English Advantage

Opinions, Reflections, and Resources from an ESL Teacher

Tag: ebook

Free ebook On the Board

New free ebook On the Board: 200 Fast, Fun & Easy Warmer, Filler and Fast-Finisher ActivitiesGet our new free ebook, this week only over at Smashwords before it goes live everywhere!

This is a collection of proverbs, quotes, riddles, and brainteasers and other fun stuff I’ve curated over the years. Put one up on the board and get students thinking and working. It’s the perfect no-prep warmup, do-now, bell-ringer, filler, or fast-finisher activity.

To learn more, check out the book page. Then head over to Smashwords and download it for free in any ebook format you can imagine!

Principles of Visual Design for eBooks

This is a little video I made summing up some of the stuff I’ve learned about Visual Design and applying it to educational materials such as eBooks. I became interested in this after Tammy Jones and Gabriela Kleckova’s wonderful presentation on Visual Design Principles for Teachers at TESOL 2014.

I’ve done a bit of reading here and there but am by no means an expert. But I hope that my presentation will give you something to think about as you work on your eBooks and I’ve listed my sources and other places to get information below the video.

Principles of Visual Design for Educators

Sources and Resources

A lot of my presentation is basically rewording the information for Purdue’s OW’s presentations on Visual Design.

Purdue also led me to this fun site about the effects of color, Color in Motion.

If you’re looking for inspiration to get a color scheme, the  Color Scheme Designer is the best tool I know of. I like to find a color that speaks to me, then press the Triad button at top to get two other colors and then adjust as I see fit. And again, always think about complementary colors (I think I called them contrasting colors in my presentation) as well as combining light and dark variations.

There’s a nice tutorial on Spacing and Font Size that gives some advice on balancing your text and your white space.

And finally a site that features some pleasing Font Combinations to give you some good ideas.

The Bottom Line

Summing up with some basic practical advice, in case you don’t have a ton of time to watch a presentation and research online.

Have a set consistent style where all the unit headers look a certain way, all the directions look a certain way, all the vocabulary lists look a certain way, and so on….

Keep your layout simple and clear and easy to read.

Make sure the student can glance at your pages and easily distinguish what’s what–ah, this must be the reading text and this picture goes with these questions.

Use a minimum of fonts and colors, but do use some color and decoration.

Sans-serif fonts and serif fonts go well together.

A little bolding or underlining or making a font 3-4 sizes bigger can go a long way.

Use pictures. But align them so that they line up with the rest of the text.

Don’t do this (Busy, hard to read, inconsistent):

Or this (boring):

Or this (Too many different styles mixed together):

Bad Design


And I’m happy to take questions, comments, or critiques in the comments here or on the EVO Community site or by email.

30 Goals: Share a Page of Your Future Textbook

by Walton Burns from Branford, CT, USA.

The Writing Master by Thomas Eakins

30 Goals Challenge for Educators: Make a Difference is on a world tour and I am happy to be your Inspire Leader for this part of the journey. So where in the world is the 30 goals? We are visiting Branford, CT  I invite you to accomplish the following goal- Share a Page of Your Future Textbook.

To accomplish this goal:

  •  Pick a page from your textbook that you think could be improved and rewrite it to match your needs.OR
  • Think about a textbook only you could create. What is your big idea about the best way to teach English? Create one page of that textbook. OR
  • Take a lesson or activity that works well with students and re-imagine it as a part of a published book.
  • Like any professional textbook, you might want to include any combination of discussion questions, a reading, a listening, pictures, grammar, vocabulary, cultural notes, speaking activities as well as design elements like titles, subtitles, diagrams, a color scheme and decorations.

Your students can:

  • Rewrite a page of the textbook that they think could be better.
  • Take a text and prepare a worksheet or presentation teaching this text to the class.
  • Prepare their own practice worksheet to help students review a grammar point or vocabulary.
  • I would also encourage them to think about the design and look of their products so that they end up with something professional looking.

 My Reflection

This all started with a challenge from Jason Renshaw to create a unit of class material. It got me to thinking about why more teachers don’t create their own materials.

