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FIVE TIPS ON WRITING EFFECTIVE TEACHER'S NOTES

John Hughes, Freelance ELT Author, Oxford, England

Like many published materials writers, my first book—published 20 years ago—wasn’t a book for students but a book for teachers. It was a resource book of practical classroom ideas to help busy teachers. My second published book was a teacher’s book to accompany a student’s book written by someone else. I had to write the answer key, explain the main aim of each student book lesson, outline any classroom management issues for the teacher as they navigated their way through the student’s book, and also to suggest alternative and extension activities. Having proved to a publisher that I could write for teachers, I was then given a chance to write my first student’s book.

Nowadays, as well as still writing student books, I sometimes run training courses for teachers on how to write their materials. The course participants’ primary purpose for attending my courses is to equip themselves with the skills they need to write materials that students will work from in the classroom. However, I also emphasize the importance of learning to write the teacher’s notes to accompany the student materials. It’s a way to check that your in-class student material will really work thoroughly, and it means you can start to share your materials more readily with other teachers who will appreciate the extra set of guidance notes. Here are some of my top tips for writing a set of teacher’s notes.

1. Provide More Rather Than Less

While no one wants a set of teacher’s notes that are too wordy, teachers—as a general rule—won’t complain if the notes contain more ideas than they need. They will, however, complain if the teacher’s notes don’t include enough support. So when writing teacher’s notes, it’s worth assuming you are writing for a teacher with little experience. That way, your notes will be useful for a newly qualified teacher as well as more experienced teachers, who will automatically ignore what they don’t need and jump to the part of the notes that are relevant to them.

2. Referencing and Headings for Navigating the Material

Here’s something else that sounds obvious, but it is important to remember: Any page numbers and exercise numbers in the classroom material also need to appear in the teacher’s notes. Detailed and clear cross-referencing is crucial. If the classroom materials have any headings and subheadings, the teacher’s notes should include these. Furthermore, adding extra subheadings in bold, such as Audio script, Answer key, or Extension activity, will help a teacher quickly find the section they need.

3. The Tone and Style of the Writing

Views vary on how the teacher’s notes should talk to the reader. Is your writing style going to be chatty, informal, and friendly? Or do you want it to be direct and to the point? In my experience, newer teachers tend to appreciate a style of writing which feels like the author is leading them gently into the lesson, whereas more experienced teachers prefer a direct approach. Ideally, I’d suggest trying to strike a balance. For example, here are some teacher’s notes explaining how to start the lesson using a worksheet called “Energy”. The first exercise asks students to look at a picture and discuss two questions. Notice how the writer switches between an indirect style at the beginning (using modal verbs), to a more direct instructional style (using sequence words and imperatives).

You might want to start the lesson with the books closed and write the title of the unit, ‘Energy,’ on the board. You could put students in pairs and give them two minutes to brainstorm different types of energy, e.g., solar, oil, etc. Write their ideas on the board and help with any pronunciation problems. Next, ask students to turn to the picture on page 20 and look at the image of smoke rising from factories. Discuss the two questions about the picture as a class. If you have a large class, you could ask students to discuss the questions in small groups and then summarise their answers to the rest of the class afterward. Allow about five minutes for this part of the lesson.

4. Don’t Repeat What’s in the Classroom Materials

In general, avoid repeating what’s on the page of the classroom material. So, when referring to an exercise in the classroom material, don’t repeat the exercise rubric, but perhaps suggest different ways of managing the activity. For example, perhaps students could do the exercise in pairs, perhaps the teacher could set a time limit, or maybe students could complete the exercise orally rather than writing the answers.

5. The Rationale

Teacher’s notes need to set out what kind of lesson the material is for, who it’s aimed at (the type of student), and how you can use it. In addition, you might want to include something in your notes on why the material takes a certain approach. In other words, it can be helpful for some teachers to provide the reason for doing something. The following example is from some teacher’s notes that accompanied a questionnaire activity, designed for use on the first day of the course. The writer explains the reasons for doing it in the first part of the instructions.

As it’s the first day of your course, this questionnaire is designed to help students get to know each other and to build a sense of community in the class. Students need to realize that everyone has their reasons for learning English and that they should support each other. Make a copy of the questionnaire for each student. Put the students in pairs; they take turns to interview each other and write down their partner’s answers.

I’d like to end this article by sharing with you a list of expressions from the teacher’s notes, which I have compiled and often share. If you have written teacher’s notes before, you may well recognize some of these phrases because teacher’s notes, by their nature, contain some formulaic how-to-style language interspersed with more creative ideas. I’m not suggesting that you always copy from such a list (though do feel free to borrow!), but it’s provided here more as an indication of what teacher resources tend to include.

Introducing the Lesson/Activities/Exercises

· By the end of this lesson, students will be able to …

· The topic of this lesson is …

· In this lesson, students practise the language of …

· The aim of this activity is to …

· This is a good exercise for …

· Students will need to …

· At this level, students should already know …

· This controlled practice activity allows students to …

· It gives students the opportunity to …

· The reading describes a real company which …

Sequencing

· Firstly …, Secondly …, Then …, Next …

· Before starting …

· Lead into the lesson by …

· Before listening, check that …

· As/While students …

· During the exercise …

· Afterwards…/After 10 minutes …

· Follow up by …

· When the students have …

Instructions

· Write (on the board) …

· Discuss (with the whole class) …

· Monitor …

· Explain …

· Tell/Ask students to …

· Encourage students to …

· Check that …

· Drill …

· Listen for …

· Say …

· Point to …

· Direct students’ attention to …

· Give feedback on …

· Put students in pairs/groups.

· Play/Pause/Stop the audio/video …

· Suggest that …

· Stop the activity after …

· Students take turns to …

· Refer students to (page 000).

· Set a time limit …

· Allow time for … at the end.

Describing Classroom Activity

· Students discuss the questions in groups.

· Students walk around the class introducing themselves and their partner.

· In pairs, students swap their writing and write a reply.

Extra Activities and Extension Practice

· For further/extra practice …

· To add fun …

· If your students need further practice …

· If you have time, ask students to …

· You could also ask students to …

· In addition, you might want to …

· At the end, students could vote …

· For homework, students could research …

Reference

Clandfield, L., & Hughes, J. (2017). ETpedia materials writing. Hove, UK. Pavilion ELT.

Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the IATEFL MAWSIG website.


John Hughes is an award-winning ELT author with more than 50 titles, including student books with National Geographic Learning and Oxford University Press. He is also the series editor for the ETpedia Teacher Resource series. In the summer, he lectures on materials writing at Oxford University. Website: www.johnhugheselt.com.
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