John Hughes is a teacher trainer and ELT course book author. His titles include Life (National Geographic Learning) and Business Result (Oxford University Press). He is also the series editor for the ETpedia resources (www.myetpedia.com).

Like many ELT writers, my first piece of published writing wasn’t for students but for teachers.  I began by writing for teacher journals such as English Teaching Professional and Modern English Teacher. Then I wrote a teacher’s book to go with a course called ‘Quick Work’ (Oxford). And later on I started the teacher resource series ‘ETpedia’ (Pavilion ELT).

When writing for teachers, you obviously don’t have to control the language in the way you do for students, but it’s often like writing a recipe book in which you want to grab the reader’s interest but at the same time you need to use clear instructional language. Here’s a list of phrases I once compiled that comes from a. range of teacher resources. The list in not provided as something to copy (though I’m sure you have used some of these expressions in your own resource writing) but more as an indication of what resource tend to include. If you think I’ve missed some key expressions or other areas of language that are important for writing teacher resources, then please comment and add them!

Introducing the lesson/activities/exercises
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to …
The topic of this lesson is …
In this lesson, students practise the language of …
The aim of this activity is to …
This is a good exercise for …
Students will need to …
At this level, students should already know …
This controlled practice activity allows students to …
It gives students the opportunity to …
The reading describes a real company which …

Sequencing
Firstly …, Secondly …, Then …, Next …
Before starting …
Lead into the lesson by …
Before listening, check that …
As/While students …
During the exercise …
Afterwards…/After 10 minutes …
Follow up by …
When the students have …

Instructions
Write (on the board) …
Discuss (with the whole class) …
Monitor …
Explain …
Tell/Ask students to …
Encourage students to …
Check that …
Drill …
Listen for …
Say …
Point to …
Direct students’ attention to …
Give feedback on …
Put students in pairs/groups.
Play/Pause/Stop the audio/video …
Suggest that …
Stop the activity after …
Students take turns to …
Refer students to (page 000).
Set a time limit …
Allow time for … at the end.

Describing classroom activity
Students discuss the questions in groups.
Students walk around the class introducing themselves and their partner.
In pairs, students swap their writing and write a reply.

Extra activities and extension practice
For further/extra practice …
To add fun …
If your students need further practice …
If you have time, ask students to …
You could also ask students to …
In addition, you might want to …
At the end, students could vote …
For homework, students could research …

Alternatives
There is more than one answer to this …
You could also suggest that …
If you don’t think this question is relevant to your learners, write the following alternative …
For students with no work experience, you can adapt this activity so that …
If some students finish early, ask them to …
Students could swap their writing and give peer feedback.
During the presentations, ask other students to fill in the feedback form.
Students may also find it helpful to …

Points to note
Note also that …
Make sure that …
Remind students that …
Be careful when asking students about …
If you have managers in the same class as their employees, avoid …
If students need extra help, …
When discussing this question, note that the content might be sensitive with some …
Students whose first language is … might have difficulty with …
Be prepared to play the listening more than twice.

Different classroom contexts
With one-to-one students you could …
If you are teaching pre-work students, ask them to imagine …
With a larger class, you could …
With students from different departments, use students who know about (marketing) to explain …
Ask pre-work students to research a company they are interested in.
With a monolingual class, you could ask them to translate …
If you have a mixed ability class, put the stronger students with …
If you think students from certain cultures might not feel comfortable with …

Anyone who has used a coursebook has probably used the accompanying teacher’s book. It’s the how-to guide that lets you know how to approach the material, to adapt it, or to extend it. Sometimes, teachers follow it much like they would a lesson plan; sometimes they just use it for the answer keys or the listening scripts. Or perhaps they like to use the photocopiable worksheets or progress tests in the back. Even if you rarely pick up the teacher’s book, it’s good to know it’s there – just in case.

So when writing materials which you intend to share with other teachers – whether it’s a video worksheet or a set of exercises with song lyrics – get into the habit of writing a set of notes that accompany them, so other teachers will be keener to use them. Here are some of my top tips for writing teacher’s notes.

Provide more rather than less

Whilst no one wants a set of teacher’s notes that are too wordy, teachers – as a general rule – won’t complain if the notes contain more ideas than they need. They will, however, complain if the teacher’s notes don’t include enough support. So when writing teacher’s notes, it’s worth assuming you are writing for a teacher with little experience. That way, your notes will be useful for a newly qualified teacher as well as more experienced teachers, who will automatically ignore what they don’t need and jump to the part of the notes that are relevant to them.

Referencing and headings for navigating the material

Here’s something else that sounds obvious but is important to remember: any page numbers and exercise numbers in the classroom material also need to appear in the teacher’s notes. Detailed and clear cross-referencing is crucial. If the classroom materials have any headings and subheadings, the teacher’s notes should include these. Furthermore, adding extra subheadings in bold, such as Audio script,Answer key or Extension activity, will help a teacher quickly find the section they need.

The tone and style of the writing

Views vary on how the teacher’s notes should talk to the reader. Is your writing style going to be chatty, informal and friendly? Or do you want it to be direct and to the point? In my experience, newer teachers tend to appreciate a style of writing which feels like the author is leading them gently into the lesson, whereas more experienced teachers prefer a direct approach. Ideally, I’d suggest trying to strike a balance. For example, here is an extract from a set of teacher’s notes explaining how to start the lesson using a unit called ‘Energy’ from a coursebook. The first exercise asks students to look at a picture and discuss two questions. Notice how the writer switches between an indirect style at the beginning (using modal verbs), to a more direct instructional style (using sequence words and imperatives).

You might want to start the lesson with the books closed and write the title of the unit, ‘Energy’, on the board. You could put students in pairs and give them two minutes to brainstorm different types of energy, e.g. solar, oil, etc. Write their ideas on the board and help with any pronunciation problems. Next, ask students to turn to the picture on page 20 and look at the image of smoke rising from factories. Discuss the two questions about the picture as a class. If you have a large class, you could ask students to discuss the questions in small groups and then summarise their answers to the rest of the class afterwards. Allow about five minutes for this part of the lesson.

Don’t repeat what’s in the classroom materials

In general, avoid repeating what’s on the page of the classroom material. So, when referring to an exercise in the classroom material, don’t repeat the exercise rubric, but perhaps suggest different ways of managing the activity. For example, perhaps students could do the exercise in pairs, perhaps the teacher could set a time limit, or maybe students could just complete the exercise orally rather than writing the answers.

The what, the who, the how and the why

To sum up, teacher’s notes need to set out what kind of lesson the material is for, who it’s aimed at (the type of student), and how you can use it. Finally, you might want to include something in your notes on why the material takes a certain approach. In other words, it can be helpful for some teachers to provide the reason for doing something. The example below is from some teacher’s notes that accompanied a questionnaire activity, designed for use on the first day of the course. The writer explains the reasons for doing it in the first part of the instructions.

As it’s the first day of your course, this questionnaire is designed to help students get to know each other and to build a sense of community in the class. Students need to realise that everyone has their own reasons for learning English and that they should support each other. Make a copy of the questionnaire for each student. Put the students in pairs; they take turns to interview each other and write down their partner’s answers.

[This post first appeared on the IATEFL MAWSIG website]

Many teachers write dialogues for use in their ELT classrooms, and ELT materials writers have to produce listening scripts for published courses that are then recorded with actors in recording studios. There’s a wide range of script types to be written; from monologues (or presentations) with one speaker, to dialogues between two people (who might be in a shop or at a café), to more extensive conversations between three or more people (who could be holding a formal business meeting or agreeing and disagreeing about a hot topic).

