IATEFL 2018 Materials Writing PCE Panel Discussion

The last session of the day was the panel discussion. I managed to get down a few questions and answers but at some point my brain and fingers both gave up the ghost!!

How important is it to get input from learners? What input is important? How do you get that information? How do you use it?

At a basic level, what topics are they interested in learning about: using images and their own language to elicit it. From that, decide which topics to cover. (Julie)

At a micro level, if you in any given lesson or activity, especially if new, you can get them to rate it in terms of interest, challenge, fun, to get a sense of where they found challenge/interest. So they might find something hard but would want to do it again while if you didn’t get the feedback, you might avoid it in future, thinking it is too hard. If you do it regularly, it becomes easier for the teacher and the students to do that. Cultivates a more open relationship. (Laura)

What considerations should we take into account when deciding what lexis to include in a global coursebook?

No easy answer. Increasement, bigness, unpossible, step your feet rather than toes – you wouldn’t teach things but you could point out that learners might hear these things in lingua franca settings and that if you are not sure of how to negate a word, you could use the strategy of pick one of the negative prefixes and the meaning will stay clear. You could draw learners attention to the fact that phrasal verbs are more likely to be less transparent than latinate words. (Marek)

There is a lot of description of communication strategies in ELF settings, e.g. paraphrasing. For paraphrasing, you need synonyms. So you could encourage learning of synonyms to enable this. More linguistic resources useful. (Laura)

How can writers volunteer to help with writing projects to help with SEN or refugees etc?

The initial research if you target a donor is does that donor have budget for education in a particular country? The first thing is a mapping process of who is doing what where. There are certain times of the year when there is a lot more money – end of the financial year. Projectising it is the way forward – coming up with a proposal and doing the homework. If you have connections. E.g. the British Council representative in a particular country. You could also look at publishers who might be interested e.g. Macmillan. There is a massive market for materials for the NGO workers i.e. the people who work with the refugees. (Psyche) BC representative from Palestine says it is an area of interest. E.g. for beneficiaries (lower level) and for people managing the process (higher level)

How should ELF inform materials writing?

There’s a lot of interesting research out there, but it is not prescriptive. Materials writers are the interface between research and the classroom. There is no simple answer. Just being in a room like this together and having the discussion is important. It’s about making sure that what we put down on the page is informed and sensible. (Laura)

Thank you to MaW SIG for a very thought-provoking day! And to the caterers for making me a vegan salad – it’s the first time I have been catered for at a PCE since going vegan! 🙂 



IATEFL 2018 Materials Writing PCE Session 5

Designing materials that address learner and teacher spiky profiles

– Julie Day

Differentiation – it’s time consuming and does it work anyway? We all pretty much agree that it is important and effective. “Plus-one learning” is owed to every student, ensuring that whatever their starting point, they advance (John Hattie).

As writers, we should be helping teachers do this. In the classroom, we have students with spiky classrooms i.e. stronger in some skills than others, more or less literate in first language, more or less opportunities to use English outside the classroom. Teachers may also have spiky profiles, in terms of experience, qualifications, language level. Writers need to support both learners and teachers in this respect. So all learners learn the most they can.

Differentiation can be by:

Outcome: learners can produce somehting different e.g. sentence vs paragraph

Process: how they do it can be different e.g. some put sentences in order, others circle the correct word to show they understood

Content: learners do different activities depending on their abilities, interests or needs.

E.g. For a controlled reading practice: “easy”: T works with group to read words and identify initial letter; “middle”: match words to images; “top”: write missing words in spaces in a sentence.

If you expect differentiation, provide support to teachers to help them do it. E.g. “English My Way”

Activity: we looked at some tasks and discussed issues around difficulty and whether it creates more work for the teachers.

Initially as a teacher, you need to gather information about the learners through observation, to know what they need and what they can do, then plan and use materials accordingly. Materials writers can help by giving suggestions about how to differentiate at different points in their materials.

Activity: we looked at different ways of differentiating and discussed issues around them.

I don’t seem to have written much done for this talk, but there was a lot of pair work activity and heated discussion around it during the feedback stages, so I must have been too busy participating, spectating and digesting! 



