The voice of the teacher’s notes

Anyone who has used a coursebook has probably used the accompanying teacher’s book. It’s the how-to guide that lets you know how to approach the material, to adapt it, or to extend it. Sometimes, teachers follow it much like they would a lesson plan; sometimes they just use it for the answer keys or the listening scripts. Or perhaps they like to use the photocopiable worksheets or progress tests in the back. Even if you rarely pick up the teacher’s book, it’s good to know it’s there – just in case.

So when writing materials which you intend to share with other teachers – whether it’s a video worksheet or a set of exercises with song lyrics – get into the habit of writing a set of notes that accompany them, so other teachers will be keener to use them. Here are some of my top tips for writing teacher’s notes.

Provide more rather than less

Whilst 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.

Referencing and headings for navigating the material

Here’s something else that sounds obvious but 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.

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 is an extract from a set of teacher’s notes explaining how to start the lesson using a unit called ‘Energy’ from a coursebook. 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 afterwards. Allow about five minutes for this part of the lesson.

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 just complete the exercise orally rather than writing the answers.

The what, the who, the how and the why

To sum up, 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. Finally, 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 example below 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 realise that everyone has their own 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.

[This post first appeared on the IATEFL MAWSIG website]

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