As part of the recent IATEFL Global Get-together held on 18–19 April, five SIGs came together to discuss the issue of inclusion in materials writing. The five SIGs were IPSEN SIG, represented by Dr Anne Margaret Smith, YLT SIG, represented by David Valente (also moderator), Global Issues SIG, represented by Linda Ruas, LIT SIG, represented by Rob Hill and MaWSIG, represented by Aleksandra Popovski. At the end of the short panel presentations the five SIG representatives answered questions from the audience. If you are a member of IATEFL, you can see a recording of the panel discussion here.

There wasn’t enough time for all the questions to be answered, so the five speakers have kindly shared their answers to the unanswered questions in this post. 

Dr Anne Margaret Smith

Jenny: What about using colour to highlight grammatical structure? What would you suggest?

Using colour as a means of helping students understand the patterns of language can indeed be a very powerful tool. However, it’s important to check first that all students can see the colours; otherwise, some may be left behind. If you have students who can’t distinguish the colours you are using, consider using shapes instead. Or try using multisensory tools like Cuisenaire rods, which are different lengths as well as different colours. 

Abdul Muhaimin: What about texture?

Texture is also a valuable learning tool as part of a repertoire of multisensory activities. For some visually impaired students it may be a significant part of how they understand the world. It may be tricky to use different textures to represent different parts of speech, but could be an interesting project.

Helen Grady: The slides are an interesting colour. Do you have the RGB code for them?

The start and end slides (purple) are R:204 G:135 B:249. The other slides (yellow) are R:255 G:242 B:204. There is no particular colour that works for everybody, but usually it is better to try to reduce the contrast between the text and the background. Pastel shades tend to work better, but we have to try different things to see what is best for our different learners.

For more on visual accessibility, see the British Dyslexia Association Style Guide in the references below. 

Majellia Sheehan Harris: Any suggestions for closed captioning? It can be expensive.

It can be expensive if you use a professional provider, but there are ways to provide closed captioning, or at least subtitles, much more cheaply. In Google Docs you can use the voice typing facility (which is pretty accurate, actually) so you can easily produce the text that you need. If you use PowerPoint, you can also dictate your words, and have the text appear on the slides.

Alternatively, you can have your hearing students take a minute each of the video you are using, and write the subtitles (and captions) on a piece of card for the students who have a hearing loss. The same is true if you have visually impaired students and want to use a video. You can ask your students with better functional vision to take it in turns to provide the audio description so that the others don’t miss out on the scenery, the background action, and so on.

For more support on providing accessible materials for sensory impaired learners, contact your national organisations advocating for people with sight or hearing loss. In the UK these would be the Royal National Institute for the Blind and Action on Hearing Loss.

David Valente 

Pete Clements: Can you recommend some research into the effectiveness of discovery learning in ELT/EFL?

Discovery learning is a concept/process that it is rather difficult to get into published ELT materials except in the form of some kind of cosmetic heading. With this in mind, I’m interested in developing English language materials around literature to enable children and teenagers to encounter other lives and worlds, to develop empathy with the characters and their experiences, and potentially to shift perspective. This positions children’s literature as a powerful vehicle for discovery, as opposed to the English teacher giving lessons ‘on’ or ‘about’ difference. Sissil Lea Heggernes’s research focuses on developing teenagers’ ‘curiosity’ about intercultural themes, for example. Her dialogic framework (based on the analysis of student conversations) is an interesting way of demonstrating intercultural discovery and perspective shifting. Another recent study, by Cecilie Waallann Brown, aims to build a bridge between awareness and action by enabling learners to both discover and challenge cultural stereotypes. It’s a sobering reminder of how infrequently learners challenge the status quo and how achieving this requires time. This further reinforces the need for a strong focus on diversity and intercultural citizenship education in English language materials for children and teenagers, I feel. 

Johanna Stirling: David Valente’s ideas were really interesting but fast! Any articles? 

Five speakers focusing on inclusive materials in 20 minutes is a rather speedy challenge, I agree, Johanna! My principles for inclusive materials design, selection and use link to several articles, including Joan Kang Shin’s excellent, Building a global perspective through songs in English and one of my own articles, Doing diversity in English language programmes for children and teenagers.

Aleksandra Popovski

Pete Clements: Where do you draw the line between tokenism and representation?

As I said in my talk, avoid showcasing. Do not put issues such as disability, race, culture, gender, or orientation on display as something unusual, something you don’t see every day and now HAVE to have in your materials. They are part of our society, our realities, everyday life and as such should be treated with respect and not be showcased as something different.  

