Tag: EFL

Writing EAP Materials: Keeping Academic English Lessons Engaging (Tania’s Tips)

Writing EAP Materials: Keeping Academic English Lessons Engaging (Tania’s Tips)

Back in May, I was lucky enough to attend Tania Pattison’s talk at the IATEFL conference in Belfast. The underlying message of her talk was that materials for teaching and learning academic English do not have to be as dry and dull as some people might have in mind. And I think that’s an important message to get out there! Tania’s talk presented some useful tips and reminders for those of us in EAP and materials writing fields, which I’d like to summarise in this post. 

TL;DR Summary

In order to be effective and engaging, EAP materials, especially at higher levels where students have done a lot of the same topics several times, need to be:

  • fresh,
  • relevant,
  • inspirational,
  • challenging,
  • and manageable.

FRESH Topics & Perspectives

Academic (and all?) English materials should include fresh or new topics so that they are engaging and interesting when students become engrossed in a topic and start exploring all the many directions that you can go with the information or perspectives on it. In this way, students are likely to want to discuss it, and thus use and practise useful language and skills to do so. Even if the topic isn’t entirely new, we might still be able to come up with fresh types of activities to get our students engaged in deep learning.

RELEVANT Input & Activities

The content topics, as well as the language and skills practised, need to be relevant to students’ current and or future academic concerns, as well as their lives and professions. In popular science and science journalism, for example, we might discover new innovations or specific topics that are related to our students’ academic subjects.

Tania’s examples here include looking at what happens in the body and brain when people use digital screens excessively, for example comparing the effects to coffee, or looking at symptoms such as insomnia and negative mental health. This is probably relevant to most students, and has a clear connection to biology as an academic subject. 

The activities we ask students to do of course also need to be relevant to their academic progress. So, it makes sense to be doing things like analysing and discussing commonly held beliefs to promote critical thinking, as well as applying concepts to their own everyday lives, professions or study subjects. As I have recently written elsewhere, even activities like comparing and contrasting near-synonyms’ meanings and usage patterns activates these kinds of thinking skills while helping with vocabulary learning. 


It helps with learning if materials include inspirational content. When students are impressed by the idea, person or place that they are hearing about, it can stoke their ambitions and promote deeper engagement with the topic and thus with their learning.

Tania’s examples here include reading or hearing about explorers, researchers, successful sports people, and so on. To link this with academic language and skills, students could, for example, conduct a SWOT analysis of teams or projects, and evaluate the factors in their success. This kind of activity would not only engage higher order thinking skills and promote advanced level language use/practise, but may also function to inspire the students to adopt certain elements leading to success.

CHALLENGING Different Skills

I think that most of us would agree that language learning materials need to be linguistically challenging for the students, and not too easy. Ideally, we’d like them to be working in their zone of proximal development, so there is a motivating challenge to the work that we are asking them to do. In EAP, it’s also beneficial to include challenges on thinking critically, evaluating new angles, and/or responding appropriately following academic conventions.

Thus, materials could encourage students to think outside of the box, to give and justify a stance, or to provide a critical review of something. The input could also involve an academic expression of attitude or stance, perhaps in contrast to a less formal expression of opinion, so that students are challenged not only to engage with the content, but also to identify language features that may be useful for their own work.

MANAGEABLE Expectations

Nonetheless, the level of challenge in any learning materials needs to be manageable. In EAP, this means materials being targeted at an achievable level of difficulty, both linguistically and with regard to students’ academic career – so in their academic and critical thinking skills, too.

The aim of an EAP programme is to bridge the gap between the current level the students are working at and the “real” academic texts and input that they will need to deal with in their studies, by making the topics accessible and easier to process. This may include training generally useful and relevant academic vocabulary and language – not necessarily discipline-specific terminology –  or employing things like infographics and other visuals, plus training on study skills and elements of English that are specific to academic usages.

University students face high expectations in many different areas of life, so the EAP materials we design/use should help them to progress and manage the challenge, without adding to their overwhelm.  Tania’s idea here would be to find topics that are clearly connected to students’ academic study subjects, but approached from a more everyday life perspective.


In conclusion, then, EAP materials should enable students to learn something new in terms of language, facts/content, skills and perspectives. They should be fresh, relevant, inspirational, challenging and manageable. Then, the materials are likely to be motivating and help students to develop their confidence, and their language and academic skills, to face the challenges of studying at university through the medium of English.

