Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


5 Comments

How teachers help to rewrite coursebooks

Blonde woman taking notesHaving given us an insight into the daily lives of materials writers, English File authors, Christina Latham-Koenig and Clive Oxenden, share with us the importance of reader feedback when it comes to writing new editions.

In our last post we talked a bit about the way we work and how we look for interesting material to provide good lessons for our books. This time we thought we would talk a little about how readers’ feedback helps to shape the new versions of English File that we are currently writing.

The way it works is that we send the first draft to a number of readers all over the world. The readers are all experienced teachers, and they tend to all be teachers who have used New English File, because what we want to know is whether they prefer the new lessons to the old ones, and what still needs improving or tightening up in the  new lessons.

It’s always a slightly tense moment for us when the readers’ reports arrive. Normally we feel reasonably confident that readers are going to like most of the lessons, but you can never be totally sure! However, although positive comments are important to reassure us that we are on the right track (and sometimes just to boost our morale!), constructive negative comments really do help us to improve the material, and so we welcome both types of feedback. The feedback we received this time gave us just about the right mix, and it has been extremely helpful.

After reading through all the reports – a stage when the room we work in is almost knee deep in papers – we then have a meeting with our editors where we go through each lesson one by one and discuss all the readers’ comments (not to mention the editors’ comments) and decide how to improve on them. These meetings always seems to take longer than anticipated, but by the end of it we are really clear about what needs doing for each lesson. All that is left to do then is to go away and re-write them!

By the end of the report stage we often feel that we have really got to know our readers, even though we have never met most of them. We know the kind of topics they like or dislike, what aspects of grammar and pronunciation are important to them, even their sense of humour! For example, we once wrote a grammar practice sentence which said ‘England ___ Brazil 3-0 (defeat/beat/thrash) and one reader added the comment ‘In your dreams!’

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers from all over the world, past and present, whose comments have helped us so much in the writing of all the different levels English File. If you have any suggestions for improvements, we’d love to hear them.

Bookmark and Share


8 Comments

A day in the life of materials writers

Man and woman at table with postcards and coffeeIn this first of a series of posts, English File authors Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig give us an insight into their daily lives, the writing process, and reaching out to the community of English File teachers around the world.

Over the years we have met a lot of teachers around the world when we have travelled to give talks or teacher training sessions and one of the things we’ve most enjoyed about travelling has been meeting teachers. We won’t be able to travel much in 2011 because of our writing commitments, so writing this blog will be our way of keeping in touch with English File teachers around the world. And of course teachers themselves will also be able to share their experiences and ideas with each other.

We thought we’d use the blogs to tell you what we’re doing at the moment and tell you a bit about how we work, as it’s something we often get asked about. In September 2010 we started work on the new edition of English File Elementary. We’d had a good long break from writing over the summer, since finishing the Advanced level, so we came back to work feeling refreshed and energetic.

We think we are quite unusual in the way we write compared to other author teams we know. Most teams seem to divide up the books either into units or sections (grammar, skills etc.) and then write separately. We get together every day (from about 10 to 6) and work together on everything. On the one hand this means things take longer than if we simply divided up the book, but on the other hand two heads are definitely better than one and we think that the lessons benefit from the way we work them up together. Luckily we live very near each other just outside Valencia in Spain. We work in Christina’s house (as Clive has two small children), and our working day is punctuated by one of us looking at the other and saying ‘Time for a coffee?’ (or, in Clive’s case, tea).

Continue reading


3 Comments

Addressing concerns about project work

Nervous woman biting nailsHaving introduced us to, and examined the benefits of, project work in the classroom, Project author, Tom Hutchinson, now considers the primary concerns held by teachers about its use and offers his suggestions for overcoming such concerns.

In previous blog posts, we looked at the benefits of project work, including motivation, relevance and educational values. You are probably wondering by now: what’s the catch? For every benefit there is a price to be paid, and in this section I’ll take a look at some of the main worries that teachers have about project work.

Noise

Teachers are often afraid that the project classroom will be noisier than the traditional classroom and that this will disturb other classes in the school. But project work does not have to be noisy. Students should be spending a lot of the time working quietly on their projects: reading, drawing, writing, and cutting and pasting. In these tasks, students will be working on their own or in groups, but this is not an excuse to make a lot of noise.

The problem is not really one of noise, it is a concern about control. In project work students are working independently – they must, therefore, take on some of the responsibility for managing their learning environment. Part of this responsibility is learning what kind of, and what level of, noise is acceptable. When you introduce project work you also need to encourage and guide the learners towards working quietly and sensibly. Remember that they will enjoy project work and will not want to stop doing it on the basis of it causing too much noise. So it should not be too difficult to get your students to behave sensibly.

Continue reading


5 Comments

How I got into ‘drama’ by Ken Wilson

Tragedy and comedy drama masksKen Wilson is a full-time author of ELT materials. He wrote Drama and Improvisation for the Resource Books for Teachers series (OUP). For many years, he was artistic director of the English Teaching Theatre, a company which toured the world doing shows for learners of English.

I’ve been involved with ELT long enough for people to describe me as an ‘expert’. Of course, the word has to be modified by a reference to one’s area of expertise, so I’m a ‘drama expert’.

Despite the fact that my presentations at conferences etc are labelled ‘drama workshops‘, I’m not really sure about the use of the word ‘drama’ in an ELT context. It might add a level of complexity to the kind of things that I and other like-minded educators do, which is to suggest simple classroom ideas that can make learning more interesting and engaging.

I usually tell teachers that I’d prefer not to use the word and that the activities I’m going to talk about in my ‘drama’ workshop are simply designed to animate the language their students know. I actually prefer the word ‘animation’ to describe the activities, but of course in most people’s minds, that would sound as if I was talking about using cartoons.

Anyway, I promised to write about how I got involved in ‘drama in ELT’. So how did it happen?

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Q: Why do projects? – A: Relevance & educational values

Group of children gathered around a globeProject author, Tom Hutchinson, continues a series of posts on the benefits of project work in the classroom, this time exploring how projects can help bring relevance to students’ learning and promote cross-curricular learning.

In looking at the question of motivation in my last post, I have been most concerned with how students feel about the process of learning, that is, the kinds of activities they do in the language classroom. An equally important and related question is how the learners feel about what they are learning.

A foreign language can often seem a remote and unreal thing. This inevitably has a negative effect on motivation, because the students don’t see the language as relevant to their own lives. If learners are going to become real language users, they must learn that English is not only used for talking about things British or American, but can be used to talk about their own world. Project work helps to bridge this relevance gap.

Real needs of language learners

Firstly, project work helps to make the language more relevant to learners’ actual needs. When students from Athens or Barcelona or Milan use English to communicate with other English speakers, what will they want to talk about? Will it be London, New York, Janet and John’s family, Mr Smith’s house? Surely not! They will want, and be expected, to talk about aspects of their own lives – their house, their family, their town, and so on. Project work thus enables students to rehearse the language and factual knowledge that will be of most value to them as language users.

Continue reading