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.
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.
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.
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.
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.