materials writing

Materials writing news and views, Feb 2019

Thought I’d start sharing a semi-regular post on materials writing for those (semi-)interested. Just news, views, jobs I see and stuff. Whatever, don’t know yet!

9 ways to get noticed by an ELT publisher

This is a new blog post from Atena Juszko, ELT Editor. It has some really useful ideas and some good links. The ones for publisher blogs might be of interest to some. I do/have done most of the stuff on the list, but I shy away from presenting at conferences. I might do more in the future, who knows. Anyway, useful post. Atena mentioned an old post of mine about writing for ELT magazines – I saw a tweeter share this recent post from Tim Thompson on the same topic, which may be useful for those looking to build their presence in the industry.

Digital Learning Associates

I have an article coming up in ETPro about the benefits of having a LinkedIn account for materials writers. While that won’t sound particularly riveting to most, I had a useful ‘LinkedInteraction’ (see what I did there…?) last week. A new contact had some work with ‘Digital Learning Associates’ listed on their work history. I did some research on these guys and some speculative emailing. Turns out…

  • they are keen to hear from video narrators/editors in the industry, so get in touch if this is your thing
  • they have an online platform of video-based resources, which sounds good. They’re going to let me review it, so watch this space if interested
  • they produce quite a bit of video-based content for big publishers. I wondered where a lot of that came from…

Anyway, they look like a company worth checking out.

Leo Selivan webinar

I missed the Leo Selivan webinar this week. I was all geared up to watch it, then I decided to watch the second half of Spurs vs Leicester instead. It sounded like it would be a good one. I read a review/critique of Selivan’s work on Geoff Jordan’s blog the other month. In all honesty it was pretty damning, which made me want to watch the webinar to learn what all the fuss was about (I’m not familiar with Selivan’s approach tbh). IATEFL MaWSIG say they’ll be a link posted up this week to the recording, so watch this space.

Speaking of IATEFL webinars, there’s another materials-related one coming up:

Carol Lopes – ‘Diversity and inclusion in materials and / or the classroom’ (2nd March, 2pm GMT).

Dorothy Zemach

I watched this IATEFL 2018 plenary from Dorothy Zemach recently. If you missed it first time (like me), it’s really worth a watch.

Steve Brown plenary

Speaking of plenaries, Steve Brown’s plenary at #BBELT2019 was trending on Twitter the other day. This type of ‘break the status quo’, ‘those damn global publishers’ stuff always seems popular – I’d say most of us TEFL/TESOL teachers are a willing audience. Tyson Seburn’s summary tweet on a Steve Brown slide was interesting:

Fair points, although as I mentioned in a recent post, I’m not sure PARNSIP in coursebooks is actually as big an issue as people often make out.

Having said that, I’ve had some funny ‘no, because of PARSNIP’ feedback in the past. Once, when writing content on British pastimes, I wasn’t allowed to mention that pub quizzes actually took place in a pub. I also couldn’t mention that a fry-up included bacon, sausages or black pudding. That was a particularly PARSNIP-less project.

Peachey Publications

I’m sure most of you clocked this, but Nik Peachey is starting his own publishing company. You can read about it here. He says that over 400 writers have shown an interest in the project, which sounds promising.

Publishers Jobwatch

There were 3 Development Editor jobs advertised in the UK this month. One for Cambridge (Primary ELT, closed), one for Macmillan (closed) and the other is at Cengage (still open, click here).

My recent writing

I had some work writing Academic and Exam Skills booklets on the go before xmas. All finished, back from the designers and being piloted. They look pretty slick actually – good for the portfolio. I was going to continue this work as it’s fun to write, but I’m maxed out hours-wise. So much going on!

I’m working on various digital projects at the moment. Here’s an EDI-related resource I wrote before xmas too.

Topics not to include in your materials…

Parkour. Matt Noble was having a good old rant about it yesterday.

Marc Jones chimed in on the topic with ‘shoehorning edginess is just the pits’ which is a shame because shoehorning edginess pretty much sums up my writing career to date.

Peter Pun: shoehorning edginess since 2015

Check out the thread if you can – it gets pretty funny.

Language Fuel

I reviewed this new teacher development platform from Language Fuel recently. I just read that their new ELT Content Editor is Jill Hadfield (I know the name from Communication Games). I’ll keep my eye on how that platform develops.

ELI Publishing

Finally, a quick mention of ELI Publishing. They sent me a big box of stuff to review recently – it does look like their range of graded readers is good. Review of some content in general can be found here.

If you only check out one materials development-related thing this month…


Webinar notes: What about principles for materials development? (Brian Tomlinson)

Here is Brian Tomlinson’s recent webinar in written form: ‘What about principles for materials development?’ The session was delivered as part of the MaWSIG ‘What about…? Webinar series. It was full of take home points so this post is pretty long! (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. (more…)

The 8 stages of teaching my own materials

I sat down to plan a General English class for our adult learners to the other day. I say plan, more like adapt. We have an in-house set of lessons so there’s already a plan in place, but the lesson needs tweaking to suit the learners. Anyway, I opened up my lesson schedule and there it was – ‘Lesson 93 – English around the World’. Just another lesson for other teachers, but really significant for me. It was the first time ever I’d taught published materials that I’d actually wrote!

I’m teaching my own materials week in, week out. Sometimes a coursebook or other materials are dry so I either just adapt them or scrap them and write something else. Most of my colleagues do the same, it’s standard procedure. I’m happy to share the resources I make with other teachers, if they turn out to be any good that is! But this time it’s different. I was actually paid to write these materials, they are formally published as part of a regional syllabus across 15 countries, and teachers across the region are using them daily.

My first thought – pride. It’s so cool. It’s a real sense of achievement to see something you wrote looking all organised on a handout. It’s funny to read teachers notes with your inner voice and remember the actual voice who wrote it was you…! Sure, it’s also a bit of an ego boost I guess, but that happens.

My second thought – relief. Phew! It’s Lesson 93! It’s one of the 50 or so lessons I wrote that I was fairly pleased with.

Third – confusion. Man, what are all these documents?! There’s like a handout and teachers notes, that’s standard, plus a few cut-ups. Then there’s a sort of jigsaw reading task, a running dictation, some more cut ups or something. Blimey. I went overboard for sure. A lot of this must be optional. I better read my own notes. (more…)

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