The JALT Materials Writers Special Interest Group

The JALT Materials Writers Special Interest Group

By: John Carle

Editor’s comment: This month we are co-publishing with the JALT Materials Writer’s SIG, so let’s learn a little bit about them!

The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Materials Writers Special Interest Group (MW SIG) is delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate in this issue of the Brain SIG’s Think Tank. The following is a short introduction to the goals and activities of the MW SIG.

Our Purpose

The MW SIG was established for the purpose of helping members turn fresh teaching ideas into useful classroom materials. We try to be a mutual assistance network, offering information regarding copyright law, sharing practical advice on publishing practices, including self-publication, and suggesting ways to create better language learning materials for general consumption or for individual classroom use. It is not necessary to be a member to contact or work with us. We are happy to work with materials writers everywhere.

MW SIG Showcase

In the fall of 2022, the MW SIG launched a website that showcases materials created by JALT members. If you are interested in finding materials created by teachers for teachers, please visit the site. We welcome new submissions year-round, so please don’t hesitate to apply. You’ll find a wide variety of materials, including textbooks, graded readers, and reference books.

Selection of textbooks from the MW SIG Showcase by Marcos Benevides & Chris Valvona, Jon Charles, Adam Murray & Anderson Passos, Fiona Wall Minami, Andy Boon, and Suzanne Kamata

MW SIG Magazine: Between the Keys (BtK)

Between the Keys publishes articles related to the development of pedagogic materials. It is an open journal, meaning that we accept submissions from everyone, not just JALT members. The magazine is currently published three times a year and distributed online in PDF format.

Please click on the link below for access to previous editions as well as submission guidelines.

Helping Teachers Learn to Write Graded Readers

Over the years, many teachers have expressed a desire to write graded readers but didn’t know how to go about it. Materials writers groups can offer valuable support to help bridge the gap from idea to publication. Our SIG collaborated with Dr. Rob Waring of the Extensive Reading Foundation and Paul Goldberg of Xreading, a popular online platform for graded readers. They were both delighted and extremely enthusiastic about working with us. After a few months of planning, in conjunction with JALT’s Extensive Reading SIG, the Graded Readers Authorship and Publication Experience (GRAPE) was created. 

On the day of the event, participants learned from Dr. Waring and other experts in the field about the major aspects of the creative and publication processes. A tremendous amount of information, as well as insights and tools, were shared in the day-long workshop.

Since the event day, participants have continued to work together in an organized peer-support system via Google Classroom, with the goal being to publish stories on Xreading. It is expected that several stories will be published within a 6-month timeframe.

The GRAPE drew quite a bit of interest, with tickets selling out in less than a week. Below is one of the many positive comments we received from participants:

It was a wonderful event and, as someone who writes novel-length fiction a lot as a hobby, it was great to see a lot of the same advice for writing stories and characters be repeated with regards to how to write interesting and engaging stories for graded readers. I'd be very interested in joining a future similar endeavor if ever there is one.

If other groups are interested in organizing or partnering with us for a similar event, feel free to get in touch. The GRAPE workshops have an enormous potential for success all around the world.

Joining the MW SIG

If you are a JALT member and would like to learn more about materials writing, please join our SIG. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the business of publishing. Click the circles below to go to our website and social media pages!

John Carle is a university educator and materials writer who lives in Nara, Japan. He has written two textbooks, The English Gym with Digital Workbook and The English Gym II with Digital Workbook. He writes under the pen name, Jon Charles. John is currently the Program Chair for the Materials Writers SIG in JALT.

A funny thing happened on the way to the publishers!

A Rose by any other name  . . .Titles can be tricky. They should be short, catchy, alluring, and memorable, yet transparent enough to give potential users a fairly clear idea of the book’s focus. A subtitle can help, as it’s often a short phrase that includes one or more keywords based on the course goals. Kinda like the ol’ bait and switch routine; the title hooks ‘em, and the subtitle reels ‘em in.

During the long writing/editing process for a course book, a simple “working” title is normally used, mainly to give the project a distinct identity, and also so the authors, editor(s), and the publisher can easily refer to it during meetings. Occasionally, either because it works well, or because the author(s) and/or editor can’t think of anything better, the working title sticks. More often, at some point down the line, the working title is discarded in favor of something better, and someone comes up with a suitable subtitle. In either case, the author(s) and editor(s) get together (virtually or face-to-face), to come up with viable options and make a decision. 

For the books I’ve written, I’ve been in several of these “Let’s choose a title” brainstorming sessions with my coauthor and/or editor. Depending on how viable our initial offerings are, how long we have been at it, and how much alcohol we have consumed, the discussion can easily descend from passionately serious to just plain silly.

For example, one of my earlier courses (with my coauthor Chris Mares) was a two-level listening course for Prentice Hall (which eventually became Longman, which eventually became Pearson). Chris and I had the idea to call it Sound Bytes. Our editor liked the idea but wondered if it should be spelled Bites. That led to possible subtitles: Listening for the hungry, Aural food for thought, The cure for auditory anorexia, and Tapas for the ears. Sensing we were on a roll, we then came up with more title/subtitle variations, like these: 

Sound Bits: A little listening goes a long way

Sound Bets: 10 to 1 odds your listening skills get better 

Sound Bats: Listening for cave dwellers

Sound Butts: Listening for anal communication

Eventually (and sensibly), we settled on Sound Bytes: Listening for Today’s World, and the rest, as they say, is hearstory.

Steve Gershon is the author of several course books, including English Upgrade, Sound Bytes, Gear Up, On the Go, On the Move, Present Yourself, and Skillful.

(Comment from Curtis Kelly: LOL, Steve! When Arlen Gargagliano went to our final Cambridge meeting in New York, before our beloved Writing from Within series went to press, the head person at the meeting said they would like to change the title to Write on Target with a bullseye on the cover. I gasped. I HATE how almost every writing book has a pun title and this one did not fit the content at all. Fortunately, one of the wiser editors spoke up: “Since we had a shooting at Columbine last month, maybe we should stick with the existing title.” Saved!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *