Onestopenglish favourite Jackie McAvoy thrills us with her tropical teaching and travelling tales and offers some useful tips on getting started as an ELT author.

jackie mcavoy

So, Jackie, tell us a little bit about yourself…

Well, I started off as a graphic designer in London and then did five years of VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) in Africa (Malawi and Angola). I came back unemployed, and, it seemed, unemployable. Very reluctant to retrain, I eventually decided to do a CELTA course and loved it from day one. That was 1994; I did the DELTA five years later. I’ve taught and/or done teacher training in the UK, France, Spain, Vietnam, Tunisia, Thailand and now I’m in Jordan. I do some part-time teaching for the British Council in Amman but my days are mainly taken up working freelance, either on my own podcasting site:, or for Macmillan in a number of different ways.

In five words, how would you describe yourself?

Creative, inquisitive, enthusiastic (most of the time), stubborn (occasionally) and frustrated (every so often).

How did you start your writing career?

Very much like Lindsay Clandfield. I won the Lesson Share competition a couple of times on onestopenglish and then in 2004 I was asked to contribute regularly to the site. I started with the reading skills lessons which soon expanded to two levels. I also began the One World Magazine lesson plans for the writing skills section. Moving to Bangkok in 2005 I decided to try being a full-time writer and it wasn’t long before I got my first contract to write a course book for the Macmillan Asia group. I’ve been busy on a variety of projects ever since. This includes the new integrated skills video projects for onestopenglish and working with Lindsay on the next Macmillan general English coursebook.

What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever taught in?

That’s easy – Hanoi. An end of term was never complete without students taking you out for a huge slap-up Vietnamese dinner washed down with gecko marinated rice wine. The students were also very keen on giving teachers a range of weird and wonderful presents, many of which remained as amusing exhibits in an already cluttered teachers’ room.

What are you most proud of in your teaching and writing career?

Ok, I have to admit that it felt good getting a copy of my first published book (Essential Reading) in my hands. Not only was my name on the front but all the texts and activities had been turned into a wonderful looking skills book. Definitely worth all the hard work!

I also enjoyed setting up the monthly teacher training workshops at the British Council in Hanoi. Expectations were that it was to be lead by BC teachers but with lots of encouragement and support the sessions were mainly led by local teachers – all very capable but lacking confidence.

What’s your most embarrassing teaching moment?

That was teaching how to play Taboo with my Tunisian students. I had written pig on the board and asked students to give me words associated with this. I was expecting the usual comments (pink, animal, farm, bacon…) when I realized there was an uncomfortable silence in the room. A hesitant student said, 'Dirty?' I scrubbed pig off the board and made a mental note not to do that introduction again with a group of Muslim students!

I also drew a large thermometer on the board once, stepped back and realized it looked like an enormous penis…

What’s your favourite joke?

Not a joke but I enjoy the humour of The Sopranos, particularly the scenes with Adriana. There were some great one-liners in the show.

What are your tips for becoming an ELT author?

Get your work known – onestopenglish is a great place to start and there are lots of opportunities on the site to show off your talent.

Get yourself known – if you feel daunted about doing a presentation at IATEFL there are plenty of smaller conferences around. It’s a great way to meet people and there are often commissioning editors sitting in on the sessions.

Don’t give up the day job – I am particularly lucky having a partner who supports me financially. It’s years before you get any royalties, so all your hard work takes a long time to be rewarded.