Ten tips for writing materials by Katherine Bilsborough

19th December 2023

All teachers write materials for their learners at some point. Sometimes, we are prompted by an interesting article we come across in the newspaper which makes us think: ‘That would be useful for my Business English class’. Other times, we realise a class needs more practice with some specific language and none of the resources to hand seems quite right. Whatever the reason and whatever the materials, it’s a good idea to keep a few things in mind so that the results can be optimum. Below are ten tips for writing materials:

1. Have a clear idea of why you are writing the materials

Are they to replace something you aren’t happy with? Are they to supplement something in the course book? Re-inventing the wheel is pointless but tailoring materials to suit your very specific context and needs is very useful.

2. Copy the things you like in published materials – not the actual content but the way they do things

Look at things like how much text is on a page, how an instruction is phrased or how one activity leads seamlessly into the next. Then do something similar. After all, the publisher is doing it this way for a reason, probably after a lot of input from teachers and other specialists.

3. Start at the end and work backwards. Ask yourself what you’d like your learners to be able to do because of using the materials.

Consider your aims and objectives. Then think about the stages that might be useful to reach that point.

4. Keep the end-users in mind at every stage of the process.

Think about your learners as a whole group, their interests, likes and dislikes. But also, think about them as individual learners with their differences and their unique needs. Keep asking yourself questions like Will they find this engaging? Is there anything in this (text) which might upset someone?

5. Always ask someone else to proofread what you’ve written.

No matter how good you are at writing materials, you’ll inevitably make errors. Typos are common and sometimes we think we know how to spell a word but in fact, we don’t. A second pair of eyes is invaluable.

6. If possible, pilot the materials and ask for feedback.

You can provide a checklist of things you’d like comments on, in the same way a teacher gets feedback after a classroom observation. If you can’t pilot the materials yourself, reach out to another teacher who might be happy to do the task.

7. When you finish writing your materials, look through them and think about the variety of activities.

Have you given learners opportunities for sharing information and ideas, for practising what they’ve learnt, for recycling language, for personalising a topic? Have you included different interaction types? You won’t be able to do everything every time, but variety is good for several reasons.

8. Make sure you have permission to use any content you include in your materials.

This might be a text, an image, an audio, or a video. Check who owns the copyright and what the Creative Commons license means. Always cite the source or attribute the artist, photographer, etc. There are obvious reasons for this but ultimately, as a teacher, you are a model for your learners. If they see you using anything from the internet without thinking, they might think it’s OK for them to do the same.

9. Keep things as simple as possible.

This is true for every aspect of the materials, the content, the page design, the instructions. It’s a good idea to show your materials to another teacher or even someone who isn’t a teacher, perhaps a student. If they can’t fully understand what needs to be done, you’ve probably made something unnecessarily complicated.

10. Enjoy the process!

Writing materials is an opportunity to be creative and can be very enjoyable. It’s also a great way to develop as a teacher. As we craft materials for our learners, we focus on their needs, we think about teaching methodologies and what supports or hinders learning.

About Katherine


Katherine Bilsborough is a freelance ELT author and trainer. She is passionate about training teachers how to develop the skills they need to write their own classroom materials and has recently set up Writing ELT Materials Ltd. with her business partner and colleague, John Hughes.

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