How You Can Self-Publish and Fill the Gap

James TaylorHow You Can Self-Publish and Fill the Gap

James Taylor


Just to be different, I’ve decided to start this post with the conclusion…  

I believe that self-publishing offers teachers a fantastic opportunity to create materials that we need in the ELT world. You can identify what you believe is missing and fill that gap in a way that has never been possible before. There are no gatekeepers and the only person stopping you is yourself. Your unique contribution can help teachers the world over.  

So now you know how I feel about this, you can read about my journey into self-publishing, what I’ve learned, and hopefully get a few tips along the way…  

I first started self-publishing about a year ago when I released my first ebook, How Was Your Weekend? 1001 Discussion Questions To Use With Your EFL/ESL Learners. I wrote this book for a few reasons, mainly because I thought such a book was unique and that it was something teachers would find useful. But I also wanted to experiment with self-publishing to get a feel for how it works from the initial idea all the way through to promotion and sales via, of course, the actual publishing process itself. The format of the book, essentially a giant organised list, felt like a low pressure way of trying something new.  

I never thought (or allowed myself to think) about sales. It really wasn’t that important to me. Of course, selling the book is very nice and the trickle of income it still provides is not unwelcome, but that wasn’t my priority. This project for me was about getting some experience and on this front it completely delivered. Luckily, it was very well received, even better than I had anticipated, and served its purpose.  

One of the main purposes it served was to give me the confidence to proceed with my next project, Raise Up! This book, co-authored with Ilá Coimbra (more about her in a moment) is very different from How Was Your Weekend? in a number of ways. Firstly, the format is completely different as it’s a coursebook and should be very familiar to English teachers the world over. But what makes Raise Up! different from many other coursebooks is that we have created each lesson to be inclusive and representative of social groups that are usually excluded from ELT materials. Among others, this includes LGBTQIA+, working classes, disabled people, and people living in poverty.  

Clearly, this is a more controversial book than a big list of discussion questions, but it was something that Ilá and I passionately care about. We believe (as do many others, we have discovered) that current ELT materials are sorely lacking in how they represent many of our students and, indeed, the teachers who use these materials. We are of the opinion that representation is essential in fostering a sense of belonging, which in turn is key to creating harmonious classrooms and successful language learners. So we decided to do something about it.  

The first decision we made was to work together. We are friends, so we had a pretty good idea that we’d work well together. We also had the perfect combination of skills: I wanted to work with Ilá because of her experience with Voices SIG in Brazil and her knowledge about representation and critical pedagogy; she wanted to work with me because of my experience with materials writing and self-publishing. So we complemented each other perfectly. We also had to decide on the format of the book (8 lessons for teens and adults, independent from each other, with a range of levels); the approach (the lessons are inclusive, meaning they include people from excluded social groups rather than focusing on the difficulties that these people face); the lesson design (replicating a traditional international coursebook methodology); and the overarching aim (to create a resource for teachers who wish to teach diverse lessons and to show that inclusion is easily achievable within mainstream teaching materials). Once these things were in place, we were able to proceed with the writing.  

I won’t go into the nitty gritty of how we wrote the book and the publishing and promotion process, there are other places to find that information. I’d rather focus on why you should be self-publishing. Ilá and I wrote this book because we believed that it needed to be written. Now, you may have little or no interest in diversity, but the chances are that there is something you think that ELT publishers are not providing you with. Perhaps you’ve already created your own materials or given a presentation or workshop on it. What self-publishing does is give you the opportunity to share these ideas with other teachers who feel the same need as you. And you’ll also get a bit of recognition for it, which is always nice!  

Furthermore, there is a real possibility that the materials you crave will not get published otherwise. In our research for Raise Up!, many of the published international writers we spoke to commented that the big publishing companies seem to be becoming more conservative, meaning that those materials are even less likely to appear in the future. In this environment it has become even more important that teachers step into the gap and take the risks that the publishers are increasingly reluctant to take.  

