MWIS Newsletter

MWIS News, Volume 20:1 (March 2007)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue...
  • Convention Updates
    • Letter From the Chair: Julie Vorholt-Alcorn
    • Plan Your MWIS TESOL 2007 Schedule
  • Articles
    • Metaphors for Materials Writing: Betty Azar
    • The Author Test: Dorothy E. Zemach
    • TESOL 2006 Presentation Summary: Marta O. Dmytrenko-Ahrabian
  • News
    • Announcements and Accolades

Convention Updates Letter From the Chair: Julie Vorholt-Alcorn

Julie Vorholt-Alcorn,

Dear MWIS Members,

Hello and Happy New Year!

I hope that your work has been productive and satisfying since our last newsletter. Looking ahead, I hope to see many of you and hear about your latest projects at the TESOL Convention, March 21-24, in Seattle. You may like to visit Seattle's official Web site at Just scroll to the bottom right-hand corner of the page for the "Visiting Seattle" section, including "Seattle 101: A Guide for Travelers and Tourists."

At the Convention, we invite you to join other MWIS members in the following activities:

  • Join us in congratulating MWIS member Sandy Briggs, who begins her role as TESOL president in Seattle after being president-elect over the past year. Read more about Sandy's volunteerism with TESOL in the previous MWIS newsletter.
  • Staff the MWIS booth or stop by to say hello.
  • Come to the annual open meeting (formerly known as the Interest Section Business Meeting) Wednesday, 5:00-7:00 p.m., Convention Center, room 212. You can meet other MWIS members, learn about TESOL topics that directly affect our Interest Section, and wish me well in my last official responsibility as your chair.
  • Attend the Friday evening networking reception (6:00-8:00 p.m. in the Convention Center, room 609). Remember to bring business cards and resumes to this event.

To get the most out of the convention, plan the MWIS sessions you want to attend. First, check out the TESOL 2007 MWIS Presentations in this newsletter. Then go to to browse the rest of the convention program. You can search by Interest Section, topic, day, time, or the presenter's name. You can print out your agenda or download it to a personal digital assistant (PDA).

Many thanks to all of our volunteers who have worked throughout the year, including Kelly Sippell, our chair-elect, who has facilitated the submission of Discussion Groups and organized the MWIS Academic Session and two InterSections, one of which will be led by MWIS; Christy Newman, who gathers material, organizes, and edits our newsletter; and Bill Walker, who manages our e-list. I would also like to thank the readers who volunteered to rate MWIS proposals for this convention.

Are you looking for a new way to contribute to TESOL? Consider developing an idea for a TESOL Special Project. Our IS's most recent Special Project was called "Negotiating Your ESL/EFL Publishing Contract." TESOL provides some funding for these projects, so if you are interested in pursuing this opportunity, please contact me.

Whether you will be in Seattle this year or not, all of us are always just an e-mail away. I encourage everyone to tap into the great wealth of knowledge and experience within our membership by communicating via our e-list.

I look forward to hearing from you online or catching up with you in Seattle!


Plan Your MWIS TESOL 2007 Schedule

Plenary Session

Betty Azar is giving the opening plenary speech on Wednesday, March 21 at 11:30 a.m.  She will examine what guides frontline practitioners—both teachers and materials writers—in decisions about teaching practices and principles amid the constantly changing tides in approaches and methods.  As always, Betty will take the pragmatist's view. (Be sure to read Betty's Metaphors for Material Writing in this newsletter.)

MWIS Academic Sessions and InterSections

MWIS Chair-Elect Kelly Sippell organized and will facilitate the following MWIS Academic Sessions and InterSections.

