Writing a rationale for your materials

In a previous post about writing samples for publishers I mentioned including a rationale.

I can’t say for sure that publishers welcome this. Maybe they just want to look at your sample materials and judge for themselves whether you’ve got the skills they need. A rationale might just be unnecessary/annoying fluff.

I can only share my own experience, which is this: nearly every time I’ve written a sample that included a rationale, I got the writing gig. AND the rationale was usually mentioned. At the very least, the commissioning editor acknowledged it, and at best they engaged with it to an extent that we had a worthwhile email exchange about the approach taken.

What type of stuff do I include in a rationale? Well, I’ve sharpened things up of late, and my understanding of/views on writing are always evolving. But as an example, I’ll share one of my earlier rationales with you in case it’s useful in some way.

Here’s the rationale I sent to Onestopenglish to accompany my Lesson Share winning materials a few years ago. Here’s a link to the resource itself if you want more context. I’m sharing this example as it was for an open competition, not for paid work (correspondence would deffo be confidential in that case). However, I approach most rationales in a similar way.

[begin]

Rationale for lesson

Hi, I’m Pete. I teach, write materials and also blog at www.eltplanning.com

I enjoy using authentic texts in class, especially fiction. This does not feature often in coursebooks, and where it does appear can be graded to account for learner level. I understand the need for such a process, but I also feel that learners need to experience authentic English written for an audience who are proficient in the language. The benefits of this are wide-ranging:

• it’s great for vocabulary building

• it helps develop knowledge of text and literary styles, which may differ between languages

• it is challenging, so it follows in many instances that it is rewarding

Etc.

Primarily, it gives learners exposure to English written exactly how the author intended it.

This year I’ve been experimenting in class with Brian Tomlinson’s text-driven approach (e.g. 2013). You can view my blog post here for a brief refresher on the approach.

Tomlinson’s style has its pros and cons – it can be highly engaging for learners and really puts the text at the forefront of the lesson. Tomlinson suggests that the approach is underpinned by SLA theory, and he does attempt to address some areas in his work which many coursebook-driven approaches (arguably) omit – cognitive engagement, use of inner speech, visual imaging*, and developing thinking skills to name a few.

Personally, I feel Tomlinson’s work could function well alongside structure-based approaches, and I’m surprised that it doesn’t feature in more supplementary resources. One reason why it doesn’t is probably the need for authentic texts. With this in mind, I’ve tried my hand at story writing. I don’t do this often – I’m hoping you don’t read my story and think ‘Yes, we can see why!” (Haha!)

The story

This story is highly topical at the moment. There’s lots of talk of the merging between AI and humans. It feels like we’re at a stage where digital technology is edging closer and closer to being truly implanted. With the lesson aimed at teens, as digital natives** I can see this being an interesting and engaging topic for them. The story is also vocabulary rich and includes tonnes of thematic language – that wasn’t an intentional thing, it just emerged as I was building the lesson.

The lesson

I haven’t called the stages in this lesson exactly what Tomlinson mentions, but they do follow his approach:

Prepare: This aligns with Tomlinson’s ‘Readiness activities’, which help orientate learners to the text and explore content and themes without actually encountering the text yet.

Explore: These, similar to the above in a way, relate to Tomlinson’s ‘Experiential activities’.

Listen: This section is broken up into 3 parts and is full of Intake response activities. There is flexibility in this stage – teachers can select and reject certain activities if they only want to focus on certain aspects/skills or if time is limited.

Develop: this is a chance for learners to continue the text (Tomlinson refers to the stage as Development activities)

Language Focus: This is Tomlinson’s ‘Input response’ stage. I have used this stage to pick out parts of the text and explore the language the author has used. This will help learners upgrade their story and align it more with the writer’s style (bit weird that the writer is me though!)

Redevelop: this is the second development stage in Tomlinson’s model, where learners apply what they learned in the Language Focus.

Level

I’ve suggested that this resource would suit B2+. A lot of the language is perhaps higher, which might be expected of an authentic text. But the context is there, it is relevant and purposeful and is a chance for rich exposure to thematic vocab. B2 might struggle with some tasks, C1 would make it their own I imagine. I prefer to pitch it at B2 as that way I can be assured that learners will be challenged.

Teacher support

With methods like this you can run the risk of not meeting with teacher approval. A lot of teachers I know like methods that are familiar, so not actually doing any language input until late in the second hour of a lesson might not go down well! However, it is not as if the learners don’t benefit from the exploratory work and listening/reading practice they will undertake in the earlier stages of the lesson. I would personally urge teachers to try this method – I find it engages learners and it is actually engaging to teach too! 

I have provided teacher notes that are more procedural and wordy than I would like. I feel this is a weaker part of the materials, however it is there for teacher support if needed.

That’s a little bit about why I’ve chosen this particular approach. If you need further clarification or info on my approach to various stages just let me know.

[end]

*can’t remember either. Funny way to phrase it.

**I don’t really buy that ‘digital natives‘ stuff as much now although I was reading a few articles on it at the time.

So, there you have it. Basically, I like to save publishers the time of trying to get into my head by doing it for them! Should the resources themselves be pretty self-explanatory without all this?! Ha – maybe I just like a ramble.

What exactly do I want publishers to think of me when they read my rationales? Hmmm, maybe that I care about what I’m doing, and who I’m ultimately doing it for.

What they probably think instead is ‘blimey, this guy likes the sound of his own voice!’ Still, it’s worked so far, and if it ain’t broke…

If other writers come across this post, please let us know:

Do you include a rationale with your writing samples?

Do you think rationales are pointless?!

Do your rationales follow a set style?



Categories: General, materials writing

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