Materials is a general term to describe the TEFL coursebooks and exercises used in teaching English. The author of such is known as a Materials Writer.
Materials can include:
- exercise books
- grammar books
- various exercises & activities
- listening tapes
The TEFL industry today is massive and worth billions of dollars around the world and much of this is generated by selling materials to students and schools. Thus the various ELT Publishers produce a wide selection of books which are updated regularly. These can earn millions for their authors and the publishers, especially because they include not only the basic material but also extra workbooks with supplementary material, often designed just to generate more money.
However in order for these materials to be sold in the highest quantities they are often very “safe.” Sensitive subjects are not mentioned at all and for fear of displeasing various markets, the content is kept as bland as possible so you will not see reference to politics or sex in any coursebook, for example.
The materials produced by the publishers are also meant for a more general market and are often not really specific enough for various classes. Thus whilst they might be a good starting point for a course, a good teacher will supplement the coursebook with their own material specifically for the class.
Materials Writing is the process of producing materials. In most cases the starting point is to address the needs of the students. If a teacher finds their students need to learn the past continuous for example they can either call upon some of the many extant exercises online or in books and give them to the class or they can create their own.
Materials writing then is the answer to a needs analysis.
Care must be taken, however, that the materials written focus on the issue at hand are not sidetracked or distracting to the student. There’s no point in including examples of the third conditional when you are trying to explain the second conditional, for example.
Most authors do not follow a specific path to get into writing (e.g. taking qualifications in materials writing). Instead, they generally start off as teachers and then work their way up into higher jobs (e.g. as DoS) and better regarded schools. Often authors will produce their first books based on exercises they have prepared for their own classes.
TEFL coursebooks – about TEFL books
ELT Publishers – who publishes materials