Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

N is for … numbering

N is for numbering

This is a new series of short blog posts, ‘An A-Z of ELT materials writing’. I’ll be writing about important aspects that we need to keep in mind when we create materials, whether for our own classes or to be used by others.

N is for … numbering

Numbering is important. In materials, we use numbering in different ways and for different things: the number of a book or a level within a series, the number of a chapter or a unit in a course, slide numbers in a presentation, numbers of activities, numbers of items within an activity and sometimes other numbers to show staging in a single item. Crumbs! That’s a lot of numbering.

While giving teachers and writers feedback on their materials, I’ve noticed two recurring problems with numbering

1. A numbering system which is illogical or inconsistent.

2. (This never fails to surprise me) A numbering system which isn’t there. There are no numbers, none at all … not a single one.

The reason for #2 above is that in most cases, teachers have created their materials for their own students with the intention of delivering them in their own classrooms or online, and they haven’t felt the need for numbering as their plan is to just move through the sequence of activities in order, thereby believing the need for numbers to be redundant.

But numbering is good.

Besides helping you, numbers help any other potential teachers and learners to navigate the materials. Imagine the end of a numberless lesson, when a learner wants to ask a question about something they did earlier. Everything is easier if they can say, “Can I ask you about activity two, number three?”

Numbers are important to navigate different resources that can be used together in a lesson. For example, in a Teacher Guide you might see something like:

When learners finish Activity 6 use photocopiables 3.1 and 3.2.

You can also use numbering in differentiation techniques [More on Differentiation in a future post]. For example, in a Teacher Guide you might write:

Learners who need more support can do items 1 to 6.

Stronger learners can do items 1 to 8.

Now that we’ve established that numbers are a good idea, here are some considerations for how you actually use them and style them.

Choose a style of numbering and be consistent [for more about consistency click here]. Think about whether or not to add a full stop or whether letters might be better, for example when the list of items begin with a number like this:

1. Look and write. Which child has got:

a. 4 pencils and 2 pens?        

b. 3 crayons and 5 pencils?    

Think about how you use layers of numbering, for example:

1 Read the text and answer the questions.

1 How does the writer feel about:

(a) his sister’s news?

(b) his brother-in-law’s reaction to the news?

(c) his parents’ decision on hearing the news?

Or

1 Follow the steps to play the game in groups of four.

i Read the rules.

ii Share out the cards equally.

iii Take turns to throw the dice and move your counter.

Etc.

Tip: Compare the numbering in two or more coursebooks*. Which elements are the same? What differences do you notice? Which styles look the best?

*Evaluating features of existing materials to identify good practice is a great way to develop your own writing skills.

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