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Review of  Developing Materials for Language Teaching

Reviewer: Edie Furniss
Book Title: Developing Materials for Language Teaching
Book Author: Brian Tomlinson
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 26.946

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Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar, Sara Couture, and Ashley Parker


The first edition of ''Developing Materials for Language Teaching,'' published in 2003, addressed a need for a thorough treatment of the principle issues in the field of materials development for language teaching and learning: the theoretical and practical concerns of creating, evaluating, and adapting materials for various types of learners and for specific language skills. The volume under review is the updated second edition, which is intended to provide current perspectives on the field, in addition to ''providing stimulus and refreshment for teachers, academics and materials developers,'' according to the editor, Brian Tomlinson, in the preface (p. x). The second edition contains a mix of updated articles from the first edition and new articles reflecting theoretical and technological advancements in the field. The twenty-six articles contained therein are grouped into five themes: 'Evaluation and Adaptation of Materials', 'Principles and Procedures of Materials Development', 'Developing Materials for Target Groups', 'Developing Specific Types of Materials', and 'Materials Development and Teacher Training'. Each section concludes with two to four pages of comments by Tomlinson that summarize and synthesize the main conclusions from the articles in that section. The chapters range from literature reviews to case studies and action research projects, and focus on materials for a variety of instructional contexts, and for learners of diverse backgrounds and ages. The authors are concerned primarily with materials for learners of English, as both a second and foreign language.

In his introduction to the volume, Tomlinson defines key terms and provides an overview of the central issues in the field of materials development. He defines materials development as “both a field of study and a practical undertaking” in which theory and practice interact with one another (Tomlinson, 2001, p. 66). The term ‘materials’ is used to refer to “anything which can be used to facilitate the learning of a language” (Tomlinson, 2001, p. 66). Tomlinson expresses his beliefs on why, how, and by whom materials should be developed and evaluated, and addresses other issues in the field, including the value of authentic texts. Finally, Tomlinson lists the current trends (both positive and negative) in materials development, ideas for the future of this field, and professional resources.

The first article (of three) in Part A, ‘Evaluation and Adaptation of Materials’, is ''Materials Evaluation'' by Tomlinson. Here he delves into the mechanics of evaluation: what exactly is being evaluated and how is that process undertaken? Tomlinson emphasizes the importance of conducting evaluations in a principled way that takes into account research on learning in general and on second language acquisition (SLA), providing short summaries of established findings for reference. The chapter concludes with a framework for developing criteria for materials evaluation. The next article is ''Adapting Courses: A Personal View'' by Claudia Saraceni, in which the author proposes that adapting materials for specific instructional contexts can bridge the gap between SLA research and classroom practice, and advocates the involvement of both teachers and learners in the adaptation process. She outlines a model for adapting courses that is more flexible and geared towards providing an aesthetic experience -- fostering 'immediate response to language and literature' -- than traditional approaches to materials development. The article includes a sample of materials accompanied by suggestions for adaptation by both teachers in training and learners themselves. The third article of Part A is Duriya Aziz Singapore Wala's ''Publishing a Coursebook: The Role of Feedback,'' which details a proposal for incorporating feedback into materials development, making it a dynamic process. The author reviews the literature on feedback loops in materials development, then describes these loops in practice in a discussion of a curricular reform project in Singapore that integrated feedback from stakeholders at all stages. According to Singapore Wala, ''materials must answer present-day teacher needs for tomorrow's class with a view to meeting the goals of education for the future'' (p. 84); this can be achieved, it is argued, by facilitating interaction between stakeholders at several points in the materials development process. Tomlinson, in his comments on Part A, notes that the authors in this section agree on the value of the evaluation and adaptation of materials in the learning process, the importance of acknowledging the needs and wants of all invested in the use and implementation of materials, and the need for flexibility in both materials design and their evaluation and adaptation. He advocates for research into the effectiveness of materials and outlines a framework for carrying out such an assessment.

