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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.

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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).

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