This is the first in a series of blog posts called Just one (ELT materials) thing. I got the idea from a recent BBC podcast series on the BBC Sounds site in which Michael Moseley asks, ‘If time is tight, what’s the one thing that you should be doing to improve your health and wellbeing?’ Each brief episode focuses on one idea that could, in theory, change your life for the better. I don’t expect my blog posts to be life-changing but I’m going to borrow his idea, keep things brief and share just one thing that readers might find helpful to improve the materials they are making. I’m going to try to keep my language clear and simple because many of my intended readers won’t be English L1 speakers, and because I’m a firm believer in the importance of clarity in every context. The focus will be on the practical so I will mostly avoid academic and theoretical references unless something is especially relevant.
You can’t be a good writer if you aren’t a reader.
This is what they say to aspiring writers and it is basic common sense which applies to all art forms. Directors watch films, musicians listen to music … and ELT writers hone their craft by analysing and evaluating existing published materials. Or do they? I certainly didn’t when I started making my own materials. I never even considered the value of spending time constructively scrutinising features of a course book. But what better way to develop writing skills?
You don’t need to look at absolutely everything in a book. Just choose those features which you think you need to improve in your own materials. This is called micro-evaluation (as opposed to macro-evaluation which involves a much broader and general approach to materials). Try to choose a book with a similar target user as those using your materials in terms of age and level. Then choose one or more areas to focus on and consider writing a checklist of criteria to consider while you reflect on the materials.
Here are some suggestions of areas you could focus on:
- Page layout
- Use of images
- Length of texts
- Use of headings and sub-headings
- Number of exercises
- Number of items in an exercise
- Balance of skills
- Number of new vocabulary items presented
- Sequence of tasks
- Exercise types
- Wording of instructions
- Sequence of sections within a unit
I’m sure you could think of more, depending on your particular values, interests and needs. I will be writing more about evaluating materials but hopefully this initial suggestion for a practical checklist approach will help some teachers and writers discover features of good (and bad) practice which will impact positively on their own work.
Thank you for reading my first blog post and please get in touch if you have any suggestions of other aspects of creating ELT materials that you’d like me to write about in future posts.