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Archive for the ‘Materials, Activities and Ideas’ Category

Memorisation activities

I put together this selection of memorisation activities for a CELTA course at LangLTC in Warsaw and thought it would be a good idea to share the activities here too. The activities can be used:

  • after error correction
  • to help students fix bits of new language in their heads before they need to produce it at a later stage in the lesson
  • to exploit decontextualised sentences, for example from a gapfill
  • to improve students’ confidence with bits of language
  • as learner training – once they’ve learnt them, a lot of the activities are things they can try themselves or with fellow students, without needing a teacher to set them up

They are taken from various wonderful people I’ve worked with in the past, plus a couple of my own ideas. If you think there are any that should be credited differently, please let me know. It would also be great if you could add your own ideas for activities in the comments. Enjoy!

Draw your sentence

Aims: To exploit students’ creativity. To personalise language.

Use this after students do a controlled practice exercise or study a new set of vocabulary.

  1. Students fold a piece of A4 paper into 8 boxes and put small numbers in the corner, like so:
1 2 1 2
3 4 3 4
  1. On the left half of the paper only (which should have 4 boxes), they illustrate four of the sentences/words in any way they choose, one per box. They shouldn’t write the sentence/word.
  2. Everyone puts the original sentences/words away.
  3. Give them the paper from another group. On the right-hand side of the paper, they should write the corresponding sentence/word.
  4. The original group corrects their answers and gives them feedback.

Mini books

A more high-tech version of ‘draw your sentence’, via Luke Raymond. Use this video to help you make your book:

  1. Page 1 (the front cover) shows the target word/sentence. Each student should have a different item.
  2. The book is passed to student B who draws a picture on page 2 to represent the target language.
  3. Student C looks at the picture and writes the word/sentence they think it is on page 3, without looking back to page 1. They fold the book so page 3 now becomes the front cover.
  4. The process is repeated until the book is finished.
  5. Much hilarity ensues as the students see the way the language has been illustrated and how it has changed throughout the book.

Students love the ‘Chinese whispers/telephone’ nature of this game 🙂

What do you mean you didn’t read the sentences?

Via Olga Stolbova

Aims: To encourage students to notice context. To make them aware of gaps in their language.

Use this after students do a gapfill exercise.

  1. Check the answers by writing them on the board (just the answers, not the complete sentence).
  2. Students put away the original exercise.
  3. They look at the answers on the board and have to recreate the original sentences. Expect protests! 🙂 Encourage them to write whatever they can remember, even if it’s just isolated words or phrases.
  4. If they’re really struggling/When you start feeling sympathetic, give them one minute to look at the exercise without writing anything, then close their books again and continue to work on reproducing the sentences.
  5. Students compare their recreated sentences to the originals. What were the differences?
  6. Optional extra evilness: put away the sentences you’ve just rewritten. Now say them all to your partner./Write them all again. You can also do this at the end of the lesson when they’ve done other things in between.

If students are depressed that they can’t remember everything, tell them you don’t expect this. I normally say that I want them to remember about 80% of the sentences immediately (with some effort), and about 50% by the end of the lesson, once we’ve done a few other things and they’ve had time to forget. It can be useful to show them the forgetting curve too.

Vocabulary revision game

Via Anette Igel

Aim: To revise vocabulary covered in previous lessons.

  1. Give each group a stack of small pieces of scrap paper (about 1/8 of A4 in size).
  2. They should write the English word/phrase on one side, and put either the translation, definition or example sentence on the other side. The game can also be played with word/vocabulary cards if this is something you use with your students.
  3. To create counters, rip one piece of small scrap into coin sized pieces. They write a letter or draw a symbol on each to indicate which is theirs. Alternatively, they can use any small item they can find (e.g. a paperclip, pen lid, etc).
  4. The final thing they need to prepare the game is either a coin, or a scrap paper ‘coin’, which can be made by folding another small piece up into a tight square, then writing ‘heads’ on one side and ‘tails’ on the other.
  5. The words should be arranged in a circle to create a game track. All of the counters should be placed on the same word to start.
  6. One player flips the coin. Heads = 2, tails = 1. To help them remember which is which, H has two legs, T has one leg. They move 1 or 2 spaces around the circle. When they land, they can do one of two things:
    1. If the word/phrase is face up, say the translation, definition or example sentence.
    2. If the translation/definition/example sentence is face up, say the word/phrase.
  7. In either case, if they are correct, they turn the card over and stay there. If they are wrong, they turn the card over and go back to where they started the turn.

The winner is the person who has moved furthest around the circle at the end of a specified time.

Back translation/Reverse translation

Aims: To help students notice differences between L1 and L2. To help them notice gaps in their language.

  1. Select one sentence per pair or ask students to choose one. Sentences could be from controlled practice exercises, tapescripts, reading, sentences produced by students…
  2. Each pair translates their sentences from English into L1. For multilingual groups, they work alone.
  3. Either: give the sentence to another pair immediately (if they share a language) OR take sentences away and return them to the same person/pair in the following lesson.
  4. Students translate the L1 sentence back into English.
  5. They then compare their English version to the original, and notice any differences. The teacher’s job is to point out whether the students’ English version is still acceptable, and to help them understand any mistakes or differences in meaning. Though it obviously helps, you don’t need to speak L1 to do this activity.

This could also be set up as a mingle activity. Student A says their L1 sentence, student B says it in English, then student B says their L1 sentence and A says it in English. If they get it wrong, the ‘L1’ student should say ‘No, try again.’ until they get it right. My students seem to get a lot out of this, especially with language that differs structurally from Polish, like verb + gerund/infinitive.

Drill, drill, drill

Aims: To improve student confidence before speaking. To help students internalise the language.

There are hundreds of ways to drill new language.

  • Point at words/flashcards, moving rapidly between them and returning to problem words often.
  • Whisper, shout, go slow, speed up, say it like an old lady/Arnold Schwarzenegger, be happy/excited/sad.
  • Boys and girls, call and response (e.g. half say question, half answer).
  • What’s missing? Students close eyes/turn around. You remove one or more flashcards/words.
  • Disappearing text (good for dialogues): start with the whole dialogue on the board. Gradually remove parts of it, either a line at a time or leaving behind key words, with students repeating it multiple times.
  • Key word drills (good for functional language): draw a table with numbered cells. Put one word from each sentence in each cell e.g. for the phrases How about going to the cinema?  What about seeing a film? Let’s watch a film. you could have:
    1. How    2. What    3. Let
    They say the phrase from memory. They can test each other by saying the number and their partner saying the sentence. Removing the words (but not the numbers!) increases the level of challenge. Follow up: can you remember all the phrases without looking?
  • Mingle: students have one picture/word each. They mingle, show their paper to their partner who has to say the correct word/phrase. To add challenge, they swap after each turn.
  • Circle drill: pass a flashcard around the circle. Each person says it in turn. You can also turn it into a dialogue e.g. Receiving student: What’s the weather like today? Passing student: It’s sunny. To add challenge, time the class to see how long it takes to pass around the whole circle, then repeat faster.