I can’t tell you how many times I have stayed up late googling “present perfect grammar practice”, trying to find the perfect worksheet for my students. And they are rarely exactly what I want so I give them to students with caveats: “Don’t do #5, we haven’t covered that usage yet. I don’t agree with #6 I think present simple works here too. Just conjugate the verbs, don’t do the other part.”

It would be so much easier (and satisfying) to just make my own worksheet to give my students. Obviously time is a big limitation but it would sometimes be faster to do something myself rather than search and search and then adapt. And then it would be exactly what my students want. And presenting my students with a nice well-thought out lesson or worksheet, maybe something with a bit of color and a clip art to make it look as nice as the textbook, might impress them. It would show the students how much time I put into prepping lessons for them. That might make a difference in how they perceive me and my class, and even how they perceive their own learning.

As I’ve been moving from teaching to writing, I’ve discovered that most of the coursebook writers are in fact teachers. And that some of the materials and ideas shared with me by my fellow teachers are just as good as those I’ve found in textbooks. So I challenge you to tap into your creative side and create just one page–although you may want to take it further and do a whole unit or even a whole book.

The teacher job gets a bad rap sometimes: teaching is more than babysitting and it’s more than just being fun in the classroom and kind outside it. Teachers know their material. Teachers are inventive and resourceful. Teachers know how to teach well and how to write well. I encourage you to not only see how well you can develop a page of activities and materials but also to make it look professional and well-laid out and attractive to learners, just like a professionally published textbook. It might change how you look at yourself, your job, and how you look at the textbook. Who knows, it might lead to a new career as an author!


About Branford, CT

Branford is not one of the more famous places in Connecticut and Connecticut is not one of the more famous states. But Branford was once the Strawberry Capital of Connecticut and our strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are excellent. It’s also home to the Lobster Shack which serves Connecticut style lobster rolls–no lettuce or mayo, just chunks of lobster sautéed in butter on a roll. The dossant (much better than a cronut) was invented here. Beyond food, this is where Yale University was founded  and home of the famous Thimble Islands. So we may be a small town in a small state but we have our pride!

Thank you for dropping by! I hope you enjoyed your visit.

Find out more about The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators at 30Goals.comand join our 30 Goals Facebook community

Reflecting on my EVO Course

My EVO session on Crafting the ePerfect eBook is done and I even have the certificate to prove it!

It’s been really interesting. I’m not sure what I had expected. I was looking to get some advice on writing and writing online and maybe some more experience. I came in with a few vague ideas that I have had for online textbooks but haven’t been sure are feasible. In the end, I went in a direction that was different from the majority–rather than an eBook for students, I ended up starting an eBook for teachers (based on some research I’ve done on cooperative or collaborative group work).

The best part of the workshop was probably all the moral support and all the examples. I got a lot out of looking at other people’s books. I also picked up a lot of Ebook Resources including publishing formats and articles and programs.

Most importantly, it was a chance to reflect on what an ebook is and what it can do. I recently posted here that for the main advantage of an eBook is its portability. I can read on my iPhone everywhere which I really enjoy. However, the idea of an interactive eTextbook never fully grabbed me. In fact, the last place I worked when they did eBooks, they very similarly basically scanned everything on to the Internet and added the listening files. I suppose my feeling as a teacher was that working with paper and working with technology are basically the same thing except working with technology often takes longer.

My eyes have really been opened. I see there are a lot of fun interactive toys on the Internet that can be used for education AND can be incorporated into an eBook. Another of my objections was that I like books to be, well, books–finite, concrete, holdable. There should be a thing there that is a book. Books don’t have to be linear but they shouldn’t be infinite or uncontained. So it was interesting to see how people embedded widgets or even links into PDFs and other ebook formats. That way you have a page that is self-contained but links out.

That’s probably the area I learned the most about: formatting. And the area that I would like to discover more about is design. I’d really like to find pages with concrete advice about fonts to use, how to space and align things and so on.

So overall I got a lot out of it and I plug away at my eBook from time to time. Maybe you’ll see it offered on this very site!