So, in conclusion  

Buy Raise Up! here: 

Buy How Was Your Weekend? here:  

Change Is At Your Fingertips

James Taylorby James Taylor

Compared to most teachers, I live an unusual life. Due to my partner’s job, every couple of years I change the country where I live and start all over again. I have to settle in, find a new home and job, get used to a new public transport system and generally get acclimatised. That’s how my life has been for the last ten years and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have learnt a huge amount from that way of life, mainly from the hundreds of students I’ve met in four different parts of the world.

world2Recently, I moved back to Brazil, the first country where I lived abroad and the place where I became an English teacher. Back then I knew nothing about blogs, courses, resource books, journals, conferences, webinars, and there was no such thing as iTDi, Twitter and Facebook.  Anything that you could describe as ‘professional development’, activities that now make up a large proportion of my professional life, didn’t figure at all.

This time around it’s very different. I’ve only been back a couple of months and I’ve already been to two conferences and given two webinars for BrazTESOL and BrELT. I look forward to being a part of one of the most vibrant ELT scenes in the world.

So when iTDI asked me to write about 2015 as a year of change for me, it would seem most obvious that I would reflect on this transition from Costa Rica to Brazil and compare the two different teaching environments, but I’m not going to do that. After ten years, this change is something that I’ve become fairly accustomed to, so nowadays it doesn’t seem like such a seismic shift.

That doesn’t mean that 2015 wasn’t a year of change, however. The joy of this profession for me is that I find I’m always in a state of change. Even after ten years, I still feel I have a huge amount to learn about English teaching. There are so many aspects to what we do, from second language acquisition to motivation and from phonetics to international varieties of English, that I still need to learn a lot.

As an example, I recently completed the iTDi course with Philip Kerr on translation and using the student’s own language in the classroom. It was an eye-opening experience as I’d never really considered using the student’s L1 and it was clear how much I had been underestimating its potential. Philip also reminded me about the importance of repetition and how useful flashcards can be in helping learners remember the language we teach them.

Another thing that Philip mentioned was reading skills. For many years, like most teachers, I adopted the standard approach to teaching reading. I would start with some general discussion questions before following it up with some skimming and scanning activities, ending with the students trying to figure out the meaning of new vocabulary from context. What I’ve learnt in the last few months is that these activities have little or no use in the classroom which has been a big discovery for me. (If you want to find out more, start here).

Finally, I recently watched Hugh Dellar’s webinar for the University Of Limerick on colligation. Leo Selivan defines it like this: “If collocation is a lexical company of a word, colligation is its grammatical company. For example, verbs of perception, such as hear, notice, see, watch, tend to be followed by an object and an -ing clause: I heard you coming in late last night.” I was amazed listening to Hugh speak as it seemed to me that this was a fundamentally important concept that I’d never heard of until his talk. Another thing I need to learn about.

I know that being a teacher can sometimes be a thankless task. It’s not difficult to feel underappreciated, but we should be grateful that we work in a field which is so intellectually stimulating. Change is easy for us to grasp, there are countless ways we can learn something new and shake up our teaching practice. You don’t need to move from one country to another to experience it.


Myths, Beliefs, and Truth in ELT – James

Separating Myths, Beliefs and Truths in the Classroom
James Taylor

James Taylor

A couple of years ago, I gave myself a new self-description to go alongside the already existing “teacher”, “football fan” and “music lover”. I started calling myself a “sceptic”. Simply put, a sceptic (or skeptic, if you’re from the US) is “a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions”. I became interested in skepticism, the movement of activism and engagement that has emerged in the last couple of decades due to my love of podcasts, somehow stumbling across both the Skeptics Guide To The Universe and Skeptoid, two shows that investigate the world with an open-minded, inquisitive but demanding set of criteria centred around one key premise – what’s the evidence?