And finally, thank you to Tania for (yet another) interesting and inspiring talk, providing these tips and reminders for us!

Social Class in England: A Video Project with Students

“LANG 801: Advanced British Cultural Studies (Special Topic)”

That’s the uninspiring name of a module I was teaching this summer semester. It’s part of an MEd degree programme for future EFL teachers here in Germany.


But not to fear – I am always on a mission to capture students’ attention with an interesting ‘Special Topic’ and get them really engaged in the content so they can develop their language and academic skills! Previously, I’ve done “Immigration and Multiculturalism,” “How United is the United Kingdom?,” and “Britain in the 1990s.”

And another thing I’ve started in recent years is getting students to work on a class project with a result that can be shared more widely than just Trier University! We’ve put on an exhibition and written an e-book so far.

This term, my students produced short documentary films, each around 15-20 minutes long, and each on one aspect that influences social class in England. They came up with the catchy title of “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?”

all videos

You can find the videos on YouTube here. Feel free to enjoy them all, and leave a comment or two of feedback for my students!


If you want to know about the Whys and Hows, read on…


So why do I think projects like this are a good idea?

  • I’m required to assess students on written and oral production – students writing the script and recording the audio for the videos allows me to do this.
  • If students do in-class presentations, it’s a lot of work to then only share with around 15-20 people.
  • In such stand-alone presentations in class, the content is not ‘useful’ for work other students are doing, so they are less engaged as an audience. In the video project, each ‘episode’ connects to other videos, so students actively engage with each other’s work.
  • Students develop a stronger bond to the class and their work, which helps them develop team-building skills such as politely criticising, negotiating, and arranging appointments or deadlines. And they can support each other through the film-making process!
  • It changes the class atmosphere to something akin to a collaborative business meeting and increases students’ sense of accountability.
  • Our roles change – students learn from each other and build up their understanding together. There is little to no ‘teaching’ from me, but I am asked for help or guidance by students – which also means they actually take on board what little I do then say!
  • It helps students develop a whole bunch of critical thinking skills; from finding connections between pieces of information, to drawing out key points from their research, digesting the research into concise reports, and considering the most appropriate ways to present something to different audiences.
  • It allows students to acquire other practical skills that might be useful in their future careers, such as using the filming equipment or video editing software. (We have all of this at the University but it is sadly underused!)
  • I’m sure there are more benefits I can’t think of right now, or am not even aware of!


How did I set up the video project?

  • The class met for 90 minutes once a week, for 13 weeks.
  • Weeks 1-2 of semester:
    • I set reading on the topic of Social Class as homework.
    • In lessons, I displayed discussion questions and let students discuss in groups.
    • We started off in smaller groups (~5 students) and by week 3 the whole class (16 students) was sitting in a circle debating together.
    • The readings and questions encouraged them to evaluate stereotypes and models of social class (e.g. Karl Marx), and to investigate the findings of the ‘Great British Class Survey’.

GBCSDuring the discussions, I provided vocabulary or phrases the students were lacking, if asked, and at the end of each lesson, I gave feedback on langauge mistakes I had heard. (I did this every lesson, but won’t keep repeating it in this list!)



  • Weeks 3-4 of semester:
    • From the previous group discussions, students formulated further questions and aspects they wanted to explore.
    • They individually chose their own homework readings, as preparation for discussions of these new questions.
    • They devised the title “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?” and decided on specific aspects they wanted to investigate. Pairs then took on one ‘aspect’ (e.g. housing, education, langauge, consumer behaviour) as the topic for their video, as well as one group working on a general introduction and one on a concluding video.
    • During the discussions, I prompted more analysis by throwing in questions where I thought it would be beneficial or where the discussion got ‘stuck’.
  • Week 5 of semester:
    • In small groups, students began drafting introduction scripts for their videos, highlighting the background that had led them to investigate their specific aspect and the guiding questions for their video.
    • At home, they continued reading and researching their specific topics. (Also continued every week, but not repeatedly listed here.)

money 2

  • Week 6 of semester:
    • We held a peer review session on the written scripts students had produced so far. Students worked with peer review worksheets I provided (see here).
    • We discussed differences between an academic essay and what would be appropriate for a documentary script.
  • Weeks 7-9 of semester:
    • Students gave ‘work in progress presentations’ in their pairs to share what they had learnt so far, and presenters lead discussions to find connections between topics.
    • Some students interviewed contacts / friends from England to gain more insight and check the validity of what they had read.
  • Week 10 of semester:
    • We had a session led by the technician in the University’s video lab to see the equipment available and how it works, and practised using video editing software.
    • Students devised concepts and formats for their videos, such as voice-overs on PPTs, ‘news reporter’ formats, sketches, and so on.

