Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

19 Sept: My week in writing

Variety is the spice of life: learning how to juggle

This week variety is the name of the game. I have been writing a lot of bits and bobs, rushing to finish off a couple of projects which have been dragging on longer than I’d have liked. I recently took Rachael Roberts’ Switch off stress. Switch on success course, which I highly recommend. One of the topics we looked at was productivity, not so much how to increase productivity, but more how to work smarter so that the time we spend at our desks is time well spent, thus freeing up time for other things. I have to admit that this is something that I’m still experimenting with and if I were back at primary school, my teacher would probably write something like ‘making progress but needs to get her act together’ on my end of term report. This week I’ve used two techniques that seem to have worked well for the kind of work I’ve needed to do. The first is the Pomodoro Technique, which I’ve been using on and off for a few years and the second is ‘blocking out time’, a common sense approach that is ideal when you are juggling numerous projects.

Reward yourself! Nobody else if going to do it.

I’ve been writing exam practice resource pages for a primary course book. Each page is aligned to a specific paper on a Young Learners exam. There is enough space for a sequence of activities leading up to the main task which replicates the real thing. This kind of work is easy in some ways. I am familiar with YL exams and the levels. But restrictions imposed by the publisher in terms of how many stock photos I’m allowed to brief or how much new illustrations we can commission, have thrown up a few challenges. There were 20 pages in all so I made myself a nice little table to tick off each component as soon as I’d finished it. I decided to give myself a small reward after finishing 50% of the work and then another, bigger reward after finishing everything.

Reward yourself!

A second opinion

I’ve also been working on an article for IATEFL’s Voices magazine for teachers who are writing materials. I sent in the first draft last night so that felt good. When I send in an article to a teaching journal or magazine, I usually say something along the lines of, I’m happy to make any changes’ because editors usually have a good idea of what works best for their publication. Usually requested changes are few and far between and consist of things like a request to increase or decrease the number of words (it’s always a good idea to ask what the word count is and then stick to it), a request for a reference I might have forgotten to include or a photo to accompany a piece. I’ve only once got into a discussion (argument is too strong a word) about edits that were made to a piece I’d written. That was because I felt my voice had been removed and replaced with another, posher voice. It grated on me, so I asked for a second opinion before writing back and asking for my voice to be reinstated. Second opinions aren’t just a good idea for patients getting medical advice. I suggest getting one whenever you feel uncomfortable about something that is going on in a work environment.

Identify your unique set of skills

The last thing I’ve been working on this week is an S&S (Scope and Sequence) for an upcoming course. This was for the third level of a primary course which follows on from two that are already done and dusted.  It wasn’t until quite recently that I discovered I’d developed the skills need to write a good S&S. I’d been writing them for years but seeing them as the first step in writing a book rather than something which could, in theory, be a standalone project. One day, out of the blue, I was asked how much I charged to write a six-level S&S in line with a country-specific curriculum and aligned to a specific set of key learning skills and competencies. This was when I realised that it was something I could itemise in a list of skills on my CV.

It made me wonder about other skills that I might possess, unknowingly. An interesting self-reflection task might be to have a discussion with yourself, describing what you actually do when you do a particular job, pausing after each step to ask: Is this a skill that I could highlight as I look for work?

Thank you for reading my blog post.

6 thoughts on “19 Sept: My week in writing”

  1. Because I work quite limited hours (for health reasons), I don’t find myself juggling quite as much as other freelancers. However, I often have one main project on-the-go and other odd bits and pieces.
    At the moment, my main project is a bit of lexicography, which is nice and steady, plodding on with researching and writing new dictionary entries for a list of words. I know how many words I have to tick off my list per week and block out enough time for that.
    This week, the ‘extras’ included reviewing a series of blog posts I wrote a while back for a publisher to fit in with a planned new format of their blog. I’d put off doing it because it looked like it was going to be fiddly, but when I finally sat down to it, it actually only took a couple of hours. I’ve also been putting together an upcoming conference talk – which is a task than can really expand to fit whatever hours you allow it to!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting! This is one of my favourite topics. Re your reviewing process task taking less time than you thought it might … that happens a lot with me. I put off things or have a quick glance and assume something is going to take days and then it might end up taking hours. And yes, OMG re preparing for a conference talk! That’s going to appear in my next blog post. You seem to be very organised and in control, much more than me. But I’m learning!

  2. Interesting thoughts Kath. In the last couple of years I’ve done lots of digital writing. At first I didn’t enjoy it that much and resisted it. Partly because I find so much of the existing content around uninspiring. Then one day I decided I needed to to embrace it and over time I’ve learned to enjoy the challenge of making it engaging to the point where I think I’m getting reasonably good at it. However it really is a type of writing that can expand because it involves more technical skills such as final image sourcing and checking appearance in different screens etc.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I fell into digital writing and suddenly realised one day I was a digital writer. Some of the most boring work I’ve ever done was for a digital project. I had to write 500 MC questions into a template. It was mind numbing. But the end product was this really funky game that the tech folk worked their charm on so it ended up being something I felt quite proud of. I think there’ll be more and more work in digital writing so embracing it is probably a good idea.

  3. That’s a great tip about our unknown skills, you are so right! Putting a scope and sequence together requires a lot of skills, expertise and experience. I’ve recently improved this skill and it feels so good! Will reward myself with a G and T in the garden! 😊

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