MWIS Newsletter

MWIS News, Volume 16:2 (June 2003)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue of the MWIS Newsletter...

Message from the Chair: Irene Schoenberg
A Word from the Co-Chair Elects
A Word from Our Out-going Chairs
Summaries from TESOL 2003: MWIS Academic Session
Summaries from TESOL 2003: Discussion Group: Considering Culture in Writing EFL Materials
Summaries from TESOL 2003: Discussion Group: Questions about Custom Publications
Join Our E-List
From the Editor
About This Member Community

Message from the Chair: Irene Schoenberg

TESOL's theme this year to promote awareness and understanding of differences and to hear every voice was reassuring to all of us facing so many uncertainties in the world. And TESOL 2003 gave us a chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues from around the globe and to hear new ideas.

The work done during the past year by our outgoing co-chairs Cynthia Schuemann and Pat Byrd made this year's convention a banner one for the MWIS. (Ed. note: Their full report follows in the next article.) The initiative they took to organize committees has given more people the chance to participate in our group. As those of us involved in this interest section know, it is the personal contact and interaction with other writers that keeps MWIS active and growing. We now have over 500 members, the highest number ever. Unfortunately, Pat was unable to be at the convention and we sorely missed her. To Cynthia I owe a great debt for guiding me through the steps of chairing an interest section. I was impressed by her confident and seemingly effortless handling of all the details of being the Chair.

Debbie Lazarus has graciously agreed to be the editor of our newsletter once again. She produced our first electronic version last February making our interest section among the first to have this benefit. Congratulations Debbie!

Thanks to past chair Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz, our e-list has become an easy way for members to reach a large number of experienced materials writers. Everyone is invited to ask questions, or post ideas that may be of interest to our members. Please sign on to our e-list if you haven't already done so. Sign up online at

The Friday night MWIS/VIS publishers reception was once again well attended and a huge success. Late in the evening there were still tables of authors and publishers engrossed in conversations. And that's what it's all about.

Our thanks to Howard Beckerman and Lionel Menasche who joined me as delegates at the IS Council meeting on March 27. As a result, materials writers had three votes on the two proposals presented. In both cases the IS Council asked the TESOL Board to reconsider issues: the first was to continue publishing the TESOL Journal, and the second was to give interest sections a choice of having an electronic newsletter or a traditional one rather than mandating the electronic version.

Congratulations to former MWIS chair and present board member Sandy Briggs on winning the D. Scott Enright TESOL Interest Section Service Award. Anyone who knows Sandy, knows her remarkable dedication to TESOL and her incredible leadership skills. She certainly deserves the award and we're thrilled that she won it.

Susan Iannuzzi and Deborah Gordon were nominated and elected Co-Chairs for 2003-2004. They have already begun organizing an Intersection for the MWIS, as well as a very stimulating Academic Session. MWIS is fortunate to have such a team.

The sessions of Materials Writers were all well attended and stimulating. A look at the topics of the discussion groups demonstrates the value of MWIS. Some dealt with new developments in publishing such as custom publishing, web sites, and CDs, which have all emerged in the last few years. We as writers need to stay informed and know how these developments affect us.

If you haven't submitted a proposal for next year's TESOL in Long Beach, consider leading a discussion group. The more we participate, the more we, as a group, can grow.

Have a great summer!

MWIS Chair: Irene Schoenberg,

A Word from the Co-Chair Elects

by Deborah Gordon and Susan Iannuzzi

Plans for the academic session are well under way. The topic is sociocultural theory and what we as materials writers can learn from it. So far we have four leaders in the field who have agreed to speak, Steve McCafferty from the University of Nevada, Donald Freeman and Kathleen Graves from the School for International Training, and Aida Walqui, Director of WestEd.

Sociocultural theory (SCT), in the words of Steve McCafferty, is essentially a theory of how the mind develops. The emphasis is on how people come to grow to be like those around them cognitively/affectively through interacting within cultural and historical frames of activity. This includes not only the immediate institutional contexts of family life but also those institutional structures such as schools, religious organizations, laws and rules of order, etc. Cultural artifacts are also, of course, critical to this process.