news reporter

  • Week 11 of semester:
    • In the video lab, students created a trailer video for the documentary series.
    • Students decided on an opening clip to use on all videos, to ‘join’ them together as a series.
    • Students investigated copyright laws and potential sources of images and video clips they could use in their own videos.
  • Week 12 of semester:Documentary_eflyer.PNG
    • We held a peer review session on the full scripts each pair had produced.
    • Students discussed overlaps and points where they should/could refer to the other videos in the series and inserted these into their scripts.
    • Students designed a basic e-flyer to advertise the documentary series.
  • Week 13 of semester:
    • We held a general discussion about what they had learnt about England and social class over the course of the semester and attempted to connect these insights to their work on other modules (e.g. American culture studies, English literature, etc.)
    • Students discussed self-evaluations and completed the obligatory module evaluation forms.
    • Students submitted the final drafts of their video scripts for assessment and feedback. I gave feedback on a separate form, and corrected language errors in their scripts so that the videos would not include (too many!) mistakes.
  • One month after semester:
    • Students recorded their audio scripts and produced their videos independently, with occasional help from the video lab technician.
    • I created a YouTube channel and uploaded the videos in the order the students had agreed upon.
    • We are now busy sharing the videos and information about the project on social media 🙂

all videos



Worksheet-free Vocab Revision Activities

Worksheet-free Vocab Revision Activities

What do you do in those last 5 minutes of class when you’ve finished everything that was planned? Or when energy levels hit a low during a lesson? Or in that lull while the next student gets ready to present, or whatever? We all know about the need to revise and recycle new vocabulary in language lessons, and in this post I want to share a few vocabulary revision activities that teachers can slot into any downtime that might occur in a lesson!

I’ve built up my repertoire of this kind of quick review activity over the years, so many are borrowed or adapted from colleagues, and others are based on popular board games. I want to give you a collection, all in one place, of collaborative and competitive activities that check students have remembered and actually understood new words (i.e. there are no rote learning activities here!) You can print out this post and take it to lessons with you – that’s the only paper you’ll need: all of these activities have one main thing in common – you don’t need to photocopy anything to do them!

1. Scategories


Choose a category of vocabulary you want students to revise, for example ‘character traits’, ‘school subjects’, ‘transition words showing contrast’. Choose 5-10 letters of the alphabet and write them, with the category, on the board. Students (in teams, if you wish) now have 1 minute to come up with one vocabulary item fitting the category which starts with each of the letters you have chosen. Compare answers. To make it into a competition, give points: Students or teams get 2 points if they’ve written a correct vocab item that no one else / no other team has written, and one point for correct vocab items that someone else wrote down, too.

2. ‘Taboo’ on the board

Like the game ‘Taboo’, but without any little slips of paper that need preparing! It works best with nouns. Get your learners to sit with their backs to the board. Option 1: Choose one student to look at the board and see the word you’ve written there. They have to explain it to the other students, who try to guess which word is being explained. The first student who guesses correctly can be the next one to explain a word. Option 2: Group competition! Students sit in teams/groups with their backs to the board. One team member turns around and looks at the word you’ve written on the board, and explains it to their team members, who try to guess which word it is. Give them a time limit (e.g. 30 secs per word). For each word correctly guessed within the time limit, the team gets one point (keep track on the board) and then the next team has a turn. To make either option more difficult, write the main word on the board (maybe put a circle around it) and add two or three ‘taboo’ words which are not allowed to be used in the explanation. For example, if the main word is “bauble”, the taboo words might be “Christmas,” “tree” and “decoration.”

3. Beep

This guessing game works best with verbs or verb phrases, but nouns can be good, too. One student is told a ‘secret word’ which is to be ‘beeped out’ (like swearwords on TV). The other students ask them yes/no questions to try to guess the secret word – each student is only allowed one question at a time. For example, “Who BEEPS?” “Do you BEEP on your own?” “What do people BEEP most often?”  As these examples show, the activity can be used with fairly low-level language, but I’ve also used it in EAP with verbs such as research, evaluate, and analyse. After their question has been answered, the student can make a guess at the secret word, if they wish – if they get it right, they can be the next one who is given a secret word. To make it more difficult, allow each student only 2 guesses at the secret word during each round.