30 Goals: e-Encouraging e-to e-Read

Having ensconced myself in eBooks recently, I thought this reflection on eReading for the 30 Goals Challenge was particularly appropriate. I also tried out a new tech toy which is bare bones–Vocaroo. We’ll see how it goes and how it looks.

While you listen, feel free to stare at the covers of the two eBooks in my life right now:

The edition I read many years ago.

I’m reading this on my iPhone right now!

My Very Own Unfinished eBook

My very own eBook under construction!












Press Play to listen:
Featured Image from Wikimedia: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/EBook_between_paper_books.jpg

7 Ways to Make Sure They Don't Peek

One of the things I’ve been very interested in lately is collaborative group work. Research shows that collaboration really can lead to students learning from each other. However, sometimes we give students tasks to do in groups that are not necessarily actually collaborative. That is, the students are not actually required to work together and both contribute in order to successfully complete the task. For example, when we tell students to check their homework in groups, they may be working together to puzzle out a problem with shared knowledge. Or the student who forgot to do it may be copying from one student while the others who did it well are chatting about last night’s football game.

One thing that forces students to work together, or creates a collaboration, is that each student has knowledge the others need to do the task. We sometimes create this situation somewhat artificially with cloze or information gap exercises or by giving students different parts of a reading or a two versions of the same paragraph or picture that they have to compare. Each student has some information the other needs. But students often sabotage our efforts by peeking. I can’t tell you how many times I catch them just looking at each other’s sheets instead of talking!

So with that in mind, I’ve collected some simple ways you can get students not to peek! Some of them are a bit extreme but that can actually be fun for students!

  1.  Put them back to back—this is one of the easiest ones. If they can’t see each other, they can’t peek without conspicuously craning their necks.
  2.  Put them in separate corners and have them call or text each other—This is a fun way to incorporate technology although you have to monitor them closely and also make sure they have unlimited calling and/or are on the same plan. I’ve only done this successfully once and it was a very big room!
  3. Have them chat online with each other–if you’re in a computer lab you can use Google+ or Yahoo Chat or some other chat program and have students type each other! This is also a great way to have them do it for homework. And if they are in separate buildings, they can’t do much peeking.
  4. Have them prerecord the task–Depending on the task, they might be able to go home and prerecord their answer on an MP3 file or through a service like Voicethread or Voki.
  5. Put bits of cardboard between the desks–set up barriers like they’re playing battleship or taking a standardized test!
  6. Blindfold them–this works if they are doing something that doesn’t require them to read constantly. For example, they might be doing a role play. Blindfold them after they’ve read and memorized their role. This is a great way to get them to actually improvise instead of just reading their role.
  7. Turn the lights off or at least down low–Like blindfolding them, if they can’t see they can’t peek. Even if you dim the lights, it’ll be hard for them to see their partner’s paper making any peeking attempts difficult.

Chapter 1

The ePerfect eBook moves on slowly: I’m plugging away at Chapter one on general activities and I would love to see any comments and critiques.

The outline and the idea behind it is here (Outline) but in short the idea behind this is:

Research shows that truly collaborative activities have great benefits for learners. However, not all group activities are truly collaborative. In this book designed for teachers of language, especially ESL/EFL, I will share activities that are truly collaborative with clear and comprehensive and easy-to-understand directions. The introduction will discuss the difference between group work and collaborative work and give some key features of collaboration. There will also be suggestions on how teachers can design their own collaborative activities.

and features I am looking to implement include:

  • Clear, easy to read format
  • Use of tool tips or some kind of comments but everything the teacher NEEDS should be visible–links are for extras.
  • printable or easily readable on portable devices so teachers can take it into the classroom
  • Video and audio demonstrations of activities
  • Links to resources, tips, variations
  • Lots of materials and downloadables
  • Places for teachers to add their notes and blank pages for teachers to add own activities.
  • Engaging layout
  • Dynamic Table of Contents (searchable? re-orderable)
  • Task Language
  • Ways of Putting Students in Groups

If you care to answer questions, I’d love to hear:

  • Is this a resource you would use?
  • What do you like or hate about teacher resource books?
  • How much interactivity would you look for in a book like this?