According to Lev S. Vygotsky, one of the principal architects of this approach, a key aspect of being human is the use of semiotic mediation. Language is the principal system that we use, although gesture, body language, facial expressions, and so on, also need to be considered, especially as Vygotsky did not view the mind/body distinction found in Western philosophical traditions to be valid. From this point of view, we come to control the signs and symbols of our culture as part of engaging in cultural forms of activity.

Hopefully, this very brief statement provides at least an indication of the importance of this perspective in relation to how people might go about learning another language and hints at possibilities with regard to creating materials for second and foreign language learning. The session will both illuminate those elements of the theory that could apply to materials writing and provide some examples that illustrate how an understanding of sociocultural theory could help to show why certain materials might or might not work in the classroom.

In addition to the academic session, this year, the opportunity for our interest section to participate in an Intersection has arisen. We were approached by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Friends Caucus. We are still in initial stages of discussion for this session, but so far the topics under consideration are:

  1. What kind of content in materials is viewed as unfriendly to LGBTs?
  2. Why might inclusion of LGBT-friendly content be an issue in commercially published ESL materials?
  3. How can LGBT-friendly content be put into ESL textbooks without alienating people?
  4. Pointers for materials writers so that their materials can be used more easily by teachers who want to be LGBT-friendly.
  5. Suggestions for teachers on how to adapt LGBT-unfriendly materials to make them more inclusive in the classroom.

We are thinking about widening the focus of the intersection to include other potentially controversial topics or content. If anyone would like to make any suggestions, or has any comments, please contact one of us.

MWIS Co-Chair Elects: Deborah Gordon,, Susan Iannuzzi,

A Word from Our Out-going Chairs

by Pat Byrd and Cynthia Schuemann

Thank you all for giving us the opportunity to learn and grow professionally with you in our role as Co-Chairs for MWIS this past year. We truly appreciate the support of members who belong to this special group, especially as evidenced throughout the year on our e-list, and in Baltimore during convention meetings and MWIS-sponsored sessions. We are an eclectic group on a continuum from seasoned materials writers to those seeking ways in. The sense of welcome for all truly permeates our interactions.

For our annual report to TESOL we were asked to identify areas of special success during the past year and to summarize discussion points covered during our annual business meeting held Wednesday evening at the convention. We would like to take this opportunity to share highlights with you.

In terms of special successes, leadership for our IS initiatives this year was spread among members via committees. This had an especially positive effect on our newsletter, and two were published. We were one of the first ISs to go electronic with our newsletter. The response was enthusiastic, though it was noted that some members did not receive their E-Section even though their membership in the IS was active. We have communicated with TESOL Central that we need a mechanism to address this. Members were made aware of not receiving the publication because of discussion about it on MWIS-L. MWIS-L remains an active and supportive vehicle for exchange among members.

On another front, MWIS & Video IS held another great reception for publishers on the Friday evening of the convention. TESOL provided funds for food and beverages. Jan Van Zante, an active MWIS member who chaired our reception committee, prepared invitations and distributed them to publishers at the convention with Tom Bellos from Video IS. The event was also publicized in pre-convention information. Laura Bryant's help in getting this organized was greatly appreciated. Laura is TESOL's member relations coordinator.

With respect to the open business meeting on Wednesday, about 50 people attended. We began with brief introductions, and then we discussed the process and results of getting proposals for MWIS sessions and discussion groups for 2003. A committee of 10 readers participated in electronic review of the submissions. The process was facilitated by Pat Byrd and went smoothly. Many attendees indicated an interest in being readers for next year and noted this on the sign-in sheet. MWIS included 8 discussion group sessions this year. We hope to increase this number next year.