4. Sentence editing bingo

I like using this one to revise adverbs or adverbial phrases, but nouns work, too. Students abingo-159974_960_720re asked to write down a number of vocab items that you’ve recently covered in a particular category (e.g. adverbs of manner, adverbial phrases for time/place, things you find in a classroom). Choose the number according to how much time you have and how many sentences you think you’ll get through. Usually 5 or so is enough. Students can also work in pairs. Write a simple sentence on the board, such as “I like reading.” Students tick off one of their words if they think it can fit correctly into the sentence. For example, a student might tick off ‘in the evening’ or ‘really,’ or maybe ‘books’ if you’ve gone with nouns. Repeat this with several sentences. Once a student has ticked off, i.e. thinks they’ve been able to use appropriately, all of their words/phrases, they shout ‘Bingo!’ Check their answers together as a class – if there’s time, check other students’ suggestions, too.

5. Changing corners

This activity will get students up and moving around the room! Make sure they move their chairs and bags out of the way! Nominate corners or sides of the room that are the ‘spelling zone’, ‘definition zone’,  and ‘example zone’. Call out one vocabulary item you want to revise. Students have to move and stand by the corner or wall that shows the challenge they feel comfortable doing with that word: spelling it, defining it, or using it in an example sentence. Pick one student from each zone to give their answer out loud. To make it a competition, either give points for correct answers (1 for spelling, 2 for defining, 3 for an example use), or get anyone who gives an incorrect answer to sit down, then keep going with different vocab items until only three students are left! (For this, you might need to increase the difficulty of the words as you go along!)


My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

My LTSIG Talk: Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing

Time for a little advertising! 😉

On October Thursday 5th October at 4.25pm UK time, I’ll be giving an online talk as part of the LTSIG /OllREN online conference and would be delighted to see you there!

LTSIG Presentation Clare Maas

Exploring efficient ways to give sustainable feedback on L2 writing is important because providing meticulous correction of language errors and hand-written summaries can be time-consuming and often seems less effective than desired. For feedback to be sustainable (i.e. effective long-term), it should be formative, interactive and impact on students’ future work (Carless et al 2011). Thus traditional, hand-written feedback practices may be inefficient at effecting sustainability. Integrating technology into feedback delivery has been shown to have potential in alleviating the situation, by stimulating students to engage with feedback they receive and enabling dialogues about their work.

Combining work into feedback on L2 writing with ideas promoted in higher education, I devised the Learner-Driven Feedback (LDF) procedure, where feedback is given by the teacher, but learners ‘drive’ how and on what they receive feedback: they can choose between various digital delivery modes and are required to pose questions about their work to which the tutor responds.

In this talk, I will summarise some recent literature which supports both the use of technologies such as email, audio recording, and text-editing software features, and responses to students’ individual queries in feedback procedures, before practically demonstrating LDF. I will refer to my own recently published article on LDF in EAP, and discuss my evaluation of its application in my teaching, providing compelling reasons and practical suggestions for its employment in various language teaching contexts. These discussions will also explore potential mechanisms underpinning the efficacy of multimodal approaches to making feedback more sustainable, in order to further aid teachers in making informed choices pertaining to their specific class groups. This includes topics such as learner autonomy, motivation, receptivity, learner-centredness and individualisation.

The talk is thus a combination of practical demonstration and theoretical background, of interest and relevance to a broad audience.


Reference: Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., Lam, J., 2011. Developing sustainable
feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36, 395–407.

Reading Support Worksheets for EAP

Reading Support Worksheets for EAP

Much is said in published literature about the necessity of EAP students reading authentic academic texts, and also about providing scaffolding and support for them to do so. I believe lecturers and academic tutors teaching their subject content in English and/or on a CLIL-based approach will also need to help students digest the readings for their classes.

Still, I often hear complaints from teachers that they set preparatory reading, but then found in the lesson that students were unable to discuss or work with the ideas from the reading, despite their claims that they did actually read the text. 

One way I’ve found to help students engage with the texts they are asked to read, then, is what I call ‘Reading Support Worksheets’. 

