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Teachers as materials writers: some considerations

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Are you a teacher? If you are, then you’re probably a materials writer too.

Most teachers create at least some of their classroom materials, either as a supplement or as a replacement to the course book they are using. Are your materials good quality? You probably think they are but how do you know? And what can you do to make sure they pass a certain standard of quality control. Here are a few questions and answers that might help you to make your good materials even better.

Should I get an editor?

Yes! Always. It doesn’t have to be a professional editor of course. It could be a colleague, a member of your PLN or just a friend or family member. No matter how good a writer you are and no matter how many times you check and double check what you’ve written, it’s always easy to miss a typo or an ambiguous sentence. Your students deserve excellence. Don’t settle for less.

Are my materials the right level?

For materials to be effective, they need to be the right level. Too low and you are doing your students a disservice. Too high and you are risking students becoming demotivated and losing interest. These days most materials writers use an online profiler to check the level of a text. One of my favourites is It isn’t perfect but it’s a good starting point as it gives you a color-coded breakdown of words according to the Council of Europe Framework of Reference (CEFR) or the Academic Word List (AWL).

Are my written instructions clear?

Maybe … or maybe not. Instructions are often neglected but in actual fact they should be at the top of your list when it comes to editing. Many new writers make the mistake of having instructions that are at a higher level than the materials or simply making the instructions hard to follow. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to make the instruction a lower level than the materials. And if students are expected to do a number of tasks in one activity, break the instruction down into two or three separate ones. It might be useful to look at the instructions in a few acclaimed course books. What wording is used? How are complex instructions made simple? Make yourself a database of instructions so you never have to think of them again.

Are these materials likely to offend anyone?

One of the good things about creating materials for your students is that you aren’t held hostage to censors. PARSNIP topics (politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms and pork) that are usually left out of most course books might find a place in classroom materials that you are designing for a specific audience. However, while this presents opportunities for more interesting discussions around contemporary issues, it’s still important to consider the feelings of your students. Ask yourself how each and every student might react to a topic you are considering. Would they all feel comfortable with it? If you aren’t sure, it’s probably a good idea to follow the rule if in doubt, leave it out.

Can all of my students access these materials?

If they can’t, then the materials can’t be used. Accessibility is a student’s right and can mean different things to different people. Using an online platform when not all students have access to the internet is an obvious example but it’s also important to consider things like font size and spacing too. Some students might have visual-spatial limitations or weak decoding skills. Unorthodox layout or wacky fonts and colours can make materials unclear and unreadable. They are probably best avoided. For learners with dyslexia a dark sans serif font, generous spacing, a light background and a single-column layout are all helpful. The best starting point is to get to know your students so that you can discover any special needs.

Are these materials user-friendly?

Materials have two sets of users, learners and teachers. They have to be easy-to-use for both. Even if you are the only teacher likely to be using the materials, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of either making them self-explanatory or writing simple teacher’s guidelines. What is clear today might not be as clear in a year’s time if you decide to reuse the materials with a different class. As for the learners, they should be able to spend as little time as possible on working out what they have to do so that they can spend most of their time on the actual tasks.

A final Word

Above all you should enjoy making your own materials. It’s an opportunity to get creative and the emphasis should be on fun. And don’t forget that as well as resulting in a tangible product to help your students learn, the writing process is an excellent way to develop your own skills as a teacher. But that’s a blog post for another day!