Onestopenglish's queen of news lessons, author of the Spot on news lessons for teens, Business Spotlight lessons and our Celebrations series. Karen gives some great tips for budding materials writers and talks about her background in journalism, as well as a curious tale about a talking duck ...
So, Karen, tell us a little bit about yourself …
Originally from Brighton on the south coast of England, I lived, worked and taught in London and Greece before moving to southern Germany in 1993 where I fell into teaching (as you do) and haven't looked back since.
These days I divide my working hours, of which I'm happy to say there seem to be more and more each week, between materials writing and teaching (mainly) Business English. Strangely enough I've recently started to notice that my students seem to be getting younger every term. The latest group of apprentices are the same age as my daughter, which, shockingly, makes me the same age as their mums!
Be that as it may, I still manage to combine my busy life of materials writing and language teaching with family, friends, travel, attending and organizing conferences, furthering my professional development, and the odd (in all senses of the word) spot of yoga.
In five words, how would you describe yourself?
Professionally I'd say I'm hard-working, wordy, curious, dependable, and efficient. But, as that all sounds a bit cold, I'd like to cheat and have five more personal alternative words: helpful, friendly, funny, trustworthy, creative.
How did you start your writing career?
I always wanted to be a travel writer, so after school I studied travel and tourism with the intention of following that by going to journalism school. Somehow I got sidetracked and it didn't quite work out as planned. But, in my early twenties I won a short story competition; the prize was a creative writing course. A bit later, while teaching English to primary school children, I decided to try writing my own stories and ELT materials. A well-known German publisher, Langenscheidt, published my books and asked me to write more. From there I branched out into Business English and wrote course materials for Hueber in Germany and Macmillan ELT in Britain (most recently, The Business pre-intermediate). Then, a couple of years ago I was offered the chance to write a report for onestopenglish together with Lindsay Clandfield. This swiftly took me on to the news lessons, which I absolutely love, and brought me, if you look at it in a slightly cock-eyed way, almost full circle back to my original career choice as it allows me to dabble in (or with) journalism.
What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever taught in?
A few years ago I covered some before-work lessons at a natural cosmetics and medicine manufacturer for a colleague. The company vet was in the group; and he requested that he give us a guided tour in English around the company's own bio-dynamic farm. The following week we met at 7.30am at the farm. It was November; snow lay on the frozen ground and it was pitch black. Our 90-minute lesson concluded with us standing in the humane (!? or so they tried to convince me) slaughter house trying to defrost our fingers with the aid of a cup of hot coffee. Not the best lesson plan for a vegetarian, but one of the most memorable!
What are you most proud of in your teaching and writing career?
Currently? Being asked to be a onestopenglish author and knowing that this, and materials I've written, are being read all over the world.
What’s your most embarrassing teaching moment?
I'm not going to tell you ;-)
What’s your favourite joke?
My dad told me this joke a couple of years ago and it's one of the few I can still remember:
A duck walks into a pub and orders a pint of lager and a ham sandwich. The landlord looks at him and says, 'But you're a duck!'
'Your eyes work', replies the duck, wryly.
'And you talk!' exclaims the landlord.
'And your ears', says the duck. 'Now can I have my beer and my sandwich please?'
'Certainly', says the landlord, 'sorry about that ... it's just we don't get many ducks in this pub. What are you doing round this way?'
'I'm working on the building site across the road', explains the duck.
The landlord watches, astounded, as the duck drinks his beer, eats his sandwich and leaves.
The duck visits regularly for two weeks. Then one day the circus comes to town.
The owner of the circus comes into the pub and the landlord says to him, 'You're with the circus aren't you? I know this duck that would be just brilliant in your circus - he talks, drinks beer and everything!'
'Sounds marvellous', says the owner, 'get him to give me a call'.
So the next day when the duck comes into the pub the landlord says,
'Hey Mr. Duck, I reckon I can line you up with a top job, paying really good money!'
'Yeah?' says the duck, 'Sounds great, where is it?'
'At the circus', says the landlord.
'The circus?' the duck inquires, a bit bemused.
'That's right', replies the landlord.
'What, the place with the big tent? Big canvas roof, hole in the middle, loads of animals?' asks the duck.
'That's right!' says the landlord.
The duck looks confused. 'Why would they want a bricklayer?'
What are your tips for becoming an ELT author?
I've very little to add to the marvelous tips that Lindsay and Jackie have already supplied except for:
This helps with meeting tricky deadlines.
Stay up to date
Don't think that one teaching diploma is all you ever need in your professional life. I try to follow my own advice by doing some sort of professional development course each year. For example, I've just started an online course with the consultants-E on 'ICT in the classroom' - there's always a way to increase your knowledge, which will in turn improve your teaching and writing skills.
No one's going to approach you to write anything if they don't know who you are. Being able to put a face to the name can make all the difference. Therefore, try to attend an ELT conference at least once a year. Also, join your area English Language Teachers' Association (ELTA), and if there's not one in your area, then why not start one? And if you can't physically get to conferences and workshops, join an online discussion group; there are plenty of them about.
How else are you going to know what students need and what works in the classroom unless you have some students to teach?