Reading Support Worksheets can help students to focus on the parts of a text or the ideas and concepts mentioned, so that they are better prepared to discuss or work with these in their lessons. Also, directing students’ attention to what the tutor deems the key concepts, the things they want to focus on in their lessons, the reasons they chose this reading text, can ease the load on students to comprehend every detail in a text and perhaps ease their frustration at the time and effort needed to do so. 

So how do I set up a Reading Support Worksheet?

I divide the text into manageable, logical sections, and pose questions or set quick tasks to guide students in the notes they should make whilst reading each section. Here are some of the question and task types I’ve used so far:

  • What is the central claim presented in the introduction?
  • What are the guiding questions and approach that this article is working with? How are these justified?
  • Paraphrase the quote by xyz.
  • Summarise the overall argument / point of paragraph xyz.
  • What do these abbreviations stand for: x, y, z ?
  • Give examples of xyz’s categories.
  • Copy the diagram/table on page x and add two more examples of your own.
  • Define xyz’s concept of xyz in your own words.
  • What are the key terms used by xyz?
  • On page x the example “xyz” is used to illustrate xyz. Explain the claim/theory/concept in your own words and add an example.
  • Note the break-down into 5 steps/categories here. 
  • Contrast xy’s idea/claim/theory with yz’s.
  • What is an xyz? Why is this important to understand?
  • Draw a diagram to illustrate xyz.
  • How to xy’s categories/ideas/key terms relate/compare to yz’s?
  • Make a time-line in note form, charting the development of xyz.
  • Name and describe in your own words two views on xyz.
  • What is special about xyz’s model?
  • Outline some of the measures taken to address xyz.
  • What are the reasons stated to support the claim that xyz.
  • Draw a flow-chart illustrating the structure of this section of the article.
  • How is the data presented in this section? What central claim is the data used to support?
  • What data analysis method was used in this study, and why?
  • For each graph in this section, write down I) what it plots (i.e. what the x-axis and y-axis show) and II) what trends are illustrated by the data presented.
  • What do you know about the “xyz” mentioned here? (If not much – find out more!)
  • Extension: Choose one source from the bibliography of this article to read as your next source on input on our topic xyz.

I believe that this type of scaffolding helps the students to get to grips with the content of a text at a mainly descriptive level, leaving activities which require higher-order thinking skills such as analysis and evaluation for the lesson time.

Of course, the number of questions or tasks should be suitable for the length of text – remember, students should have the feeling that the worksheet is helping them to digest the text, and not adding extra work!

In EAP, questions or tasks can be added to get students to focus on the langauge or other academic skills as they are demonstarted in the text. For example:

  • Write the bibliography entry for this text.
  • Why do you think the title of this section is pluralised?
  • Find transition words/phrases in this section that show xyz. Note their position within the sentence.
  • Find synonyms in this section which mean x, y, z.

Why not try it yourself? You can share your questions/tasks in the comments below, and let me know how it works out with your students!

Phonology in ELT – A Manifesto

Phonology in ELT – A Manifesto

“Achieving Phonology’s Potential in the ELT Classroom”

   – A very inspiring talk by Adam Scott on 5th April at IATEFL 2017 in Glasgow. 

In his talk, Adam presented his manifesto, a call to arms, to bring about a shift towards higher awareness of the importance of phonology in ELT. He’s convinced that we will experience ‘learning by doing’ and gain new insights into phonology and techniques for teaching it, if we just start teaching it! Here’s what he said:

More phonology – Why?

It can motivate students to understand phonology and the ‘mysterious’ relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

Discussing pronunciation as a group can help make teachers more responsive to students’ needs.

Having students tackle misunderstandings due to pronunciation can make classroom interaction more authentic and closer to real-world conversations.

It trains processing and noticing, and allows a focus on what causes communication to break down (rather than focussing on an idealised accent).

Adding feedback on pronunciation etc. can generate more learning at any stage of a lesson.

Chunking grammar as connected speech phrases can aid recall; it is more efficient for memory as the sound shapes and grammatical patterns will be stored together.

More phonology – How?

Have a pronunciation sub-aim which fits in with the other aims of the lesson/tasks, on either receptive or productive skills.

Include plenty of well-contextualised examples of the use of spoken language in lessons.

Approach phonology in a way that promotes collaboration with and between students.

Stop being the interpreter for students! Encourage them to work with and in the language together, e.g. get them to ask each other if they don’t understand something someone has said.

During discussions, etc., identify the pronunciation issues students find most difficult and that most hinder comprehension, to work on these in specific pronunciation practice tasks.

