July 2012
TESOL HOME Convention Jobs Book Store TESOL Community


SESSION REPORT: Corpora and Spoken Language: Ways Forward for TESOL

(Presenter: Michael McCarthy, School of English Studies, The University of Nottingham)

Reported by Lida Baker, MWIS Past Chair

Saturday at 2 p.m. can be an unfortunate time for a scheduled TESOL session. Many people have already left the conference while others, weather permitting, are out sightseeing before catching their evening planes, trains, or buses home.

Luckily I was still around on Saturday at 2 p.m. to catch Michael McCarthy's session entitled "Corpora and Spoken Language: Ways Forward for TESOL." In the session, Professor McCarthy described the phenomenon of engaged listenership, the term he uses to characterize how people react to what they hear. Engaged listeners, it turns out, use a small corpus of very high-frequency utterances such as great, absolutely, yeah, oh, and well, as bridges between what they have just heard and their response to it. Such utterances, his research shows, nearly always come at the beginning of the response.

Consider this simple example, which I made up:

A: When's the last time you went to a baseball game?

B: Well, I guess it was the summer before last.

It would be highly unnatural if the response were constructed like this:

C: I well guess, it was the summer before last.

McCarthy's research has implications for both teaching and materials writing. Teaching speaking, he advised, is all about teaching people how to respond. A speaking-skills syllabus should include a "repertoire of response items appropriate to [different] situations." Moreover, listening-speaking classes should present students with more situations in which they have to listen and react as opposed to "listening for X" tasks.

There is a clear lesson here for materials writers as well. If we want the dialogues we write to sound natural, we had better be sure to follow the rules of interaction uncovered by Professor McCarthy and other researchers in the field of corpus linguistics.

SESSION REPORT: Handout/Not a Handout? Document Design and Materials Development

(Presenter: Anissa Dalle, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Reported by Lida Baker, MWIS Past Chair

This worthwhile presentation was one of the seven sponsored MWIS sessions at the 2012 conference. Presenter Anissa Dalle spoke about principles of document design and demonstrated how a well-designed document can enhance learning.

To begin, Anissa reviewed the multiple functions that a handout can serve. Among other purposes, teachers use handouts to

  • enable students to complete a task;
  • convey information;
  • practice skills;
  • maintain focus; and
  • provide resources.

Next, Anissa presented four principles of effective document design and explained how teachers might make use of them in creating classroom handouts. The principles are as follows:

Proximity: Group similar things so that students can see the relationships among them.
Visual alignment: Use design features such as columns and margins to create visual alignment.
Repetition: Repeat design elements for the sake of visual unity.
Contrast: Employ contrasting design elements to highlight important content.

Handouts designed with these principles in mind confer advantages that go beyond a neat appearance. Such handouts enhance learning in a number of ways. They increase readability, facilitate student use, enhance teacher confidence, and promote learner comprehension.

To evaluate your own handouts and ensure that they end up in your students’ notebooks and not in the trash can, Anissa offered these tips:

1. As you create your document, zoom out so you can get perspective on the document as a whole.

2. Print out your handouts and proofread them.

3. Ask someone to read the document for clarity.

4. Be aware of photocopier shortcomings.

Following the informational part of the session, participants got into groups in order to look at a number of bad handouts and discuss how they violated the principles we had just learned. One handout, for example, was oversignaled—a term meaning that a document has too many elements that demand a reader’s attention. The fix is to remove excessive boldface, borders, bullets, and so on. On the other hand, Anissa explained, it’s permissible to break a design rule if doing so serves a purpose. For instance, she showed us a handout with a seemingly unnecessary black border around the text that was used to show students what a one-inch margin looks like.

For teachers interested in learning more, Anissa recommended the books listed below. All in all, this was an interesting, well-planned, and dynamic session that gave even experienced creators of classroom materials an opportunity to consider ways in which handout design could optimize their students’ learning experiences.


Schriever, K. (2008). Dynamics in document design. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Williams, R. (2008) Non-designer's design book (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.