  • "To Use a Textbook or Not? Yes, No, Maybe" will be held Thursday, March 22, 3:00-4:45 p.m. room 603. An outgrowth of a MWIS e-list discussion, this session addresses the role of textbooks in language learning. What is involved in creating a textbook? What must be considered when creating materials for a specific context and course? Should you use a book? How can teachers maximize the use of a textbook and adapt it for their students?
    Panelists: Betty Azar, Patricia Byrd, Ruth Epstein, Keith S. Folse, and Jerry Gebhard. 
  • "Creating ESP Materials Is Not for Experts Only" will be held Thursday, March 22, 9:30-11:15 a.m., room 2B. Held jointly with the ESP Interest Section, this InterSection explores the issues and needs of teachers creating ESP materials or using ESP materials in their classes. Presenters discuss the components of effective ESP textbooks and the considerations in developing new courses and materials to meet student needs.
    Panelists: Diane Belcher, Christine Coombe, Christine B. Feak, Charles Hall, and Ann M. Johns.
  • "Using Corpus Findings to Develop L2 Writing Materials," is an InterSection on Friday, March 23, 9:30-11:15 a.m., room 609.  MWIS joins the Second Language Writing Interest Section to explore how current corpus findings can inform writing teachers and materials developers. Presenters demonstrate strategies for designing corpus research and analyzing findings to choose activity foci, generate activity templates, highlight frequent vocabulary and structures in use in particular genres or registers, and augment existing textbook exercises. 
    Panelists: Gena Bennett, Patricia Byrd, Jan Frodesen, and Norbert and Diane Schmitt.

Workshops, Presentations, Energy Breaks, and Discussions

For MWIS members new to the TESOL Conference, Mona Scheraga and TESOL President and MWIS member Sandy Briggs will hold their annual "Starting TESOL in MWIS Style" on Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. in room 211. Mona will also host an Energy Break, "How to Get the Most Out of Teacher's Guides," about using teacher's guides on Thursday, March 22, 3:00-3:45 p.m., in room 4B.

Susan Maguire will present "Becoming a Published Author" on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., room 205. Her demonstration will include details about how to begin, finding domestic and international markets, choosing a publisher, developing a proper prospectus, and understanding a contract and the various forms of payment. And that's just the beginning!

Linda Butler will lead a discussion of "Using Peer Review with Beginning-Level Writers" on Friday at 7:30 a.m., room 204. Peer review, or peer editing, can be a valuable step in the writing process. There are challenges, however, to using it with learners at the beginning level. She will examine those challenges and share ideas on how to make peer review work for beginners. Find out about Linda's new book, Fundamentals of Academic Writing.

Tim Collins will be a panelist in a colloquium on "Writing in ESL Classrooms" on Thursday, March 22, at 8:30 a.m., room 308. His portion of the session will focus on textbooks for teaching writing. Tim is spending this year as the academic director of the Fulbright Taiwan English Teaching Project. His project brings 12 recent U.S. college graduates to Taiwanese public schools as coteachers in first- through sixth-grade English classrooms. Tim is also associate professor at National-Louis University in Chicago.

Tim will also lead two discussion groups: 

  • "Designing Field Experiences for Prospective K-12 ESL Teachers" on Wednesday, March 21, at 7:30 a.m., room 308
  • "Online Archives of Free ESL Content" (such as the one recently launched by TESOL), on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., room 204. [This group will be of special interest to material writers.]
    (Check out Tim's new book, Gateway to Science.)


Meet your MWIS colleagues at the
Annual Open Meeting
Wednesday from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in room 212.
And mingle with authors, editors, and publishers at the 
MWIS Networking Reception 
Friday from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in room 609.

Articles Metaphors for Materials Writing: Betty Azar

Betty Azar,

"No one but writers thinks writing is work."
Linda Ellerbee in Take Big Bites, Penguin, 2005