(Additional answer from the moderator, David Valente) To help move away from tokenism, materials writers and publishers need more training and development around the social model of disability, for example. This social model suggests that people are disabled by the barriers imposed by society, rather than the physical impairments themselves. People with visible disabilities need to be included in all walks of life, including diverse jobs. Therefore, when it comes to ELT materials writing, people with disabilities should be ‘mainstreamed’ throughout, i.e. represented in a wide variety of everyday situations. In particular, so-called ‘inspiration porn’, where people with disabilities are portrayed as ‘exceptional’ (often in sporting contexts), need to be avoided. Stella Young’s TED Talk, I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much explores this both clearly and humorously.

Milena Jakicevic: As editors, we’re often asked to respect PARSNIPs and other guidelines, which can make materials seem less authentic and inclusive. How can we tackle this issue? 

There will always be new taboo topics and that is something we cannot escape. What publishers could do is turn to localised versions. One of the most important issues with PARSNIPs is that their inclusion in ELT materials affects international sales. If publishers focus on localised versions of their materials or they hire local authors with in-depth knowledge of the local teaching context to create materials for them, then the sales wouldn’t be affected as much. They might even see an increase.

(Additional answer from the moderator, David Valente) In my recent MaWSIG blog post, Hidden identities and silenced voices, I proposed a call to action for the ELT publishing world. If some of the ideas are genuinely acted on, it could be potentially game-changing for diversity and inclusion in ELT materials.

Linda Ruas 

Peyman: Why isn’t there any advocacy for teachers to get together in regions to write ELT material as opposed to everyone doing everything individually? I thought that was what the role of teaching associations was all about.

There are teaching associations that create local materials and there is a lot of co-authoring among their members. 

I have seen a lot of groups working together locally on materials, e.g. within AfricaTESOL and in various WhatsApp groups around sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. English Workshop in Benin – a very successful WhatsApp group with 250 members in Benin and several other countries). And yes, Teaching Associations play a big role here. 

Ravinarayan Chakrakodi: How authentic are the materials developed by someone who has not experienced the culture and has not been an integral part of the community?

I think they can be authentic, but not necessarily what is needed, or what works in class. I know that teachers in many countries in Africa I have been working with would love materials writers to go to teach in their countries for a few weeks at least, and support them in writing materials. The contact and the sharing and developing of materials can then be continued via WhatsApp, with teachers trialling and sharing feedback. 

(Additional answer from the moderator, David Valente) For ELT materials to go beyond so-called ‘intercultural comparison’, materials writers should reflect on the ideological questions which may arise in relation to cultural appropriation and authenticity of experience. Delanoy’s (2018) concept of ‘text ensembles’, i.e. using a range of different texts on the same topic, is especially valuable. The limiting effects of a single story and potential appropriation can be alleviated by ensuring diverse voices and lived experiences are audible and visible in ELT materials. Having students compile their own text ensembles (through collaborative online research) makes them far more empowered, and this, in turn, could lead to social justice actions outside the classroom. 

Ravinarayan Chakrakodi: These materials can stir great controversies in the classroom. How can we use controversial texts in the class? 

I agree that any of the PARSNIPs can be very controversial, and I would not recommend using anything that might be dangerous for teachers or students, or that could upset anyone, unless you know them well. However, this is the ‘stuff of life’, and if we banish all reference to controversial topics in the ELT classroom, we are in fact censoring input. In fact, students may well need to talk about, and be able to respond to, these controversies.  

(Additional answer from Dr Anne Margaret Smith) In our classes we need to establish a culture of respect and safety, so that students feel able to talk freely. Whatever age group we are teaching, we can use controversial topics to help our students develop communication skills, i.e. listening carefully to others’ point of view without dismissing them outright, expressing opinions clearly, giving reasons and evidence if possible, and disagreeing respectfully, without conflating the person with the argument.

Harry Kuchah: The issues Linda raises are even more relevant for teacher education. I have seen some training about teaching large classes that did not sound like they were derived from any understanding of the experiences of teachers in large classes. 

I agree with Harry’s point and have found participating in a WhatsApp group of teachers for several months before face-to-face training very useful, as this allows for a great deal of sharing of experiences, context, needs, etc. Another relevant point here is the Hornby Educational Trust’s ‘Decentring ELT’ initiative, which calls for investment in local experts and getting teachers to value each other’s solutions rather than paying a lot for an external speaker.     

Rob Hill 

Tom Le Seelleur: Are graded readers the best way for students to learn about diversity?

My first response was that I didn’t think that whether material was graded or not affected its effectiveness in providing examples of diversity. Indeed, you will often find the same title at several language levels of graded readers, from A1/A2 on the CEFR through to B2 through to the original text. A clear example is Frankenstein, which all publishers of graded readers have in their catalogues. What distinguishes the simplified versions from Mary Shelley’s original is not that the treatment and brutalisation of the poor creature, ‘the other’, is more obvious in simplified form;  it is rather that the language is more accessible. For lower-level learners, the grading of literary texts certainly makes texts more approachable, but does not automatically make them ‘the best way’ to learn about diversity.

Tom Le Seelleur subsequently added a comment in the chat box to the effect that what he had in mind was graded non-fiction. This is a different thing. Graded non-fiction is ideally suited to biography, a genre which contains narrative excitement along with facts. Simplified biographies of figures such as civil rights fighters and pioneers from minorities can easily be made available to a wide audience, and so are an excellent way for students to learn about diversity. 

Afreen: Giving voice to characters is a good idea. But in some regions it can be offensive in some cultures.

To explore this observation I would need some examples of the regions and cultures Afreen is thinking of. I made a few general points in my short talk, but the desirability of applying these in different regions and cultures must, of course, be judged by the teacher operating in those areas. I wonder what Afreen had in mind regarding the kind of voice-giving that might be offensive? Some examples that come to my mind that might be offensive to attitudes somewhere – and we might want to respect these attitudes or we might want to challenge them – include giving a voice to a female character in a male-dominated world, giving a voice to a child who mis-comprehends or criticises the adult world, or even giving a voice to an animal that exposes the cruelty of humanity (it has happened in well-known novels such as Black Beauty and Warhorse).

My keynote article in the upcoming issue of Voices (no. 274, due out at the end of April/beginning of May 2020) gives several examples of how different voices are employed in narratives.


British Dyslexia Association (2018) Dyslexia Style Guide available from:

Delanoy, W. (2018). Literature in language education: Challenges for theory building. In: Bland, J. (Ed). Using Literature in English Language Education. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 141–157.

Heggernes, S. L. (2019). Opening a dialogic space: Intercultural learning through picturebooks. Children’s Literature in English Language Education Journal, 7(2), 37–60. 

Shin, J. K. (2015). Building a global perspective through songs in English. IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers Special Interest Group Publication, 3, 67–77. 

Valente, D. (2015). Doing diversity in English language programmes for children and teenagers. IATEFL Young Learners and Teenagers Special Interest Group Publication, 1, 82–92.

Valente, D. (September, 2019). Hidden identities and silenced voices. IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group Blog. 

Waallann Brown, C. (2019). ‘I don’t want to be stereotypical, but…’: Norwegian EFL learners’ awareness of and willingness to challenge visual stereotypes. Intercultural Communication Education, 2(3), 120–141

Young, S. (April, 2014). I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much [Video]. TEDxSydney.


Dr Anne Margaret Smith has taught English for 30 years and is also a dyslexia specialist tutor and assessor. She is the coordinator of the IATEFL Inclusive Practices and SEN SIG. She founded ELT Well to bring together best practice from the two fields of ELT and SpLD support, and offers materials and training to teachers, as well as specialist teaching to dyslexic learners.

David Valente is Coordinator of the IATEFL YLTSIG. He works as a PhD Research Fellow in English Language and Literature Subject Pedagogy at Nord University, Norway, where he teaches on the Masters in Primary Education. He is also Reviews Editor for the journal Children’s Literature in English Language Education (CLELE).

Aleksandra Popovski has an MA in Professional Development in Language Education from the University of Chichester, UK. She is a translator, teacher trainer and invited speaker at international conferences. Her professional memberships include TESOL, USA and IATEFL, UK. She is the current president of ELTAM (English Language Teachers’ Association of the Republic of North Macedonia) and Coordinator for the IATEFL Materials Writing SIG.

Linda Ruas, MA, is an ESOL teacher and CELTA trainer at LSEC in London. She has trained teachers for many years in various contexts: Brazil, Japan, UK CELTA and DELTA courses, and refugee camps, and is now working, mostly remotely, with teachers across Africa, mainly in Guinea Bissau. Linda has written some materials: and regularly creates more lessons about social justice issues on the Easier English New Internationalist wiki:

Robert Hill is a graduate in English literature from Oxford University and taught in Spain, Greece and England before moving to Italy. He taught English at the universities of Verona and Milan and is now an author and teacher trainer. He regularly speaks at conferences worldwide and is Coordinator of the IATEFL Literature SIG.


Credit: Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay