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Creating new teaching material

This semester I am working on a new presentation textbook for my classes here at Tohoku University (okay, so I am also hoping I will be able to sell it to a publisher eventually too), and thought it might be interesting to write a little about how that is turning out. Experienced material developers probably won’t get much out of this, but if you are just starting out like I am, or have yet to start, you might find something useful.


My desk at work. Note the all-important coffee cup and blank notebook -I find it really helpful to explore ideas on paper before starting work on the computer.

For my presentation course, I was provided with some fairly rigid constraints: too many students (one class of 32 and one of 25), too few classes (maximum of 14, more like 13 once the first one is used up for orientation), and a not-quite perfect classroom (it’s a little too small for group work). However, this is actually helpful, as it provides space in which to work. Having complete free reign paralyses me.

My project is very much a work in progress at the moment, but here are the major steps so far:

  1. determine the goals of the course
  2. decide on topics to include, and the order to teach them in
  3. establish a class routine
  4. figure out what materials to create for each class
  5. write the materials
  6. scribble over the materials in red pen after class with corrections and ideas

I have realised those four elements in bold are the foundation of a class, and getting them straight is probably 90% of the work. Now that they are done, and in great contrast to previous courses I have designed, it’s pretty easy to sit down each week and plan my classes.

Right now I am mainly trying to get the content and the activities right, and not worrying too much about design.

Has anyone successfully completed a project like this? Am I missing anything?

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Jazz English

Published by Compass, Jazz English is a speaking textbook for lower-intermediate students. It works very well with junior high school students that have been studying for a while and are ready to take things to the next level in terms of speaking, as well as with high school and I imagine lower level university students. I have only used the first textbook, so this review does not address Jazz English 2, nor the companion workbook (which I am going to try soon).

The textbook consists of ten main units and three supplementary ones, with all units following the same pattern: new vocabulary, conversation prompt questions, a dialogue, a short reading section, a crossword to practice the vocabulary, a short reading task, exercises to support speaking, and a final speaking activity.

The focus of the book is for students to develop more autonomy while speaking, and to try to have longer and more complex conversations. It does this very well, at least in my experience, with students that have a solid base of vocabulary and English exposure, and who are motivated to improve their conversational skills. Our ‘advanced’ classes, consisting of junior high and high school students that have been studying for four or more years took to it very well.

This has been a real find for us this year, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for classes similar to the one described above. The course requires a lot of student input, so this book would not work well with unmotivated or reluctant learners.

Anybody else using Jazz English?

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Apple Education

Reading about the new Apple educational push, I was pretty impressed. It seems like they ‘get’ the core issues:

1. textbooks need to be interactive and appealing, and take advantage of pictures, video, and audio
2. textbooks need to be affordable
3. teachers want to make these next-generation textbooks

Their iBook author app looks extremely interesting. Interesting enough to make me look up the price of new Apple laptops…


Perhaps that was the secret agenda ^-^