When I read that recently, I smiled—broadly and knowingly.  How do you explain what writing textbooks for a living is really like?  To say that I sit in front of my computer for hours and hours and later read proof for hours and hours sounds a little boring, so I try metaphors.
When someone, say at a cocktail party, should happen to ask me what I do, I give them fair warning by telling them that I write grammar-based textbooks for adult students of English as a second or foreign language. If that doesn't stop the conversation dead in its tracks and, lo, I catch a glimmer of interest, I often go on to compare my job to that of a carpenter. I say that I start with an empty lot and a pile of lumber and hardware—and then I have to put it all together.  I shape every piece of wood myself and pound in every nail, fitting everything together exactly where it should be.  I know every square inch of that house inside and out.  And it's a long, complicated, and deliberate as well as deliberative process. And in the end, I have created a solid and well-designed structure that will stand, I hope, the test of time.
If I still haven't lost my audience, I might go on to explain that not only am I the carpenter, but I'm also the architect and the contractor. As the architect, I have to know design and theory. I have to know what the final product will look like before I start. I have to know the materials I work with and the specs for making them hold together. As the contractor, I'm like any small-businessperson—I need a knowledge of legal and financial issues in the publishing business as well as negotiating skills. I also need to know when and to whom to subcontract when I don't have the necessary skills to accomplish something—such as art.
By this time, my listener is either actively asking questions, intrigued, or actively seeking to return to the wine bar.  It's easy to tell the difference.  If the listener stays around, there are all sorts of ways to keep developing the metaphor.
Another, albeit shorter, metaphor I sometimes use is to say I create a mosaic, a wonderful, beautiful, intricate, interlocking mosaic—making thousands of small decisions along the way, but always knowing the final design I'm aiming for.  To me, that metaphor expresses the joy of doing creative work—which grammar-based textbook writing is for me,  because grammar is, in and of itself, a beautiful mosaic.
And the last metaphor I use, depending on the audience, is that writing textbooks for a living is like being a perpetual graduate student with term papers perpetually hanging over your head, endlessly, weekends, evenings, holidays, middle of the night—no matter.  You never lose that feeling in the pit of your stomach of having a term paper due and that you're behind schedule.
Whatever the metaphor, materials writing is hard and demanding work—something that not only Linda Ellerbee but all of us in the Materials Writers Interest Section understand.  And when we make it look easy, we've done our job especially well.

Betty Azar is the author of the Azar Grammar Series. She taught ESL in a university-level intensive program for 16 years and is devoting the rest of her career to fulltime materials writing.  She lives and works on Whidbey Island, Washington.


The Author Test: Dorothy E. Zemach

The Author Test
Dorothy E. Zemach,

So . . . you're thinking of writing a book! How nice. But are you sure you have what it takes? This simple diagnostic can let you know. Each prompt is something an editor might say to you. Circle the response that is closest to your own. If you pass the test, an editor will be in touch with you shortly. Please don't call us, though; we'll call you.

1. We're thinking of launching a new low-level series of writing books.

a. Sure! How much will I get?
b. I have one already finished. It doesn't need any changes because I already used it with my class. How soon can you start selling it?
c. Could we schedule a phone call sometime soon? I have a few ideas about writing I'd like to discuss with you.

2. Thanks for sending the first chapter. However, I didn't see the listening scripts. Could you send those as well?

a. I can't write the listening scripts until the art is in place. It might also be better to have the actors just look at the art and then speak naturally, rather than using something scripted. We don't want it to sound too "ESL."
b. Oh, it doesn't really matter what goes there. I'm sure whatever you do will be fine.
c. Actually, I haven't written them yet. I wanted to make sure the exercise types were OK first, and that the topics were all right. If those things look OK, I'll go ahead and write scripts and send them to you. Is having them there by this Monday OK with you?

3. Unfortunately, we won't be able to use the photo of your sister in Unit 12. Its resolution isn't high enough.

a. You have to use that photo, or the entire unit will fall apart.
b. No problem—I have LOTS of other photos of my sister. I'm attaching all of them to this e-mail.
c. Oh, that's a shame. Well, as long as you can find another photo of a woman in a city stepping out of a taxi, that's OK.

4. Exercise 3 in Unit 7 isn't working.

a. The hell it isn't.
b. Really? OK, let me know how you fix it.
c. What isn't working—is it the exercise type or the content? If the level or the vocabulary is a problem, I'd like to revise it. But if you'd like a different type of exercise or different content, I have some other ideas we could discuss.

5. The pp. 66-67 spread comes in at 2,500 words, but we briefed you to write no more than 600 for this feature. Could you rework it?

a. Everything in there is essential. Just have the designer use a smaller font.
b. OK, just cut the last 2,000 words, I guess.
c. Oh, sorry. 600? OK, I'll rework it.