Most of the issues that sceptics deal with are science based, and as someone whose background in the subject is limited to secondary / high school level, the main influence that it has had on me has not been my science literacy, although I’m sure that has improved. Nor has it been the welcome introduction of the word ‘woo’* to my lexicon. Rather, the main thing I have gained, I like to think, is a way of thinking, a more critical, nuanced, reflective and demanding set of cognitive skills.

Listening to sceptics go through their reasoning is a very valuable thing to observe. Us humans find it difficult sometimes to choose the correct, rational option, instead falling foul to one of many possible ‘logical fallacies’, as they are called. For example, we may be discussing a subject with a colleague who is more experienced than us and we find ourselves agreeing with them, based on nothing more than the fact that they’ve been doing the job for longer than we have. This is an example of the ‘argument from authority’ fallacy, where the assumption of knowledge due to experience is assumed to have more credibility than any other factor, including evidence to contrary.

By listening to the sceptics, we can begin to develop our own critical faculties and more accurately look at the world around us. Russell Mayne, on his blog Evidenced Based EFL, which is in his words is “dedicated to looking at language and language teaching from an evidence-based viewpoint” and is therefore essential reading for any with an interest in EFL from a sceptical point of view, recently asked for us to `ask for evidence.’ In his words, “the next time someone claims that ‘teacher talking time should be reduced’ or ‘grammar mcnuggets are bad for students’ or that ‘students have nine different types of intelligence’ politely enquire on what grounds the speaker makes those claims and be cautious of accepting ‘my experience’ or ‘it’s obvious’ as answers.”

As a sceptic, this obviously appealed to me. The questions he asked made me reflect on my own teaching. How much of what I do in the classroom, moulded from my years of experience, personal beliefs about how language is taught, and the training I have received, is backed up with research? The honest answer is that I don’t know. I’m trying to be skeptical in my day to day life, but right now I don’t feel I’m successfully bringing this into my teaching practice.

The central issue here, for me, is how can I make my teaching more evidence based? With all the will in the world, I can’t do the research myself. I would definitely encourage teachers to do their own experimental practice and investigate a particular area of their teaching, but we can’t investigate everything we do. If we want to access the research of MA students who are looking into all these areas, where do we go? Most research never sees the light of day after graduation, and if it does it’s published behind paywalls and in subscription only journals, which we can’t access and even if we could, would we have time to read them?

So I don’t have a satisfactory answer to this question. At this stage, I don’t know how I, as regular teacher, can separate the myths from the beliefs and from the truths, but this doesn’t invalidate the question. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from sceptics it’s that the absence of evidence doesn’t equate to evidence for the opposing view. Perhaps in time we will find a workable solution. Until then, I will continue to ask awkward questions of those who make claims about teaching English, and of myself. I am absolutely convinced that this makes me a better teacher, and I’m sure it’ll have the same effect on you.

*Woo’ is shorthand for pseudoscientific nonsense. For example, homeopathy? Woo. Healing crystals? Woo. Chemtrails? Woo. A very useful word!


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More Teaching One to One – James

James Taylor

Teaching One-to-One: How It Feels From A Students Perspective  – James Taylor


I’ve taught English in a variety of settings. Business, test preparation, general EFL, teacher training, I’ve done them all. Teenagers, students, adults, executives, diplomats, retirees, even other teachers, been there, done that. From sixty minutes to one hour, tick. From one to one to twenty five in a classroom, it’s on my list.

So it’s fair to say that in my teaching career so far, I’ve had a fair bit of variety, but as a language learner, I’ve had almost no variety at all. Every language class I’ve ever had, from school, where I studied French in groups of around twenty and came away with a good grade and a complete inability to speak the language, to the Portuguese lessons I had in Brussels to stop me from getting rusty (it didn’t work), have been in groups. Now for the first time, I’m learning a new language, Spanish, one-to-one so I’m here to report back to you on how it feels from a learner’s perspective. Let’s start with…


Time and Space

Like some kind of language Timelord, I feel that my one-to-one classes give me the ability to control time. I can slow things down to suit me as I wish. If my teacher gives me an activity, I’m the kind of student who likes to calmly, slowly and deliberately get it right. I like to look at my coursebook, handout, notes, or the board, take my time and choose the right answer. One-to-one classes give me that luxury.

I can make spaces too. If I feel I want to spend more time on a particular part of the lesson, whether that be on a grammar bit or the general conversation that inevitably kicks off a class, I can. I have the freedom. Obviously my teacher has a plan, but luckily she’s not the prescriptive type, so she’ll happily allow me to slow things down or follow me down a particularly tangential rabbit hole. Subsequently, that means there is no…



No matter how good the teacher is at creating a pleasant, cooperative mood, in a group class there is always pressure. Firstly, there is a pressure to perform to the same level as your peers. I remember my first ever Portuguese lessons a few years back and how most of the other students, whose first languages were also of Latin origin, sailed through the elementary levels, leaving me feeling like the class dunce. At least in a one-to-one class, as well as being the slowest student, I’m also the top of the class!

And who can forget the pressure to finish an activity? There you are, calmly, slowly and deliberately working on the task when you hear a couple of other students muttering to each other. They’ve finished and you’re barely halfway through. Who hasn’t felt their heart quicken, their grip tighten on their pen, and their forehead moisten as that happens? Well, not me anymore, I’m free to dawdle all I wish! Which may not entirely be a good thing, even though this…


No Pressure

… environment means I’m free to do what I want, teacher permitting of course. I’m not sure, however, that that is exactly what I need. Like any student I need motivation to progress and maybe I need some external pressure to get where I need to go. Do I need other people in the classroom to push me along?

I do have some internal motivation. I live in a Spanish speaking country so it would be nice to interact with people, plus it would make my life a bit easier. And when I think of my friends and family back home, the non-teachers, the civilians, as actors would call them, very few of them speak a foreign language and I’m proud of the fact that I do, even if it’s only one and a bit.

But I don’t need Spanish, I can live without it, I just like the idea of it. Is that going to be enough motivation? Only time will tell, but one thing I’m sure of is that, for me…


One Is The Magic Number

… and not the loneliest number, as some would have you believe. I’m an introvert, I don’t like to perform, I don’t enjoy peer pressure and I prefer my own time and space. Like any learner, I need some external motivation to help me succeed, but feeling slow and useless is not it. I don’t feel that I’m missing out by not being with other people. On the contrary, I enjoy the fact that my teacher and I can get to know each other despite my linguistic shortcomings in a way that would be impossible in a group class.

I’m aware that not every student shares my characteristics and situation (and I’m sure my old teachers would be horrified to know that one of their students felt the way I often did). More extroverted types might enjoy the things that I can do without. Good luck to them, but if you can excuse my rampaging ego for a second, this article isn’t about them, it’s about me and one-to-one suits me just fine.


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Find Some Heroes- James Taylor

Need Ambition and Vision? Find Some Heroes

– by James TaylorJames Taylor

Inspiration is something that we all need, whatever we do, but as educators we need an extra dose. Our job places us in front of expectant and demanding learners, from a variety of ages and backgrounds, and we are expected to deliver interesting, fresh, satisfying, stimulating and yes, inspirational classes. In other words, we have a tough job (but let’s not complain about that, it’s part of what makes it so rewarding).

So external inspiration is something that we need on a regular basis. We need to be reminded of why we do this, and what we get out of it. There are many sources for this inspiration, and often they are fairly obvious. As teachers we can look to our colleagues and if we’re lucky enough to be in that position, a mentor (and if you need a mentor, why not look at the iTDI Mentor Programme?)

