Principles of ELT Materials Writing

Principles of ELT Materials Writing

This is my first post from Glasgow as a registered iatefl online blogger! And it’s about the first talk I attended at the conference – A talk by Katherine Bilsborough as part of the MaWSIG SIG day.

In this interesting and inspirng talk, Kath talked us through a small investigation of some principles of ELT materials development. Focussing on principles based on theories which are derived from research, she wondered whether/how such principles described by theorists have change over time. She looked at principles listed by Paul Nation (1993), Brian Tomlinson (1998) and Rod Ellis (2005), and found that most of these would probably be considered common sense by most teachers. All three based their lists on theories of language and learning – but these change! So would these theorists still view their principles as universally valid in the 21st century?

Kath emailed them to find out. And she was “chuffed” that they answered!

Paul Nation says he believes his principles are still valid and supported by recent research. He might add something about deliberate study, though. However, he emphasises that materials writers should also develop their own set of principles, based on the specific context and learners the materials are being developed for.

Tomlinson assesses his principles to still be valid to varying extents. But he highlights the most important points that materials should provide rich exposure, stimulate affective and cognitive engagement, and include sufficient opportunities for learners to notice their achievements. He also notes a distinction between universal (=common sense?) principles, such as materials being age-appropriate and inoffensive, and local principles, more specific to the context, purpose and learners.

Rod Ellis also emphasises the need to focus on the classroom context, not the writer’s but the teachers’ and learners’ perspectives. He believes ELT materials should be based on both L2 acquisition research and classroom settings, so experienced teachers have a lot to contribute!

To add another view, Kath reported what she’s taken from Jill Hadfield’s work on this topic. Jill believes anyone who writes materials should have their own framework of principles to work with, even if they haven’t formulated them concretely.

And so Kath encouraged us all to write our own principles for writing ELT materials, with the reminder that if you can justify it, it is a valid principle! Her framework is a helpful guide for teachers doing so.

Let me close with Kath’s conclusion: it is time to open up discussion, and prompt teachers and writers to think about principles. I’m inspired – you can find my own principles here.

So thanks again Kath for sharing this informative and inspirational journey through your principles obsession! Diolch!

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