6. Did you finish Chapter 9 yet? Remember, you were going to send it to me on Monday, so I'm just checking to see how things are going.

a. Oh, you wouldn't BELIEVE the week I've been having! First, my plantar fasciitis flared up. So painful! I couldn't go to my aerobics class all week. I can barely hobble around. It's just awful. Then my in-laws came, and while they're lovely people, they never help out around the house, so you can imagine all the extra work! I was going to work on Chapter 9 on Thursday, after I finished grading my stacks of papers! (oh, my!) but then the dog ate something funny and got sick and we had to rush him to the vet. I brought my notes for the chapter to the vet, but someone else's cat sat on them and, well, anyway, I'll have to start again! Unless my fibromyalgia acts up again!!
b. I sent that on Monday. I guess your e-mail wasn't working correctly or something. Just in case, I'll send it again next week.
c. I'm really sorry. I got tied up with other things at work. But I'm mostly done and should be able to send it to you by Thursday morning your time. I hope that's OK.

7. Unfortunately, feedback from our Turkish and Middle Eastern markets is indicating that the reading in Chapter 3, "Prostitution: A Great Business Model," isn't really appropriate. I think we'll need to replace that with something that doesn't mention selling one's body or pimping.

a. Big publishers are so racist, homophobic, sexist, and backwards that I cannot believe it. No wonder all coursebooks look the same—you're afraid to use fresh, interesting material. I used that reading with dozens of classes, and all my students loved it. If you want me to trot out another tired topic such as hobbies or directions or ordering in a restaurant, I'm just going to take my book to a different publisher, and then you'll be sorry when it makes a million bucks.
b. OK, just change "body" to another noun and "pimping" to another verb. I think the rest of the article will still work.
c. Oh, too bad—I liked the structure of that article. However, I have another article that might work as well—an interview with the president of a small organic food company that has had great success. I'm sending you the article, and if you think it works, let me know and I'll redo the exercises to fit it.

8. We've had a lot of requests from the markets to add a grammar presentation box to each unit. Do you think you could do that?

a. Well, excuse me, but the research shows that grammar boxes are worthless.
b. Sure, go ahead.
c. I'm not really sure that will work best with the units as they are. Could we maybe put the grammar boxes in the review units, at the back of the book, or in the teacher's edition?

9. Thanks for sending in the first units of the workbook. Could you also send an answer key for the exercises?

a.  Well, there aren't any set answers. The teachers and the students should negotiate the meaning and content together. I don't want to get into labeling students as "wrong" just because they have their own way of interpreting the material.
b. Actually, I couldn't do some of those exercises myself! Ha ha, they're pretty tricky! But when you have teachers pilot the units, have them send you the answers.
c.  Sure. I'll get an answer key to you by Monday next week.

10. The teachers piloting the material reported having difficulty with the open-ended test questions. Students didn't know what to do, and teachers had trouble with the grading. Could we go with some more standard formats, such as multiple choice, matching, tick the boxes?

a. Oh, don't even get me started on standardized testing! That's what's wrong with 90% of English classes out there. See, this course is teaching students to actually think. And if teachers don't know how to teach, that's really not my problem.
b. That sounds fine. But please send the revised tests to me when they're done so I can look them over.
c. OK. I'll rework the material and send it back to you. It will probably take me about a week.

11. You'll be pleased to know that first-pass pages have come back from the designer. I think they're looking pretty good!

a. Please send me 25 copies, bound, so I can use them with my fall class. I'll look for typos while I teach.
b. I hope you got that photo of my sister in there. I already told her we were going to use it.
c. Oh, good news! Thanks for letting me know. And let me know if you need any changes from me.

12. Your book is finished! Congratulations! We hope to launch it at several conferences this year.

a. I'll go to Brazil, Tahiti, and Thailand. I'm bringing my wife, small children, and dog, too, so please book a double suite. And please arrange a meeting with the general manager to discuss my next books.
b. Great. Please send the royalty check as soon as possible. I really need the money.
c. Wonderful! Thank you so much for all your hard work. I'm really pleased with the way the book came out. By the way, I have some free time this summer and fall, so I'd be available for conference presentations. Just let me know.


Dorothy E. Zemach is a freelance editor and materials writer from Eugene, Oregon. Dorothy was the 2004-2005 MWIS cochair (with Carlos Islam). Her current interests include EAP and business English, testing, the teaching of writing, and the use of art in ESL materials.

Watch out for Dorothy's "Publisher's Test" in our next issue. If you want to contribute test items or ideas for fame or infamy, e-mail them to her

TESOL 2006 Presentation Summary: Marta O. Dmytrenko-Ahrabian

Video & Digital Media Interest Section
Presentation: Next-Generation Texts in Computer Graphics Technology 

Presenter: Marta O.