Lida Baker is immediate past chair of the Materials Writers Interest Section and a lifetime TESOL member. Formerly a career instructor in the intensive English program at UCLA Extension, she is currently an independent ELT writer and editor who has written and edited dozens of textbooks, workbooks, teachers' guides, and other print as well as electronic materials.


SESSION REPORT: Language-Learning Task Design: Using Higher Order Thinking Skills

(Presenter: Penny Ur, Oranim Academic College of Education, Kiryat Tivon, Israel)

Reported by Robyn Brinks Lockwood, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

Penny Ur discussed the idea that ESL materials need to include tasks on both lower and higher order thinking skills. The session provided teachers and materials writers with numerous examples of language-learning tasks based on critical, divergent, and convergent thinking, all of which enhance learning and motivate students.

Ms. Ur explained that lower order skills are those that require little mental effort; they include processes such as recalling or identifying facts or forms. Higher order thinking skills, on the other hand, are those that require more mental effort. Students exposed to these type of skills are able to compare, prioritize, categorize, define, problem-solve, create, or criticize. Essentially, students need to be exposed to both critical and creative thinking. Although definitions vary, most people associate analysis, precision, and logic with critical thinking skills. Creative thinking involves the ability to develop or create with the language―for example, coming up with an original solution to a problem. Why is it important to include higher order thinking in ESL materials? Ms. Ur presented four reasons: language learning, intellectual development, educational values, and interest.

The session was filled with a wealth of examples. Ms. Ur first discussed traditional exercises, such as matching in vocabulary lessons or gapfills or sentence completion in grammar. She then led the audience through a variety of different activities that teach those skills in other ways. For each activity, Ms. Ur mentioned the higher order thinking skill at work and the language point being taught. She began with teaching vocabulary using analysis. She presented two sample activities that required students to classify or generalize the vocabulary words. For example, she presented a classification chart in which students need to categorize the vocabulary words rather than simply match them to their pictures or definitions. Ms. Ur reinforced her ideas by then asking the audience members to think about grammar exercises. Her examples included activities that not only teach the grammar but also teach students to use higher order thinking skills, such as logic, exemplification, and precision, among others. For each activity, Ms. Ur gave a sample exercise that had the audience interacting with the materials and with each other. For instance, when discussing precision, Ms. Ur asked the audience if certain phrases made sense. My favorites were a definite maybe and genuine imitation leather.

The next part of the session was dedicated to creative thinking and divergent thinking. Again, activities and sample activities were provided for us to try with those sitting around us. One task she assigned was to think of seven ways to compare a computer with a piece of spaghetti. Not only does this allow for creative thinking, but it also teaches comparative adjectives. Likewise, finding six questions to which the answer is twelve requires students to be creative while practicing interrogatives.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Ur mentioned that there is no clear line that divides lower from higher order thinking skills. Rather, it is a continuum. Higher order thinking skills should not and cannot replace lower order skills, but they should be used in materials because they contribute to good learning. Despite higher level thinking skills being easier to implement in more advanced materials, Ms. Ur did encourage their use with beginning and intermediate students.

As a teacher and materials writer, I found this session immensely helpful and useful. I left the session with a wealth of activities to use and methods to bring higher level thinking skills to the classroom. I also left armed with the knowledge needed to make the work I do as a materials writer and editor more meaningful and motivating to students.


Robyn Brinks Lockwood teaches listening, speaking, and writing courses at Stanford University. She serves on the TESOL Book Publications Committee and is a materials writer and editor whose publications include textbooks, ancillary materials, and online courses.


DISCUSSION GROUP Report: Editing and Writing Materials Using Today’s Technology

(Presenters: Jenny Bixby, Freelance author and editor, San Jose CA and Deborah Gordon, Independent materials writer and editor, TESOL Certificate and ESL Instructor, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barabara, CA)

Reported by: Jeanne-Marie McAnanly, ESOL Teacher at Greenwich High School, CT

Writers and editors need to rise to the new challenges and opportunities presented by the rapid development of technology in the field. This presentation by Jennifer Bixby, of Bixby Editorial Services, and Deborah Gordon, of Santa Barbara City College, opened with the results of a survey of writers and editors that confirmed that both must be extremely proficient with Word and file management and that in the future, writers will be using online sites to both create and submit materials. Dropbox and Google Docs are two of the most frequently used file-sharing sites and they might soon replace sending documents via e-mail. Editors need to be skilled with marking up PDF files and managing the editing process online. In addition, the use of templates will continue to grow in the future because they allow both authors and editors to determine exactly how much text will fit on a page. Both writers and editors need to continue developing their technology skills in order to successfully compete and succeed in the materials-writing market.

