Insights from Materials Writing

I’ve worn a few different hats in our field, and I like to draw from one experience and apply it to another. For example, I couldn’t have begun materials writing without having classroom experience, and what I’ve gained from being a materials writer has helped me become a better teacher.

In my opinion, every teacher is a materials writer to a certain degree. We all design materials and activities for our students either occasionally or regularly. I embraced this aspect of teaching early on in my career, and I learned through trial and error what worked well. I’ve been fortunate to be able to contribute to a number of published materials, and each collaborative experience has developed my ability to construct exercises and activities. As I continue to write, I grow even more sensitive to the needs of the students and the teacher. There are still hits and misses, but I feel I’ve become better at the getting hits and reducing the misses!

Do you feel the same way? Do you gain something from creating your own materials? Speaking more concretely, I see parallels between materials writing and designing lesson plans. Here are just a few  insights I’d like to share. My lessons plans are stronger when I remember to apply this knowledge.

  • Context is key. It’s harder for students to be engaged, to understand the lesson, and to recall the language points if both presentation and practice lack a context.
  • You need to choose your contexts wisely. Just because you contextualized the grammar, the pronunciation, or the vocabulary, doesn’t mean your exercise or activity will be received well. Topics have to match students’ ages and interests. What’s interesting to you may not be interesting to all students. There also has to be enough variety in your choices in order to keep students engaged and allow them to apply language points to new situations.
  • It’s worth putting some thought into your “hook.” Many student textbooks open units with a quote, a question, a riddle, a photo, or some other means to provoke thought and stimulate interest in the upcoming theme(s). Lesson plans can use the same strategies.
  • Consistency in format helps. I enjoy developing a relationship with private students. They come to know my teaching style and the kinds of exercises I design for them. When I come up with something new and it works well, I make a point of repeating the format in the future. Our lessons run more smoothly because of this kind of familiarity. My lesson plans are consistent enough to allow us to share expectations and varied enough not to be boring.
  • Scaffolding is a necessity. Don’t throw students your curve ball right away. A good lesson might be like a roller coaster with rises and falls in degrees of intensity, but you need to go slowly uphill before you can accelerate at top speed.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anu says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    Do you have experience in teaching experience of the teaching material writing seminar?


    1. Teaching how to do materials writing? No, but you can certainly gain insights at places like the TESOL convention. See, for example, the summary I gave of Jenny Bixby and Joe McVeigh’s presentation in Philadelphia this year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s