Several reports and up-dates followed. Irene Schoenberg reported on the MWIS Academic Session: The Use of Humor in Materials Writing (Ed. Note: see later article). The session was well attended and the panel covered a range of perspectives. Deborah Lazarus reported on the publication of our first E-Section Newsletter, expressed appreciation to contributors, and appealed for more articles. She has enjoyed her first year as editor. Mona Scheraga invited members to apply for the Mary Finnochiaro Materials Writer's award and she congratulated Sandy Briggs, former MWIS chair, on winning the D. Scott Enright TESOL Interest Section Service Award. Jan Van Zante announced the Friday MWIS/VIS publishers' reception. Members were encouraged to attend and bring potential new members. Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz reported on her first year as e-list moderator. She indicated that it was a fun way to contribute as an IS member and that she was willing to continue in the role, but would also make way for new leaders if someone else wanted to try moderating. She reported healthy activity on the e-list with exchanges from varied contributors with wide-ranging experiences and insights.

Cynthia Schuemann discussed possible future venues for MWIS including a return of our Interest Section Booth for TESOL 2004, and the possibility of Strands, InterSections, and Special Projects. A commitment from members interested in forming additional committees to work on any new venues would be needed. During the meeting, no new committees were formed, but members were asked to indicate any interest on the sign-in sheet. The current focus remains on the academic session, discussion groups, the newsletter, the e-list, and the publishers' reception.

A most important moment during the open meeting was nomination of Susan Iannuzzi and Deborah Gordon as Co-Chair Elects for 2003-2004 by Mona Scheraga. Gabriel Diaz-Maggioli seconded the motion. All members present voted in favor of the nomination and the election was finalized. Further, current leaders in committee roles agreed to remain in place for another year, but welcomed additional support from members.

Looking ahead, a review or confirmation of the MWIS mission statement was suggested for next year, keeping in mind the impact of technological innovations in the development of materials.

Finally, Barb Schwarte from TESOL's Board of Directors attended the meeting. She asked for concerns, and reported on the Proposed Board Reconfiguration, Strategic Plan Feedback, and Critical Issues Survey. Richard Firstein commented on the high cost of registration and membership possibly limiting access. Another member commented on the high cost of equipment impacting the ability of presenters and audience members to share live demonstrations of materials with technology-enhanced features. Cynthia Schuemann mentioned that concerns brought by IS members at last year's council were heard and acted upon. Two examples included the fact that TESOL now provides presenters with overhead projectors free of charge, and a full-sized TESOL Quarterly has returned. Irene Schoenberg, Lionel Menasche and Howard Beckerman agreed to represent the MWIS group as delegates to the IS Council this year.

Thank you all for your contributions! We are looking forward to a new year of continued dialogue and exciting exchanges with Irene Schoenberg serving as our Chair.

Immed. Past Co-Chairs: Pat Byrd,, Cynthia Schuemann,

Summaries from TESOL 2003: MWIS Academic Session

by Irene Schoenberg
MWIS Academic Session: The Use of Humor in Materials Writing

On Wednesday March 26 three talented language experts in ESOL and materials writing, and one talented expert in linguistics and humor offered their perspectives on the use of humor in materials writing. The fifty people who attended the session gave it rave reviews.

Alison Rice, Director of the International English Language Institute, Hunter College CUNY and past chair of MWIS, began with a survey of IELI teachers' attitudes toward humor. She found overwhelming agreement that humor adds to lessons, but is not essential in class textbooks. Despite the difficulty of finding 'hard research' on humor in ESL materials, Alison presented one source which described the kinds of humor that exist in ESL classrooms and quantified what and why certain types of humorous exchanges are more successful than others. Presenting a framework for different types of humor, Alison regaled us with jokes taken from comedians such as Jay Leno, Woody Allen and her mother-in-law. She also gave an example of how beginners can sometimes understand humor evoked by intonation.