Some important things to remember are:

  • Make sure students know the meaning of the language before the drill.
  • Choral > group > individual. Don’t put students on the spot too early.
  • Model language naturally: you need to sound like a stuck record. It’s easy to overstress when correcting.
  • Keep the pace up. Add variety wherever possible. For example, can they drill it in pairs and listen to each other?

Mini challenges

Many of these can be done as pairwork after a teacher demonstration. Some are useful for fast finishers too.

  • Say all of the new vocabulary/sentences from the exercise as fast as you can to your partner.
    You can do this before drilling as a test, so that you only drill language students struggle with.
  • Can you remember the word/sentence before X on the list?
    If students really struggle, give them 1 minute to look and remember before doing the exercise.
  • How many of the words from the page can you write alone in two minutes? Compare with a partner.
    This can be at the end of a lesson after lots of work with the language, or at the start of the next class.
  • Mistake sentences: read the sentence with a mistake and students correct it.
    Mistakes could be false friends, articles, tenses (especially ones where connected speech confuses)…
  • Pause sentences: read a sentence but pause in the middle of the collocation. Do students know what comes next?
    Good for improving the ability to predict upcoming language when listening. 


Quizlet is an easy-to-use website which allows you to create lots of activities for the price of one – add some vocabulary and you immediately have about 6 games, plus the ability to print flashcards for lots more. For a full guide to how to use Quizlet and create your own content on there, plus links to level-specific groups, see – it’s a bit out-of-date as the site has changed it’s layout, but most of what’s on there still holds. If you have at least 6 devices (phones, tablets etc) in your classroom, you can also play Quizlet Live – my students absolutely love it!


Quizlet Live with a room of 40+ teachers

Quizlet Live with a room of 40+ teachers in Kazakhstan

What are your favourite memorisation activities?

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: In the classroom

As I find myself moving more towards management, training and materials writing, my choices at a conference involve fewer practical classroom ideas, but there will always be some! Here are a few I picked up at this year’s IATEFL conference.

My classroom

A classroom I’ve studied in

Grammar in the context of task: what, how and why? (Jane Willis)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about task-based learning over the last six months or so, following on from doing the Coursera ‘Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task-Based Approach’ MOOC, so I was eager to see Jane Willis talking about how to deal with language within this approach. She worked through an abbreviated version of a task cycle with us, which went something like this:

  • How do YOU feel about storms? Think of 2-3 phrases to describe one experience you’ve had.
  • Was it a positive or negative experience? Weigh it up with your partner, then report back to the group.
  • Think about what causes thunderstorms. How would you explain thunder to a child?
  • Read a discussion between two people about their experiences of storms, and an article about how thunderstorms happen.

At this point Jane gave us a whole range of tasks which we could do with the two texts. For example:

  • Compare your/your partner’s reactions to the reactions of Rachael and Eric. Do you have anything in common with them?
  • What about places you/they like to be during a storm?
  • Create diagrams to illustrate the text. Compare them to the original diagrams which appeared with the text.
  • Read and adapt your diagrams to better illustrate this text, to make it more accessible for younger readers.

Once you’ve dealt with meaning, you can then begin to focus on form. Jane’s framework shows the two stages, meaning in green, form in red:

You can plan to focus on form before the lesson, not just base it on student mistakes. To generate additional lexis that could be used as input material, google ‘How do you feel about storms?‘, and gather phrases into a brainstorm. There are a lot of aspects of grammar which you could focus on, for example:

  • Grammar of structure
    • clauses: noun + verb + ?
    • the noun group e.g. electric current
    • order of adjectives
    • adverbial phrases in a clause
    • verb phrases (e.g. question forms)

‘I go north bus week’ could be grammared/oriented in various ways as ‘pointers’ to show time, place and identity, using points from the list above. The actual sentence from the conversation on the handout was ‘I was just, erm, going up north in a bus to Durham last week.’ Other possible areas to focus on include:

  • Text-building devices
    • articles
    • logical connectors
    • reference chains
  • Pattern grammar
    • lexical phrases
    • syntactic frames with common words e.g. At the end of the day

These areas are all drawn from Rules, Patterns and Words [affiliate link] by Dave Willis. I know that my grouping here doesn’t reflect the book properly, as it was hard for me to keep up!

Here are some ideas for activities:

  • Consciousness-raising activities
    • Identify and classify ways of expressing
      • Reactions to storms
      • Location
      • Quantity
      • Movement
    • Identify + classify structural features
      • Verb/noun phrases
      • Adverbials (ending in-ly)
      • Phrases with common words(e.g. be/being, in)
    • Hypothesis building and checking e.g. is as long as like if?
    • Compare structures between languages

You can get at the verb phrases by looking for items like -ly or through the grammar of orientation. Use the word as ‘bait’ e.g. use the word ‘I’ to find all the expressions of opinion. To get at clauses, focus on as, when, what, or sentences with two verbs. [Using a word as bait was probably my favourite idea from the entire conference!] These can then be turned into specific form-focussed activities, for example:

  • For the conversation:
    • Listen/read to find 9 phrases describing reactions to storms. How might you classify them? e.g. They’re fine as long as…
    • Find 7 phrases with words ending in -ly. Say them out loud. Where does the main stress fall?
    • Find 5 phrases with be and being. What verbs do they often follow?
    • Find all phrases beginning with I. Which ones are typical of spontaneous speech?
  • For the more scientific text:
    • Label your diagrams. Adapt phrases from the text.
    • Find 7 phrases denoting movement and classify them.
    • Find 7 phrases denoting change of state.
    • How many phrases are about temperature?
    • How many phrases are about size?
    • Put these into two structural categories: sound wave, water vapour, warm air, electrical charge. Find more to add to your list, including longer ones. (n+n, adj+n)
    • What rises? sinks? bumps into? fills up with? occurs? Revises noun groups and adds verbs.

Jane suggested focussing more on noun groups in the scientific text, and said that comparing the way these noun groups work in L1 could be beneficial. You can also tell students beforehand that they’re going to test each other on the specified area: this makes them read much more carefully.

In the workshop, Jane asked us to identify some of the features above in the text, and plan scaffolding tasks for the learners. Every group came up with something very different, all in just five minutes. The workshop made me feel much more confident about the range of ways you can exploit a single text, and how quick and easy it can be to put together a series of scaffolded tasks for learners to work with.

The final stage was reporting back to the whole class. Some groups did it orally, and others made notes on a Post-it. By planning to report, you repeat the task, and sort your language out a bit more, especially if you do the report in writing.

Ultimately, as Jane says, the goal of task-based language teaching is exposure, use, motivation and engagement, with lots of doable, engaging tasks, prompting lots of language use.

If you’d like to find out more about TBLT, you could try the #tbltchat hashtag on Twitter, or contact Jane directly through her website.

You can find more information about consciousness-raising activities and how to select language for a focus on form on Jane Willis’s website.

ELT and social justice: opportunities in a time of chaos (JJ Wilson)

JJ is a coursebook writer and blogger, and he writes fiction about social justice issues. You can watch his full plenary or read my summary below. There’s also an interview with JJ recorded after his plenary.

All education begins with what we bring to the classroom.

Compliant students answer the teacher’s questions. Engaged students ask their own.

He told us about Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed [affiliate link], a book which he found very influential because it gave him the language and theory to talk about his teaching. Freire taught English to illiterate peasant farmers in the north-east of Brazil in 1950s. He taught with what they brought to class, and was imprisoned for his troubles. One of the things Freire was interested in was praxis: the act of putting theory into action. He also talked about the idea of the teacher as a co-learner.

Social justice is culturally specific, constantly changing, and affects all areas of human life. It is “a world which affords individuals and groups fair treatment and an impartial share of the benefits of society”. But what does social justice have to do with ELT? It depends on your view of the educator’s role in society. If you think they can change things, then it’s something we should be addressing in our classrooms. JJ went on to suggest a range of ways we could do this:

  • Draw a quick picture to illustrate an issue you feel passionate about, then discuss it.
  • Use images to connect students to other areas and issues. One example of suitable images is Reuters classrooms from around the world. The Washington Post has separate images with captions. You can supplement this with a globe to help students see where the images are from. In a world with Google Maps, I think a globe is still a useful tool – it’s much easier to see relationships when the whole world is in front of you in 3D.
    • Talk about the images using statements starting ‘I wonder…’
    • Turn the ‘I wonder…’ statements into questions and categorise them e.g. materials, classrooms
    • Each category is colour-coded. One group discusses each colour, then they work with one person from each group to pool their ideas.
    • Finally, they talk about their ideal classroom.
  • Use poetry:
    • Read and repeat, with students copying each line.
    • Read a poem, then write your own version of it.

I am from the immensity of the world.

  • Use drama. This is based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, and his book Games for actors and non-actors [affiliate link], which JJ recommends as a source for these activities. It encourages the audience to come up with the resolution of the story. He invented ‘spectactors’ and ‘gamesercises’.
  • Use social justice projects, like Nick Bilbrough’s Hands Up Project.
  • Use visits. A child once asked their teacher ‘Where does the trash go?’ The teacher took the class to a landfill. As a result, the class started a recycling project which continues today.
  • Use stories. Despite all the technology we have, stories are the thing that lasts – they are as old as mankind. Use stories of ordinary people doing great things to bring social justice into your classroom and show resilience. Why do we need stories of rich white people saving the world, when there are so many stories of people saving themselves? I like this story of the junk orchestra in Paraguay.

If you’re interested in finding out more about social justice and how to incorporate it in your classroom, you might want to join IATEFL’s Global Issues Special Interest Group.

Blogposts following JJ’s plenary:

Creating challenge for the teenage classroom (Niki Joseph)

Teens are surrounded by the concept of challenge, in advertising, on social media and more. They expect it. Everybody can achieve an instagram challenge like these, especially teenagers! How can we bring these ideas into the classroom? Some audience suggestions:

  • Choose a word of the day, they make a picture to share and illustrate it.
  • Post an image of a new word everyday for 10 days and tag 10 people to do the same (though be aware of online safety)
  • Post a picture to illustrate the next unit of the book.

Encourage students to discuss challenge. For example, show them three photos: a chess game, a snowboarder and a teen doing a presentation. Ask them which photo best represents challenge and which one they would find most challenging. Is challenge something you only want to engage in if you’re interested in it? If you care about it? Moments of challenge need to be achievable and can involve reflection and creativity.

Try a KWL chart: I know, I want to know, I learned. Students fill in the first two columns before an activity, and the last one afterwards. This helps them to notice what they got out of it.

Another way to approach photos is with the Visible Thinking see-think-wonder routine. Once students have used this a few times, they’ll always have it in reserve if they’re asked to talk about a picture, particularly useful for exam candidates. Jo Budden also suggests using the routine kind of in reverse: one student looks at a picture and describes it using STW, and the other should try to find the same image using Google.

Ask students to describe a photo or experience in a single word. For further challenge, add parameters e.g. choose 3-syllable words, a food, words starting with B to describe X. To follow up, find somebody whose word begins with same letter or categorise the words.

Fast finishers who have nothing to do can cause classroom management problems. A fast finisher folder can be really useful: fill it with lots of extra activities: grammar, vocab, creative writing activities etc. It could also be an online folder. Students should know that they can start anytime, but they finish when the class resumes. The answers should be in the folder too, so that students can self-correct. I’m never sure about whether this kind of thing will actually work. I suppose it might if you’re doing lots of long tasks, but for the bitesize activities I often use, fast finishers are more usefully occupied in tasks which don’t require them to look elsewhere, for example remember a sentence from an exercise, turn over your book and write it out from memory.

Niki suggested include taking a sentence from an exercise and creating a context for it (much more useful!), encourage students to replace words with other possible ones, e.g. nouns for nouns, adjectives for adjectives, or rewrite the sentence so it begins with another word, in this case ‘cycling’. They could also rephrase it to make it more emphatic. For pronunciation: say it as many different ways as you can, for example in a tired, excited, angry…way.

After the presentation, Sarah Priestley shared this link:

Tweets from other sessions

(though you might have to ask David exactly how it works!)

These tweets are from a session by Anna Young on adapting writing tasks from coursebooks:

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Listening and pronunciation

Since I did an assessed lesson based on listening for my Delta, I’ve been interested in finding out more ways to help my students develop their listening skills. I even did a presentation on it myself at IATEFL Harrogate 2014, heavily influenced by John Field’s Listening in the Language Classroom [affiliate link]. Richard Cauldwell’s book Phonology for listening: Teaching the stream of speech [another affiliate link!] has also been very useful in helping me to understand why it can be so difficult for learners to decode fluent connected speech. I was therefore very pleased to be able to attend presentations given by both John and Richard during this IATEFL. The other presentations summarised in this post were from the Forum on Listening.

Listening attentively

Still my favourite listening picture…

I haven’t tried to summarise Jane Setter’s plenary on intonation for two reasons: 1. I couldn’t get it all into tweets, 2. to fully appreciate the intonation differences, you really need to watch/listen to it yourself! You can also watch an interview with Jane recorded after the plenary. I definitely feel like I understand intonation and how to teach it much better now! Sue Swift also wrote about the plenary at ELT Notebook.

Listening: ways out of the fog (John Field)

John started by telling us that he has been ‘worrying about listening for the last 34 years’.

The typical comprehension approach starts with pre-listening and activating schemata, something that doesn’t reflect real life. We also don’t pre-teach vocabulary in real life, so it’s counter-productive in training. The next step is to set questions to target listening, then play the recording, check answers, and replay key sections (providing answers as we go). However, this approach doesn’t actually train learners to become better listeners.

(not a great picture, I know, but it shows why the student thought the answer to a question was ‘crack’, when in fact it was ‘nature reserves’ – they misheard the word ‘attract’ in the stream of speech)

John thinks that we can get a lot more out of the comprehension approach. We should forget about activating schemata and pre-teaching vocabulary, as these don’t happen in real life, though we should quickly introduce students to the context and the number of speakers, as they would normally know this, e.g. two people talking on a bus.

It isn’t usually the script that causes the problem, it’s the recording. The item writer is not involved in the recording. Tasks also need to be carefully thought out, as we give away in writing a lot of what’s in the recording, and encourage test-wise strategies, rather than strategies for general listening. To improve their approach, the teacher needs to prepare the listening in detail – using the script WITH the recording. What’s perceptually difficult?

There should be a first play for SS adjust to speakers’ voices, listening globally without the pressure of questions, and without using questions to guess in advance what they’re likely to hear. If you’re going to use questions, set them before the second listen, so that they don’t interfere with the learners’ perceptions the first time they hear the text. Check and DIAGNOSE reasons for learners’ answers, then replay parts identified by you AND students as perceptually difficult. Transcribe short sections, especially if they are particularly problematic. Listeners are individuals, each with their own problems with a recording, and these change over time and with experience. If you can afford it, provide a listening centre where listeners can work on their own problems individually. Give learners a transcript at the end of the lesson and ask them to listen again. Set listening homework. Though my students almost never do it – I need to have more engaging tasks and clearer developmental reasons for them to do it!

Do we need better materials? YES! New writers often don’t have a clear idea of what a skills approach is. Materials should take pressure off the teacher, guiding them, and focussing on the difficult parts of the recording. Field suggests open-ended questions, so the class can talk about possible answers. Sometimes you could use short clips with a single question, instead of the more normal long excerpts with multiple questions. You could also embed oral questions in the script rather than written questions to stay within the same modality (so have the speaker ask a question, then pause for answer).  Materials should demonstrate a better understanding of the processes that underlie successful listening and design questions to target them.

We also need to understand better what it is we’re actually teaching! When you listen you:

  1. decode sounds
  2. search for words
  3. parse (grammar)
  4. construct meaning
  5. construct discourse

Sometimes context makes us distort the phonemes we think we’ve heard to make it fit the context. To handle the speech signal, we have to adjust to speaker’s voice (pitch, speech rate etc), then match the set of squeaks/buzzes we hear to the sound system of English. But do phonemes really exist? They are so variable, maybe they don’t. This echoes Richard Cauldwell – see below. To handle words, we have to divide connected speech, recognise spoken word forms, link them to what’s know about the topic. To parse, we must hold in our heads the words which have already been said, recognise grammatical patterns, and work out the word’s sense in it’s co-text. To construct meaning, we have to put what we’ve heard into a wider context, interpret new information in relation to this, infer information the speaker has taken for granted, and link words like he/she/it to what they refer to. This is followed by putting it into wider discourse (I couldn’t keep up at this stage!) There’s an awful lot going on!

How does this knowledge help us? An expert listener does these things automatically, but L2 listeners need lots of effort to do each of these things, so it can be hard for them to form the ‘big picture’ of what they’re listening to. Up to about B1, learners have to give a lot of attention to decoding at word level, limiting their ability to tap into wider meaning (I’ve definitely found this with Polish). Strategy instruction should therefore mainly be done with lower-level learners to equip them with the fact that they often can’t make wider sense of what they’re hearing. Strategy training helps them with real-world situations and to compensate for gaps in text. Lower-level learners needs process training and strategies training to fill in gaps.

You can use the same audio, but vary the task to target any of the five levels of listening.

We should also vary the levels of our strategies instruction:

A syllabus for listening: less top-down! More bottom-up (Richard Cauldwell)

Richard relishes fast, messy speech and tries to find ways to help learners understand it. His CoolSpeech app was an ELTons 2013 winner for digital innovation, and he is currently in the process of writing a follow-up to Phonology for listening: Teaching the stream of speech [affiliate link] which will provide a clear syllabus for listening for language teachers to work from.

All words have multiple sound shapes. Decoding is the skill of recognising words in the sound substance (or ‘fog’ in John Field’s words). The sound substance is the acoustic blur of speech, which exits the mouth, travels through the air, and hits the ear. It’s what exists before perception.

Richard uses a metaphor for different speeds and qualities of speech. The greenhouse is the place for citation forms. In the garden, sounds touch each other gently through the basic rules of connected speech. In the jungle, wild things happen and all bets are off. He argues there are different goals for pronunciation (clarity/intelligibility) and listening (understanding fast, messy, authentic speech).

Teachers tend to brush the mess of sound under the carpet, so even CPE Grade A students have ‘can’t do’ listening points. Every word has a ‘word cloud’: a range of possible word shapes in fluent speech, of which the citation form is the least likely.

The examples of ‘and’ above were all taken from a single conversation, with only one instance of it even vaguely approaching the citation form.

Here are just some of the changes which can happen in fluent speech (in the jungle):

  • Consonant death: this can appear in many ways e.g. that changes to ‘at
  • d’eth drop: anenatwasat– no ‘th’s (instead of and that was that)
  • B-drop/B-soft – often happens with adverbs e.g. superbly – the ‘b’ can be lost or very soft
  • Smoothie: when diphthongs/long vowels change to just one of their elements: like > læ

There were a lot more, but I just couldn’t keep up!

To help student, we need to delve below the word that is meant to the sound substance itself – what sounds were actually produced. Field and Thorn both advocate using short clips to help students focus (see ‘the bathtub experiment’ below too). Audacity is the best tool to help you break up the stream of speech.

Try this activity: replace the ‘i’ with each of the vowel sounds in the image. This helps students to prepare for different possible ‘shapes’ and accents:

Or take a phrase for a walk in the jungle, and give your students an earworm to take home with them:

The earworm should be short term, memory length, annoying, and stick in their head to prepare them for perception. I sometimes wake up with words or phrases like this in my head from foreign languages.

Have students listen along with an audio, and when they get to the most important part of it (the ‘wave’), get them to speak along with it (‘ride the wave’):

If you’d like to find out more, have a look at Richard’s website.

After the conference, I noticed that Richard shared Tubequizard as a link on his handout – it’s an excellent way to help students to focus on connected speech.

Adventures in listening: the bathtub experiment (Marie Willoughby)

Marie teaches students who attend full-time classes at IH London. She finds her students only get so far with listening before they begin to disengage. Sheila Thorn inspired Marie to start trying different ways of approaching listening in the classroom, and after listening to an episode of the The Moth podcast, she realised she had the perfect material to use, talking about a man who sailed across the English Channel in a bathtub. The only problem was that it was 17 minutes long! Marie decided to break it into a series of mini episodes, each with a cliffhanger. She then used these over a series of lessons.

Marie found that the best texts to use as episodes have a clear narrative, but are outside normal experience. In this case, pure sound is better than video, as students are more invested in understanding what they’re hearing, and will therefore try harder to apply the decoding strategies. If they have pictures to help them, they don’t need to work so hard to apply the strategies. Once she had the episode, she asked two questions: What stops them underrstanding? What will help them understand later?

First, they always listened with no task, then worked together to co-construct the text with other students. They then moved on to focussing on a particular decoding strategy, which students were then able to apply in later lessons. By using short excerpts in small chunks you have time to pause and get students to consider the language in  more detail. For example:

  • Decode past perfect v. past simple when listening, first as a gapfill with a section they were familiar with, then listening to the next part of the story and saying what they heard.
  • Say why a speaker would choose one particular phrase, or why they would repeat it.
  • Listen to his description of a problem. Draw it on mini whiteboards.
  • The storyteller talked about English/French attitudes to each other, so Marie asked them to research it, after which the students understood the jokes better.
  • Vocab was a problem, especially familiar words in a new context, so she got students to listen and complete a sentence, then think about the meaning.

What are the benefits of using an ‘adventure in episodes’? There’s no need to reset context or activate genre knowledge each time. Prediction is a natural part of listening to such a story. The students were really motivated to find out what happened next. Intensive decoding work really bore fruit – they were invested in doing detailed intensive listening work. It also developed their autonomy.

I really like this idea, especially for summer school or 121 lessons, though I think it could take quite a lot of work to prepare. It reminds me of my French teacher introducing us to the French musical version of Roméo et Juliette, with us listening to one song each week and trying to follow the story. You could also use the BBC Short Cuts or Listening Project podcasts. Of course, once you have it for one adventure, they don’t date much, so you should have it for the future. If teachers share this kind of thing on blogs, you could have examples to draw from. If you choose to do this, please share the link below!

Listening using smart devices: effects on student interaction and autonomy (Clive Shaw)

The conventional classroom layout has speakers at the front, but Clive wanted to know what happens if we change where students/teachers are in the room. If the teacher is in control, it’s not easy to monitor, and students don’t have much of an opportunity to work on their own listening strategies. It’s also difficult for students to transition from the controlled environment of the classroom to the unguided environment of the lecture hall (Clive works in EAP – I think this is true all the time, and this prompted by IATEFL Harrogate presentation).

Clive investigated how listening from a smartphone changed the dynamic, encouraged autonomy and gave students the opportunity to employ strategies. He designed the materials based on two sources: taken from YouTube or by creating his own recordings. To get the recordings to the students he used TubeChop for YouTube and Audioboom for his own recordings, then a link shortener (my preferred one is Recognising that these took longer to prepare than coursebook audio, Clive deliberately selected easy-to-prepare tasks, for example two-column notetaking.

The biggest difference in the classroom was the seating plan:

Each group had one phone, and the weakest student was normally in control of it. Clive found out that students became more aware of listening strategies they employed when using smartphones. Students were more able to use context/syntax to decode problem areas as they could play it again as many times as they wanted to. Students were also encouraged to make their own decisions about when and how to review extract.

I’ve always played with seating arrangements, but it had never occurred to me to do it with listening extracts before. This seems like a great way of helping mixed-ability groups in particular, and also helps students to get used to background noise when listening, something we don’t do enough of.

Tweets from other sessions

Here’s Pete Clements’ summary of the above session.

One day I’d like to actually see Mark Hancock present! This year it was about accents:

Laura Patsko’s session on how to give feedback on learners’ pronunciation was one I was sad to miss, but luckily Cambridge recorded it, so I’ll be able to catch up. Here are some tweets to give you a flavour of it:

IATEFL Glasgow 2017: Materials writing

As a member of the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, my IATEFL conference now normally begins with their Pre-Conference Event, the theme of which this year was ‘Nuts and Bolts: Practical Considerations for the ELT materials professional’. It was a particularly good start this year because it was also my birthday 🙂 This Storify draws together all of the tweets from the PCE.

MaWSIG logo

There are also a selection of tweets at the end of the post from throughout the conference, all connected in some way or another to materials writing.

The benefits of coaching (Daniel Barber)

Daniel recommended getting a coach to help you think through areas you want to change in your life. He set seven goals for areas that he wanted to change, then worked with his coach to help him make sure that he was committed to making these changes. One such change was to reduce the amount of procrastination he did and to help him avoid distraction when he was supposed to be focussed on his writing work. His coach makes him feel more accountable, promotes curiosity and pushes him to think more, particularly through the question ‘What else?’ She’s never satisfied with the first answer he gives, and this question pushes him to be more creative in his thinking. Daniel also used a coaching journal to reflect on what worked and what didn’t when trying to achieve his seven goals. One of the main things he learnt was that in order to achieve what you want to, your main block is normally inside your own head, reflecting Timothy Gallwey’s Inner Game Theory:

The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.

The opponent within one’s head is more formidable than the one over the net.

As well as pushing him, Daniel’s coach also provides balance, reminding him not to put so much pressure on himself, and helping him to celebrate his success. As I often say, we’re all human, and we should remember that!

In response, Jill Hadfield had some other good ideas to help you stay focussed when working, taken from some training she had participated in:

  • Find out about your ‘barrier self’. This includes analysing which distractions you use just to avoid work, and which you actually enjoy. You can then work for 45 minutes, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. (This is a variation on the Pomidoro technique which Daniel mentioned in his talk)
  • Work on the next thing: Rather than writing a long and potentially overwhelming list, just write down the next thing you need to achieve. Once you finish that, write the next thing again, etc.
  • ‘Park your car facing downhill’: if you stop  working, leave yourself clear instructions for what to do next, so that it’s not as hard to start working again.
  • ‘Bring in the nearest jumbo first’: finish the thing with the closest deadline before you work on anything else. This will reduce the stress you put yourself under.

