Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Free online teacher's notes

This is a post I wrote back in early December, in a hotel room in Klagenfurt, Austria. I didn't have an internet connection there, so this post has been sitting on my computer since then, waiting for me to have time to tidy it up. Well, I still don't have time, but ... here's the post.

If you’re wondering why I’ve been a bit quiet recently on the old blog (don’t say you didn’t even notice!), it’s because I’ve been working flat out writing a teacher’s book for our new course book, Cambridge English for Marketing. I finally got my teacher’s notes finished and sent on Monday this week, which was a huge relief. Now I can start dealing with all the other urgent jobs that I’d had to ignore while I was trying to stay focused on the big job.

The student’s book itself is due out in early 2010, and, as you can see, the author is Nick Robinson, who also has the honour of being the first follower of this blog. I’ll write more about the new book soon, but I wanted to talk here about teacher’s books, specifically the free online ones that we’ve made available for the Cambridge English for … series.

I’ve always been a bit dismissive of teacher’s books. So many of them just provide obvious instructions and not much more. Like many teachers, I gave up using them years ago. So when I was asked to write the teacher’s book for International Legal English, I wanted to do it properly, and create a resource that would really make a difference to the teacher’s experience in the classroom (and, by extension, the student’s experience).

Since then, I’ve been a bit less dismissive of teacher’s books (especially ones I’ve written myself), but I know many other teachers still don’t bother with them. I think in ESP that’s something you can’t afford to do, especially if you’re fairly new to either the ESP topic or to teaching. I’m not saying all teacher’s books for ESP courses are excellent, but in general I think this is one area where teacher’s notes come into their own.

I’m writing this from a hotel in Klagenfurt, Austria, where I’ve just been doing some teacher training on two of the original books in my series. This morning I was showing a group of teachers Cambridge English for Engineering, and then after a break I moved on to Cambridge English for Nursing.

My brief for today’s training sessions was to explain a bit of background to the series and these two books in particular, and then walk the audience through a unit of each, making full use of the materials in the online teacher’s notes.

When I checked those notes, which are available for free download here and here, I was a little bit blown away by how good they are. That’s not just me blowing my own trumpet. Even though I’m series editor, I was involved only peripherally in the teacher’s notes for those two titles – most of the editing work was done by my friend Sara Harden (who I’m delighted to see is one of the newest followers of this blog).

And of course the writing work was done by the course book writers themselves. I only wrote one of the original sets of teacher’s notes, for Cambridge English for the Media. The other three were written by the same people who wrote the student’s books.

Anyway, as I was saying, there’s some great stuff available online, and it’s all free to download and use. Here’s a screenshot from the Cambridge English for Nursing site.

As you can see, in the top left-hand corner there’s a complete glossary (with audio recordings of every word), a list of abbreviations, a text on medical technology for every unit and vocabulary games for every unit. The teacher’s notes themselves contain instructions for teachers, answers, suggestions for extra activities and background information. Actually, I think the background information is the best part of the teacher’s notes – if you read them carefully and follow the links, you’ll be much much better prepared for teaching nurses.

The notes for Cambridge English for Engineering are also really excellent.

The screenshot shows only two things in the top left-hand corner, the teacher’s notes themselves and a series of case studies, but that doesn’t mean there’s less content. It’s just that more of the content is integrated into the teacher’s notes. So we have around three or four extra worksheets per unit, plus lists of useful vocabulary and background notes with web links. Plus of course all the ideas for little extra activities.

I could go on … I’ll tell you more about what I wrote for the teacher’s notes for Cambridge English for the Media and Cambridge English for Marketing another time, but suffice to say I put a lot of thought and effort into both of them. And of course Colm Downe’s teacher’s notes for Cambridge English for Jobhunting are also excellent.

So … what are you waiting for? Did I mention that they’re free? Check them out, and I hope you find them as useful as I do.

PS I think all that work on the teacher’s notes for Cambridge English for Marketing must have had a bad effect on me. One of the sections was on SEO (search engine optimisation) and SEM (search engine marketing), and I’ve also spent weeks crashing round tons of marketing websites from Google searches, where the sites that come top of the search are the ones that use these techniques best. And now I’m doing it … look how many times I mentioned my series above. Not healthy …

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  1. I'm looking forward to the Marketing book to use here in Korea. I work with a lot of Korean managers who really enjoy talking about different aspects of marketing and brands. Looking forward to it being released here in Korea.


    Neil Barker

  2. Hi Neil
    I'm glad you're looking forward to it, and I really hope it's useful to you and your students. I've actually spent the last couple of days with the book, doing some last-minute checks (making sure all the answers match the questions, that sort of thing), and I'm really pleased with the way it's turned out. It's a great book, and I'm very proud of it - as should be the others who've worked hard on it.

  3. Any inside scoop on the reasoning behind offering them for free online? Not that I'm complaining!

  4. Jeremy, there is absolutely no way I would ever enter either my International Legal English or Introduction to International Legal English class without a copy of the teacher's book. You did a fantastic job; they are absolutely indispensable. Great ideas, interesting new ways of approaching the texts and tasks and some superb photocopiable activities. The teacher's briefs are also extremely useful - without them I'm not sure I would have felt comfortable teaching the famous trilogy of Negotiable Instruments, Secured Transactions, and Debtor Creditor! Incidentally, I'd urge anyone who has so far shied away from those three to give them a go - they now rank among my preferred units.

  5. Hi Alex

    No conspiracy, I'm afraid. I wasn't involved in that decision, so all I can offer is my hunch.

    As far as I know, no-one's ever made a TEFL fortune from selling TBs, so sometimes it makes more sense to get them out to as many people as possible - which means giving them away free. As I said in the post, I think ESP is one part of EFL where TBs come into their own, so we had to produce them. But, since it's a bit of a niche market, the TBs probably wouldn't sell enough to justify all the costs of distribution and keepinjg them in bookshops. It might also be nice if it helps us sell more of the main product, the SBs. That's my theory, at least.

    I guess it's the same idea as blogging - sometimes it's nice to help other teachers, whether there's money to be made out of it or not.



  6. I agrew with Jeremy - the same idea as blogging -- it is nice to help other teachers, whether there's money to be made out of it or not.