The next title in the ETpedia series (coming soon) is all about ELT materials writing. To find out more about the book we interviewed one of the two authors with ten questions.  Lindsay Clanfield

1 Who are you and what have you written for the ETpedia series?

My name is Lindsay Clandfield and I’m the co-author of ETpedia Materials Writing.

2 Why do you think this book is useful?

Well, making materials is a very common part of the English teacher’s workload. Be it for fun, to adapt existing materials or for things like tests, teachers have often made their own materials. However, there is a surprising lack of resources in this particular area.

3 How will ETpedia Materials Writing help teachers in their everyday work?

Like other books in the ETpedia series, it’s a very easy to navigate collection of ideas. I see this as a kind of book you can dip into for inspiration when you are creating materials, especially in terms of exercise creation. If you’re short on a way to use that great text you found for your class, want to make a worksheet for a particular piece of video, or need to create items for an exam, it has you covered!

4 When you started out as a teacher, what were the main challenges of materials writing?

I started teaching in 1997, one year before Google officially started, five years before wikipedia and several more years before we could surf the internet easily from home. So the main problem was getting access to source material and ideas (texts and images mostly, later video). If you couldn’t draw or design things nicely by hand it was harder to make good-looking materials. But there was a certain charm in the handmade worksheets those days.

5 Are there types of classroom materials that you enjoy writing more than others? (e.g. board games vs tests)

I enjoy researching and writing texts for classroom use, and designing games and different kinds of classroom activity. Sometimes I can get into the right mind set to write test materials or grammar exercises, but most of the time I don’t like those!

6 What are some of the basic skills that a teacher who creates materials needs?

Well, apart from the obvious things (obvious to me, at least) of having teaching experience and a good level of English, I think a teacher creating materials needs to have a certain amount of empathy. Empathy for students and trying to understand what their interests and motivations are; and empathy for other teachers who may use the material. What works for you might not always work for everyone else!

7 What are some ways a teacher can develop their materials writing skills?

Start sharing them! This is easier now than ever. Share with colleagues, share with other teachers you meet at events or online, start a website... Also, don’t stop making materials. Writing is like exercise, you need to work those brain cells. And, also like the exercise slogan says ‘It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.’

8 What advice would you give someone who would like to share and publish their materials?

Perhaps start off by making a workshop/talk about them, then try to present this at a local conference. That’s where you can meet publishers and begin networking. You can also write and offer to do guest blogposts and the like for any organization or publisher you like. You can of course pitch an idea to a publisher, but in my experience this doesn’t work out so well. 

9 As a published course book author, what new challenges are there?

The field of publishing is changing rapidly these days. Digital publishing has completely altered many of the ways of doing things, and as a result there is a lot of uncertainty among publishers. Are print books going to be dead or not? Will students everywhere really be learning off tablets at school? There’s been a lot of hype and some very big failures. Authors have been casualties of these kinds of projects. However, on the plus side there have been exciting opportunities for teachers and writers to ‘do their own thing’.

10 The book also includes quotes and advice from other experienced materials writers. Is there one you think is especially true for you?

I really liked the quote Mark Hancock used to describe well-written pronunciation materials. He said the key is to make ‘something complex seem simple. I like this metaphor: “The better the diver, the smaller the splash”.’
I think this is true for most materials for language learners. Language learning can be very complex and it’s easy to go down rabbit holes, but the best materials are the ones that make it all look so easy.

ETpedia Materials Writing is by Lindsay Clandfield and John Hughes. You can find out more here.