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The what, why and how of writing teacher’s books




shutterstock_147470255In this post, the course book author John Hughes looks at the role of teacher’s books and how they are written. This is based on a workshop he ran at the recent IATEFL BESIG conference in Munich. As well as writing numerous teacher’s books, John is one of the lead authors on the new Business Result Second Edition coming out in 2017 and 2018.

When you think of a series of published ELT materials, you probably imagine course books, online components and workbooks – all the parts for students to use in class and at home. However, there is also the teacher’s book. I’ve always enjoyed writing the teacher’s book for courses because it’s a chance to connect with teachers, to explain the background, and to add practical ideas that support the exercises on the page. I also train teachers in materials writing and recommend that they write notes for other teachers to accompany their classroom materials; it’s one way of scrutinising your materials before you use them in class and if you want to share your materials with other teachers, a set of teacher’s notes will help them.

What do you expect from a teacher’s book?

The starting point for any teacher’s book or set of teacher’s notes is an answer key but most teachers also like to have an introductory overview of the language aims. When you describe each of the stages and exercises in your classroom materials, avoid simply repeating what the instructions say in the student book or on the worksheet. Instead, teacher’s notes should offer advice on classroom management or suggest ways to vary an exercise according to the teacher’s own context. So whether you are working with one student or fifty students, the teacher’s notes need to make it clear how the material can be adapted accordingly.

Popular teacher’s books also include photocopiable pages to supplement the course book materials with extra practice. Activities that you copy and cut up such as board games, domino or matching activities, information gaps, and questionnaires bring a change of pace and dynamics to the lesson. As Business Result teacher’s book author Lyn White says, “All teachers are generally pressed for time, so a good teacher’s book should help them plan their lessons more efficiently and effectively.”

Who uses a teacher’s book?

When you write notes and resources for teachers, it’s important to understand that you are writing for a vast range of different backgrounds and experiences. Some teachers will follow everything through step-by-step and use all the supplemental activities. Other teachers prefer to follow their own instincts with the classroom materials but refer to the notes to check answer keys and audio scripts.

Nicola Meldrum writes resources for teachers and gives the following advice: “I always put myself in the teacher’s shoes and try to imagine different contexts teachers could be working in. I consider low and high tech environments for example, and try to include activities that will work anywhere.”

And Lyn White adds: “New teachers need clear staging and notes to help them gain more experience in working on their own lesson plans… more experienced teachers need a very clear layout so they can find the bits of the teacher’s notes they are looking for easily.”

How do you write for teachers?

Writing for teachers with such a wide range of experience in different teaching contexts also affects the writing style. Business Result author Nina Leeke suggests that materials writers have to be “consistent, comprehensive, and empathetic” in teacher’s books. The author is attempting to communicate ideas in a very condensed and concise way but can’t lose the human touch.

To illustrate this, read this introductory extract from some teacher’s notes accompanying some classroom materials on the topic of Energy.

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.

Notice how the writer tries to balance straightforward instructions with the tone of a helping colleague, and covers everything from how to approach the lesson, to additional tips, to guidance on timing. There is some language in the paragraph that is direct and uses imperative forms (write…, ask…, discuss…), sequencers (next, then etc.) and references (turn to page 20). In addition, the writer also gives options, alternatives and suggestions (you might want to…, you could…, if you have a large class…). In this way, the material attempts to reach every type of teacher.

Your views?

If you have views on what should appear in a teacher’s book or how they could be improved to support teachers more effectively, why not post a comment here? Or perhaps you have written teacher’s notes or teacher resources for your colleagues – what was your experience like? Please share your thoughts below.


References and further reading

Business Result Second Edition is a forthcoming six-level course for Business English students and teachers, published by Oxford University Press.

Part of this article also appeared in a blog for the IATEFL Materials Writers Special Interest Group. You can read the full post at https://mawsig.iatefl.org/mawsig-blog-guest-post-the-voice-of-the-teachers-notes/

John Hughes also has his own blog with a section on materials writing at https://elteachertrainer.com/



  1. As for the how… I like teachers’ manuals that are available as downloadable PDF files, so I can just print the pages I need (eg the photocopiable materials), I don’t want to carry books into the classroom if I can avoid it. In the future, I would like to see more use of social media for these resources. For example, the publishers could create a Facebook group for teachers using a particular coursebook. This would give teachers a place to meet and discuss how they use the textbook, what additional materials they use and any difficulties they have encountered while doing certain tasks and how they dealt with those issues. A community of practice.

    My main criticism of many teachers’ manuals is with the layout. Often the signposting, labeling and cross-referencing with the students book is not clear, the fonts are too small or there is no white space for writing notes.

  2. Hi Penny and thanks for your comments. I think they are relevant to writers, editors AND designers!

    Your views on how to deliver the content are interesting and I wonder in the future if we will see more teacher’s books accessed in different ways such as in pdf form or as an app on your phone.

    Yes I agree that layout is key with teacher’s book because you want to access information quickly and at different times in the lesson. Space to write notes is also a useful point and would allow teachers to personalize the materials to some extent to your teaching style. I’ll pass on your points to the person who designs my next TB!

  3. The idea of having Teachers books on pdf, so that we could print out the pages as we need them, as suggested by Penny Roux, is a great one. And I expect it’s down to page layout and cost, but it is so frustrating to have to keep so many fingers in a book – say you are on page 10 – but then student A has to turn to page 140 for their part of the lesson, while student B has to turn to pay 195; the practice file might be on page 204, the audio on 210 and vocab on – oops I’ve run out of fingers! It would make life so much easier if everything connected with a chapter was included within that chapter. And as for matching student book content with teacher book content – with some editions it’s a nightmare! Having said all that, I’ve never written any teaching notes that have had to be passed on, maybe I should try it.

  4. Interesting points Sheila. Not sure what the perfect solution is given all the different parts involved. Whilst I can see the benefits of the pdf version, I suspect there are teachers who prefer it all in one book. But it’s something I’ll suggest next time I’m involved in a teacher’s book project. And yes – why not have a go at writing teaching notes next time you write some student notes? It’s a useful process.

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