A Malvika by any other name (preferably Monica)


I read this article on how stereotyped ethnic names can sadly be a barrier to workplace entry and was reminded of a course I designed earlier this year. It was for a client who was going to purchase the materials from me. When they reviewed the workbook, they asked me to change all the names to ones that were familiar to people in the Philippines because they were planning on running the program in Manila. So I changed the names to the names of people I worked with on a short stint in the Philippines.

When I resubmitted the materials to my client, they got back to me with a concern that the names would sound too foreign to learners in India because they planned to run the module in both countries. I suggested having two versions. They made noises about standardisation and asked me to incorporate ‘globally acceptable’ names. I tried to put up a fight but I had to finally give in. The final straw was when they told me that they were also planning to launch the program in the US and that the names would need to be globally acceptable to Indians, Americans, Filipinos and anyone else who’d happen to be around.

I changed the names in the text to ones that I kinda thought would be culture and country agnostic (although that’s a fairly erroneous line of thinking in a multicultural, globalised world)

Male names 

  • Omar
  • Jay
  • Ray

Female names

  • Alisha
  • Anita
  • Mira
  • Melita
  • Monica
  • Tanya
  • Teena
  • Tara

I couldn’t come up with any others. I ended up using Jay in four different texts. I was wondering if anyone else has faced a similar situation. Also what names would you add to this ‘globally acceptable’ list?

Image attribution: O inmost wind of living ecstasy… by haRee | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0


Top ten tips for writing excellent materials

Materials writing.jpg

I was just going over the presentation used for the MAWSIG & ELTTeacher2Writer session on writing excellent ELT materials at BESIG annual conference in Munich and found some useful advice for materials writers, sourced from the modules/ebooks published by ELTTeacher2Writer. Note that I’ve listed these suggestions in the order that they appeared in the presentation.

  1. Use project management techniques such as Gantt charts to plan and present course design to clients (Evan Frendo: How to write corporate training materials)
  2. Break a task into small, more manageable tasks with opportunities for intermittent feedback (Rachael Roberts: How to write writing activities).
  3. Scaffold instruction by providing verbal cues and prompts to help learners (Rachel Roberts: How to write writing activities)
  4. Divide handouts into sections with clearly labelled sub-headings such as discussion, keywords, information sharing, expressions, comprehension check etc. (Karen: Richardson: How to write worksheets)
  5. Ensure instructions for activities aren’t more complex than the target language  (Philip Kerr: How to write vocabulary presentations and practice)
  6. Separate activity instructions from information for setting up the activity and discussion questions (Sarah Cunningham: How to write speaking activities)
  7. Write options for multiple choice questions that are consistent in length and style, plausible, not too obviously right or wrong and not repeat or contradict one another (Sue Kay)
  8. Test for opinions and intention, not just specific information in multiple choice questions (Sue Kay)
  9. Get to know the digital activity types that are available in the platform you’re using: multiple choice, multiple answer, matrix sorting, select in the blank etc. (Jeremy Day & Peter Sharma: How to write for digital media)
  10. Be careful about screen size issues – computer screens vs. mobile phones (Jeremy Day & Peter Sharma: How to write for digital media)

Olya Sergeeva has a couple of summaries from this event: How to write writing activities & Writing corporate training materials 

I’ll be posting a review of Evan Frendo’s How to write corporate training materials soon.

TEC15 Day 2 | How to help teachers find, create, recycle and adapt good-quality teaching materials | A quick summary

How ever do the Sandy Milins and Lizzie Pinnards of the world manage to write detailed summaries while they are attending conferences and events? 🙂 I tried but I couldn’t do it. So here’s my attempt at playing catch-up


This talk was by Katherine Bilsborough and she started off by stating that while the downloading of illegally shared materials is a problem, there’s also a dire need for good quality materials because a lot of the stuff on the net is terribly dodgy. Additionally, there’s tremendous interest in materials writing because in a sense it is a form of professional development and requires Ts to bring together and apply a range of skills. IATEFL’s Materials Writing special interest group (MawSIG) is the newest but also the fastest growing SIG.

Katherine Bilsborough

8 principles for materials writing

1. Apply Krashen’s theory to pitch materials at the right level i.e., just above the learner’s level.

2. Use good English.

3. Ensure the materials are visually pleasing.

4. Cover useful language (from the learner’s perspective).

5. Consider PARSNIPs (politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms and pork). Although Katherine did go on to say that what’s important to her is whether Ts are comfortable teaching these topics (she didn’t mention Ss here). Interestingly, this directly contradicted what Dr. Todeva was talking about the previous day when she spoke about market forces and perceptions shaping publishers’ choices about content in course books.

6. Ensure accessibility of materials for all Ss including those who may have some form of visual impairment.

7. Provide clear rubrics. By rubrics, Katherine was referring to written instructions in activity sheets. The audience seemed a little puzzled at first because in India, the term usually refers to assessment rubrics.

8. Sequence tasks and activities logically. Provide Ts practice with this skill by giving them jumbled-up tasks from a course book and asking them to reorder it such as with the following example:

Complete the sentences. Use the words in the box.

What are you wearing today? Write.

Complete the sentences. Write one word.

Match the words and pictures.

Katherine then moved on to discussing how Ts could be encouraged to exploit authentic texts. For example, give them a photo of a menu and ask them to identify language or features they could get their Ss to notice. Just before she ended, Katherine spoke about ELTpics which hardly anyone in the room seemed to be familiar with. Her twist on the old ‘give ’em a picture with some questions’ was to give the Ss some answers related to a picture and ask them to write questions as in this example which elicits the present and past forms respectively.

Write questions for these answers:

1. Canada

2. Cold and windy

3. Two brothers

Write questions for these answers:

1. In 1984

2. Because they needed a secret meeting place

3. No, they didn’t

I know a lot of this seems really basic but from my conversation on the flight back home with one of the organizers, it appears that speakers at the Teacher Educator Conference are finally talking to the audience, instead of at them. Despite the proliferation of PhDs among English language educators in India, teaching as a professional practice is severely underdeveloped. Many of these teachers would never even have considered writing their own materials, let alone actually creating them. So, a basic set of principles seems a good place to start.