As part of our ‘MaWSIG Meets’ webinar series, Annie Altamirano of TESOL Spain led the webinar ‘MaWSIG meets TESOL Spain: The what, the why and the how of writing a teacher’s book’. This post answers some of the questions that emerged during her talk.

Q: Over the years I have read many publications and attended workshops and webinars on materials writing and all of them seemed to focus on writing student’s books and all sorts of supplementary materials. However, I haven’t seen as much attention given to writing teacher’s books, with very few exceptions. Why is this so?

A: One reason may be because for many years, the teacher’s book was barely more than an answer key, with a very limited number of pages, minimal guidance for the teacher (because of the reduced number of pages), and given away for free to teachers who adopted the coursebook. As a consequence, experienced teachers didn’t pay too much attention to the content as there was almost nothing they didn’t already know, and novice teachers didn’t find the help they needed, apart from the answer keys and audio scripts. 

Fortunately, things have changed. 

Q: What do you include in a teacher’s book? 

A: When a publisher hires a TB writer, they normally send a brief with information about the methodological framework, the structure they envisage for the TB, the scope and sequence, etc. The brief will also describe what you are expected to write. At the most basic level that would be:

  • lesson notes to explain how to do the activities in the student’s book
  • the answer key to each activity
  • audio and/or video scripts
  • references to audio scripts, grammar sections, extra workbook materials, worksheets, etc.
  • aims/learning intentions for the lesson or lesson sections
  • suggestions for classroom management
  • language background notes
  • problem areas and misconceptions that are common for the level
  • cross-curricular links.

Q: What kind of methodology notes do you add? 

A: Even if it’s not stated in the brief, I would certainly include tips, strategies and information about: 

  • additional or extension activities, e.g., warm-ups and plenary ideas for consolidation and wrapping up
  • formative assessment ideas, peer and self-assessment opportunities to assess understanding and progress throughout the lesson
  • differentiation ideas to support less confident students or to challenge more confident ones 
  • critical thinking opportunities and ideas to develop 21st-century skills
  • additional homework ideas and home-school links, e.g., projects, online research, recording podcasts or videos, etc.
  • how to use worksheets at different levels of complexity
  • how to use active learning methods to maximise learning engagement.

Q: How do you manage when a student’s book aims to target a very wide range of countries, or contexts, e.g. students of different ages or learning English for different purposes?

A: It is very unusual for a coursebook to be aimed at different purposes and ages. You have either general English, English for professionals, English for specific purposes, for exams, etc. The same applies to the question of age. Materials are aimed at very young learners, young learners, lower secondary, adults, etc. When you are commissioned to write a TB, you know what sort of material you will be working with and the age group it is for, and this is also specified in the brief you receive. 

As regards context, you need to bear in mind that the book will probably be used by teachers with different levels of training, so you have to strike a balance and offer support and guidance without sounding patronising. Sometimes the publisher will give you an indication of the expected level of training/education, but this is only possible if the materials are aimed at a specific market, and even then, there will be differences. 

Access to resources is another critical issue. Not all schools, teachers and students have tablets, interactive whiteboards, laptops, mobile phones or stable internet connections. There are also schools where the use of mobile phones or tablets in the classroom is forbidden, or where video-recording students while they are working is inappropriate. Therefore, you need to give tech-free alternatives to cater for all these scenarios.  

Q: How much cultural awareness does the teacher’s book writer have to provide? 

A: The teacher’s book writer is not expected to be an expert, so it is usually enough to give some basic information and perhaps suggest resources that can support teachers. What I always do is include ideas about how to use this information in class to expose students to, and develop awareness and respect of, other cultures, nationalities and ethnic groups.  

Q: Don’t you find that students love learning about far-off lands and cultures? How else would they learn about those, if they’re not included in the student book? 

A: I mentioned that when I started learning English and well into my early years as a teacher, books featured traditional white middle-class families living somewhere in England, usually London, or the US, usually New York or California, and living ‘typical’ middle-class lives, and that I was happy to see that more and more coursebooks aimed at the international market have moved away from British/American-centred materials to a more multicultural context. 

Although students in international contexts are very likely to be interested in learning about life in English-speaking countries, I think that they will certainly benefit from using materials that help them learn about other cultures, different family types, ethnic and social groups, gender equality or human rights. And this can only be achieved if we present them with materials that reflect these realities. What you write will be largely determined by the student book content, but you can always offer tips and ideas for discussion and extension activities that bring students closer to different realities.    

You may ask Is there a perfect teacher’s book? I’d say that there isn’t in the same way there isn’t a perfect coursebook. How useful a teacher’s book is will depend on each teacher and the teaching context, but as writers, we need to do our best to understand and cater for diverse realities and experiences. 

The what, why and how of writing teacher’s books by John Hughes, 11 November 2016, Oxford University Press ELT –
The voice of the teacher’s notes by John Hughes, 15 May, 2016, MaWSIG IATEFL –
How to write teacher’s books, Mike Sayer and Ros Wright, training course for ELT writers Book 9, published by ELT Teacher 2 Writer.

Annie Altamirano (MA in ELT & Applied Linguistics, University of London) is an independent teacher trainer, mentor and materials writer. She has given teacher training workshops in Europe, Asia and Latin America and has published extensively with all major international publishers. Her latest published works include Cambridge Global English, 2nd edition, Teacher’s Resource books and Cambridge IGCSE English digital teacher’s resource, published by Cambridge University Press, and On Track 5 Workbook (Bavarian and national editions) published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany.