Setting up an ELT materials website

This month’s guest post is from Kieran Donaghy, whose successful website many of you will know. Here, Kieran offers some tips on starting your own.

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Kieran-donaghy-trainer-colourHow to set up and maintain an ELT materials resource website

by Kieran Donaghy

 

 

 

When experienced ELT materials writers are asked by teachers for advice about how to move into materials writing, they often say how important it is to get noticed, and mention a number of strategies for doing so. Firstly, they recommend that teachers speak at conferences, as publishers often attend in order to spot new writing talent. Another recommendation is to write articles for journals, newsletters and teaching websites. The other most common advice from established writers to aspiring writers is to set up a blog or resource site to showcase their lesson plans and other materials. In this post, I’m going to give some advice gained from my experience of setting up and running my own resource website, Film English.

Starting out

When you start your own blog, it’s best to have an original idea for the type of material you’re going to publish. Do your homework and make sure that your original idea is indeed original, and that there isn’t someone out there on the Internet who has already had this idea and is creating materials which are very similar to yours. Don’t simply rehash somebody else’s idea. Try to become known for a particular area of ELT, yet somehow be different from other bloggers who focus on the same area. When you’re looking for an area to specialise in, it obviously helps if you’re passionate and knowledgeable about the area.

Choosing a name

Once you’ve decided on the area of ELT materials writing your resource site is going to focus on, it’s important to decide on a name which reflects what you’re going to do and is easy to remember. A good example of this is Ian James’ Viral ELT, which reflects that his site’s focus is on using viral videos in language teaching. Try to get the abbreviations EFL, TEFL or ELT, or the word ‘English’, into your name, as well as a word or words which reflect your particular focus. So, for example, if you want to set up a resource site on the use of short stories in ELT, you might like to choose a name such as EFL Short Stories, ELT Short Stories or English Short Stories.

Choosing a platform

There is a variety of different platforms you can use for setting up a resource site. The two most popular are Blogger and WordPress. Both have free, user-friendly templates. You can also create your own website on platforms such as Weebly.

Keeping it simple

When you create your lesson plans, it’s important to keep it short and simple; keep it very focused in terms of what students learn, rather than trying to cover and practise everything. Keeping it short and simple also applies when writing teachers’ notes. As Tamzin Berridge points out in her excellent MaWSIG blog post Rules for Rookie Writers, teachers often don’t have time to read the teachers’ notes in depth before the class. Two questions I always ask myself when writing a lesson plan are, ‘Could I do this activity myself as a language learner?’ and ‘Could I set up this activity myself as a teacher?’ If my answer to either of these questions is ‘no’, I simplify the lesson or teachers’ notes to make the activity simpler for the students and teachers.

Rubric writing

Writing your own resource materials gives you a good opportunity to become acquainted with the best practices of rubric writing. Check out the rubrics in coursebooks and on resource sites of well-established writers – such as Rachael Roberts’ ELT Resourceful, where you will find wonderful examples of rubric writing – and try to integrate some of them into your own materials writing.

Building a body of work

One of the keys to having a successful resource site is to post regular lesson plans. Decide how often you can write and publish a lesson, and try to stick to the schedule. By posting regularly, you will get more readers and subscribers who will anxiously await your next lesson plan. You’re also building up a body of work which will make you more attractive to ELT publishers, as it shows that you’re not just a flash in the pan who can write an isolated excellent lesson plan, but a materials writer who can sustain a high standard of work over an extended period of time.

Spreading the word

Once you’ve set up your blog and published your first lesson plan, you have to let the world know that your resource site exists. The best way to do this is through social media. If you don’t already have a strong online presence, having your own resource site is a good way of establishing one. A few years ago, Twitter was the place for promoting your own materials; but now Facebook is definitely the place where most of the ELT action is taking place, so it’s very useful to create a Facebook account in the name of your website.

Getting feedback

After you’ve built up a strong body of work, you should be getting comments from teachers who have used your materials. Teachers will make recommendations about how to change or adapt the material, and let you know if they had problems setting up the tasks, or if their students struggled with the tasks. Try to take this constructive criticism on board, and adapt and improve your materials.

By the way, if you’re interested in the other methods of getting yourself noticed, there’s plenty of advice on the Internet on how to present at an ELT conference; very recently John Hughes wrote an excellent post on the tips he got from well-known presenters, trainers and authors on presenting at conferences. Lewis Lansford has also a fine book on this very subject, titled How to Write and Deliver Talks, published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer. And if you want to write articles for journals, newsletters and teaching websites, Fiona Mauchline offers sound advice to rookie writers on how to get articles published in The No-Nonsense Guide to ELT Materials Writing.

