Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Archive for the ‘Materials Writing’ Category

What are you thinking about?

When I was a full-time teacher, my thoughts went something like this:

  • Why do I have to get up this early?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • I hope my students are enjoying their lessons.
  • I really hope I’m actually teaching them something!
  • Hmm…that didn’t really work.
  • Oh my god, how could that lesson possibly have gone that badly?
  • This blogging malarkey is fun. I’m learning so much from everyone.
  • I don’t want this year to end because I’ll really miss my students.
  • …and so on.

Now, I’m a Director of Studies, CELTA trainer and materials writer, and my thoughts have (mostly!) moved on.

  • Why can’t I get back to sleep?
  • When will I find time to eat?
  • Where am I going to find the last teacher I need?
  • What teacher development should we offer this year? Is it giving everyone what they need?
  • Will this timetable ever be finished?
  • How can we make sure everyone feels comfortable at school?
  • That was really snappy/short/sharp/angry – apologise now and don’t let it get worse.
  • I wish I had more time in the classroom and to work on my own teaching.
  • I wish I had more time.
  • I really want to work on that CELTA course, but the dates don’t fit.
  • Where will my next CELTA course be? When will I know?
  • How can I encourage people to buy my book?

Richer Speaking cover

  • I’m really excited about this project – I can’t wait to be able to share it!
  • Don’t forget to put in your IATEFL proposal.
  • I need to make sure I still find time to get thoughts out of my head onto my blog.
  • I have too many ideas for my blog and not enough time!
  • Switch your computer off at 9:30. You know you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Stop it. Look after yourself.
  • …and so on.

What are you thinking?

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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.

Daniel wrote up his talk for the MaWSIG blog.

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. You can read Penny’s write-up of her talk on the MaWSIG blog.

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)

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.

http://vocabkitchen.com
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.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/education
*BBC Bitesize archives for different UK curriculum key stages.

www.vocaroo.com
Easy-to-use, quick and simple recording site. Useful for sending your editor an audio of how you imagine a chant, song etc. sounding.

http://www.timeforkids.com
Age appropriate news stories from around the world (older primary).

http://www.puzzle-maker.com
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.

http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/young-learners-english/
** 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!)

Richer Speaking – my first book

I’m very excited to announce that I have written and published my very first ebook:

Richer Speaking cover

Cover designed by Luke Meddings at the round

Here’s the blurb:

Are you tired of your students running out of things to say? This book will show you 12 different ways to adapt a wide range of speaking activities to get more out of them in the classroom, divided into four categories:
– Preparing to speak
– Adding repetition
– Extending speech
– Having a reason to listen
There is a full index showing you what kind of activities the techniques work particularly well with, as well as worked examples of each technique in action. All of them are ready to take into the classroom with the minimum of preparation.

Richer Speaking is available to purchase at Smashwords and Amazon [affiliate links] and costs less than 1USD. It’s part of the round minis series, all of which you can spot on their titles page by looking for similar covers to mine, and all available at the same bargain price.

I could never have done this without the help and encouragement of Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings at the round and editor Karen White, as well as the people who helped me come up with some of the ideas included in the book. Thank you so much!

I hope you find Richer Speaking useful, and I would of course appreciate any and all feedback which you have.

Enjoy!

Reviews

I’ll try to collect any reviews that I see here. Thanks to everyone who has said such nice things about the book!

A review in the English Australia journal, Vol. 32 number 2 (p82-83)

Getting started as a materials writer (MaWSIG guest blog post)

MaWSIG is the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL, the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language.

MaWSIG logo

They run a blog which features a new post every month from members of MaWSIG. I think I’m the least experienced writer to feature on there so far 🙂 It’s a real pleasure to be asked to join in with what I have already found to be a very useful blog from a very useful SIG!

My post is called Getting started as a materials writer. I share some of questions I have wanted answers to as I’ve started out with materials writing and tips for my fellow new writers. I’d be interested to see what people add to the list.

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