22 Dec How to Write Appealing Teaching Materials (2): 9 Essential Tips for Language Teachers Who “Do it Themselves”
(Continued from Part I)
In the first part of this article we determined that writing your own teaching materials can be a matter of having professional fun, but also of meeting your students’ unique needs by designing tailor-made exercises especially for them. And we also decided that the set of 9 writing guidelines laid out here refer mainly to controlled practice activities and worksheets. It is now time to proceed with the remaining 7 guidelines.
- Grade the items in an exercise
Start with what’s easier to do and gradually continue with more difficult items. That way your students will feel encouraged to go through the whole exercise confidently. Also, weaker students won’t feel put off, but they will be able to solve at least the first few items, while stronger students won’t feel slowed down, but challenged.
If, for example, you want to revise Past Simple, you might want to start with positive regular forms, go on to forms with special spelling, then on to negative and interrogative forms. Like this:
Put the verb given in brackets in the correct past tense form.
- The children …… with their cousins in the garden whenever they can. (play)
- We …… in front of the supermarket to chat with Mrs Robinson. (stop)
- I …… milk because we still have about 2 litres in the fridge. (buy)
- …… you …… the dentist’s office for an appointment? (call)
- Why aren’t they here to pick us up? …… you ….. them know the time of our arrival?! (let)
- Make your exercises easy to check
Checking an exercise by reading whole sentences is rather old-school (i.e. boring) and time-consuming. To check efficiently, always assign numbers to the items in an exercise, and if it’s a gap-fill, for instance, focus only on the word/s the students have put in the gap. If, on the other hand, you have a matching exercise with two columns, label the items in one column with numbers, and the items in the other with letters, so the checking will sound something like, “1G”, “2B”, “3D”, etc.
- Test one type of target language at a time
If you want your students to practice phrasal verbs, focus on that only. Don’t test grammar, too: don’t ask them to come up with the right phrasal verb in the right present perfect continuous form… In principle, don’t mix grammar and vocabulary, as that’s confusing and simply too hard for the learners. Just stick to one thing to practice/test at a time.
This is an example of how NOT to design an exercise which aims to test phrasal verbs:
Chose the right phrasal verb to fill in the gaps in sentences 1-4 below.
|fall out with show up put up with call off|
- Our boss is probably …… the meeting because half of us are on holiday.
- I found out that the in-laws ……. each other before their grandson was born.
- Do you mean no one …… for Professor Dudgeon’s seminar so far??
- I …… lazy workmates, because I’m always very selective about who I work with.
- Design compact exercises
Include ideally no more than 10 items per exercise, otherwise it becomes too long and students might get distracted, unfocused or demotivated. Also, if you print out the exercises, do your best to use a sheet of paper economically, for example by fitting several exercises or tasks together on the front of the page, and the answer keys overleaf, so that the back of the page is used, too.
- Do it, then test it
Once you’ve finished designing an exercise, try it out yourself before taking it to class. Do the exercise as if you were a student and see for yourself if it is logical, user-friendly, properly proofread, and so on. And always include an answer key (perhaps on the back of the page); doing that will spare you possibly embarrassing moments in class, when you might be too tired or unfocused to remember the correct answer for each item in the exercise. Besides, when learners can access the answer key and self-correct, they feel more autonomous.
- Make the content real
For decades, grammar books used “he” or “she” in exercises. That’s impersonal, dull and ultimately demotivating for the students. Design your exercises so that they are more authentic. Instead of he/she/they, you can use name of celebrities that everyone in the class knows of or is interested in. Even better, use the names of real people in your students’ life. If, for instance, you have a student called Stela and you’re creating an exercise on third-person Present Simple forms, you may include a sentence like “Stela’s brother always …… Arsenal’s matches on TV.” Using real people in your exercises makes them more fun and relevant.
- Mind the layout
Is the font you’re using big enough? Legible enough? Do you use the bold/italic/underline function smartly, to make the key words or examples stand out and help clarify what the students have to do? Is the text conveniently spaced out, or do the students have to write down words in a space which can barely fit three letters? Does the whole page look good, is it visually pleasing, or is it a sheet on which words are all cluttered up? Bear in mind all these aspects once you’ve planned the content of your exercise and go on to tap it in. Ideally, use eye-friendly fonts like Arial or Verdana, perhaps size 11 or 12, and space your text at 1.5.
Having gone through these guidelines, remember, above all, that designing your own teaching materials is a creative experience, and should be fun and rewarding. What’s more, the students usually love to know that a task was made especially for them, so be aware that your creative effort is valued.
International House Bucharest runs regular CELTA, DELTA and IHCYLT courses for teachers of English at its Teacher Training Centre, as well as training events online, onsite or at partner locations. To sign up for a course or event, contact [email protected].