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A day in the life of materials writers




Man and woman at table with postcards and coffeeIn this first of a series of posts, English File authors Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig give us an insight into their daily lives, the writing process, and reaching out to the community of English File teachers around the world.

Over the years we have met a lot of teachers around the world when we have travelled to give talks or teacher training sessions and one of the things we’ve most enjoyed about travelling has been meeting teachers. We won’t be able to travel much in 2011 because of our writing commitments, so writing this blog will be our way of keeping in touch with English File teachers around the world. And of course teachers themselves will also be able to share their experiences and ideas with each other.

We thought we’d use the blogs to tell you what we’re doing at the moment and tell you a bit about how we work, as it’s something we often get asked about. In September 2010 we started work on the new edition of English File Elementary. We’d had a good long break from writing over the summer, since finishing the Advanced level, so we came back to work feeling refreshed and energetic.

We think we are quite unusual in the way we write compared to other author teams we know. Most teams seem to divide up the books either into units or sections (grammar, skills etc.) and then write separately. We get together every day (from about 10 to 6) and work together on everything. On the one hand this means things take longer than if we simply divided up the book, but on the other hand two heads are definitely better than one and we think that the lessons benefit from the way we work them up together. Luckily we live very near each other just outside Valencia in Spain. We work in Christina’s house (as Clive has two small children), and our working day is punctuated by one of us looking at the other and saying ‘Time for a coffee?’ (or, in Clive’s case, tea).

Our aim with the new editions is to ‘make every lesson better’. We had focus groups with teachers in different countries and we also sent out many questionnaires to get their feedback on every aspect of New English File Elementary, from the grammar syllabus to the choice of vocabulary. They also told us how successful each lesson had been with their students and which exercises and activities work well (or don’t work so well – even more important for re-writing!).

Armed with this information we spent a lot of time discussing how we could improve each lesson. Often it’s a question of finding new reading and listening texts with topics which we think students and teachers will find interesting or fun, and luckily as far as we’re concerned this is by far the most enjoyable part of our work. We both read a lot for pleasure, both books and newspapers, and we save everything that we find interesting and think has potential. When we find something we like we research it further or follow it up, sometimes with surprising results, like the time we discovered that the two slightly challenged teenagers (featured in Elementary) who tried to book a holiday to Sydney but ended up in Canada, actually lived a few doors down the road from Clive’s family!

We often exploit our family for material, as with Christina’s brother who appeared in the old English File 2, and told a scary anecdote in Advanced. This time, her sister put us in touch with the actor Sir Ian McKellen who has just done an interview with us for the new Elementary. It was a very exciting moment when the email arrived saying he’d agreed to do it!

We don’t usually argue when we’re writing, though obviously we do discuss things a lot, but there is one area where we often don’t agree and that’s songs, maybe because it’s so hard at lower levels to find songs which fit the topic or structure, and have accessible (and appropriate) language. And sometimes after listening to dozens of songs we find the perfect one, but then don’t get permission to use it!

We would love to have suggestions from you about songs that you have been using with elementary or pre-intermediate students. You could send in the suggestions by commenting on this post. Thanks very much in advance from both of us.

Clive and Christina.

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  1. Hi guys,

    thank you for the wonderful work you are doing. I’ve taken part in several projects myself as a freelancer, so I know how challenging it can be.
    As for songs, Dido works really well with low levels. I have used ‘Take My Hand’ with my elementary level students when studying parts of the body for example.


  3. With elementary level students I’ve been using a song “All kinds of everything” with which Ireland won Eurovision song contest for the first time in 1970. Paul McCartney’s “The Long And Winding Road” works perfectly when you study present perfect. And “Lemon Tree” by Fool’s Garden can teach present continuous very well. Any song by the band Pink Martini is OK especially “Amado Mio”.

    At pre-intermediate level I use Belinda Carlisle’s LA LUNA when we study past continuous and many others (just because they are easy to understand) like – “Spooky” by Dusty Springfield, “Sky” by Sonique or “Brandy” by Looking Glass.

  4. Hello guys.
    I use `Help`by Beatles to teach some/any etc with my Elementary level students.It´s a great song to teach grammar.

  5. I just used the song “If I were a boy” by “Beyoncé” after lesson 6B (pre-intermediate). It’s easy to understand and worked very well.

  6. I usually use “Friday I’m in love” by The Cure to practise Days of the Week, and “I’ve just called to say I love you” for Months/Seasons/Festivals.

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