Computer graphics technology has made it possible for ESL teachers to create their own interactive multimedia CDs using audio, video, and text. This demonstration showed how a traditional listening text with audiocassettes was transformed into an interactive one on CDs. Each of the 19 academic lectures in the project is formatted with an electronic template which includes a three-part unit composed of background information and prelistening activities, lecture and note-taking, postlistening activities that include evaluation, and further reading. Each CD is also scripted with video/American Sign Language (ASL) as an option for the hearing impaired.

Each unit begins with a background reading to be read on-screen and/or printed out. Vocabulary and rhetorical devices that will be heard (audio/video) and seen (definitions and transcription of sentences containing the vocabulary) in the lecture are introduced. Handouts to accompany the lecture can also be printed out.

For the lecture component, the student chooses the textual display accompanying the video from among the following options: a) a complete transcription, b) an outline, c) keywords that are highlighted as they are heard, d) comprehension questions, and/or e) a blank screen (no text). All accompanying texts can be printed out.

Post-listening activities include evaluation of listening comprehension in test formats such as true/false, multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, short-answer, and essay questions. The first two tests can be given in study (i.e., no scores) or test (i.e., with scores) formats. In the study format, feedback is given after each item. In addition to text feedback, written and oral responses are given to essay questions.

This "next generation" of texts on CD can greatly aid in language instruction by simulating an authentic academic environment. Interactive multimedia authoring for content-based instruction can help prepare students for university classes. Computer technology now permits teachers to author these materials themselves. The end product is CDs for classroom instruction or self-study. The next generation of texts is here.

Marta O. Dmytrenko-Ahrabian, PhD, is associate director of the English Language Institute at Wayne State University. Marta won the 2005 Mary Finocchiaro Award in 2005.

Marta's project was supported by the following grants from Wayne State University: Computing and Information Technology; Educational Development; and Innovative Technology.


News Announcements and Accolades

Linda Butler's Fundamentals of Academic Writing is a new addition to Longman's highly regarded Academic Writing Series. Fundamentals is a beginning-level text that focuses on writing sentences and simple paragraphs, offers clear instruction of basic grammar, and guides the student, step by step, through the writing process.

Tim Collins'snewest publication, Gateway to Science (Thomson Heinle), will launch at TESOL. Gateway is a picture dictionary and handbook that makes science content and concepts accessible to English language learners.

Available for the first time in the United States through Alta: College Writing: From Paragraph to Essay by Dorothy E. Zemach and Lisa A. Rumisek(Macmillan, 2003 / ISBN 0-333-98853-1) and Paragraph Writing: From Sentence to Paragraph by Dorothy E. Zemach and Carlos Islam (Macmillan, 2005 / ISBN 1-405-05845-5). These academic writing books feature model writings; short, clear explanations; plenty of practice exercises; and spiraling reviews. College Writing can be purchased (with a peek inside!) at

Also being presented for the first time at American conferences, Writing for the Real World by Roger Barnard and Dorothy E. Zemach (Oxford University Press, 2004 / ISBN13: 9780194538176 / ISBN10: 0194538176) teaches nonacademic, practical writing (forms, e-mails, simple business letters) to young adults and adults in American English. Book 2 in the series is designed for working students and deals more specifically with business writing.

[Get a chuckle (or maybe an embarrassed gulp of recognition) from Dorothy's "The Author Test" to see if you really are author material.]

Marta O. Dmytrenko-Ahrabian's CD project, Next-Generation Texts in Computer Graphics Technology, has been designated one of the Top 20 best practices in video production as part of the Video & Digital Media Interest Section's 20 Years celebration at TESOL 2007. Marta was also winner of the Mary Finocchiaro award in 2005.

Stephanie Stauffer is coauthor of the Scoring Refresher Toolkit for use with BEST Plus. Stephanie is a language-testing consultant who managed the development of BEST Plus. The Toolkit, recently published by the Center for Applied Linguistics, contains a CD with a guided video of examinees taking the test, a test administrator's workbook, a facilitator's guide, and a second CD containing three scoring activities.