How often do you write your own materials? If the coursebook doesn’t meet your students’ needs or if you don’t use one, this may be necessary. Overall, it’s important to consider aspects, such as authenticity, navigation, and personalization when writing ELT materials. In order to make them more effective, here are five tips:
1. Put yourself in students’ shoes
This is paramount in order to find out whether an activity is achievable or not. If learners need to fill in the gaps during a listening activity, for instance, how many gaps are there? Will they be able to listen and write at the same time? This can be challenging if there are too many gaps or if they are too close to each other. To avoid such pitfalls, the “rule of eight” may be useful: an exercise with eight gaps usually does the trick. Bear in mind, though, that this may vary according to your students’ proficiency level and the length of the text in an activity.
2. Be consistent
Have you used “work in pairs” in one of your instructions? Why not always use this phrase in activities where learners have to pair up with a classmate, then? Consistency in terms of lexical choices, font, colors, space, etc. can make your materials much more reader-friendly. It might be worth paying extra attention to the fonts and their style: avoid the serif ones and italics. The former are more difficult to read and the latter may pose a problem to dyslexic students.
3. Write short and clear instructions
Instructions, also called rubrics or direction lines, need to be short and clear so that students don’t feel anxious or waste time trying to understand what they are supposed to do. As a rule of thumb, write only one action per sentence. Also, try to stick to one or two sentences in your instructions. For example, if learners need to read a text and identify its main topic, clear rubrics would be: “Read the text. What is it about?”.
4. Select images carefully
Images serve several purposes in ELT materials: they can be a springboard for discussion, illustrate the meaning of new vocabulary items, decorate a worksheet or slide, etc. When choosing images for your materials, steer clear of those which reinforce cultural, gender, and racial stereotypes. Besides, have you ever exploited black and white pictures in your lessons? According to research, they can increase learners’ depth of cognitive processing.
5. Consider the “heads up, heads down” test
When creating your own materials, try to strike a balance between activities which require students to look down at a worksheet, for instance, and those which involve learners looking up at their classmates and/or their environment. If there are too many “heads down” activities in a lesson, students may feel bored; the opposite might particularly make young learners too boisterous. Overall, alternating between both types of activities will help your lessons flow smoothly.
Even though this list of tips is by no means exhaustive, I hope you are feeling more confident about writing your own materials now. With a view to assessing how effective they are, remember to observe how your students respond to them in your lessons. Their reactions can provide you with valuable insights into what is working and what needs to improve.
Clandfield, Lindsay, and John Hughes. ETpedia Materials Writing: 500 Ideas for Creating English Language Materials. Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd, 2017.