Optimizing the author-editor relationship (Penny Hands)

Penny has worked as both an author and an editor. She was prompted to find out more about how to improve the relationship between the two by an author who told her that the first time they’d received feedback, they cried. I know that I’ve sometimes found it difficult to respond to feedback without either crying or raging first, especially when I’ve put a lot of work into something which turns out to not be ‘right’ in some way. As Penny said, crying may sometimes be an inevitable part of the feedback process when you care so much about something. According to a survey she did, positive words related to working with an editor included helpful, supportive, communication and collaboration, and negative ones were things like frustrating, struggle and even nightmare!

Here are some of the tips which Penny and audience members shared:

  • Mutual respect is important. You’re working together for a reason, because the project managers believe you’re the best people to do the job.
  • The most positive relationships with editors were when it felt developmental: the editor teaches the author how to improve.
  • A Skype call between an author and editor at the start of a project can really help the relationship, as it helps you to realise that you’re both working together.
  • Feedback should be friendly and personal, but not involve over-sharing. Sometimes Skype can help here too. One member of the audience mentioned an editor who questioned their teaching experience, and another talked about inappropriate comments about the writer’s age and interests – these are definitely not the way to go!
  • Authors don’t want editors who are tentative, and they’re also frustrated by those who correct work which is already correct.
  • Good editors provide constructive feedback, rein in the author’s flights of fancy, offer positive comments and suggestions, and even a little praise now and again. Don’t just focus on the holes in the project. Examples of positive comments include: I can imagine this working with…,  I’ll try this with my kids, or a general comment about the manuscript as a whole. Authors should also remember that if there’s no comment on something, that means it should be fine! As an editor in the audience mentioned, sometimes they don’t put positive comments/praise as it’s more to read, and there might not be a specific area to comment on.
  • There’s a lot less mentoring in the publishing industry than there used to be, so the Society for Editors and Proofreaders can be a really useful organisation to join. They provide courses, mentoring and support.
  • Audience members described positive experiences where the editor and author had in jokes, sent each other pictures, and gave each other presents 🙂
  • It’s worth giving editors feedback on their feedback: otherwise it can be hard for them to improve it.
  • Advice from authors to editors: be prompt, clear, think of it as cooperative, constructive. respect, listen and be willing to discuss feedback.
  • To deal with negative feedback, wait 24 hours to respond. Get somebody else to read the comments before you respond to them (like a friend or family member) as they have more distance.
  • Julie Moore suggested setting out (maybe in an imaginary email) what you consider to be fair, a matter of opinion (perhaps because you interpreted the brief differently), and totally unjustified.
  • If you are having a problem with editors, publishers would like you to raise issues as soon as possible, preferably directly with the editor rather than going above their head. (For me, this is true of all problems – the sooner you start to deal with, the sooner they’ll go away!)

One of the best things I’ve got out of being a member of MaWSIG is meeting editors, and hearing about the experiences of authors and editors. It’s made me realise that editors are people too (!) and that we should all be pulling in the same direction. It also helped me to get in touch with the editor for my own ebook, Richer Speaking.

To find out more about what it’s really like being an editor, you can take a look at the Catch the Sun blog. I’d also add the LibroEditing one.

In conclusion:

What makes the relationship successful is both sides being comfortable to challenge each other, while both are ultimately prepared to give way.

I think that’s probably a lesson for life too, not just author-editor relationships!

A short introduction to negotiating contracts (Chris Lonsdale)

These are very general tips which I found useful, sometimes from Chris and sometimes from the audience.

  • Negotiation isn’t an ‘extra’ – it’s key to running a business in an industry where costs need to be minimised. Sometimes companies will offer you less than the maximum they’re willing to pay because you might just accept it (I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before!)
  • Remember that you’re always negotiating, not just when you’re in the middle of a negotiation. It’s all about building a relationship with the person you’re negotiating with.
  • As freelance writers, we have every right to negotiate: we’re businesspeople. Sometimes this is difficult for those who were originally teachers to remember.
  • Negotiation doesn’t just have to be about money. It can also be about clauses in a contract, deadlines etc.
  • Don’t feel pressured. Ask for time to consider your response.
  • A lot of audience members recommended joining the Society of Authors. They have really helped a number of people with negotiations.

Creativity, collaboration and coursebooks (Julie Norton and Heather Buchanan)

Julie and Heather did research with publishers, asking how authors fit the bigger picture in publishing, what makes a good editor, and what publishers are looking for from authors, prompted by a quote from Santos (2013:93) “Publishers’ views are rare in the literature”. Everyone involved in the process needs to be more aware of what’s going on. They also quoted Barfield: “Collaboration creates something more than you can achieve alone.” But managing collaboration on a project can be extremely complex, and the editor is a lynchpin. One project they heard about in their research involved over 450 individuals! Interpersonal skills are a key part of collaboration: communicating, negotiating, trust, and thanking. Authors (each person?) can collaborate on many different aspects of a publishing project, for example, but not only:

  • Concept of product
  • Visiting markets/teachers
  • Selection of artwork
  • Choosing the title/cover
  • Involvement in the piloting process
  • Audio recordings
  • Proofing stages
  • Marketing and promotion

I had no idea that authors could be involved in so many different areas – it might be something to consider when negotiating contracts in the future.

What does creativity need? For Maley and Bolitho it’s time, unpunished risk-taking and more. For Wallas (1926) the four stages of creativity are preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. Jill Hadfield (2013) says there are two kinds of thinking: chaotic and ordered, and they interact in the ‘chaosmos’ (a great word!) Some of the problems with being truly creative in materials though are the fact that you have to meet the brief and the issue of market expectations. In their research, Julie and Heather discovered that more experienced writers are more ready to abandon an idea and start from scratch if it looks like it won’t work, whereas less experienced writers will try for much longer to get something to work before they choose to abandon it. Editors want authors to have ‘spark’, but this can be difficult to pin down, and hard to show if you are writing to a tight brief.

Creativity can also be about ways of working, for example in the creative ways that experts can make ideas simple and accessible. One of Jill Hadfield’s ideas for this is 5-3-1: force yourself to come up with five possible ways to do something/five possible ideas, choose three to develop further, then choose the one you’ll use – this gets your creative juices flowing more than just going with the first idea. Another creativity framework from Jill is to write two lists of ideas, e.g. topics and activity types, then choose two that aren’t normally connected. This is based on Kerslake’s idea that creativity comes from the collision of two usually unrelated frames of reference. That’s how the fairytale dominoes activity in Intermediate Communication Games [affiliate link] was born – one of my favourite activities! Dorothy Zemach talked about a fiction writers’ facebook group where everybody writes as much as they can in a given period of time (‘sprints’), for example an hour, then reports back on it. Because you’re working at the same time as the rest of the group, there’s some accountability, but it also forces you to be creative because you don’t want to be the one person who hasn’t written anything! Phil Bird said that he finds it easier to be creative when bouncing ideas off another person in the same room than via Skype or email. All of these ideas came up during the discussion that formed the last part of the presentation – I often think this is the best part of any presentation, and know that I should factor in more time for this in my own sessions!