Whatever type of script you are writing for audio, most will follow some basic principles. For example, here’s the first part of a script which was written to accompany some material on the topic of gossip, which included work on adjectives for describing people (e.g. handsomedark-haired). It has been prepared for use with actors in a recording studio.

Audio 4.2
[Two people in a café. A man and woman in their thirties or forties. The man has a Spanish accent. The woman is Australian. Sound of the café and people talking the background.]
Alex: Mmm, this coffee’s excellent. Nearly as good as in Spain.
Rose: [Laughs] Nearly! Hey, isn’t that Tracey over there? Who’s she with? He’s very handsome.
Alex: Where? I can’t see her.
Rose: In the corner. With the dark-haired guy …

Note that the script is following certain principles and guidelines that apply to most audio scripts and that are useful things to bear in mind when writing similar types of dialogues. Let’s consider what they are:

1. Including target language

People often say that we should use more authentic recordings in ELT materials and that it isn’t necessary to write so many dialogues. I agree that using authentic recordings is great for developing listening skills, but sometimes the main purpose of the audio is to present a target language point (e.g. a vocabulary item, a grammar point or a feature of pronunciation). That’s really the reason why we still script so many of our dialogues – to present target language.

2. Adding context

One challenge for students to listening to a recorded script is that – without video – they have little or no context at the beginning. So, ideally, introduce a context near the beginning; for example, one speaker can start the dialogue off with something like ‘The conference is busier than last year.’ or ‘Have you been to this conference before?

3. Sound effects

With scripts that are going to be recorded, indicate sound effects on your script that can be added. These will help to add a context (see previous tip) and provide a sense of authenticity. So, for example, if the conversation was a tourist asking for directions, it probably takes place in the street. So, I might write this in square brackets: [Street noise with one or two passing vehicles], to indicate it is information for the editor and studio producer.

4. Turn-taking

If a dialogue includes one person talking for a long time, it makes it harder to follow. So when writing conversations between two or three people, as a general rule, keep each turn short. If one speaker is providing a lot of information, then let the other speaker interrupt from time to time, ask questions or even show they are listening with phrases like ‘I see‘ or Sure‘.) This will help the listener and it’s probably more authentic in many situations.

5. Numbers of speakers

When a script is for audio, limit the number of speakers to make it manageable. If you need to have more than two people, then three speakers are fine if you make their voices distinctly different, but four or more becomes confusing. If you really need a lot of speakers then the script might be better suited to video.

6. Gender

Mixing the genders in your scripts is not only ‘fair’, but it also makes listening easier. If I have two speakers, I normally make them a man and a woman. With three speakers, definitely avoid a conversation where all the speakers are either all men or all women.

7. Naming the speakers

Many scripts call speakers A, B or C. This is OK for short mechanical scripts with the purpose of being for a listen-and-repeat exercise, for example. However, giving the speakers real names adds authenticity and is invaluable for longer scripts where students might need to note who said what.

8. Character notes

As well as providing names, actors in a recording studio will also appreciate any information you can give them about the speakers’ characters. Are they in their early twenties, or middle-aged? Do they sound excited or bored? What is the relationship between the speakers?

9. Accent

Using different accents is another way to make it clearer who is speaking, but – more importantly – it reflects the use of English as a form of international communication and exposes students to a range of voices.

10. Adding features of real speech

Features of real speech include things like fillers (well, err, umm), and false starts (what I mean, what I mean to say is). You can add these in to scripts to increase a feeling of authenticity but don’t overload them to the point where they distort the conversation or take over from the script’s real purpose. Also note that, if you are writing a script for a publication, it will be recorded in a studio with real actors who will read your script word for word. Don’t assume that they will add in features of real speech – they won’t. They’ll read it exactly how it’s written.