Susan Stempleski was the second speaker. She teaches at Hunter College, IELI, CUNY, and regularly conducts workshops at Columbia University Teachers College on the uses of film and video, and the role of culture in language teaching. She has served on the Board of Directors of TESOL and was the founder of the Video Interest Section. She has written over 30 textbooks and teacher resource books. Her teacher resource book, Video in Action, received a commendation from the Duke of Edinburgh in the English Speaking Union Language Book Competition.

Susan focused on cultural considerations when using humor in EFL/ESL materials. After pointing out types of humor to be avoided (sarcasm, jokes that make too many cultural assumptions, and stories that derive humor from the ridicule of religion, racial origin, culture or gender), she offered an illustrated catalogue of the types of humor that are both appropriate to ESL/EFL materials and effective across cultures: humor with words (puns, tongue twisters, limericks) light-hearted games (action games, number games, name games, etc.) good news/bad news jokes, bumper stickers, proverbs, quotations, funny riddles, humor with illustrations (cartoons, funny pictures and comic strips), Mad Libs, inoffensive jokes (restaurant jokes, doctor jokes, teacher jokes, jokes about children, animals and language), and funny sketches, dialogues, stories and anecdotes. A video clip from "You've Got Mail" captured the essence of how to use video and humor in a class--body language, universal themes, and simple language.

Our third speaker, Allen Ascher, brought a publisher's perspective to the session. Allen has been a teacher, teacher trainer, author, editor and administrator of ESOL. For the past ten years he has been actively involved in working with authors for Longman ELT. Before that he was the Academic Director of the IELI, Hunter College, CUNY.

Allen did a lot of research into what humor is all about. He spoke about why learning a language is such a great opportunity for using humor as a release of tension. He gave examples of how humor works when there's an element of surprise or a visual cue that all can understand and appreciate. He also pointed out how funny a new language can sound to the learner citing himself as an example while a student of Chinese.

The final speaker was Salvatore Attardo. Since Salvatore is a professor of linguistics at Youngstown University, Ohio, with doctorates in both linguistics and French, editor in chief of HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research and author of seminal articles in the field, I felt confident that he would give a scholarly talk. What I was unaware of was his incredible sense of humor and ability to get even the most serious listener, rolling in the aisles with laughter.

After all previous speakers (including myself) had described the benefits of humor in the class, Salvatore declared that we have very little evidence that using humor in the classroom is really beneficial to the students. He compared it to the claims that humor is good for your physical health. In fact, he offered arguments against using humor in the class. For any text that's funny and innocent to you, there will be at least one student who won't find it funny and may find it offensive. If you have to explain humor, it isn't funny. Native speakers do not expect non-native speakers to be funny and when a non-native speaker makes an attempt at humor, the native speaker may get confused. Finally, he concluded with the whimsical suggestion that teachers like to use humor in the classroom because it makes them feel good. Teaching, like any performance, is an inherently stressful situation. By using humor, teachers defuse their stress.

All in all, the session gave everyone present something to think about, and made us better equipped to use humor in our work.

Summaries from TESOL 2003: Discussion Group: Considering Culture in Writing EFL Materials

by Susan Iannuzzi and Deborah Gordon
Discussion Group: Considering culture in writing EFL materials

Our discussion focused on the choice of culture in EFL materials, e.g., what, how much, whose, etc., and how different cultures influence pedagogy and teaching in different parts of the world. We began our discussion by all agreeing that culture and language are inextricably interwoven, that language can't be taught effectively within a cultural vacuum, and that language is often taught and practiced in culturally-bound contexts. We then discussed the cultures available for framing EFL materials, e.g., North American, all or any English speaking cultures, western culture in general, the students' cultures, and the desirability, implications, and limitations of each one. We also discussed how culture might be implemented or taught, i.e., whether or not it should be explicitly taught, or whether it is sufficient to just include it in the materials, letting the teachers have the option to teach it as they see fit.

There were about 25 participants from various parts of the world including the Middle East, Asia, and South America. People shared issues specific to their own cultures, or the cultures they are teaching, and discussed the degree of interest their students had in learning about the culture of North America or other English-speaking countries. Those from the Middle East discussed how they handle culture in published materials which is either too sensitive or offensive to their students, and the consequences of not attending to their students' needs in that respect. Other participants discussed how certain topics are perceived in their cultures, especially ones that tend to appear again and again in various textbooks.

