Does the Long Tail Work for ESL?
Dec 13, 2008 Classroom Materials 2380 Views
It was in 2004 that Chris Anderson coined the phrase The Long Tail, which contrary to some people’s expectations has nothing to do with the dog’s anatomy. Actually, it is an entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries. In a nutshell, the Long Tail theory claims that infinite online ‘shelf space’ and relatively easy access to potential users make it economically feasible to provide content for niche interest groups. This, in turn, should result in a growing demand for niche content. After reading Mr. Anderson’s book, I asked myself a question: Does this long tail theory work for ESL? Do we - English language teachers - get more varied resources satisfying the needs of niche learning groups?
As a teacher of English with over 20-year experience, who would like to provide his students with the most engaging learning materials, I am continually surfing the net for new resources that I can use in my lessons. Why am I looking for resources on the Internet instead of sticking to a coursebook? After all, don’t we have a great choice of coursebooks? Well, the problem is I really respect my students, - mostly adults - and I don’t find most coursebooks suitable because they are either boring, childish or outdated. Actually, most of them perfectly combine all these three characteristics. Although, we could find some good examples, such as Innovations series published by Thomson Heilne or Oxford’s English File series, the rest of what’s on offer in bookstores is rather disappointing for adult learners.
The past decade has seen a boom of online services for teachers of English; some of them are free, other charge users fees. Some of them give advice on different issues related to teaching foreign languages, other list job offers for teachers, and most of them, if not all, provide worksheets. However, the quality of what is available online varies a lot. A lot of them repeat the mistake of appealing to the lowest common denominator, have patronizing content, or have such horrible graphics that would put my students off learning instead of encouraging them in their efforts. Hence the idea for a website which would put a long tail theory to the test on the ESL ground. I wanted to create an online service where ESL teachers could find current, niche topics, controversial opinions, taboo subjects, and colloquial vocabulary. A few years of hard work and now I know that a long tail works for ESL - English-4U -ESL Lesson Plans is used by thousands of ESL teachers all over the world, it lists hundreds of worksheets on such niche subjects as: vanity sizing, shopping on Sundays, queuing, 2008 presidential elections in the USA. The topics are engaging because they do relate to students’ lives, they are current - these are the topics that your students probably discuss around the water cooler.
I hope that the long tail of ESL resources will grow longer and longer. I strongly believe that the Internet will dramatically change the way we teach and the resources we use. I think we need more materials for niche purposes: Learners are different, so are their interests, so should be the resources we use. The Internet could make it possible to adjust our teaching to individual needs of our learners.