Jeanne-Marie McAnanly has been teaching ESL at Greenwich H.S. for the past 13 years. Prior to that she taught at Theodore Roosevelt H.S., Bronx, NY for 9 years. She has an interest in materials writing.

Editor’s note: See the “From the Trenches” article based on this session here.

POSTER SESSION SUMMARY: The Language ELT Textbooks Speak

Presenters: Susana Liruso and Pablo Requena, National University of Córdoba, Argentina

The textbook has been and continues to be the most visible and tangible element in any ESOL class. It is clear that it satisfies a need, has a purpose, and performs a function. Although some elements of textbooks such as instructions, photographs, and tables might be considered peripheral, they sometimes communicate in a conflicting manner. Our study approaches textbooks as semiotic artifacts, that is, as meaning-making systems, and is part of a larger research project conducted at the School of Languages of the National University of Córdoba, Argentina. This project seeks to explore different components of textbooks (such as the table of contents, title and subtitles of units, rubrics, and some graphic representations) through the application of systemic functional criteria.


Linguistic and graphic data were collected from six ELT textbooks widely used in Argentina. All the instructions, tables, and images from a unit of each book were coded following principles of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL). The analysis is carried out following the theoretical framework provided by SFL that views language as a semiotic resource to create meanings in context. This theory states that language use is always contextual in that it is the situational and cultural context of language use that influences which linguistic options more effectively convey the meanings speakers want to convey. In the same way, we extend this model to explain choices in textbooks.


The way instructions were written shows variation consisting of bold (40% of all the instructions) and smaller size (33%) among other variation types. Besides this, more than 70 percent of the instructions were accompanied by some sort of icon which in general referred to listening activities.

Concerning images, the type mostly used is a relatively small photograph―smaller than a quarter of a page. Several photographs can be found in the same single page, and practically all of them are in color. As to the relation of the images with the verbal aspect, results show that most of the images are linked to the task, though there are some instances in which they are completely unrelated to the surrounding text. Another interesting point to mention is that the use of images tends to be more frequent in relation to the language skills of speaking and reading.

As to tables, in most books, they are in color or in a combination of colors and are rectangular in shape. Most of the charts/tables surveyed are framed, by means of colored rectangular background, lines marking a rectangle, or open lines indicating a rectangular shape. With regard to the section of the textbook (grammar, reading, writing, etc.) in which charts/tables appear, our findings reveal that the presence of charts/tables is not associated predominantly with any one section in particular.


These findings challenge participants to reanalyze the teaching materials they are using from the point of view of what they communicate beyond the linguistic domain. They also raise the issue of how trained both teachers and learners are in order to decode multimodal messages, reading words and viewing images and graphics that show different dimensions of the same meaning.


Pablo Esteban Requena has taught English as a foreign language in elementary education, in high school, and at the National University of Córdoba, Argentina. He is a materials writer and his research focuses on second language acquisition and bilingual processing.

Susana Liruso is a lecturer on ELT methodology at the National University of Córdoba. She carries out research on materials development and together with Pablo E. Requena coauthored Hello!, a textbook to teach English to children in Argentina.

MWIS ACADEMIC SESSION SUMMARY: Developing Materials with Content Partners

Moderator: Bruce Rogers, freelance author, Boulder, CO
Panelists: Sean Bermingham, publisher, Cengage Learning/National Geographic Learning, Singapore
Christine Root,
freelance author, Boston, MA
Ann Snow
, author, consultant, and professor at California State, Los Angeles, CA
Jenifer Wilikin
, author and founder/director Science, Language, and Arts School, New York City, NY

Some of the most dynamic and interesting ELT materials to appear in recent years have been adapted from mainstream sources, such as popular magazines, radio news programs, television series, and so on. In this session, panelists discussed the challenges of adapting outside content for classroom use, from the perspective of publishers, authors, and classroom teachers.