Another topic that generated a lively discussion was the issue of furthering political and/or social agendas such as human rights or the empowering of women in materials, and what people felt our role as materials writers is in that regard. We discussed the question of whether critical thinking skills or questioning the authority of the written word are culture-specific skills or ones which materials writers could or should make universal assumptions about. This generated an enlightening discussion from the teachers in Japan about how much debate or difference of opinion is permissible in their classes, and how they handle materials with these types of activities.

As is often the case, the discussion resulted in more questions than answers. However, the session certainly left us with many issues to consider as materials writers.

Summaries from TESOL 2003: Discussion Group: Questions about Custom Publications

by Nora Dawkins, Miami-Dade Community College, Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz, Bellevue Community College
Discussion Group: Questions about Custom Publications

During TESOL 2003, Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz (Bellevue Community College, Bellevue, Washington) and I led a discussion group on custom publications. Lynn is an experienced ESL author and instructor, and I have taught in the ESL department at MDCC for twelve years. Lynn adeptly guided our group through a series of questions designed to provide an overview of custom publications as they are treated by different publishers. Six representatives of publishers attended the session, and at its height there were 30 participants.

One of the representatives classified custom publications into four categories mainly based on the extent of original and/or reprinted material. Also, the re-issue of out-of-print texts and the development of technological products may be classified as custom publications. A brief but candid description of royalty and fee arrangements seemed to capture the attention of the group. In short, fee arrangements are one time payments for completed work and do not include royalties. However, royalties are pro-rated based on the amount of material used from each author contributing to the custom publication, and royalties can be disbursed more than once. Both payment methods are informed by the custom publication category, production costs, and the level of minimum sales. All of the representatives discussed considerations that are occasionally overlooked. These included the cost of copyright permissions for both written and illustrative work, the increased expense of re-binds, and the possibility of additional marketing opportunities.

In conclusion, this discussion group was both informative and enthusiastic as TESOL supporters and practitioners engaged in an active investigation of professional growth. Custom publications can be another vehicle to make contributions to the field of TESOL.

Join Our E-List

Our e-list moderator, Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz, reports that only 16 percent of our Interest Section membership belongs to our e-list. It's a free discussion list for us. It provides us with a forum for discussion, queries, information, and TESOL-related updates. The message load is light so it won't crowd up your mailbox. Please join us today! To sign up, visit

From the Editor

This issue turned out to be longer than I expected, which is a good thing. There are still two wonderful feature articles that couldn't be included this time so we will publish another newsletter next month.

About This Member Community

Materials Writers Interest Section

MWIS is open to TESOL members who are published writers and to other members who are interested in producing ESL or EFL materials. MWIS recognizes the different features of materials preparation:

  • medium refers to materials that are carried in print, on tape, film video, or by computer;
  • audience refers to materials that are aimed at specific age groups, geographical, national, or regional areas, linguistic populations with unique needs;
  • use refers to materials for group instruction in classroom settings or for individual self-instruction;
  • skill treatment refers to materials designed to develop listening, speaking, reading, writing, or any combination of these skills;
  • focus refers to materials based on the presentation of form (grammar and vocabulary), function (social purpose), and content or any combination of the above.

Chair: Irene Schoenberg,
Co-Chair Elects: Deborah Gordon,, Susan Iannuzzi,
Immediate Past Co-Chairs: Pat Byrd,, Cynthia Schuemann,
Newsletter Editor: Deborah Lazarus,

More Resources:
  • President's Message: April/May 1998
  • Designing a Distance Education Program for ESP
  • Consider the Following When Selecting and Using Authentic Materials
  • A Significant Other -- Composing Exemplification: The Historical Self
  • Writing Materials to Prepare Students for the IELTS Speaking Test