Give specific feedback, not only on the pronunciation of individual words, but also on other phonological features of connected speech such as linking, stress, etc. Immediate feedback can also help other students to learn from one person’s difficulty.

Help students to forge the link between visual and audio representations of words; they should Look (at the written word), Listen and Repeat (model pronunciation).

Help students to process new sound patterns not found in their L1, by mapping the sounds onto the complex English spelling system, e.g. with the IPA or phonics.

Pairwork requires mutual intelligibility – and the teacher can monitor both task progress and phonological features that allow mutual comprehension.

Recycle tasks that were used for another purpose by creating a pronunciation/phonological focus, e.g. on contrastive stress, phrasal verbs vs verbs + prepositions.

Hot tip: Put the IPA transcription of new words above / in front of the written form of the word, so that it gets students’ main attention.

Hot tip: Use underlining to show which letters together make one sound in a word, e.g. s a nd w i ch e s


These tips show that it is easy to fit more phonology in to our current teaching practice; it means minimal extra work for teachers, but could lead to great pay offs! Adam is advocating the need for innovation in L2 pronunciation teaching, and after this talk, I’m very much inclined to agree!

Adam’s slides are available here from his highly recommendable website: teachadam.com



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!


MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from Editors

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from Editors

On Saturday 14th January, I hosted a Meetup for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The idea was to enable some informal networking for anyone in the area who is involved in writing ELT materials.

One of the activities we did involved editors/publishers and teachers/writers posing questions for each other on posters, and then adding their individual answers to the “other side’s” poster.

IMAG0051[1].jpgTo share some of the insights beyond our cosy meetup in Germany, I’ve decided to type up the questions and answers here on my blog. So let’s start with the questions posed by editors and publishers:

  • How regularly would you like to have contact with the editor(s) of a project you’re working on? And what’s the best way to keep in touch?

– by email, or phone calls at pre-arranged times.

– by email, not via CMS!

  • What makes a schedule achieveable?

– advanced planning

– involve writer in negotiating deadlines

– time of year – respect teachers’ other commitments during term time

  • What characterizes the optimal brief?

– sample of how material should be submitted, or a template

– realistic and clear

– not too many stakeholders

– best to talk through together, not just send document

  • How can we help you find out more about the target audience?

– provide contact o teachers/schools/advisors

– set up focus groups

– provide info on curriculum, or previously published materials

  • How can we encourage teachers to use our materials?

– poss. make videos of example lessons showing how the materials can be employed or adapted

– specific materials in terms of students’ content learning (rather than general textbooks), e.g. for us on literature/linuistics/culture studies

– make mix & match units available

– attractive design for learners – put less on a page instead of cramming in as much as possible

– make them adaptable

– provide pdfs

  • What can a publisher or an editor do to make you want to keep working for them (besides pay you lots of money)?

– regular work

– reasonable workload & deadlines

– no projects at busy times of year

– pay in advance for work, rather than on the basis of books sold

– make communication as efficient as possible

– show appreciation & respect for writers’ time and work


Are you involved in ELT materials writing? Do you have more questions from the editors’/publishers’ perspective? Or answers to these questions from a teacher’s/writer’s perspective? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

Recently, a colleague observed my grammar class. The 30 learners are B2-C1 level and the class is required for their degree programme (English Studies). I usually set up my gramamr classes so that the activities build on each other to move from re-capping basic points to more advanced fineties of certain structures, so we discuss answers to exercises together to check everyone has understood before we move forward.

Usually, I do think-pair-share, or check answers in plenum. But often only a few students volunteer to share their answers with the class and I end up trying to coax the others into speaking.

I’d never really noticed before, but my colleague pointed out that I often say “It’s boring only hearing from the same few students!” He suggested that this might make those who volunteer to contribute feel that they are boring or should not put their hands up so often: the opposite effect of what I’m trying to achieve. And so I am trying to think of new things to say, of new ways to encourage the others to share their answers. 

So far, I’ve tried “Let’s hear from someone new” and things like “Let’s hear from someone in the back row”. I sometimes also call on individual students, but I often have the feeling that they don’t like being put on the spot like that…

And so this blog post is rather a plea – please help! What else can I say or do to encourage other students to volunteer to share their answers in plenum?? Please write your suggestions below!!

CLIL in Practice – An Example Activity

CLIL in Practice – An Example Activity

What is CLIL? 

