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

Posts tagged ‘materials’

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)

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…

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 Bitesize* and 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!)

IATEFL Birmingham 2016: MaWSIG pre-conference event

This year’s MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) pre-conference event was based around comparing print and digital publishing.

Lizzie Pinard documented the whole thing in four parts on her blog, so I’m going to cheat and give you links to them instead of writing my own summaries. I can’t really add anything she hasn’t already said! 🙂

Links on ‘parts’ will take you to Lizzie’s blog, links on names will take you to blogs or profiles of the speakers.

Puffin poo: white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut

If you’re interested in the interface of print and digital, you might also like to watch the recording of this presentation by Laura Patsko and Rolf Tynan, based on research done at Cambridge University Press into the use of face2face ebooks at the Embassy English school in Cambridge.

Thanks to MaWSIG for organising another fascinating pre-conference event. Looking forward to next year already!

Addendum: a few things from the rest of the conference

Lizzie went to the MaWSIG Open Forum during the main conference and reported back on it, as well as Here’s one I made earlier – designing effective classroom materials by Katherine Bilsborough and Sue Lyon-Jones.

Here are some slightly random tweets from talks I didn’t attend, but which are all related to materials writing:

Activities for Christmas and New Year (BELTA webinar)

On Sunday December 13th 2015 I did a webinar for the Sundays with BELTA series from the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association.

Sandy - Sundays with BELTA square poster

Here are the slides from my presentation, including links to all of the activities.

All of the links are below, just in case you can’t see them or click on them on the slides:

Many of the activities should be self-explanatory, but if not, you can watch the recording to find out how to run the activity. If you’re a BELTA member, you can watch recordings of webinars from the past six months. Anyone can watch older webinars from the series. My recording should be freely available to all from July 2016.

I’d be interested to hear how you use the activities in your own classrooms, and what adaptations you needed to make to fit your context.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

What is the best way to exploit authentic materials? (#ELTchat summary)

It’s a very long time since I wrote one of these (nearly 3 years to be exact)! On Wednesday 14th January 2015 I took part in my first ELTchat for about a year, and since my topic was chosen, it’s only fair that I did the summary too 🙂

If you’ve never come across ELTchat before, it’s a weekly hour-long conversation which takes place on Twitter (almost) every Wednesday, alternating between 12pm and 9pm UK time. At the end of the chat, one lucky person takes the transcript and summarises the discussion. All of the summaries are then added to the amazing summaries index, which goes back to October 2010. These are the people who took part in this chat (no underscores, so check the transcript for their proper Twitter handles!)

Word cloud of participants

What are authentic materials?

There were many aspects to the definition of authentic materials. There’s a bit of repetition, but you can pick and choose the parts that make up the best definition for you:

  • Anything written for any purpose other than language instruction;
  • Not designed for linguistic purposes (no input flood/specific language point);
  • Anything from the real world;
  • Might have been designed with non-natives in mind (just not for language teaching);
  • Can be audio or visual;
  • Need to contain some text (either written or spoken);
  • Provided by the students (? – perhaps more real/relevant to them);
  • Could be material for other school subjects, e.g. history.

Examples of authentic materials

This list is by no means exhaustive, but is designed to inspire you!

  • Packaging
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Menus
  • Literature
  • Conversations
  • Webpages
  • Blogs
  • Leaflets
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Text messages
  • Posters
  • Billboards
  • Stickers
  • T-shirts
  • Slogans
  • Logos
  • Tweets
  • Facebook statuses
  • DVD cases
  • Maps
  • Logic puzzles
  • Emails
  • Leaflets/pamphlets, maybe collected during a walk with your students
  • The Internet (yep, all of it)
  • Signs (ELTpics/Map of Linguistic Urban Landscape are good sources)
  • Voice mails (you can find apps to download them, such as this paid one)
  • Reviews (e.g. from TripAdvisor or Rotten Tomatoes)
  • Children’s books (although you should consider the language carefully, as well as whether the content is suitable for adult classes)
  • And if that’s not enough for you, try this list from Michael Griffin.

Things to consider when choosing authentic materials

  • The function/purpose of the text, not just the language included in it.
  • Is it interesting/motivational for your students?
  • What will they learn from it?
  • What do the learners need to be able to produce themselves? Can you find real examples of it?
  • Can the learners provide them for you?
  • With ESP (English for Specific Purposes) materials, do you need to know the jargon/terminology, or can your learners explain it to you?
  • Will the students’ knowledge of the content make it easier for them to access the text?
  • They don’t have to be perfect. Materials with mistakes can be just as useful for students as ‘perfect’ ones, particularly if they’re documents that the students may encounter, e.g. in-company documentation.
  • It’s not a magic bullet – the text and tasks still need to have relevant content and be at an appropriate level.

Ways of using authentic materials

  • Exploit language to develop vocabulary, raise awareness of grammatical patterns/collocations/connected speech etc.
  • Encourage students to personalise chunks of language taken from the text.
  • Correct the mistakes/improve the text.
  • Analyse the text structure and/or style (text/genre analysis).
  • Develop skills in the same way as you would with non-authentic materials (e.g. coursebook texts).
  • To promote discussion about the content of the text.
  • As warmers for writing lessons (videos from BBC Breaking were particularly recommended)
  • Top-down: start from the context and move towards the language.
  • Bottom-up: start from the language and move towards the wider topic.
  • For enjoyment! Extensive reading/listening practice.

You can even use authentic materials with exam classes: Laura Plotnek uses real news with her IELTS classes. Podcasts are also an excellent resource for IELTS students, as are articles from magazines like BBC Focus magazine.

Packaging

Show examples, then let students create their own.

Menus

Match pictures of food to items on the menu.

‘In a restaurant’ role play.

Text messages

Focus on the connections between the messages and the development of the conversation.

Review websites

After working with the examples, students post their own reviews on the websites.

Resumés/CVs

Choose the most suitable candidate for a job.

Write a story based on the characters whose CVs you have.

Emails

Email your students with a problem you have. Get them to reply, then screenshot/print the replies and work on the language in them. They’re responding to a real text you’ve written. [Note from Sandy: I did something similar by asking friends on Twitter/facebook to tell my pre-intermediate students their problems so they could solve them – SS loved it!]

Points of debate

Should you pre-teach vocabulary?

It may be easier for students to access the text if you do, and some ‘blocking vocabulary’ (things which are vital to understanding the text) may be important so that students have an idea what’s going on in the text and don’t get too depressed.

If you don’t pre-teach, it reflects real-life conditions more and may help them to develop coping strategies. Giving students the chance to look up vocabulary might be more useful to them than pre-teaching it, as would priming them for the content/ideas in the text rather than specific vocabulary (activating schemata – alerting the students to prior knowledge they may have of the topic).

Consider your aim: are you using it primarily for the content, or as training in how to approach authentic materials?

Should you choose materials to fit your aims or just things which take your fancy?

One idea was that it’s important for the teacher to be interested in the materials, otherwise it might be difficult to put together a ‘super duper’ lesson! Although our training is there to help us make boring stuff more exciting 😉

We need to consider what materials students need to access outside class and base our choices on this.

Should you adapt or simplify the materials?

Adapting or simplifying the text removes the authenticity of the language. It is also time consuming. Managing to understand a text without knowing all the words is a vital skill which students need to develop. You can train students to use paralinguistic features, such as images or layout, to help them understand the text. Being able to understand unadapted materials can be very motivating for students.

On the other hand, simplifying the text can help students to access it in the first place, and you can build up to exposure to the original once they are familiar with the content. This could help beginner/elementary students in particular. If students become frustrated with the material because it’s too difficult, they may just stop trying to understand it. Audacity is a useful tool for slowing down audio through changing the tempo.

You could also choose ‘usable excerpts’ from a text, rather than using all of it. Examples might be a short section of a longer video, or a couple of paragraphs from a longer article.

Is authenticity important in the tasks too?

i.e. Should the texts be used in a way which is faithful to real life?

Authentic tasks can be more motivating for the students, perhaps because the purpose of the tasks is clearer to them. However, they may require extra tasks (scaffolding) before you get to the authentic tasks though to ensure students are prepared sufficiently. There is also the argument that language work is a necessary part of what we do in the classroom in order to aid learning. On the other hand, authentic texts sometimes have a ‘magic’ of their own and help to motivate the students without language work.

Using materials like menus in atypical ways could add an interesting twist for students. Examples of tasks include using the menu to practise reading prices, rather than just for ordering food, or an information gap with different information blanked out for each student. The intended use of the text in real life doesn’t need to be paramount.

Can you use authentic materials with lower-level learners?

Yes! Grade the task, not the text. Give them achievable targets, for example, identifying the names of the main characters in a short story could train learners to notice the use of capital letters for names. Another activity could be reading a DVD case to find the length of the film and whether the actors have won any awards.

Support can also be provided in the form of pictures, pre-teaching vocabulary and/or a summary of the text beforehand. With audio materials, you can repeat it as many times as necessary. Pausing helps learners to assimilate the text, and you can discuss what SS have heard and what they think will come next.

Bear in mind, though, that sometimes the text is just too difficult for the students. Widdowson suggests that authentic materials may be too challenging for lower-level students, but those living in English-speaking environments have to deal with them, so as teachers we need to help them.

Is it worth it?

The general consensus was that when used correctly students really enjoy authentic materials, even if they don’t understand it all. You’re exposing learners to real patterns of language which they can use. Those teaching in English-speaking environments thought it was particularly important to use authentic materials with their students as this is what they encounter as soon as they leave class.

Links and further reading

Pinterest or wikis were suggested as ways to collate authentic materials.

Robert O’Neill discusses the use of authentic materials in the final section of Dogmas and Delusions in current EFL methodology.

Shona Whyte discusses authenticity in the FL classroom.

A selection of lessons based on authentic materials, organised by level.

Marjorie Rosenberg wrote regular ‘Jargon Busters‘ for Cambridge. They started with vocabulary, then an article, and ended with discussion questions.

Speakout books use BBC videos and has video podcasts. Life uses National Geographic ones.

CEFR profilers or vocabulary profilers like the Oxford Text Checker can be useful to identify potentially difficult words and to decide whether to use a text.

Richmond Skills Boost: my materials

For the first time I’ve designed materials which have now been published. Richmond have put together a series of additional reading and listening materials for each level from A1-C1. At each level there are 12 reading and 12 listening worksheets available for teachers and students to download. To find them, you register on the Richmond ELT site. This takes a few days as they approve your school. Once you’re in, go to the teacher’s area, and click on Skills Boost on the left. There you’ll find all of the worksheets, audio, tapescripts and answer keys. My contributions are the C1 listening worksheets 1-6.

SkillsBoost C1 Listening

My work 🙂 (and a few other people’s too!)

I’m so proud of how they’ve turned out, and I’d like to thank the people at Richmond who made it all look so good, Stephanie, Shona and Susan, along with all of my lovely friends who contributed ideas and materials to help me come up with the ideas I needed. Thanks particularly to Ela, for putting me in touch with Richmond in the first place 🙂

It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it. I think the audio is a little slow and careful for C1 level (it would be useful for them to hear more natural speeds), but the range of topics are interesting, and a bit different to what’s in the coursebooks, as well as there being a range of accents. I’m looking forward to trying them out with my students when I get back to Sevastopol, and I’d be interested to hear your feedback if you get to use them.

Your challenge is to spot the bits I put in there to make me smile and to figure out the references to my friends in there 😉

How to challenge yourself

Challenge considered

This was a lesson plan in the form of a presentation I put together for the weekly 90-minute English Speaking Club at IH Sevastopol. The notes for the plan are visible when you download the presentation (in the notes pane, normally found under the slides):

Here is the SMART goals jigsaw reading (jigsaw reading is where you divide a text into sections. Student A reads part A, B reads part B, C reads C and so on. They don’t see the other parts. They then work together, with or without the text, to build the meaning of the whole by sharing information from their own parts.):

There are also tapescripts to accompany the two videos, which could be mined for language if you choose (that wasn’t the purpose of this club):

It was the first topic for the speaking club for 2014, and hopefully we’ll revisit the goals the students set for themselves later in the year. Unfortunately I was ill, but my colleague taught it and said it went well. Let me know what you think!

Christmas activities

Here is the collection of Christmas activities which I presented at the International House Sevastopol seminar on Saturday December 21st 2013.

Some of the activities are available on the web, some I have created, and some are versions of time-honoured none-Christmas EFL activities adapted to the festive season. If there’s no link, click on the picture within the presentation and it should take you to the activity. Hopefully the slides are self-explanatory, but if not, feel free to leave me a comment.

In addition, here are some photos from Christmas 2010 which my family gave me permission to take and share. I talked about one of them using fotobabble.

Lights on a garden tree Snow on Christmas Day! Barrel organ as part of Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Christmas fundraising Red phone boxes in the snow Stuffing the turkey Pigs in blankets Part-cooked turkey Table set with crackers Table set with crackers Turkey in the oven Fully-cooked turkey Ready to pull crackers Eating Christmas dinner, wearing cracker hats Christmas pudding in the microwave Pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) The Christmas pudding on fire (honest!) Evening meal of Christmas cake and leftovers... Christmas cake IMG_4106

I realise that this is a bit late for many of you, but you can save it for next year 🙂

Please Mrs Butler

I can’t imagine my childhood without Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Two of my favourite books were Please Mrs Butler and Heard it in the Playground (affiliate links), both collections of poems based around being at school.

I created a worksheet based on the title poem from Please Mrs Butler and the recording Allan Ahlberg made of it on The Children’s Poetry Archive.

I used it with pre-intermediate students as part of our ongoing thread of listening and pronunciation practice. We listened to the numbers in the introduction four or five times, and they managed to get them all. We finished the 90-minute lesson with the students repeating the poem after me, then performing it together. This was the final result:

The poem has since served as a warmer in later lessons. For homework, I asked them to watch a group of children performing the title poem from the other book, Heard it in the Playground.

What poems do you like using in class?

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