Tweets from other sessions

An alternative definition of PARSNIPs (normally the areas which rarely appear in coursebooks, i.e. politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, pork) and one I prefer:

On principles for materials writing:

Tips for new authors:

The next few tweets are from Dorothy Zemach‘s session on self-publishing ELT materials:

(The ELTFreelancers website)

On accessibility, and gaps in the market:

(and this is one of the reasons I wrote my Rethinking the Visual series – making it up as I went along!)

Special guest host Scott Thornbury talks to Angelos Bollas about representation of LGBT people in teaching materials, and the impact that can have on LGBT learners.

(for more information about Field’s views on listening materials, take a look at my listening and pronunciation post from this year’s IATEFL)

Three things I’ve done in class this week

As a Director of Studies, I no longer get much time in the classroom or much time to plan for my lessons (!), but when I do, I like to try and experiment a bit. Here are three things I’ve tried this week:

Translation mingle

After introducing a new set of vocab or bit of grammar:
  • Get students to write 2-3 personalised examples of the language, which you check as they write.
  • They choose one sentence to translate into L1, in this case Polish.
  • Students mingle, saying their Polish sentence. Their partner has to translate it back into English.
  • The L1 speaker tells them “Yes, that’s perfect.” or “No, try again.” Once they’ve tried it a few times, the L1 speaker gives them the correct version if they’re struggling.

This worked particularly well with gerunds and infinitives, where patterns differ from Polish. You don’t need to know the L1 to do this activity, as students will correct each other. It’s probably the second or third time I’ve done it, and it definitely won’t be the last.

Mystery words

I learnt this activity years ago, but have never had a chance to try it. Having worked with some easily confused words (e.g. remind/remember, avoid/prevent) in the previous class, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it this week. We revised the words at the beginning of the class. I then gave each student a piece of scrap paper with one pair of words on it. They remembered them, wrote their name on it, and gave it back to me. Throughout the rest of the lesson, they had to use the words as much as possible and notice what words other people used. At the end of the lesson, they said what pair of words they thought other students had.

Unfortunately it didn’t work particularly well, as although I tried to change pairs a couple of times, students didn’t really have the chance to use their words with a lot of others in the class, so they could only guess about two or three pairs. Some of the cunning ones used a whole range of words to confuse the rest of the class, which was a good idea. I asked the group if they liked it, but they weren’t that enthralled, so it’ll be a while before I use it again.

Listening training

Listening attentively

Regular readers will know that I’m quite interested in trying to work out how to train students to become better listeners. A 5-minute audio in our coursebook this week prompted me to find a different way to approach it, as the two tasks in the book seemed like an invitation for boredom (listen once, tick the things the speaker mentions; listen again, make additional notes). Instead, students had to listen and clap when they heard one of the things the speaker mentioned, at which point I paused the audio. They then had to tell their partner/group what they’d heard, and write on a mini whiteboard what they thought would come next. For instance, this could be ‘an example of X’, or some specific phrases they expected to hear. We then listened to check if they were correct. The idea here is to tap into the natural prediction that we do all the time when listening/reading, and show students that they were able to do it in English. We used about half of the audio in this way, then did the original tasks for the second half. It seemed to go down well, and I think the group were generally quite surprised at how well they could do it. I was also very pleased that one of the weaker students in the group was the only person to clap the first time round, as the others were listening for exact words instead of the general message – hopefully this served as a confidence boost.

What did you try in your classroom this week?

IH Bydgoszcz and IH Toruń Cambridge Day 2017

Each year IH Bydgoszcz holds a Cambridge Day to give ideas to teachers in the local area to help them teach Main Suite exams. Recently, our sister school, IH Toruń, has become an exam centre too, so to celebrate, we held events in both cities this year. My session was designed to share some (perhaps) less well-known online resources which can be used by teachers who are preparing students for both exams. These are the sites which I shared:

Cambridge Phrasal Verbs apps

Amusing cartoons and a matching game designed to help students remember 100 phrasal verbs. As far as I know they’re a different hundred in each!

The Phrasal Verbs Machine (cartoons in a historic style)

Phrasalstein (cartoons with a comedy horror inflection)

Alex Case

A one-man activity-writing/worksheet-producing machine, and everything I’ve tried so far has been good quality!

Key word sentence transformations advice and activities (including TEFL Reversi, which you can try by printing this Quizlet set: click ‘more’>’print’>’small’ and ‘double-sided printing’ and you’ll get cards you just need to cut up

All of Alex’s FCE worksheets

My blog

A collection of FCE resources for students and teachers which I recommend, including among other things a link to FCE: The Musical!, a 60-minute webinar by Andy Scott with lots more ideas of ways to make exam preparation interesting.

Various FCE activities I’ve shared on my blog, many of which could be adapted to other exams.

Richer Speaking cover

Richer Speaking is my ebook, which includes a section with activities for extending speaking, aimed at encouraging students to produce longer stretches of language. This is especially useful for the picture tasks in Cambridge exams.

A Hive of Activities

Emma Gore-Lloyd has a range of Cambridge exam activities on her blog.  One of my favourites uses pictures as a prompt to remember pairs of sentence transformations.


One of my all-time favourite resources, which is great for vocabulary learning in general, and which can be exploited for Use of English practice too.

How to use Quizlet, including links to classes/groups organised by CEFR level.

FCE/Upper Intermediate sets

CAE/Advanced sets

A good set to play Quizlet Live with is ‘Making your writing more interesting

Simplified articles chart

Once upon a time, I created many different versions of charts to help students work out whether they needed articles or not. Some of them were very complicated because I tried to include way too much information in them. Then I went to the other extreme. Now I think I’ve found a happy medium:

Articles chart

Here’s the Powerpoint version for you to download.

The 90% figure in the box is obviously a complete guess. I’ve found that most article choices can be covered by the chart, though occasionally you have to be a bit creative about it! The box gives students a set of fixed phrases which they can learn to start them off with the exceptions that aren’t covered.

‘Normal noun’ is something like ‘republic’ or ‘kingdom’. This covers the use of phrases like ‘the Czech Republic’, ‘the United Kingdom’, and also ‘the University of Durham’, but not ‘Durham University’. By the way, does anyone know why the latter two uses operate differently when it comes to articles?

Countable > plural > specific covers ‘plural’ countries like ‘the United States’, but also groups of islands like ‘the Maldives’ or ‘the Canary Islands’.

