materials writing

Writing pronunciation activities – 5 things to consider

I’ve written quite a few pronunciation activities this year for a regional product (Asia). Here are a few random thoughts on the process…

Pronunciation for… what?

As Laura Patsko mentions in this interesting Pedagogy Pop-up, pronunciation is important for all skills, not just speaking.

A lot of the pronunciation stages in our materials focus on connected speech. The aim of these activities (IMO) is more to help learners decode natural speech rather than to produce a certain pronunciation feature accurately themselves. Of course, it would be nice if they could do both…

If the purpose of a pronunciation activity isn’t clearly communicated to teachers (and to learners) then this could lead to either having the wrong expectations. There is always a production element in our pronunciation activities, but accurate production of a certain feature might not be the primary aim of an activity.

What problems do the learners have?

This year I’ve been writing a regional product. I’ve taught in 3 of the 15 or so countries where the materials are used. I’ve found it’s pretty tough to address the needs of every learner with a regional product. Resources like Swan’s Learner English have been really useful for understanding common pronunciation problems faced by learners across a region. It’s always worth asking other teachers too – I’m pretty sure that our teachers have taught across the whole region between them.

Of course, it’s worth asking the learners themselves what difficulties they have, but there are practical issues. It might be hard to do this across a whole region, plus they might not actually know what they have difficulties with! (more…)

The role of teaching materials – deficiency vs difference

I took a course on materials development recently. It was really good – plenty of input and ideas I could apply in my current context. Here’s a link to the course if you’re interested.

The role of teaching materials (as in externally produced ones like global coursebooks) is something we considered early on in the course. We came across a good article which talked about  perceptions of materials.

Allwright (1981) mentions two ways in which teaching materials are perceived. There’s the deficiency view, that ‘we need teaching materials to save learners from our deficiencies as teachers’ (ibid, pg. 6). This suggests that a writer holds expertise above the teacher – they know how to map a syllabus better or how to make sure activities are logically sequenced. Allwright points out that this leads to the idea of ‘teacher proof materials’ – it doesn’t matter how deficient you are, the quality of the teaching materials will get you through…

Alternatively, there’s the difference view. This is more respectful of both writer and teacher roles. It suggests that teaching materials are written by those with different expertise to teachers. Writers might be skilled in making principled decisions about materials design, but the teachers are equally skilled in delivering the materials effectively.

I’m not sure I’d use the term ‘deficient’ to describe myself or my teaching colleagues (!!!), but I can see what Allwright is getting at. When I was fresh off the CELTA I used to think the coursebook and its teacher’s notes were there to mask my inability to teach – I could never write anything better than what was already there. As my confidence and experience grew I began adapting coursebook materials more. I came to realise that without tweaking them to suit my context it was actually the materials that were deficient! So with experience I settled on this ‘difference’ view – someone has put together these (normally global) resources in what they feel is a principled way, but they need me to realise how they can work for my students. As the teacher I’m just as empowered as the writer…

Deficiency vs difference – what are your views?

This article is worth a read:

Allwright, R.L. ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal volume 36/1 Oct 1981

My TEFL articles

I’ve just uploaded a few of my articles to Scribd. Hopefully I’ll have more to add in the future… Click here for advice on writing for ELT magazines.

Here’s an article I wrote in July 2015 for ETp on error correction. It’s based on a series of observations I undertook for a DipTESOL assignment.

ETp again, November 2015. This was based on my independent research project for the DipTESOL. I designed my own supplementary materials based around various Google products.

ETp, May 2016. An article about my blog. Might be useful if you’re thinking of setting up your own ELT blog.


Evaluating course books – checklists

I’m currently studying a module in Materials Development through NILE online. It’s a really worthwhile course so far!

Unit two talked about evaluating materials, specifically course books. We were introduced to a range of checklists that could be used for evaluating a course book, and discussed the pros and cons of each. I can’t imagine everyone would find this topic interesting, but it was really topical for me – in the same week I was given a checklist to evaluate our new course book for teen classes. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on our own evaluation process and suggest some changes if necessary…

What makes a good checklist?

We looked at about six different checklists that were listed in McGrath (2002). In some of my jobs I’ve completed evaluations like this one from Harmer (1991:281) (more…)

Some thoughts on authentic listening materials

I’ve been a materials writer for 2 months now. It’s about time I started reflecting on it. I haven’t had time to do so as it’s a very busy role – hence the lack of blog activity.

I’m currently writing lessons for a functional, task-led syllabus. There’s a strong focus on speaking, listening and pronunciation. Each lesson has a listening text (well, bout 90% of them do) which is a model for the main task that students complete during a lesson. Target language and target pronunciation features (normally suprasegmental) all appear in the listening text. The text itself is commercially produced, by which I mean I write it, it’s kind of semi-authentic.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the nature of these listening materials since starting the job (and even since teaching the product). I’m trying to decide whether I’m pro- or anti- when it comes to these semi-authentic materials, or whether I need to have either stance. Here are a few of my thoughts. (more…)