Students engaging in authenticity learning

The world is changing – both in terms of technology and attention spans. We’re being spoiled by easy access to the internet, smartphones and a huge range of products and services from companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon. By 2020 it’s predicted that there will be four times more internet connected devices on the planet than people.

How we learn other languages is also transforming. As well as conventional classes, there are a new methods from Distance and Mobile Learning to Flexible and Nano Learning.

But what about those who don’t want to learn? They can now buy a device which fits into their ear and allows them to have real-time conversations with people who don’t share the same first language.

21st Century Teenagers

Teenagers are spending more and more time interacting with artificial interfaces and it’s having an impact on their abilities to communicate in a face-to-face setting. It turns out that spending time on ‘social’ media doesn’t necessarily improve our social skills.

A 2014 study from Harvard University found that the overuse of technology could negatively affect young people in three main areas:

  • Working memory — The ability to hold information in mind and use it.
  • Inhibitory control — The ability to master thoughts and impulses so as to resist temptations, distractions, and habits, and to pause and think before acting.
  • Cognitive flexibility — The capacity to switch gears and adjust to changing demands, priorities, or perspectives.

Luckily for us – learning another language can help develop these skills. However, as teachers we need to adapt our styles to accommodate for ‘digitalized’ learners.

We need to move away from lecturing students at the front of the class and become language coaches. We need to shift the focus from teaching lists of vocabulary to pass exams to helping learners operate in another language. We need to start focusing more on communicative competence.

How to increase communicative competence

The first thing you need to focus on is getting students to use English in class. Make sure you offer good models to follow and purposeful target language. Learners need to see the practical implications of what you are asking them to do.

The way to achieve this is through authenticity. According to a number of ELT experts, authenticity “relates to the language produced by a real speaker/writer for a real audience, conveying a real message”.

We can break down authenticity into five distinct strands, each with their own classroom applications:

  1. Authentic learning

It’s important that in class we do things that not only improve students ability to communicate in English, but also enhance their lives in other areas. This includes working on 21st century skills such as creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.

Challenge learners by setting them real-world problems and encourage them to ask questions and evaluate everything they do. Improve teamwork by making the learning process more social and doing group work and projects frequently.

Here is an example from the Wider World secondary course, where students are encouraged to vote on certain topics and then back up their answers with clear reasons.

Authentic learning

  1. Authentic situations

It’s important to ask students why they are coming to class. Once you know their motivations for learning English you can include more authentic situations in your lessons. For example, low level students who need English for travel purposes should learn and practice high frequency language in common communicative situations, such as booking a room in a hotel, navigating an airport, or ordering a meal in a restaurant.

Be sure to teach them phrases or ‘chunks’ of language, as this will be easier for them to recall and use than individual words or grammar. Don’t forget to model the target language so students have something to work towards and give them feedback on both successful and unsuccessful attempts.

In these BBC Vox Pops videos, which are found throughout the Wider World series, real learners are asked everyday questions in the streets of London.

  1. Authentic materials

In the real world English is not graded to meet a learner’s level. In fact, native speakers can be very hard for people learning English to understand. It’s therefore essential to introduce your students to authentic materials. These are videos, texts, audio recordings etc., that are produced for another purpose but can expose students to new information and help them explore a topic at a deeper level.

Showing them authentic videos, blogs or websites (or even better, getting them to create their own) will help increase learner autonomy and motivation.

In this BBC Culture video you can see how WiderWorld is using authentic video from the BBC in an engaging way.

  1. Authentic tasks

One problem teachers often face when working with teenagers, is getting them to use English instead of their mother tongue (L1), especially when doing so called ‘communicative’ activities. To help overcome this, design tasks that are authentic and encourage learners to use English to reach some kind of outcome. It’s important you explain why they are doing it and what they should hope to achieve by the end of the class (or task). You should also make sure the stages are clearly defined and you offer them the support they need.

Tasks are also a great way to get students working together in groups, being creative and thinking critically.

Here’s an example of an authentic task you can use with your students:

Example of an authentic task from Wider WorldRead more about task-based learning and the things you should bear in mind when designing a task.

  1. Authentic Teachers

You may be planning an authentic class using authentic tasks, situations and materials, but unless you are an authentic teacher, it’s going to be hard to really connect with your learners and build the rapport necessary for a successful learning experience.

Speak to your students about their interests outside class and share certain aspects of your life, such as your hobbies or places you have lived or visited. Turn up to class with a smile on your face, laugh with your students and don’t worry if you make mistakes – students don’t expect their teachers to know everything. If they ask something you are unsure of, look on Google, ask them to research the answer for homework or make a note of it and ask a colleague after class.

For more information about authenticity in the secondary classroom register to watch a recording of my webinar.

Be more authentic with Wider World

Wider World - the perfect course for teaching authentic classes

Wider World is fast becoming one of the world’s favorite secondary courses, and reflects the way that today’s teenagers access information and entertainment from the internet, using personal devices such as tablets, laptops and mobiles. It incorporates authentic video from the BBC, with a range of authentic tasks which are designed to boost 21st century skills while encouraging authentic learning.

The content and the style in which it is presented is designed to inspire and challenge young minds. By interacting with the content, rather than just practicing it, students acquire the language at a deeper cognitive level.

Wider World ELTons Awards


Its innovative mix of print and digital media, effective methodology, and authentic BBC content have been recognised by ELT Experts who have nominated Wider World for the prestigious ELTons Award for Innovation in English Language Teaching 2018 in Excellence in Course Innovation.


Download a sample now.

How are you making your classes authentic for students? Leave us a comment below.

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