Tech tips for new materials writers

These tips may sound simple to some, but useful to others! As a new writer I reckon you’ll have to do some of the things below, so this primer could help you hit the ground running…

note: instructions for Word based on Office 365

Tips for using Word… because we are all lazy until we actually need most of the cool functions!

Applying a template to a Word document

A publisher might send you a Word template to use and you need to upload it. Google how to do this if you don’t know, but it’s fairly straightforward (for me: Developer tab – Document template – Attach… that’s it really).

Changing the author name

Sometimes a publisher, or particularly an agent outsourcing work for a publisher, will ask you to alter author names in a document. That’s actually quite easy: File – Options – Personalise your copy… and you’ll see the options there.

Styles and the navigation pane

How often do you use Styles in Word? I’m lazy, I never used to bother….

Most materials writing I’ve done has been on Word using templates. These templates range in complexity, but the basic premise is the same as the Word Styles – it’s just applying a particular format to a body of text. Give yourself a refresher on using/changing these. Press Ctrl+F to open the navigation pane in Word. This will show you how easy it is to find your way around a document that uses Styles formatting. (more…)

Developing into a materials writer

Here are a few general tips for skills to develop if you’d like to write for publishers or big teaching organisations.

This is not a ‘How to become….’ post. You can find good tips about how to actually get into materials writing here and here. Also there are more general tips here.

Making the transition…

Going from teaching to materials writing is just a mindset thing really. Teaching and writing require a lot of the same skills anyway (see below). If you write your own materials for class now and then, well that makes you a materials writer.

‘Yeah, but I’m not… you know… paid to… or a professional materials wri-‘

Ah come on! Let publishers be the judge of that. What’s the worst they’ll do? Tell you that you don’t have the right experience? You might get lucky – they might ask you to write a sample of work for them… who’s gonna feel like a writer then, hey? Hey?!

Dealing with feedback

You go all out to write an awesome, engaging text only to receive tonnes of negative feedback. Sometimes feedback is constructive, sometimes it’s really blunt. You certainly need to develop a thick skin. Also, don’t assume that feedback is always scathing. Once, I received feedback on a grammar task that simply read ‘Why have you chosen this task?’ You can take that a few ways:

  • What on Earth are you doing?
  • This is the wrong task, you should choose something else
  • What is your logic here? I’m genuinely interested… If you explain it I might see the value…

Some inferences are more positive than others. Go with the positive spin – not everyone is out to put you down!

Incidentally, some of the best feedback I’ve had on materials has also led to changes to my own lesson planning/teaching practice. Just because an editor is sitting in an office all day doesn’t mean they’re not a practitioner too. (more…)

Review: ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback

Lesson observations – where to start?! Jeanette Barsdell, the author of ELT Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook, was thrown in at the deep end and expected to observe a teacher on her first day as a DOS. Despite being terrified, she got some great advice, hit the ground running and developed into a competent observer. She’s written a guidance book for anyone who observes or intends to observe ELT teachers, and overall is a great resource.

Overview

Barsdell explains that the book will help you with (quote):

  • managing and setting up observations
  • decoding a lesson plan to understand and improve practice
  • understanding from teaching practice a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses
  • stating strengths and areas to work on in a constructive way
  • being comfortable giving face-to-face and written feedback.

(more…)

Pronunciation priorities

Uh-oh! Here comes a ‘Teacher Pete thinking something through out loud’ moment. Tut. I hate these…

Mark Hancock shared a good article on LinkedIn the other day called ‘Pronunciation Teaching Post-ELF’. It’s got thinking about my own attitudes towards pronunciation and what features of pronunciation should be addressed in class.

According to Hancock, what we need to teach is pretty much established:

I’ve seen these particular priorities outlined before in Gibert’s ‘Six Pronunciation Priorities for beginning students’. I asked him how he arrived at these essential features. Was it based on research, a certain model like the Lingua Franca Core (LFC), intuition etc? He commented:

‘Not research or LFC, and I don’t think it’s intuition either. I think it’s more or less by definition: features of reduction and simplification in the sound stream in connected-speech are speaker oriented, i.e. for ease of articulation – and the clue is in the label. Reduction. Simplification. Linking. Etc. Pretty much tautology then. The fact that there is some overlap between the LFC could be coincidental. Except that it probably isn’t, [the essential features] are found to be essential for intelligibility and for good reason!

