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Setting up a self-access facility

Setting up a self-access facility

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Many large, well-resourced institutions have self-access centres, which you can encourage your learners to use, and that you can rely on if converting a part of your course to independent learning. But if you are working in a context where no self-access centre is available, you and your colleagues may wish to build up a smaller facility that can still provide some of the benefits of a formal centre in helping your students to broaden their range of learning skills. The following suggestions should help you to set up such a facility.

1 Investigate possible premises. Might a separate room be available for your facility? If so, you may be able to consider audio as well as print-based resources. If not, you will need to concentrate on a more portable facility to be used in existing classrooms.

2 Investigate technical resources. Will you have access to TVs, tape recorders or computers? The equipment available is obviously a key factor when deciding what sort of materials bank to build up.

3 Start to collect source material. A small facility could start with a series of printed texts, and audio texts if you have tape recorders. These texts will form the core of your self-access materials. You can start with just a few more texts than there are learners in the class, to give people the experience of choosing what to do and then swapping around.

4 Try to get other colleagues to join you. A group of teachers working together will build up a sizeable bank of materials much more quickly, and learners will benefit from the variety of approaches and ideas. A joint initiative by teachers could also impress school authorities, and they might make extra funds available to support your project.

5 Develop a house style for materials writing. It is the rubrics, tasks and comments that you build around the source texts that give the materials their ‘feel’. Similarities of presentation, whether typographic (eg, always using the same typeface), or content related (eg, always starting with a statement of objectives), can be reassuring for learners, and help to present the self- access facility as a coherent project.

6 State objectives clearly and relate feedback to these. Statements of objectives make the purpose of the materials clear to the learners, and so help them to choose the right ones to work on. Feedback on the learners’ tasks should also relate to these stated objectives: this is one good way of making sure that the tasks really are relevant and appropriate.


7 Consider the idea of pathways. As your bank builds up, look at how different materials relate to each other. Could you publicize ‘sets’ of materials on particular subjects, or sets which help to develop particular language skills? Grouping materials in this way helps learners to decide what to do and in what order.

8 Discuss the role of the self-access facility with learners. If they have not experienced self-access before, they will need to think about what it can contribute to their learning experience, and they will need to be supported in their early attempts to choose and use materials. Ongoing feedback and discussion is the best way to help learners to make the best use of the facility. See 31, Supporting self-access from the classroom, for further ideas here.

9 Show learners what is available. Open display systems such as wallcharts are the most helpful. They enable learners to see more or less at a glance what is available. Charts should include information about the topic of the materials and the language learning objectives they are intended to serve.

10 Encourage learners to contribute to the facility. If they have access to printed English texts outside the class, they may come across pieces that they think their classmates might like. Encourage them to bring such texts in, and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their contributions ‘written up’ as proper self-access materials.


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