Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

October 2021

Keeping up to date with digital: Part 1

We have a problem

How can freelance ELT writers and editors keep up to date with digital writing tools and platforms, so that when a job opportunity comes up and the publisher needs someone with experience in a specific authoring tool more of us can apply?

Unique skills, unique gaps

The thing about technology is that we all have a very personal skills set of what we can use with confidence and other areas where our knowledge is left wanting. This isn’t just true for ELT writers and editors. It’s the case for everyone. Because usually we learn how to use something when we discover we have a need for it. And if you are like me, the way we learn best is by playing around with whatever it is we’re trying to master, until things fall into place, maybe referring to How to videos or articles and maybe signing up for a short course. Courses aren’t usually effective for me unless I can revisit things and spend time practicing, but a course is handy if you have a tutor who is available to answer questions.

Access denied

I started writing digital materials for ELT soon after I started writing print materials. The first authoring tool I used was Moodle. I’m not naturally tech-minded, so I found it a challenge (to say the least). But I had the opportunity to attend a face-to-face course with an extremely patient tutor. The best thing about the course was that I was given access to a Moodle sand pit where I could play at my heart’s content until I mastered each aspect of the platform. Later I learnt how to use new authoring tools, each one very similar to the last but with the usual range of activity types and improvements that came about as technology itself got better and better. But always within a Publisher’s domain and with access denied the minute the product was complete.

Please let us in!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have access to all of the Publishers’ authoring tools with their sand pits so that we could learn the special features of each one and teach ourselves how to use them. Right now this isn’t possible but wouldn’t it be in the Publishers’ interest to offer such access to freelancers? Then, when they put out an advert for a new job opportunity, they’d have a larger pool of experienced digital writers and editors to choose from.How can we make this happen? Could it be as simple as asking a Publisher to let us in? Do we need to work together to ask for this? Can we share our communal knowledge? I’ve called this blog post Part 1 in the hope that I can come back at some point in the not-too-distant future with some answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. And I’d especially love to hear from Publishers.

10 Oct: My week in writing – or ‘not’ writing!

A beach scene

This week’s ‘My week in writing’, is different to previous posts because I didn’t do any of my usual ELT writing. I wasn’t even at my desk. I took the week off to recharge the batteries and have a little holiday. When a freelancer takes time off for a holiday it’s a big thing. We don’t get holiday pay, so it can feel reckless to not work.

I used to feel anxious at even taking one day off work but over the past year or so I’ve started to change my way of thinking and now I make sure I don’t work every day, and that from time to time I take a longer break. I think this can actually have a positive impact on productivity and I’ve certainly found that I get my best ideas in terms of creativity when I’m not working, and my mind is focused on something completely different.

I decided to write this post anyway because even though I didn’t take my laptop away to the beach with me, I did take my notebooks.

They come everywhere with me. And a quick look back over the past seven days or so reminded me that while I might not have been engaged in writing something meaty like a coursebook, I was still in thinking like a writer mode.

These are three things I’ve been writing this week:


A spider graph with my ideas for the contents of a book I’m planning to self-publish. It’s going to be for teachers writing their own ELT materials but I’m still figuring out whether it’s best to have a broad focus or to narrow things down to something more niche, and then write a series of books.

Right now, it’s just a pile of ideas, but at least it’s in pen and ink at last and not flitting around in my brain. I’ve also mentioned it here so that’s added some accountability pressure – not always a bad thing. Self-publishing is a relatively new territory for me but it’s something I’m keen to explore. 


The main points for a plenary I am giving on October 17th for the ELTAM conference. I quite enjoy planning a presentation if it’s about something I feel passionate about. The theme of this conference is Teacher Tales and the title of my presentation is My story: lessons learnt from Teacher-Writers. 

It’s right up my street so the task ahead is an enjoyable one. As I was making notes about what to include and what to leave out, I was reminded that recently a couple of freelance colleagues suggested that I give a presentation on how to prepare for a presentation. I like this idea.

While there are clearly plenty of helpful blog posts and videos out there about how to give a presentation, I haven’t come across anything which focuses on how to prepare for a presentation, what to do first, second, third, etc. So, this is on my mind too and will no doubt feature in a future blog post in this series. 

I’ve just noticed that I have exactly a week before this plenary, so I need to get my skates on. But I’m reminded of Parkinson’s Law which says, ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. This is very true. And never is it truer than when you are preparing presentation. Here’s an interesting blog post on how to use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage.


I have some Ideas sections in my notebook. One is for possible blog post topics. While I was on holiday, I came across a review of a book by the American playwright, Sarah Ruhl, called 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write. You can read about it here.  I don’t know if it’s any good, but the title made me smile and I considered borrowing it and tweaking it for my own purposes at some point. It also got me thinking about how easy it is to find excuses to not do things because of time constraints but how we can often, if we put our mind to it, find the time after all.

I suppose the important thing is figuring out which things are worth spending our time on and which things aren’t. It seems that learning to say no is something quite a few of my freelance colleagues are engaged in at the moment, including me.

Did anything I’ve written here, resonate with you? Please let me know in the comments.