communicating about Australia. In all, fifty-one kits of material have been taken home to Vietnam since 1986. This represents work by 126 Diploma students from the major centres of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city, and Hue.


It is all very well to produce kits of language teaching materials, but fruitless if these materials do not in fact get used in the home context. There are indications, however, that the kits are put to use. First, a survey of Vietnamese alumni from the TESOL Centre was carried out in 1989. Students were asked about the extent to which the materials they had designed were in use. Eighty-six percent of the respondents said that their kits were used and of these, 52% indicated that the materials were used to some extent and 34% to a great extent. These figures are reassuring given the degree of control over what is taught-a centralized syllabus being common in Vietnam. Perhaps more convincing was a personal experience. On arriving in Hanoi for a teacher development workshop in 1988, I was recognized by total strangers-the hotel staff who "knew" me from the tape and visual materials produced as part of Restaurant English .


The design of teaching materials is a complex task. In the unit described, the design process is broken down into stages, and the approach taken is to work from a practical task back to the theoretical basis and its implications. Feedback from student evaluations suggests that this makes the design process both more comprehensible and easier to manage. It is also important that students work in design teams whenever possible, rather than as individuals. This not only shares the load and generally leads to production of a more substantial kit, it fosters the skills of working cooperatively rather than competitively. As has been indicated, the needs for materials in Vietnam are enormous. The work produced by the TESOL Diploma students has gone some way to meeting those needs.

Ursula Nixon coordinates the graduate programs in TESOL at the University of Canberra. She has taught in the UK, Germany, Malawi, Mali, and Kiribati and has also worked in Southeast Asia.



  • Adult migrant education program teachers' Manual. 1979. Canberra: Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.
  • Harmer, J. 1991. The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman.
  • Hutchinson, T. and A. Waters. 1987. English for specific purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • McDonough, J. 1984. ESP in perspective. London: Collins
  • Munby, J. 1978. Communicative syllabus design. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Nunan, D. 1988. Syllabus design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Scarino, A., D. Vale, P. McKay, and J. Clark. 1988. Australian language levels guidelines, syllabus development and programming. Canberra: Curriculum Development Centre.
  • Sheldon, L. 1988. Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT Journal, 42, 4, pp. 237-246.

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Vol 33 No 3, July - September 1995 Page 12 PREVIOUS ... CONTENTS ... SEARCH ... NEXT

Figure 1

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Figure 2

Talking about Occupations and Leisure Activities
Speaking Asking for information - What + do/does + NP + do (+ adv.T) interesting
and occupations and leisure What do you do? enjoyable
Listening activities What do you do on weekends? work (v) fun
play very
Do/Does + NP + Vinf + NP/adv read really
Do you work every day? study much
Do you play any sport? make a lot
cook a little
Asking for information - How long + has/have + NP + been + NP/adj./adv live a bit
duration of an activity How long have they been there? travel pretty
or occupation How long have you been a painter? stay rather
How long + has/have + NP + been + Ving + NP/ adv enjoy
How long have you been working night shift? practise
When + did + NP +Vinf (+ NP/adv.)
When did he start the job? train (v)
When did you join? belong
pay day
Asking for opinions- Is + NP (+ adv.D) + adj. boss afternoon
occupations and leisure Is it very interesting? work night
activities job shift
What + is/are + NP + like hour positions
What’s the job like start foreman
What are the members like? join supervisor
buy member
member job
standard offer

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Figure 3

Sample Exponents
Functions Syntax Lexis Sample Activities Materials
Making polite Could you tell me…? Vocabulary related • Warming up • Tapes
requests I wonder if you can to traffic • T: presents structures • Maps (large/small)
Asking for help me…. (traffic light, and vocabulary • Pictures of machines
directions The best way is to… intersection, place • Pairwork • Cards
Giving directions Imperatives names, directions, • Groupwork: Magic • Some written
Asking for Questions actions…) Birthday instructions
clarification • Ss listen to tape • Tape recorder,
Asking for and and identify calculator…
giving instructions the places mentioned.
• Ss practise with a large map,
then with small maps
and cards.
• Taped dialogues for model
• Reading aloud
• Song: Put your little feet out
Functions Sample Exponents
Asking for Syntax Lexis Sample Activities Materials
Describing (e.g. What is s/he (it) like? Vocabulary related • Warming up • Tapes
appearance, age, What do/does…look to shape, size, • T: presents and explains new • Pictures of people/things
personality, How + adjective…? colour, characteristics vocabulary • Pictures of machines
interests…) What colour…? • Ss practise • Cards
What use…? • Ss listen to tapes and • Objects
identify people and things
• T describes someone as model
• Pairwork: Ss describe a
• Guessing games (Group/class

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Vol 33 No 3, July - September 1995 Page 12



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