2200500024_e93db99b61.jpgThe acronym CLIL stands for “Content and language integrated learning” and was coined by David Marsh to denote an approach to language teaching with a dual aim, namely learning a foreign langauge and simultaneously learning something new about a subject, new content.  

In their 2010 book, Coyle, Hood & Marsh present four components – the 4Cs  – of CLIL

Content (What are the learning outcomes regarding the subject content?).

Cognition (What higher-order thinking skills are included to encourage meaningful learning?). 

Communication (What language and skills will be learnt and what langauge and skill swill be practised?).

Culture (How can the activity promote awareness and tolerance in students, and an interest in looking beyond the ‘self’?) 

Here is an example lesson project that encompasses the 4Cs of CLIL:

Example CLIL Project: Mock general election


In this project, one class group is one constituency in the UK. If you have several class groups, each of them can represent one constituency. If students or teacher need a basic introduction to egovenment/parliament and elections in the UK, the PPT below can be used [3].

Students in the class / in each class are divided into~5x pairs or small groups , each of which represents one of the main British political parties (e.g. Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Greens). Each group nominates one candidate, whose name will appear on the ballot paper (the teacher should make these [1]).

In their party groups, students research the general philosophy of their party and use the party’s website and other promotional material to inform themselves about the main policy ideas of their party. This can be done as homework or in class, and can be supported by providing a webquest or worksheet where necessary – this can also be used to introduce and practise key election / political vocabulary. If this is done in class, with further research at home, the teacher could also provide basic information about the parties to help guide students [2].

Once they have a general idea about their party, students should create a slogan to accompany their election campaign. This can also be written or edited after the next stage.

Students are asked to choose 4-5 main policy areas which they deem most relevant to the target voters in their constituency, and to find examples or data which support their party’s policies in these areas. The teacher could also provide statistics, graphs, etc. as data which the students can analyse  to find the most pertinent points for supporting their party’s ideas. This can also be done as homework, and students can then divide up the policy areas to research.

Students watch an example party political broadcast – this should be from a party that is not being used in the mock election, so as to avoid unfair advantage! Students should be guided to notice useful phrses or features of the language (& persuasive techniques) used in the broadcast, and should take note of these. This is best done in class so the teacher can monitor the language noted. A worksheet could be provided with questions to guide students’ attention to specific points of the speech.

eu-parliament-strasbourg.jpgFocussing on the policy areas they have chosen and the supporting evidence they have analysed, and employing the language features they noted down from the party political broadcast, the party groups then create short speeches / party political broadcasts (max. 5 mins) to present and promote their policy ideas to the class group (=target voters). To ensure that all students speak, each one can present one policy idea. Students can also create one poster or PPT slide to advertise their party, main policies, and candidate.

Whilst listening to the parties’ speeches, the audience takes notes on the key policies and how well supported they are in the speech. They can be instructed to use these notes to make their decision about who to vote for.

ballot-1294935_960_720.pngOnce all of the speeches have been heard, the room can be re-arranged to make polling booths, where students will be able to cast their vote anonymously. The teacher hands out the ballot papers, and provides a ballot box for the students to cast their vote in.

Either the teacher, or 2 nominated students count the votes and present the results.


As an extension, students can be invited to discuss the electoral system and analyse the results – this could also be given as a homework writing task.


[3] PPT on government/parliament and elections in the UK: PPT UK Elections

[2] Basic information about political parties (adapted from YVote): Election-political-parties info

[1] Ballot papers (adapted from YVote): Election-ballot-papers_enlarged_with-text-fields

The 4Cs of CLIL in the example activity


  • Understanding the electoral system (first-past-the-post) of UK general elections
  • Understanding the general approaches and some main policy ideas of key political parties in the UK
  • Understanding the principles of British democracy, parliament and government



  • Analysing input texts for biased information
  • Analysing data regarding policy topics
  • Evaluating relevance of various policy topics to the class group (=target voters)
  • Synthesising information from various sources into speech



  • Election-specific language 
  • Argumentational language and techniques of persuasion 
  • Grammar for referring to future time
  • Public speaking skills
  • Functional / operational language to facilitate group work



  • Promoting tolerance of various political views
  • Comparison links to political parties in students’ home country/ies
  • Actively engaging students with the issues around them
  • Helping address the trend of voter disengagement amongst young people
  • Enabling students to become informed and questioning citizens