Jenkins’ LFC highlights some similar priorities from a research-based perspective…

I understand the premise in general – equipping learners with these pronunciation features is essential for ensuring intelligibility in a global context. Some things confuse me though…

From Jenkins (in Walker 2010:143)

‘Essentially, then, the Lingua Franca Core consists of: most consonant sounds; vowel length (but not quality) distinctions; absence of word-initial and – medial consonant deletion; and nuclear stress. For ELF, all the rest is in the realm of ‘non-core’.’

I guess ‘non-core’ is kinda Hancock’s ‘superficial’. However, both authors highlight that teaching these non-core features is worthwhile for receptive purposes. Phonology and listening are obviously linked (I’m still on the Cauldwell bandwagon by the way), which makes Jenkins fleeting categorisation of features of connected speech as ‘inconsequential’ seem a bit strange to me. The priority really is, as Hancock suggests, whether we are trying to understand or be understood. Good point, but if it is to be understood then is it right, according to Jenkins, to go for such a narrow pronunciation focus? I like Wells’ response to this… (more…)

Review: Great Writing

A couple of months ago we ran a two-week ‘Grammar and Writing’ course for teens (aged 14+). I was scheduled to teach these classes but, to be honest, the prospect didn’t fill me with excitement. I enjoy teaching teens in general, but it can be a real chore to motivate them at times. I couldn’t see developing writing skills being that inspiring, and grammar wasn’t exactly going to get them rocking up ten minutes before class in anticipation either.

Well, that was off the mark. There were only 6 students but they were pretty much engaged throughout the two weeks. They produced some excellent work and in a short time I honestly felt like they’d made quite a bit of progress. It’s so nice to actually see improvement in my context – with just two hours a week for each class you never really know what your real impact is. In this case, it seems tangible, and I think the coursebook played a role in that.

Overview

Great Writing 2 from National Geographic Learning is a densely packed 300 pages of introductory material on paragraph writing. It’s actually Book 3 of 6, in a series that covers the basics of sentence construction, spelling and composition, then moves on to paragraphs and a focus on constructing essays.

GW2 is aimed at intermediate level students. In the introduction (to the fourth edition) the authors state that ‘the language level is controlled as much as possible so that dedicated upper beginners and weak advanced students may also benefit from the instruction’. I wouldn’t exactly agree that the resource is accessible for a broad range of levels, more intermediate plus.

There are various vocab and grammar-related activities throughout the resource but the focus is very much on composition. It’s estimated that, depending on the amount of study outside class, the materials could stretch from 60-80 classroom hours. With deviations, additional grammar reviews where needed, more personalisation where necessary and ample time for freer practice (plus peer/self-editing), the book could be the main resource for a course of around 100 hours.

Contents of a unit

The general components for most units include…

Orientation to the writing focus – these are just as useful for teachers as they are for learners. Whatever the writing focus of a unit, this is made clear and fairly student-friendly explanations are provided (for intermediate level). Some of these are great as they make it easy to establish a success criteria for each skill – the list format of some mean they are a ready-made success checklist.

(more…)

Past continuous: sporting experiences

More football! Give me more football!

I heard it’s less than a month until the start of the Premier League season. Here’s more football related content for the post-World Cup/pre-PL football hungry students.

I wrote this to support materials on British Council Premier Skills English. It goes along with the content from a recent podcast which focused on using the past continuous.

You can find my basic resource here.

In an ideal world, this would be a listening, not a reading. If only there was another football mad teacher at my centre to help me bring these resources to life… (not so subtle hint to Rich McCully….!).

Topic: Describing sporting experiences

Language: past continuous

Level: B1 ish, but there’s some footie specific terms

Procedure

Get them chatting, access prior knowledge and all that…

A few gist questions for the reading. Answers in the resource. I wish this was a listening, would be much better. Still, it’s ok… (click to enlarge) (more…)

Tip: A planning matrix for research (Cohen et al, 2005)

I’ve been doing some research as part of my dissertation through NILE. I came across an awesome book by Cohen et al called ‘Research Methods in Education’. It wasn’t on our key reading list but I’d thoroughly recommend it.

If you’re looking for guidance on where to start when it comes to devising your own research project, Chapter 3 is what you’re looking for. It offers an overview of research styles and types of statistics. It then has this awesome ‘planning matrix for research’. It’s a series of 30 questions which cover orienting decisions, research design and methodology, data analysis and reporting results. Working your way through these questions will probably cover most bases when it comes to research design. It turns out that there was so much I didn’t pay attention to, but these questions helped me plan in far more depth. Here’s an example of the first few orienting questions…

As you can see, each question gives you quite a lot to think about. Anyhow, if you’re stuck for ideas and you need to think a project through in more detail, I’d go with this! Check out this link to the Routledge Companion Site and scroll down to Box 3.3.

feature image: pexels