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Principles for resource writing

Like many of you no doubt, I have been writing resources for language teachers (French) for many years. Although I have always used my instincts about what is useful I've never established a set of explicit principles on which to base my resources. In fact, these principles have existed implicitly in my head but I've never written them down.

Anyway, having just read a blog on the MaWSIG (IATEFL) site here by freelance ELT author Katherine Bilsborough, I've been prompted to give this some thought. In her blog post she discusses materials writing principles and refers to a number of ELT writers who have worked on this, such as Rod Ellis (second language acquisition research guru) Paul Nation (vocabulary research guru) and Brian Tomlinson (all round guru).

Of the various principles outlined for resource writing I liked these by Brian Tomlinson. See what you think:
  • Provide a rich, meaningful and recycled exposure to the target language in use.
  • Stimulate affective engagement.
  • Stimulate cognitive engagement.
  • Provide opportunities for noticing and discovering how language features and strategies are used to achieve intended effects.
  • Provide opportunities to use the target language in order to achieve communicative effects.
These make total sense to me. In terms of my own resources I would add just one more principle of my own:
  • Make the resources relevant, where necessary, to the examination syllabus.
For me, some corrolaries of these principles include:
  1. Tend to minimise the amount of L1 (e.g. English) since including L1 lowers the amount of exposure to meaningful input. Therefore, I would usually avoid questions in English where alternatives are possible. I would tend avoid translation into English and include it mainly where practice is required for an examination., e.g. GCSE or A-level. 
  2. Be prepared to produce drill-based worksheets to encourage noticing and internalisation (automatisation) of patterns or rules. But endeavour to make these as stimulating as possible, either through their content (e.g. personalisation) or their delivery (e.g. using humour, pace, varied types of interaction with the class).
  3. Choose subject matter which is already of interest to the learners or, importantly, which can form the basis of a new interest. Since we are not just language teachers, but teachers, we need not avoid opening students' minds to new and interesting areas. Often the subject matter will be of interest to the teacher who can communicate their enthusiasm about it.
  4. Don't produce superficial resources - build repetition and recycling into the resource. For example by using "narrow reading" or "narrow listening" (multiple short texts which recycle the same vocabulary or chunks), a range of different exercises on the same longer text (e.g. L2 questions, matching, gap-fill, summary, transcription, communicative tasks, sentence combining, aural gap-fill, sentence completion, oral discussion etc).
  5. In drill-based sheets include enough examples. For instance, if you were drilling the perfect tense in French (regular avoir verbs), don't do 5 examples, do at least 20. Then in a later lesson do 20 more. Some text books are short on examples and require the support of supplementary workbooks or custom-made worksheets.
  6. To ensure cognitive challenge build progression into resources, beginning with less challenging tasks (e.g. matching or multi-choice) and moving towards more challenging exercises (e.g. question-answer in L2, translation into L2). In addition, within an individual exercise, include easier and harder examples.
  7. Where possible make it possible to exploit the four skills, firstly to ensure variety, secondly to allow each skill to reinforce the others. Frequently, for example, a simple grammar drill worksheet can be exploited orally first, then in written form.

I daresay you could think of other principles and consequences of these principles. Do leave a comment!


  1. Thank you so much for this. I make a lot of resources, which I then share widely across Canada. I will print out and study this in depth.


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