In this post, Moundir Al Amrani, a writer from Morocco and OUP/MaWSIG scholarship winner, shares his thoughts about getting started in materials writing. The MaWSIG blog features guest posts by members – please get in touch if you would like to write for us.
As a novice ELT materials writer who has experienced confusion about how to start writing ELT materials and what to keep in mind as I develop my skills, I have been inspired by MaWSIG’s blog, Facebook page and events such as webinars and pre-conference events. I’d like to share my thoughts here to help aspiring ELT materials writers take the first step in this exciting journey.
- Brush up on theory
Many of us get so immersed in classroom life that we forget about the theoretical knowledge we acquired in our training. Once we decide to write ELT materials, it is good to brush up on the basics of teaching and learning, language acquisition, learner motivation, lesson planning, syllabus and curriculum design, and so on. As writers, we will see some things differently, and we will learn others just by changing our perspective on what we already know. For instance, we may have developed our own methods for teaching grammar, and these may work for us; this does not mean that we should stop there. New ELT methods have been developed over the years; the next step would be to make use of these developments in our materials writing.
- Broaden your knowledge
Writing on a variety of topics for different ages and proficiency levels means broadening our knowledge and perspectives. Any idea or event is a potential source of inspiration for an activity; we need to be ready to make use of the world around us. I have been working on a series of ESP lessons for my engineering students; this has meant learning about aspects of technology that are new to me, particularly in the field of English for ICT, and making sure the information I provide is accurate. (For ideas about resources for writers, see MaWSIG’s new Resources tab)
- Think outside the box
Creativity and innovation are always present in ELT. While there is nothing wrong with learning from other writers’ work, we need to be sure that our materials are not replicas of existing materials. We need to develop our own way of doing things, our own personal style. After years of using textbooks in my classes, I have developed an understanding of how the units in those books were written. I try to see what makes those textbooks special, and I try to make my own materials unique in both content and structure.
- Think globally
We need to remember that our material is going to be used by teachers and learners in contexts and environments different from our own, so it is important to see the bigger picture. I know a lot about my students’ socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds; this helps me a great deal in writing materials that touch on their reality, but writing for a worldwide audience means having a broader perspective. For example, I wanted to write a lesson on the popular topic of football. For my own classes I could have written about local football teams and stars, and this would have been successful. Instead, however, I wrote my lesson on the famous Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro and the events it had hosted up to the latest World Cup. I included a listening activity on the Camp Nou in Barcelona, and I wrote another lesson about the famous theft of the World Cup trophy as I believed this event would be interesting to learners worldwide.
- Ensure there is unity
Whether you are writing a single lesson plan or a unit in a book, make sure there is unity. Putting exercises one after the other on a sheet of paper doesn’t make them a lesson plan or a book unit. The different sections of the plan or worksheet should be connected with a thread that runs through them and should work together towards the goal they were written to achieve. As John Hughes says in his excellent blog post about flow, ‘You have to write the material so that one activity flows into the next and that it follows basic principles of good lesson planning.’
- Keep an eye on technology
Teaching and learning are now facilitated by various media; devices we never thought of as being part of the classroom are now commonplace. Take, for instance, mobile phones, which until recently were forbidden in many schools. Now they are promising educational tools. There are mobile apps designed specifically for learners, there are learning platforms and leaning management systems, and there are MOOCs. Social media like YouTube and Facebook have found a place in the teaching–learning process. Teachers create Facebook pages and groups for their classes and make use of their students’ social media skills in learning. YouTube has become a valuable source of videos and tutorials to use in the classroom and to learn from. Make sure you are not in the dark regarding the evolution of technology and how it can fit into the life of teachers and learners.
- Be resilient
Last but not least, writing materials is fun, but it takes perseverance, strong will and resilience. Be ready to take criticism and accept rejection without losing your passion for what you do. Be ready to work with a meticulous editor whose primary objective is to make your work the best it can be. Think of your editor as a friend who wants the best for you; don’t take their criticism personally. Follow their advice and trust their judgment. We should be guided and motivated by our love for what we do—isn’t that why we do it? The road forward may be bumpy, and the best way to deal with it is to have fun along the way.
These are some points that I keep in mind at the beginning of my writing career; I hope they are helpful to other aspiring writers. This list is not exhaustive, and I would like to read your thoughts in the comments.
Moundir Al Amrani is an ELT materials writer and teacher at an engineering school in Morocco, where he teaches ESP, Business English and content courses in the humanities. He also teaches EAP at the graduate school. Moundir was the winner of the Oxford University Press and IATEFL MaWSIG New Writing Talent Scholarship in 2016.
For more information on how to get started as an ELT writer, visit our growing list of links provided on the MaWSIG resource page.