Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

ELT script writing: new trends, new skills, (some of) the same inequalities

Part of a film script

When you think about ELT content writing you might not immediately think of script writing, but it’s actually becoming a vital skill to have. The other day I was thinking about the work I’d been doing recently and the work I’ve got lined up for the months ahead. I realized that a lot of it is scriptwriting, either for audio or video. It occurred to me that while I’d been writing scripts for decades, script writing for ELT is different these days. Things have changed. So I reflected a bit more and that’s where this blog post came from

Script writing for ESP

It started with a series of online courses, for the British Council, BBC English and Di’Agostini.  These were all for adult learners, were mainly for people working in different sectors, and titles included:

  • English for Taxi Drivers
  • English for Oil and Gas
  • English for Catering
  • English for The Police Force
  • English for Journalists
  • English for Hotel Staff

You get the picture. We always learn when we write and through this work I learnt a lot about things like the hierarchy of staff in various working environments and the safety precautions which need to be in place to store and transport fossil fuels.

Primary script writing

I then started developing scripts for primary learners. One of my favourites was a series of children’s plays I wrote as a resource for my book, ‘Dream Box’. It made me happy to think of children all over Spain, performing those plays and saying ‘my words’.

Changing trends in ELT script writing

Recently the focus of my script writing has changed a bit, and maybe some of the skills I am using too. I can trace these changes directly to more global changes, in education in general and in the big wide world.

Advances in technology mean that a lot of my recent work has been writing scripts for amazing animations sometimes with a cool blend of real footage and animation.  I can specifically mention a couple of things I’ve worked on, the stuff that is already out there (meaning I won’t get into trouble for breaching my contract). My favourite are ELT Songs’ Planet Pop videos with scripts that link to Young Learner exams but with a modern, non-schooly feel about them. It comes as no surprise to me that the company has won several Educational awards and prizes over the last year or two.

Equality, Diversion, Inclusion

Another noticeable change is in the increased focus on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. This was the case with Planet Pop but it was also true for work I did for Digital Language Associates (DLA), worthy winner of a Judges Commendation for EDI at this year’s ELTON Awards.  Part of my remit as a writer was to write narration at three different levels for existing documentary-style shorts. Grading language is another valuable skill and something I’ve had to do more and more as Publishers often decide to use the same content, for which they’ve paid highly, for different levels. It makes sense.

The writing process

Much of the writing process is the same now as it was twenty years ago. But now I have to consider a lot more issues. I love that I can include more diversity and invent characters that would have been a no-no not that long ago. I also have to use my child-like imagination more than ever. For scripts that are going to be turned into animations, I need to consider things that the tech wizards can make happen on the screen. Because if I don’t ask for it, it won’t happen. But if I do ask for it, Boom! It’s mind-blowing. Almost anything is possible (and I haven’t even mentioned VR yet).

The continuing digital divide

But it isn’t all state-of-the-art tech and wacky animations. For another recent project, I wrote a series of 45 radio show scripts for secondary aged children in low resource countries. Many of these children don’t have access to computers, let alone the internet. My English ‘lessons’ are delivered via radio and the interaction I built into my scripts involved very traditional things like ‘Listen and repeat’ or ‘Write five animals on a piece of paper’. It’s a piece of paper because I can’t even assume every child will have a notebook.

As a writer I need a different set of skills here. I need to keep asking myself, ‘How can I make this engaging and fun without any flashing lights and tech trickery?’ Different skills but equally valuable.

What the future holds

In 2022 I’ll be working on two exciting new projects, one huge, the other more modest. One I predict to be the most ambitious I’ve seen yet in terms of technology and creativity, the other reliant on paper and pencils if we’re lucky. I’m looking forward to the challenges of both and will keep a note of all the new skills I learn along the way. I think I might be in for some surprises.

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