[This post first appeared on the IATEFL MAWSIG website]

Most teachers and materials writers use written texts from a variety of authentic sources. A CLIL or EAP teacher, for example, might use content-based texts taken from subject-specialism textbooks. Alternatively, in business English classrooms, the kinds of texts used in lessons (either from coursebooks or brought in by the teacher or students) often come from business magazines such as The Economist or are based on texts from their students’ places of work. And in general English courses, where the needs are less specific, the trend in recent years has been to use content-rich texts drawn from authentic sources.

So how do teachers and materials writers set about selecting suitable authentic texts for learners? And having selected the text, do we adapt and change it for the level(s) of our students or is it preferable to leave it in its original form? The aim of this article is to look at some of the key issues behind text selection and text adaptation by teachers and materials writers.

Selecting a text

Text selection begins by choosing the right kind of text according to the needs of the learners or the course. Sometimes these needs are very specific: I recently used a text about the inner workings of a nuclear reactor for some materials for students studying science in English. However, this level of specificity is quite rare, and the needs of individual students in classes of twenty or thirty will vary a great deal.

As well as ‘need’, there is usually a basic requirement for a text to have some intrinsic interest factor and that it is relevant to students’ personal lives and experiences. For a materials writers producing content that will be used by teachers in a variety of countries, this presents a challenge. The topics need to be fairly global, but at the same time something that students can relate to their own experiences. In addition, a text will often include certain cultural perspectives which may affect our choice. For example, a study of texts in coursebooks by Gray (2013) found that a set of teachers in Barcelona didn’t like texts in coursebooks with overtly British subject matter. Another teacher in the same study “objected to a listening about women being bad drivers because she felt by doing the activity she was giving these views her tacit seal of approval”.1

This concern over cultural perspective is echoed by coursebook writer Sue Kay (co-author of the Inside Out series) reflecting on her own first attempts at selecting texts for coursebooks: ‘I teach in Oxford, and most of the students who come to Oxford to study like to get some cultural input about the city and surrounding areas. Whilst this is interesting for people who study here, I had to remind myself not to choose such ‘Brito-centric’ material when writing for students internationally.’ Sue goes on to comment on the pitfalls of topic choice in the process of text selection: ‘Technology is particularly prone to seeming ridiculously old-fashioned after a relatively short time. Famous people can go out of fashion too, or do something stupid, or die.’2

So text selection involves consideration of the student need, interest, cultural background, and relevance of the material to the present day. Where a coursebook fails to offer a text that matches these criteria, teachers often source new texts on the internet or from local newspapers written in English. Which brings us to the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to text selection: is the text too difficult for students to understand? And does it include useful target language that we need to teach such as a particular lexical set or certain grammatical structures?

If we are lucky, we can find authentic texts which need little or no adaptation. For example, I was looking for a short text on the subject of sport for pre-intermediate students. I also wanted to introduce uses of the gerund form. I came across a series of quotes about winning and losing by famous sports stars which seemed ready-made for my purposes3:

hughes1

However, it’s rare that authentic texts can be given to pre-intermediate students without the need for at least some kind of adaptation, and in some cases it’s helpful to make significant rewrites to the text.

Adapting a text

To illustrate how an authentic text might be adapted, I’m going to take part of a text that appeared in The Economistmagazine.4 (See the link at the end to read the entire article.) My target students were pre-work business English learners at mixed intermediate (B1/B2) level. The topic of the article was about how companies are trying to use music on websites in order to encourage customers to buy products, much in the same way that shops play background music. I chose the text because I knew it would be intrinsically interesting to business students and it had plenty of useful business lexis. In addition, the topic of online shopping wouldn’t date too quickly and it’s an activity carried out by many people in many countries, so there weren’t any limits in terms of cultural understanding.