Perhaps we can look at those teachers we don’t know personally, but are aware of their work through their books, talks, videos and blogs. Or we can go further afield and look at personalities whose lives seem to have focussed on the ideas of ‘educating’ society, such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. They are people who have tried to change the world on a big scale, just as you may wish to change it on your own small scale.

Personally, while also looking for my inspiration from those types of people, try to be inspired by more unlikely sources. These people are my heroes, not specifically because I’m a teacher, but more because of their ambition and their vision.

My first hero is Thomas Heatherwick who, as wikipedia states:

“…is an English designer known for innovative use of engineering and materials in public monuments and sculptures. He heads Heatherwick Studio, a design and architecture studio, which he founded in 1994.

Heatherwick’s most renowned works include the B of the Bang, The Rolling Bridge, East Beach Cafe, the so-called ‘Boris’ New bus for London and the Seed Cathedral. Heatherwick also conceived the design for the 2012 Summer Olympics flame cauldron, which features 204 individual ‘petals’ symbolising each country participating in the Games. The ‘petals’ converge with one another to create a unified flame symbolising hope and peace.”

In my view Heatherwick is a genius. He transforms the everyday features of our landscape into stunning works of art and has a remarkable ability to make highly conceptual ideas into simply beautiful objects.

My second hero is James Murphy, described by Wikipedia again as:

“James Murphy is an American musician, producer, DJ, and co-founder of record label DFA Records. His most well-known musical project is LCD Soundsystem.”

LCD Soundsystem are one of my favourite bands of all time, but that’s not the only reason he’s a hero to me. As described in the Guardian in 2004, “A sharp, dry young graduate, who majored in English, Murphy was in talks with (TV) producers… They told him they were looking for writers for a new sitcom and sent him some scripts but, intent on pursuing a career in music, he failed to respond. He even ignored their offer to be the first staff writer on the show. Its name? Seinfeld. He still has the letter pinned to the wall of his office, a constant reminder of what he refers to as “the biggest mistake of my life”. He’s not proud of it.

“Failure is not a positive,” he tells me. “And I speak as a … lifetime failure.”

He spent years messing around, not taking life seriously until he reached his thirties, took a serious look at himself and decided to get serious about his music. At an age when most rock musicians are washed up, he made some of the most joyous music I’ve ever heard.

So the obvious question is how do a designer and a musician make me a better teacher? What can I learn from people operating in those radically different media?

Well, from Heatherwick I have learned to never accept anything at face value. It is possible to make beautiful things from difficult or challenging situations. Whereas he might transform air vents into angel wings, I might have to transform an unwilling student into a willing one, or a boring coursebook into a useful resource.

And from Murphy I have learnt that I should never settle for mediocrity. Stuck in a rut, he decided to transform his life and make something wonderful. I must never think that a boring class is acceptable, that a learning opportunity can just be skipped, or that a student can be neglected. I must always expect more from myself and be the best I can be, all the time.

This is the inspiration I need to be a better teacher. Although people like Heatherwick and Murphy (and Darwin, and Welles, and Waits, and Turning) have little practical application for my teaching, their influence is as profound as my teaching heroes.

James’s Heatherwick shelf  (below)


So my recommendation to you is to find your own heroes who you can learn from. This isn’t a new idea, people have been surrounding themselves with saints and martyrs for centuries, but now we have the choice to learn from a massive variety of people. Find your heroes, study them, listen to them speak about what made them who they are, reflect, and then do as they say. Remind yourself of their genius by putting pictures of their work on your walls, and gaze upon it when you need help. Gather up all that positivity and inspiration and use it to become a better teacher and a better person. –  James Taylor

Learn more!  

Thomas Heatherwick: rolling bridge  / TED talk /  Olympic Cauldron

James Murphy: All My Friends  / ‘I speak as a lifetime failure’

Read more work from James Taylor on his always fascinating blog  TheTeacherJames. Connect with iTDi Mentor James and other mentors by joining the  iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDI Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums as well as trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development Courses.

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Your support makes a difference.