Sean talked about the trend toward more authentic, real-life contexts for teaching language right now, and about the challenges in adapting these kinds of materials. He also discussed the benefits in terms of motivation, not just for the students and teachers, but also for the publishers and editors. Sean gave examples from series such as Reading Explorer and Pathways.

Christine shared her experiences culling interesting, authentic materials from daily newspapers for the News for Now series.

Ann discussed the challenges, in her role as co-consultant, of finding and adapting interesting content from authentic sources that integrated the four skills, (as well as grammar, vocabulary, and critical thinking), for students from high beginning to advanced proficiency levels.

Jenifer explored the process of retrofitting existing content to a mainstream EFL syllabus and translating content into level-appropriate L2 language.

Bruce discussed the pros and cons of working on a text based on materials provided by outside content providers, including the financial implications (many projects of this kind do not involve royalties) and issues of creativity and authorial control.

DISCUSSION SUMMARY: Writers and their editors/Editors and their writers

Samuela Eckstut, writer and senior lecturer, Center for English Language and Orientation Programs (CELOP), Boston University, Boston, MA

Amy Cooper, freelance editor, New York, NY

Writers and editors play important albeit different roles in materials development. The quality of their relationship can influence the quality of what is produced. It can also determine whether the experience is enlightening or infuriating. Though short term in nature, the relationship can be intense, with communication frequent and opinions frankly expressed. What’s more, there is the pressure cooker of deadlines and publishers’ demands, which can make a good collaboration harder to achieve but all the more important. When the relationship works, each party respects and appreciates the role of the other. Occasionally, however, feelings get hurt and misunderstandings arise. It is to the advantage of both parties when the development process goes smoothly and amicably, resulting in an end-product that is the best it can be.

We facilitated a lively Thursday morning discussion on the factors that contribute to successful collaboration. We asked participants to consider what happens when the process breaks down. What are some problems that can interfere with productive work? For example, how can a writer deal with an editor who offers criticism but provides no suggestions, or an editor who makes very few comments and seems to just want to move the process along? Conversely, what can an editor do with a writer who seems overly sensitive to criticism, or a writer who ignores suggestions for improvement?

Participants shared their experiences related to issues of time and scheduling, communication, and the role of the publisher. The discussion culminated with the consensus that clear, open communication is a key element in a fruitful collaboration.


Sammi and Amy have many years of experience building relationships with editors and authors respectively. They decided to facilitate this Discussion Group after (successfully!) collaborating on a reading series together.

Ed Note: Many thanks to Lida, Robyn, and Jeanne-Marie for taking the time to submit reports, and to Susana, Pablo, Bruce, and Amy for stepping up in the 11th hour to be sure as many MWIS sessions as possible were represented.

« Previous Newsletter Home Print Article Next »
In This Issue
Leadership Updates
Search Back Issues
Forward to a Friend
Print Issue
RSS Feed
How does summertime affect your muse?
She stays by my side as long as the AC Is on.
She heads out to the beach, leaving me to languish at my desk.
She insists that I take my laptop with me on vacation.
What muse?

Do you know of a  great writing tip or tool ? Do you have a link you go to again and again for great ELT ideas or great ideas in general?  Is there a book that needs reviewing or a story that needs to be shared? You can upload these and more to our MWIS Library. Go to tesol.org and click on the following links to get to our MWIS community page:

Connect >>
Explore TESOL Interest Sections >> 
Materials Writers >>
Community Page

Once on the Community Page, find the “Library” link in the green box on the right. Click on the link and  you’ll see a menu of options: Add Document or Photo, Add Link, Add Book Review, andAdd Story. The rest is up to you!

The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. has opened an exhibition entitled "Books That Shaped America.” The 88 books on the exhibit list are not meant to be a list of the best American books, according to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, rather “…the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.” In the International spirit of TESOL and MWIS, let’s come up with our own list of books that have shaped ELT.  Which books do you feel have been most influential? Why?

Head to this discussion thread and post your ideas!