Part B, ‘Principles and Procedures of Materials Development’, consists of seven articles focusing on key issues in the process of creating materials. Tomlinson contributes the first article, entitled ''Developing Principled Frameworks for Materials Development,'' challenging the norm in materials development of ''processes which are ad hoc and spontaneous, and which rely on an intuitive feel for activities which are likely to 'work''' (p. 95). He reviews the existing frameworks for materials development, as well as the literature on the principles to be considered in this process. This is followed by a flexible framework, created by the author and implemented in materials writing workshops and textbooks projects around the world, which uses a text-driven approach. Tomlinson demonstrates the framework in use by presenting two sets of materials: one for a lesson focused on a poem, the other for a web-based lesson utilizing online newspaper sources. Singapore Wala authors the next article, ''The Instructional Design of a Coursebook Is As It Is Because of What It Has To Do -- An Application of Systemic Functional Theory,'' which utilizes Systemic Functional Theory (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004) in the analysis of a coursebook ''as a product of the context -- cultural and situational -- within which it is produced'' (p. 119). First, concepts from the theory are described, and Singapore Wala argues that Systemic Functional Theory, which describes language as functioning within three contexts (situation, culture, and ideology), can also be applied to materials design. This is demonstrated by an analysis of the schematic structure of the coursebook genre, which is then applied to five English Language Teaching coursebooks. In ''Humanizing the Coursebook,'' Tomlinson provides ideas for adapting materials in ways that will increase learner engagement and ''exploit [learners'] capacity for learning through meaningful experience'' (p. 140). He gives a plethora of suggestions based on his own experiences teaching English. Transitioning from coursebook adaptation to development, Tomlinson suggests various ways of creating humanistic materials that emphasize collaboration, text-driven and multidimensional approaches, learner centeredness, and localization. David A. Hill analyzes the types and purposes of the illustrations in three textbooks in ''The Visual Elements in EFL Coursebooks,'' concluding that the majority of images are used solely for decoration. The author argues that visual elements should be exploited for instructional purposes and gives suggestions to this end. The next article, ''Creative Approaches to Writing Materials'' by Alan Maley, criticizes the lack of creativity in foreign language teaching and materials development and proposes a framework for remedying this issue. In a literature review, Maley explores the key components of the concept of creativity, discusses theoretical approaches to creativity, and reviews the history of the application of creativity in language pedagogy. He concludes by presenting his framework, followed by a list of recent trends that may facilitate a ''creative paradigm shift'' (p. 182). Thom Kiddle's ''Developing Digital Language Learning Materials'' is an extensive overview of current digital technologies and their potential applications to language teaching. He provides background on the state of the field, then explores avenues for teacher-created, student-created, and publisher-/professionally created digital materials, concluding with several predictions for the future of digital language teaching and learning materials. The final chapter in this section, ''Demystifying Blended Learning'' by Freda Mishan, shifts the focus to an approach in language pedagogy that combines ''face-to-face and technology-based learning'' (p. 207). Mishan proposes a framework for blended language learning, complemented by a discussion of the technological tools involved. Finally, the author presents two case studies illustrating blended learning in a language instruction context. Tomlinson closes Part B by summarizing the resources mentioned by the authors of the section that are not being exploited fully for language teaching purposes.

