“Do you develop your own material…?”

“…or do you use a coursebook?”

I’ve been asked this question several times this January.  I can’t say I’m surprised because recently I’ve seen independent teachers use authentic materials more often. Some have even taken a few steps further and developed a whole course material of their own… I wonder why that is.

From an objective perspective, this must be for one of two reasons: they either see this as a better choice or an essential requirement for one-to-one lessons.

The first strikes me as a more comforting answer, although it’s not without its fallouts. Not only does it lead to longer lesson planning hours, it also does not ensure an increase in engagement and performance. For more info on this topic, please check out the study by Gilmore (2009) available on the reference list below.

I’d like to take a deeper look into the second reason, which is far more concerning: developing self-made materials is NOT a requirement for your lessons to be considered individualized.

Some of the reasons for this being:

  1. What makes your lessons “individual” is not the material you use, but the relationship you develop with your students. When two students undergo the exact same lesson, several aspects will still vary, such as the pace, language requirements for tasks, corrective feedback, emergent language, questions students ask etc.
  2. These days, global teams make tremendous effort to assemble entire coursbook series. They plan out every step of the way, from task to syllabus. Why not appreciate AND take advantage of such effort?
  3. A large gap sits between using “only self-made materials” and “only coursebooks”. This space can be filled with a whole range of authentic tasks to boost student engagement. A lesson can feel entirely tailor-made by just adding a few tweaks that cater for a student’s specific requirements.


I wholeheartedly encourage teachers to develop materials of their own, but I’d say “proceed with caution”. This can be a great portfolio boost, as well as an interesting marketing strategy. Keep in mind, however, that your efforts may backfire and ultimately lower student engagement if not done carefully.

My personal piece of advice is: start by teaming up with a fellow teacher, devise a few lessons of your own, use them, and compare your results. Not only will this foster a more acute sense of collaboration, it also helps you make better decisions based on real learning evidence.


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Arthur Damião Médici

Arthur Médici has been in ELT since 2009, working as an independent teacher since 2013. With a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Psychology, he has a keen interest in English for Academic Purposes and professionalism for independent teachers.

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