Uncountable > specific covers deserts like ‘the Sahara’ and bodies of water which aren’t lakes, like ‘the Atlantic’, ‘the Sargasso Sea’. Lakes are an exception as they don’t normally take an article: ‘Lake Tahoe’, ‘Windermere’.

Hopefully this will be my final version of this, although I know I’ve definitely said that before…

Categorising writing mistakes

I’ve just got access to a short video made for the Teaching English British Council facebook page at IATEFL Manchester 2015 which I’d completely forgotten about! In it, I describe a method you can use to encourage students to notice mistakes they make in writing and try to reduce them. Unfortunately I can’t embed the video here, but I can give you the link to watch it. I’m not sure if you need to be logged in to facebook to see it, and I don’t know how to get around it if you don’t have a facebook account – sorry!

You can see examples of how I used this kind of error categorisation in my own Russian learning in the ‘Writing’ section of the post How I’m learning Russian (part 2).

Russian journal

Russian journal

Have you tried anything similar?

Writing ELT materials for primary (guest post)

At this year’s IATEFL Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event, Katherine Bilsborough offered us tips on writing materials for primary-age young learners. These were really useful, so I asked her to put together a blog post summarising them for you.

Writing ELT materials for primary can be great fun but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s somehow easier than writing materials for an older age group. It isn’t. It has just as many challenges but some might be less obvious at first. Following on from the talk I did at this year’s MaWSIG pre-conference event at IATEFL, here are five things to take into consideration for anyone thinking of writing for primary.

1 What does primary actually mean?

The term primary usually covers six years – a long period in the life of a child. Materials that are suitable for a year 1 or 2 pupil aren’t suitable for a year 5 or 6 pupil – for a number of reasons. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the age group for which you are writing. The best way, of course, is to teach this age group yourself, but this isn’t always possible. The next best thing would be to observe some classes being taught – but fortunately there are a few easier things you can do too.

When you know the age group for which you are writing, check out the kind of things they are doing at school by using the UK’s Key Stage classification. Once you know the key stage, you can go to sites such as BBC Bitesizeand look at what children are doing in terms of subject matter and activity types. Remember this is a site for British school children whose first language is usually English so the language used might be more complex that the language you need to use in an ELT context. A good place to go to get an idea of the kind of vocabulary and grammar your target users need for their age group is the Cambridge English Exams website**. The word lists are very similar to word lists in the syllabus of most course books, especially since more and more course books now include exam preparation materials.

2 Primary appropriateness

The most important starting point for anybody writing materials for primary children is appropriateness. There are lots of ways to interpret this but we all know what it means. Primary materials have all the usual no-no’s and then a few more. Publishers usually provide a list of things they wish to avoid. Many of them are common sense but others might surprise you. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with all of the potential restrictions to your creativity. It’s frustrating having to completely rewrite a story, for example, because you’ve included something that needs to be cut … and the story won’t work without it. This is why it’s also a good idea to run your ideas past your editor before embarking on a writing marathon. I haven’t given any specific examples here … that’s a whole blog post in itself!

3 Illustration

Illustration is important in primary materials and once again the importance of age appropriateness needs to be considered. Look at some storybooks for five-year-olds and then at some others for nine-year-olds. You’ll notice all kinds of differences. Not only obvious things like word count or language used but also themes, genres and art styles. I have heard that more and more photos of real-life people and objects are appearing in materials for ever-younger learners. This might reflect changes in their real worlds where they are watching an increasing number of youtube videos and have much more access to photos.

It’s worth investing in a scanner if you start writing primary materials. Editors, designers and illustrators appreciate getting a scanned sketch of your perception of a page. They also like to see more detailed drawings of story frames or pages where the illustration is key to the understanding of the text. It’s worth pointing out that one of the best things about seeing the final product is seeing the brilliant work of the artists in transforming your roughly sketched ideas into work of true beauty.

4 Instructions/rubrics

When it comes to writing materials for primary I think a good rule of thumb for an instruction is ‘the simpler, the better’. That’s probably the case for all kinds of materials, for all ages and levels, but with primary it’s especially important because in the case of the youngest learners, some might not be able to read yet. Have a look at the instructions in materials for this age group. Note how they change according to the age and how simple icons are used for year 1 pupils to support the learning.

5 Useful websites for a primary materials writer

All professionals have their favourite websites and primary materials writers are no different. Here are 6 of mine. If you have any others, let us know. It’s always great to discover a new one.
Paste a text and get an instant colour-coded version, showing at a glance where each word lies within the CEFR guidelines or the AWL (academic word list) guidelines. Perfect for adapting the level of reading and audio texts.
*BBC Bitesize archives for different UK curriculum key stages.
Easy-to-use, quick and simple recording site. Useful for sending your editor an audio of how you imagine a chant, song etc. sounding.
Age appropriate news stories from around the world (older primary).
Free online puzzle maker where you can create crossword grids and word searches quickly and easily. Other online puzzle makers make anagrams, jumble sentences and create other kinds of puzzles.
** Downloadable pdf wordlists for each level (Starters, Movers, Flyers, KET and PET).


Whether you are writing primary materials for your own classes or to share with others, for a blog, a website or a publisher, don’t forget the most important thing – have fun!

About Katherine

Katherine has worked in ELT since 1986 as a teacher, teacher trainer and author. She has published coursebooks and materials for all ages and contexts. Her primary materials include Dream Box, Ace! Oxford Rooftops, a new course book for OUP and a new online course for BBC English. She develops print and digital materials for the British Council and the BBC and regularly contributes to the LearnEnglish and TeachingEnglish websites. When she isn’t writing, she is gardening. Not having a blog of her own, Katherine enjoys gatecrashing other people’s blogs and was recently named ‘the interloping blogger’ – a title she approves of.

Katherine Bilsborough

If you want to find out more about materials writing, why not get a copy of Katherine’s new e-book How to write primary materials, written for the ELT Teacher2Writer site. (If you decide to buy it through Smashwords with this link, I’ll get a few pennies!)

Images in the classroom (Torun Teacher Training Day 2016)

ELTpics session IH Torun TTD Sandy Millin 23rd April 2016 title slide

This was a slightly shorter version of an online workshop which I ran in January 2015 for International House called Picture This. You can find all of the links to the posts and online tools I mentioned, plus a recording of the one hour webinar, on the Picture This page.

You might also be interested in my recent review of the book Working with Images [affiliate link] by Ben Goldstein.

The talk was part of the Torun Teacher Training Day, which also featured talks by Marjorie Rosenberg, Hugh Dellar, Glenn Standish, and various local teachers from Torun and Bydgoszcz, including some from IH Bydgoszcz.

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