Five chapters make up Part C, ‘Developing Materials for Target Groups’. Shelagh Rixon's contribution is entitled ''Authors' Knowledge, Rationales and Principles -- Steady Flow-Through or Stuck in the Publishing Pipeline? The Case of Early Reading with Young Learners.'' The author undertook an analysis of 40 locally produced course materials of English for Young Learners from a variety of contexts, observing that many of these materials do not seem to tackle the teaching of reading in any systematic way. Based on this analysis, Rixon distributed a questionnaire to authors and editors of materials for Young Learners that solicited their knowledge and beliefs on teaching reading to this population. The author discovered a disconnect between the developers' principles and the published materials, perhaps due to reluctance to deviate from the status quo. The next chapter, ''Developing Motivating Materials for Refugee Children: From Theory to Practice'' by Irma-Kaarina Ghosn, details the process of developing coursebooks for Palestinian refugee children in Lebanon that are based on R. Ellis’ (2008) principles of instructed language acquisition. Ghosn explains the context, including information on Lebanon's national curriculum and the living conditions and schools of the Palestinian refugees. The textbook development process is described from beginning (evaluation of the old textbooks) to end (initial feedback on the new textbook). In ''Materials for Adults: 'I am No Good at Languages!' -- Inspiring and Motivating L2 Learners of Beginner's Spanish,'' Rosa-Maria Cives-Enriquez outlines her approach to classroom instruction, tailored to the adult learner. The author bases her approach on two models for motivating students; she describes how she has adapted these models and provides many illustrative examples. Vivian Cook addresses adult learners as well in the next chapter, ''Materials for Adult Beginners from an L2 User Perspective.'' He evaluates six beginner coursebooks (including two newer texts for the second edition) with reference to three arguments developed in the Essex Beginners' Materials Group: ''adult students have adult minds and interests''; ''second language users are people in their own right''; and ''language teaching has been held back by unquestioning acceptance of traditional nineteenth-century principles'' (pp. 289-290). Cook's criticisms of the coursebooks under evaluation are supplemented by concrete suggestions on how to remedy their deficiencies. He closes with an epilogue assessing the current state of beginners' materials, finding that the newer coursebooks do reflect some positive change. ''Mining the L2 Environment: ESOL Learners and Strategies Outside the Classroom'' by Naeema Hann investigates learner strategies in a longitudinal study. She first reviews the theories on learner strategies, focusing particularly on social strategies that involve interaction with native speakers. Hann then examines quantitative and qualitative data from her study of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learners, and concludes by advocating for learner and teacher strategy training, further research on strategy use in varied contexts, and the development of materials for language learning strategy training. Tomlinson notes the overarching theme across the articles of Part C: that ''different types of learners need different types of materials'' (p. 333). He also mentions that the authors in this section agree on the important role of the teacher in facilitating students' interaction with materials and the recommendation that ''the coursebook does not become the syllabus'' (p. 334); rather, a syllabus should be created to match each group of learners.

Part D discusses ‘Developing Specific Types of Materials’. The first chapter (of eight) is Jeff Stranks' ''Materials for the Teaching of Grammar,'' in which the author suggests criteria for the presentation of grammar in language materials. He argues for the inclusion of grammar that reflects actual usage, such as ellipsis (which is a feature of conversational language that is largely ignored in materials), and advocates that greater attention be paid to the way meaning varies depending on grammatical form. Paul Nation contributes the next article, ''Materials for Teaching Vocabulary,'' in which he details and gives supporting examples for three central principles based on second language vocabulary research: that vocabulary learning should be planned and responsive to frequency; that materials should make use of learning conditions shown to promote vocabulary learning; and that activities for vocabulary learning should include ''learning from meaning focused input, learning from meaning focused output, deliberate language focused learning and fluency development'' (p. 352). In ''Materials for Developing Reading Skills,'' Hitomi Masuhara reviews in detail the major approaches to L2 reading materials development, followed by a proposal for an alternative approach founded on four key principles, supported by examples of reading activities. In ''Materials for Developing Writing Skills,'' Ken Hyland explores the various roles of materials used in the teaching of writing (models, language scaffolding, reference, and stimulus) and considers criteria for selecting writing materials. Hyland discusses textbook adaptation, making use of Internet resources, and designing new materials for the teaching of writing. In the next chapter, ''Developing Materials for Speaking Skills,'' Dat Bao provides an overview of methodological trends in the design of speaking materials, then proposes a framework for their development. He continues by presenting a rationale for speaking materials as well as criteria for their evaluation. Finally, Bao argues that two areas in materials for speaking skills lack sufficient emphasis: learner identity and cultural localization. This chapter is followed by ''Coursebook Listening Activities'' by David A. Hill and Brian Tomlinson. The authors begin with a short analysis of the types of listening activities in a sample of intermediate textbooks, followed by suggestions for expanding and improving the teaching of listening in materials development and examples of listening skills lessons. Alan Pulverness and Brian Tomlinson, in ''Materials for Cultural Awareness,'' argue for a return to cultural specificity in coursebooks, describing materials that use innovative approaches to the teaching of culture. In the final chapter of Part D, ''Corpora and Materials: Towards a Working Relationship,'' Ivor Timmis addresses the disconnect between corpus research and language materials development. He reviews the insights that research in corpus linguistics has contributed to the English Language Teaching field, concluding by proposing a 'corpus-referred' approach that elevates the importance of ''intuition, experience, local need, cultural appropriacy and pedagogic convenience in determining syllabus content and the order in which items are taught'' (p. 470). Tomlinson links the articles in this section using five main themes: explicit and experiential learning, extensive listening and reading, realism, affect, and multidimensional learning.