IATEFL 2018 Materials Writing SIG Session 4

Writing for language education in emergencies and development

– Psyche Kennett.

Psyche started by sharing some staggering statistics and issues to consider:

It’s a big and difficult world out there. 66 million forcibly displaced people. 10 million are stateless, they have no third country to go to, no freedom of movement, no access to education or health care. 20 displaced people per minute. Of the 65 million displaced, 1/3 are refugees in camps/settlements and half of that 1/3 are under 18. Imagine you are a Syrian 17 year old, you are about to do your school leaving exam, and you are displaced, now you are in Turkey and you have to take it in Turkish. Imagine you are a Burundi teacher displaced in Rwanda. Rwanda has the most open education context for refugees but that would require switching to KinRwanda and English as the medium of instruction.

The rest of the talk addressed the issues which are raised by the issues touched on above.

How do we stop a generation of youth becoming the lost generation?

Language for resilience – harnessing the power of literay in additional languages so that forcibly displaced people can anticipate, withstand, recover and transform from shocks and crises.

By strengthening:

  • home language early education and adult literacy for social identity: being illiterate in L1 makes it very hard to learn another language. If you lose the identity of your home language and over-adopt the language of the place you move to, and then are rejected by that place (bad schooling etc), you have a huge problem. These people have alientation through loss of identity, no home identity and not accepted into the new society. This can lead to radicalisation.
  • strengthening second/other languages for access to education and employment
  • using participatory methodology for core skills and good governance. This is at the core of everything, that’s where the social inclusion/critical thinking skills will come from. ELT uses learner-centred techniques far better than many other subjects, this needs to be drawn on.
  • language programmes for providing safe spaces and addressing trauma – whether the physical space where the refugee is learning or the topics that are discussed e.g. avoiding talking about home and family.
  • institutional capacity for formal and informal language teacher education – are there enough teachers? do they have inclusive participatory methodology to help refugee kids?

Education in emergencies is usually catch-up education, condensing years of education into catch-up courses. This doesn’t work for language, you can’t teach it any faster than you already teach it. Education in development is national curriculum reform, writing textbooks for grade 5-9 etc It’s not an emergency situation, it’s a developing country situation. Working in camps in emergency situations gives you more flexibility than improving education in a school system, where you have to work with other stakeholders. In an informal situation in the camps, you have a wide open space. The problem is, parents want their kids to have the formal thing. Although there is a psychological attachment to the conventional idea (e.g. school leaving cert in a new language), what the kids need is other sorts of language and core skills.

The LFR materials development strategy does the following:

Tries to give refugees a sense of normality, if you give refugees a normal off the peg course book, that’s like saying “you are normal, you can do this”: uses an expediency approach. Also uses ‘methodology first’ materials for a process-based approach. E.g. Scaramaga camp in Athens, there are Afghans, Syrians and Yasidi Christians.  Syrians are on top, going on to a third country, Afghans are at the bottom as not going anywhere and there’s also a  third group who exclude themselves due to religious differences, so inclusive methodology is needed to help people from different backgrounds to participate together. Uses mother tongue materials in the classroom, and a community language approach, where the teacher works with the group to reformulate what is being said. Language identity is part of the content of the materials for a pluralinguistic approach. Core skills, peace education and citizenship materials for a rights-based approach.

Consensus orientation is an important skill. It means giving up you hold dearly and the other side giving up something they hold dearly so that they can move forward together. It should be taught on a daily basis. E.g. by doing a pyramid discussion. We did an example of this, starting by writing down three things that have struck you so far as important to think about in this context. (Then we did the pyramid discussion thing). If the list is a low stakes list, then consensus orientation is easier to build in, it’s easier to give things up. In a lot of contexts, women would give up ideas more easily as socially conditioned to do so. Through jigsaw reading, onion/mingling groups, pyramid groups, you are teaching, through the activity, a kind of socialisation, participatory skills. One of the root causes of conflicts is education – if you rote learn everything in education, you will follow orders and respect authority, not dissent, not change things. Critical thinking for refugee learners is important as it gives them the human right to analyse, to dissent, and also gives them a new skill they need to survive in a new world. For materials writers, if we use Bloom’s Taxonomy, we are teaching critical thinking – the sub-skills of critical thinking. It shouldn’t be a separate subject, but should be a fundamental core skill through having different tasks in the material that we write. Recall – concept checking; Process – thinking task, cognitive task, work through what you’ve understood; Produce – freer task, having analysed and synthesised and evaluated something you can produce something new. If you analyse a lot of textbooks in developing countries e.g. Burundi, Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, they often don’t go further than the remember/recall. Synopsis is a high level task, as you have to eliminate things and prioritise things yourself, make those decisions.

No one is writing anything for these contexts. Education in emergencies, you are relying on a big donor. They are reluctant to do English. UNICEF/UNHR are beginning to see that language is a massive excluding factor, not only race/geography/special needs etc There is a lot of money out there but it’s hard to access it. You can’t have global refugee textbooks. Biggest need is A1-A2 in middle Eastern contexts and A0 in sub-saharan contexts. As well as the language, non violence communication, equity and equality, accountability, transparency etc need to be written in, overlaid into the materials, as well as functional survival literacy skills for survival in the new place. E.g. register for housing, go to the bank etc. The proposal has to go to the big donors. They are just cottoning onto the need. For a framework rather than material.

You need to integrate citizenship skills, survival skills and language skills. For Greece, Turkey, Syria, Germany, there is a space for something they could all use, that kind of book. The British Council need to bring the publisher and the donor together like a broker.

IATEFL 2018 Materials Writing PCE Session 3

Are you writing for all learners?

– Romulo Neves

The most unequal thing is to treat unequal people equally.

Romulo did an activity to demonstrate how students may feel in the classroom when they are finding something harder than others. (We had to say the alphabet and follow instructions, allocated by letter, to lift our left or right hand – harder than it might sound!) The goal for today is not to suggest that materials writers are doing the wrong thing but to show us some ideas to help certain types of learners so that we could take one or two forward when writing the next course book/set of materials.


difficulty with social interaction, limited or inappropriate interactions, robotic or repetitive speech. Also love repetition and structure, if they can’t predict what is going to happen, they feel anxious/nervous and start to daydream/escape. Lowering the bar is inappropriate as they may be as  bright as others.

Romulo did an activity in which he read a sentence and we had to write down certain words. The goal was to show us how easy it is to get lost and switch off. Then we looked at a page from a course book in two different versions – the more inclusion friendly version looked less “pretty” but had the capital letters at start of sentence in bold to draw attention and boxes to write the answer, as well as less content on the page/more white space. No Picture. The names of the characters in a dialogue are in a different font and colour to differentiate between the names and the speech. If you have a choice of words to fill in a blank, have a blank box to write the answer and the choice words after it. Every unit should follow the same pattern i.e. what you are going to do in each activity – a “map” of this is helpful.

Reduce instruction words and teacher talk by including cards at the back of the book for “Feeling great” “Have some doubts” “Need help” so they don’t have to interrupt to communicate. With speaking, give an example of what they are going to say so that they have something to guide them to know how to work together.


They do pay attention but they pay attention to many things at the same time so it is hard to focus. They have no idea of time management, they are always moving. Matching is easier than writing an answer, as no scope for misspelling. Two questions rather than three – same amount of time, do it better. Separate texts, e.g. if there are two postcards, don’t have them together on the page, and use less imagery. Mini-whiteboards are calming as they write rather than speak. Emphasise good behaviour not bad behaviour – give a sticker for good rather than chastising for bad.


Letters, numbers, right/left, rotation problems.

Visual dyslexia – need to listen to the information in order to understand completely as the letters rotate.

Auditory dyslexia – need to read the information as short term memory disorder.

Reading rulers are useful. OpenDyslexic in a new open source font created to increase readability for dyslexic students. Record as much as of the course book as you can in audio that students can access online. Use visual aids (e.g. arrows) to show where to get the information from and vocabulary tables with “I know this word”, “I recognise this word”, “I don’t know this word”. Provide templates and examples for them to follow.




IATEFL 2018: Materials Writing PCE Session 2

The second session was led by Laura Patsko, talking about…

Creating effective pronunciation materials.

  • Why include pron in materials and classes?
  • Market demands vs market needs (not always the same thing!)
  • Principles for designing useful pron activities
  • Mini-workshop


Research says it works – controlled practice carries over to other contexts. Helps intelligibility and listening, but also improves reading speed for example, spelling, writing, grammar and vocabulary. Students may avoid structures because they can’t pronounce them rather than because they don’t know them. Teachers around the world often lack confidence and training (related – training and confidence go hand in hand!) Students and teachers want help with pronunciation. Laura has done lots of training with different teachers, in different places, they often say the want it!

Market demands vs market needs

When teachers look for pron in materials, they are looking for activities that will help students get rid of problematic pronunciation and sound more native-like. Worth reiterating that the vast majority of English users do not speak how materials suggest they should. “We are already living in a world where most of the varieties we encounter are something other than British or American English” (Crystal, 2000) so we are not helping students if we only teach them using British/American models. Research also shows that accent and intelligibility are not the same thing. They are related (Derwing and Munro, 2009 or anything they have written is worth reading on this issue) but they are separate phenomena. Communication and pronunciation is a two-way street. A listener’s expectations of what they are going to hear will impact the extent to which they find someone intelligible. Ample research suggests that monolingual native speakers are often the most difficult to understand in international settings.

Market demand that requests native speakers is largely our own fault as an industry as ss are stuck in a vicious circle that we perpetuate. “All varieties are equal but some are more equal than others” is the message if the only variety they encountered in their materials is a prestigious minority variety (which has been the case for many years). We need to bear in mind how much of what markets say they want vs what they need (what they will encounter outside the classroom or even inside the classroom). Realistically and psychologically we are also asking for a leap of faith, we are trying to get students to leap into the 21st century – even if we are convinced, students need convincing. So materials need to be high quality.

Evolution not revolution with regards to approach: we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Principles for designing effective pron materials for an international world:

  • identify appropriate priorities for the syllabus (nothing new but we need to consider what these are in an lingua franca English setting, what we are preparing students for)
  • identify the key markets for the course – cover the needs of speakers from those L1 groups. The strongest influence on L2 pron is L1 pron. Important to match areas of ease and difficulty. Hard but not impossible for a global market. You may need to research the L1 if you don’t know a lot about it.
  • Distinguish between productive and receptive focus in activities. Issues in listening can arise from pronunciation. Make it clear why activities are useful, what they are focusing on, for both students and teachers.
  • As a general rule, start productive tasks by raising receptive awareness, within a syllabus and within activities.
  • Include a variety of authentic accents not actors doing voices. Hard if writing for a publisher, hard to find actors etc from all over the place but if you have a voice actor putting on an accent, it’s false and defeats the object of what you are trying to do – raise awareness of the diversity of accents.
  • Pronunciation can and should be integrated with other skills. E.g. in guided discovery of grammar, include some pron questions. Developing phonological awareness can improve all four skills.
  • Repeat key features across multiple levels. Repeat, revisit, revise, just like you would with anything else.
  • Include pronunciation in revision/review sections – not only grammar and vocabulary. Don’t give them impression that it didn’t really matter or you justify skipping it.
  • Be careful in the rubric about how you present information about accent and voice. E.g. “we say” – who is we? There are ways of grading that avoid that kind of possessive language. E.g. “some speakers say”,  “clear.
  • Ensure design is consistent with other important sections. Don’t make it look expendable. No smaller font size or different heading. It makes it look less important. With bigger publishers and extensive teams, designers may not know this so have that discussion. If it looks missable, it will be skipped.

Principles for supporting teachers through materials. (Research suggests that published materials could do more to support teachers.

  • Offer guidance in how to evaluate and assess students’ pronunciation. How do they know if the students achieved it well? Explain it clearly.
  • Include clear explanations of pronunciation features – don’t assume teachers know. Otherwise they will skip it because they won’t know how to answer student questions.
  • Remind teachers of other points in the course that it might be useful to refer back to. E.g. “We’ve seen this in unit three” or “See explanation in unit 3” i.e. where they can find the information elsewhere.

The rest of the session was spent on the practical workshop aspect, in which we were applying these principles through looking at tasks in Laura and Katy’s new book:

Click to find out more…

Based upon this talk and the tasks we looked at, I would highly recommend having a look at it!