In terms of target language, one paragraph in the article would be useful in particular. In it, the writer reports findings of a study carried out by the online seller eBay, to discover what music would affect shopping habits. I was keen that the reading should offer students a model of how to write up results in business reports. Here is the paragraph. Read it, and bearing in mind the target level (B1/ B2), consider which parts of the text might need adapting (if any).

hughes2

Immediately, you’ve probably identified words which will have students reaching for their dictionary or asking you for explanations. One option is to keep the text in its original form and provide a small glossary of unknown words beneath it. Paul Nation5 comments that glossaries listing low frequency words have the useful function of dealing with the words that a teacher does not want to deal with. Nevertheless, glossaries slow the reading down and – in general – they are used with texts for extensive reading (e.g. with graded readers) rather than texts for in-class intensive reading.

So what should our starting point be for choosing which vocabulary to change in our text? According to Nation, ‘English has around 2,000 high frequency words. The remaining words, of which there are well-over 100,000 word families, are low frequency … Because low frequency words are such a large group (and so it is not possible to teach them all), occur infrequently, and cover such a small proportion of the text, they do not deserve classroom time.’5

One online tool you can use to check the vocabulary in a text is the Oxford Text Checker, available to use for free at http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/oxford_3000_profiler.html. It highlights (in red) the words which are outside the top 2,000 or 3,000 keywords of the English language. So here is my text about online shopping with the words in red outside the top 2,000. How many of these words did you predict would cause difficulty and might need adapting when you read it earlier?

Hughes3

Having identified the red lower frequency words in the text, I could decide to formally teach some of them with an exercise such as matching a word to its definition. For example, ‘participants’ is probably a useful word for my business students to learn whereas ‘chirruping’ is not. The meaning of some low frequency words are also important to the understanding the text, so I could replace a word like ‘hazardous’ with the higher frequency synonym ‘dangerous’.

However, adapting a text involves more than just omitting or changing certain vocabulary. With my text, I want the students to understand it, but I also want it to provide a partial model of how they might report results of their own research. So I’ll also need to consider adapting the text in other ways such as:

  • simplifying the sentence structure
  • reducing slang, journalese or cultural reference
  • simplifying text structure and cohesion
  • making the English ‘correct’ or improving the writing style to provide a model
  • including and recycling previously taught language items

How many of these we apply to our adaptation presents a dilemma: too much adaptation can result in what coursebook author Ceri Jones refers to as loss of the ‘core’ or ‘heart’ of the original text. Here, in an interview on her own approach to text selection and adaptation, she comments: ‘The ability to identify the core of the text is important [for a materials writer]. Identify what makes a text nteresting, worth reading, but make sure that this “heart” is not lost in the adaptation. If the heart of the text actually lies in the style and the language rather than the content, it may be worth looking for another text!’6

To end with, here is my final adaptation of the paragraph from The Economist:

hughes4

You’ll see that I’ve changed some low frequency vocabulary and simplified parts of the sentence structure for the level. I’ve also added in linkers such as For exampleHowever and In addition because these were taught in previous lessons, and I plan to draw students’ attention to these as a way to structure their own writing. So the final question is, has my adaptation lost the text’s ‘core’, ‘heart’ and feeling of authenticity? Certainly, if my sole aim had been to use the text for developing reading skills and generating discussion, then I might have kept the adaptation closer to the original. However, text selection and adaptation is guided by a variety of factors, both objective and subjective; it is never an exact science.

References

(1) Reported in Harwood, N. (2014) English Language Teaching Textbooks Palgrave Macmillan, p.14

(2) Author’s own interview

(3) Quotes appear in Dummett, Hughes & Stephenson (2013) Life Pre-Intermediate National Geographic Learning, Unit 2

(4) ‘Beware of Beethoven’ in The Economist April 23, 2014. http://www.economist.com/news/business/21613347-what-youhear-affects-what-you-buy-online-beware-beethoven

(5) ISP Nation (2008) Teaching vocabulary Heinle Cengage Learning, p. 62–3

(6) Author’s own interview

This article was first published in Modern English Teacher 24 (2), 2015. Save 20% on one-year individual subscriptions to Modern English Teacher with code JHMET (not compatible with any other offer or discount.)