The first chapter in Part E, 'Materials Development and Teacher Training', is ''Materials Development Courses'' by Tomlinson. He surveys the objectives and procedures of materials development courses, then provides examples of his flexible framework in practice, informed by his extensive experience in this area. Next, in ''Simulations in Materials Development,'' Tomlinson and Masuhara illustrate the value, principles, and procedures of simulations (as opposed to real-life tasks) in materials development courses. The final chapter is ''Working with Student-Teachers to Design Materials for Language Support within the School Curriculum'' by Helen Emery. The author reports on a project that uses a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach in the development of materials for teaching English science vocabulary in Brunei schools. Student-teachers worked together to create these materials; their results are described. Tomlinson, in his comments on Part E, reiterates the value of positive affect, interactivity, and theoretical and practical awareness raising in the materials development process. The volume closes with a conclusion from Tomlinson, in which he briefly recaps the main criticisms from the authors included, as well as the new directions they propose. Tomlinson ends the book with a call to further applied and action research, in order to advance the field of materials development.


Because of its stress on practical applications of theory and research, and the inclusion of detailed case studies and guidelines, the second edition of ''Developing Materials for Language Teaching'' will be of great value to materials writers, publishers, and teachers interested in designing their own materials. Tomlinson has published extensively on the topic of materials development and his multifaceted expertise -- as teacher, materials writer, and trainer -- is readily apparent. His belief in principled materials evaluation and design, responsive to the individual evaluator/author and their local context, is commendable and essential if we are committed to developing and utilizing materials that can both engage and inform learners. The individual chapters similarly promote learner-centered materials that are flexible and prioritize emotional connection to the materials. In general, the volume coheres; however, while most chapters ground their methodologies in empirical data and support from the literature, occasionally contributors' arguments are insufficiently substantiated by research and are too reliant on anecdotal evidence.

An element that is largely missing from this volume is empirical evidence on the role of materials in the classroom. Last year, in an issue of the Modern Language Journal (MLJ), Guerrettaz and Johnston (2013) presented a study examining how materials function within the ecology of a language classroom. Their call for such classroom-based research on the actual use and effectiveness of language teaching materials inspired a 'Perspectives' column in a recent MLJ (Tarone 2014), in which experts suggested ways of expanding upon this pioneering work. It is to be hoped that this call will be heeded in future work on language teaching materials.

As has already been mentioned, the volume focuses predominantly on materials for the teaching of English. While certainly applicable to materials for other languages, case studies and research on different languages that are sensitive to context and learner background would be enlightening for foreign language educators. This, of course, could be said for applied linguistics research in general.

All in all, the shortcomings of the book under review are minor, and overall it is a welcome contribution to the field. It will be particularly useful in courses on materials development, given its wealth of examples, theoretical support, and practical guidelines based on the experiences of thoughtful and meticulous educators, writers, and researchers. ''Developing Materials for Language Teaching'' is sure to inspire readers to create principled, engaging materials, and to further research the use and effectiveness of materials in the language classroom.


Ellis, R. (2008). Principles of instruction second language acquisition. CAL Digest. Retrieved from

Guerrettaz, A. M., and Johnston, B. (2013). Materials in the classroom ecology. The Modern Language Journal, 97(3), 779-796.

Halliday, M. A. K., and Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2004). An introduction to functional grammar. London: Arnold.

Tarone, E. (2014). The issue: Research on materials and their role in classroom discourse and SLA. The Modern Language Journal, 98(2), 652-653.

Tomlinson, B. (2001). Materials development. In R. Carter, and D. Nunan (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to teaching English to speakers of other languages (pp. 66-71). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Edie Furniss is a Ph.D. candidate (ABD) in the Department of Applied Linguistics at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include formulaic language, pragmatics, materials development, corpus linguistics, and Russian language and culture.

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