How to Become an ELT Materials Writer
The next edition of the IH Journal comes this month and we are excited to have a special issue with a focus on writing materials and working for a publisher, as well as the usual mix of discussion and useful classroom ideas. To whet your appetite before then, we asked Kirsten Holt from from Teacher Professional Development at Macmillan Education to share some thoughts on how to become an ELT materials writer. In the Journal itself you’ll find more from Kristen, and others involved in writing and publishing. For now, here’s some excellent advice about getting started getting paid to write materials.
There are a number of ways to get started writing ELT materials – I suggest trying a couple of the following options:
1) First and foremost, build an outward-facing ELT profile to demonstrate your knowledge and show your capabilities. Create the outward-facing profile by:
Step 1 – Build knowledge
- keep up with teaching trends and methodology:
- read journals (e.g. IATEFL SIG newsletters, Modern Language Teacher, English Teaching Professional)
- attend conferences/talks (even virtual ones, e.g. on Macmillan English, the IHWO Online Workshops or the British Council seminars)
- sign up to publishers’ websites
- share knowledge and best practice with colleagues/wider ELT community (e.g. Share a lesson on onestopenglish)
- join networking groups (e.g. ELT technologies on LinkedIn; IATEFL on Facebook, etc.)
Step 2 – Widen your network:
- attend conferences (including IATEFL/BC networking events)
- give a presentation at a conference (showcasing your area of interest and capabilities)
- write an article for an ELT journal
- utilise social media sites:
- follow publishers/known authors on Twitter
- join publishing groups/ELT organisations on Facebook
- create your own blog
Step 3 – Establish relationships with publishers
- Go to the publisher events and network
- Become a reporter
- Get involved with a pilot
2) As mentioned above, consider reporting and piloting on projects for a publisher, or even online via your blog, if you have the latter. This can be a great way to establish a relationship with key contacts, and to demonstrate your knowledge and capabilities – I have often commissioned a reporter to write material for me based on their detailed comments and/or insightful feedback though NB a reporter’s job is not to rewrite the manuscript, just to suggest what they would do differently if they feel something isn’t working.
The benefits of being a reporter are that it can give you your first experience of the publishing process up close, and can enable you to decide if you like it without getting in deep. In addition, although publishing cycles can seem quite long (often over a 3-year period), the opportunity to report on a product/course is available more frequently than other publishing work.
Reporters are essential because they help the vital quality control of manuscripts, provide up-to-date classroom insights and ensure classroom relevance. The role entails:
- reading the manuscript
- filling in questionnaire/writing a short report/completing a user diary
- giving constructive feedback (NB It’s not enough to say what doesn’t work – you need to make suggestions on how to improve material, whilst bearing in mind reporting is not editing!)
- and is often over a 4-week period.
Committing to conducting a pilot is more of a long-term project than just reporting because it tends to run over a couple of months. The pilot has a more detailed set-up and the teacher involved needs to keep an ongoing user diary or log versus writing a one-off report, and is also expected to comment on functionality, usability as well as content. The advantage is it can give exposure to how the independency of components works in practice.
3) Start writing ELT supplementary material – this can be a perfect way in to a writing career without a huge investment upfront, in the sense you don’t have to go part-time from your teaching career and can see which area suits you best. There is a real plethora of options around – just consider how many supplementary products go with the average coursebook… (online) workbook activities, teacher’s book photocopiables, teacher’s notes, activities and hints/tips on an LMS, test books or online tests to name just a few!
You can sometimes get into this line of work by being a good reporter as described above, but alternatively, provided your profile meets the criteria suggested at the start, send a publisher the following:
- a detailed CV and cover note (stating your credentials, detailed ELT experience and current position, plus what you’re interested in but be flexible)
- a favourite lesson (1–2 pages), with the learning objectives clearly outlined, and one of the following: a worksheet, a warmer, a filler, study tips, teaching tips, a game or an article on methodology (as succinct as possible, i.e. just a page). NB It is important to specify who the targeted audience is (e.g. It is relevant for young learners, teenagers (specifying age range) or adults?) for your materials; what level are they aimed at (e.g. beginner, intermediate or advanced); and for which segment (e.g. for General English, exams, business, EAP, ESP, methodology, etc.) so that the publisher can gauge how appropriate the content is.
4) Look for materials writing competitions – they are often advertised on Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn as well as on publisher and ELT organisations websites and can led to other publishing work. The British Council ELTONs, for example, has the Macmillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing with 2015’s winner, Chris Lima and 2014’s winner, Lizzie Pinard, both going on to write series for onestopenglish (EAP Shakespeare and Compass respectively).
In addition, there has recently been the ‘Teachers at the Heart’ Competition on the Macmillan English Website, a global competition ideal for showcasing teaching ideas/talent.
5) Sign up to a database of writers or group set up to support writers. Here are a few worth trying:
- The ELT Teacher 2 Writer – it’s a database of writers and is free to join. Publishers use it to search for potential authors and product reviewers. You can also find eBooks there to help you to develop your skills as a materials writer.)
- ELT writers connect – the site has a great free resource: The no-nonsense guide to writing
- IATEFL MaWSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group) – has extra tips and guidance, and advertises writing opportunities in its members’ only Facebook group.
And so that’s that – some excellent advice for would-be writers looking to get started. There’s now no excuse and it’s time to get typing! Thank you very much to Kirsten for answering our question. You can read more from her in IH Journal Issue 39 out later this month.
For a more personal tale of how to get into materials writing, see Genevieve White’s recent post here, in which she tells us how she started.
- Becoming an ELT Writer – Ask the Publishers Q&A – with Neil Wood, Oxford University Press
- Becoming an ELT Writer: Ask the Publishers Q&A – with Kirsten Holt, Macmillan Education
- Issue 39 Editorial
- Teaching Online by Nicky Hockly with Lindsay Clandfield, Delta Publishing
- Special interest column: Developing Teachers