Best of luck with whichever route you choose – and if you decide to set up your own materials resource site, let me know if I’ve missed anything out!

 

Kieran Donaghy is an award-winning writer, teacher and trainer. He is the author of the methodology book Film in Action (DELTA Publishing). His website Film English won a British Council ELTons Award in 2013. You can find out more about Kieran and his work at http://kierandonaghy.com.

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10 responses to Setting up an ELT materials website

  1. Lewis Lansford 19 April 2016 at 9:19 am #

    Thanks for the excellent post, Kieran – and for the shout out. I like your thoughts on creating a body of work – I think they apply beyond the digital world. When I first took up writing (mostly for print), I didn’t set out to create a body of work, I was just contributing to a wide variety of projects and courses that crossed my desk as a project manager. But after sticking with writing and presenting over a period of years, a body of work sort of emerged. It took some time for me to discover the ideas that really interest me, the materials I like to write, and what I like talking about (it turned out to be ESP, business English, and more recently ELF and also presentation skills), which I now see as a body of work.
    Loved your T2W book as well, and I’ve referred to Film in Action in connection with using TED Talks in the classroom. Keep up the good work, Kieran!

    • Kieran Donaghy 19 April 2016 at 7:26 pm #

      Hi Lewis,
      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and for your kind words. I completely agree with you that the concept of a body of work goes beyond the digital world. In fact, building a body of work was in the past used to refer to just books and articles, but now means much more than that. You’ve certainly got a substantial body of work with all the projects you’ve been involved in over the years. By the way, I was looking at Keynote Advanced today, and it seeems like a great book. Well done!

  2. Rachael Roberts 19 April 2016 at 10:16 am #

    Great advice, Kieran, and wish I’d had it a few years ago when I was setting up my site (and thanks for the mention). One thing I would add is that it’s also very important to link as much as possible to other people’s blogs and sites. Partly because it’s a great way to learn from others and generally get connected, and partly because the more links you have both ways, the more visible your site is to Google.

    • Kieran Donaghy 19 April 2016 at 7:29 pm #

      Hi Rachael,
      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and for the kind words. You’re absolutely right! Linking to other people’s blogs and sites is essential as it helps your Google Page Rank, and gets you connected to other like-minded people.

  3. Clare Fielder 29 April 2016 at 6:00 am #

    Hi Kieran!
    Thanks for this concise and insightful post!
    I have a question about making a Facebook page linked to my blog. Do I understand correctly, that the suggestion is to set up a Facebook page like a business? Which links to the blog? Can you let me know any examples I could look at?
    Also … my ‘problem’ with Facebook is that if I post a link to a blog post, people tend to post their comment in Facebook but not on the blog directly. So when I’m trying to show publishers how many people engage with my blog, the ‘evidence’ will be missing …
    Would love to hear your take, and others’ takes, on this! 🙂
    Clare

    • Kieran Donaghy 8 May 2016 at 11:49 am #

      Hi Clare,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and for the kind words. Yes, I’m suggesting that teachers set up a Facebook page to help spread the word about their blog or resource site. It’s proven to be a highly effective way of getting more traffic to a site. From my experience the more traffic you get to your site, the more comments you get. With regard to people commenting on Facebook, I think that’s positive too as they’ve generally read your post and liked it. Why not compilate those comments and show them to publishers? I hope this helps.

      All the best,

      Kieran

  4. Tamzin Berridge 11 May 2016 at 10:23 am #

    Hi Keiran
    This is a really great blog with some very useful advice – and thanks for the mention! There are really good ideas on here of how to get noticed and on setting up your own blog – I’m feeling inspired!
    Tamzin

  5. Mike Austi 28 July 2016 at 7:07 am #

    Really informative article about ELT materials website. I always love your articles.

  6. Josh Clayton 20 March 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    Really useful article, thanks Kieran!

    I’ve been thinking of starting a blog or website to showcase some of my work, but have been put off by the feeling that whatever I post will be lost in a sea of online ELT materials. Simple and practical suggestions like these make it feel a lot more manageable.

    Like you say, the key is to choose a particular area to specialize in and to have something original to offer. Easier said than done unfortunately…

    • Clare 30 March 2017 at 7:08 am #

      Hi Josh,
      Yes, I also worry that my materials will go under in the sea of free online materials. I do think, though, that sharing your posts on social media helps. ANd, as Rachel mentioned, reading and commenting on toher people’s blogs means that they are more likely to engage with yours. I also like to ‘mix it up’, so some lesson sideas I share on my blog, and occasionally I send one in to be published in a teaching magazine (e.g. ELT Professional). If you have something published, you usually get to write a short author blurb, where you can mention your blog site and hope to attract more readers that way, too!
      Clare

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