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ELT writing

From teaching to writing: a webinar with George Chilton

George Chilton is an SLB socio and the Creative Director of content marketing agency Hubbub Labs. Formerly an English language teacher, he has broad experience as an educational editor, magazine writer, ELT materials producer and Managing Editor in Public Relations.

He recently gave an SLB community webinar for teachers interested in starting out in professional writing. In this post, he summarises his strategy and links to some helpful resources to help you start your writing career. 

You can watch George’s webinar here: A Wide Horizon: From ELT to a Writing Career.


Blaze a trail in ELT writing

Speak to any English language teacher around the world and you’ll find writers, DJs, tour guides, musicians, actors, trainers, translators, motivational speakers… no doubt, we’re a diverse group of people. But sometimes, we can feel a little stuck in the classroom, unsure of how to take the next steps in our careers. 

Many teachers go on to become bloggers, editors, content marketers, coursebook writers or publishers. The objective of my webinar was to help you kickstart your career as a professional (ELT) writer. 

Here are a few of the key takeaways from the session. 

Developing a roadmap for your ELT writing career

We started out by looking at a number of career options available to you as a writer, in or outside of ELT writing:

ELT materials writer

Materials writers create lesson plans, course books, teacher guides, worksheets and lots more. 

Generally, materials writers need to be creative, organised – and love planning lessons. They need to know how to grade activities and have a solid grasp of grammar. I’d add they also need to be natural communicators. Additional skills include writing concise, easy-to-follow for both teachers and students

At the same time, materials writers, like all writers, need to be able to write to a strict brief and style guide. They should also be good with deadlines and take and implement feedback well.

ELT materials editor

Often considered to be a step up on the career ladder, materials editors are often in-house. They organise materials development and ensure that the learning materials are accurate, appropriate, consistent and of high quality.

Alongside all the skills and attributes mentioned above, they will need to have a good eye for detail and understand pedagogy and student needs, as well as how activities work in the classroom.

Additionally, ELT materials editors are great at designing syllabi and writing appropriate learning objectives for the whole range of levels. Ideally, editors should also have great communications and brief-writing skills. They should also be able to create, adhere to and edit to a style guide.

When it comes to managing people, an ELT materials editor should be able to manage writers and offer constructive feedback, manage a budget and – to a lesser extent – understand broader business processes and objectives.

Social media manager

Social media managers control and create content for a range of platforms, from blogs and Facebook to Instagram and TikTok. 

If your interest in writing is more on the marketing side of things, you might consider working in social media. You’ll need: 

  • A clear understanding of the different audiences the education business is targeting
  • To be able to consistently create engaging, learner-focused content, day in, day out
  • To create graphics, photos, videos & ethically source materials
  • To follow brand guidelines & develop an approachable voice
  • To meet KPIs (e.g. growth channel, engagement or leads)

Professional blogger

Professional bloggers take control of a company’s voice. They produce a range of content that appeals to and adds value to a targeted audience. While anyone can set up and blog, professional bloggers have a number of other important attributes:

  • A clear understanding of the different audiences the education business is targeting
  • They can consistently create engaging, learner-focused content
  • They can follow brand guidelines & develop an approachable voice
  • They must meet KPIs (e.g. growth channel, engagement or leads)

You might like my article: How to write a viral blog post, which has lots of pro writing tips.

Content marketer for a brand or school 

Content marketers aim to drive traffic to websites and generate leads for companies to convert. While content marketers often count writing as one of their most important skills, they have to do much more on top of this.

ELT/Education content marketers:

  • Are organised, creative, analytical
  • Understand marketing strategy
  • Are good with marketing tools (e.g. Mailchimp, Google Analytics, SEMRush, Canva)
  • Have a good grasp of SEO
  • Are a decent writers & great communicators
  • Are customer service orientated
  • Have pedagogical understanding
  • Know the challenges of education clients, students and institutions

Making a plan

Next, we talked about objectives. Every good plan starts with a series of objectives – without them, you won’t have a destination or focus. When it comes to your career in ELT writing, you need to think in the short, medium and long term for your goals. This will help you plan in stages and make your vision realistic.

It’s also important to make your goals SMART. That is:

Specific: What are you hoping to achieve?

Measurable: How will you know you are on track?

Achievable: Can you do it with your current resources or training?

Relevant: Is it what you really want to do?

Time-bound: When must you complete this by?

Once you know where you want to go, it’s time to plan how you are going to get there. In the webinar, we spoke about the importance of making a step-by-step action plan. While everyone’s goals and action plans will be different, here is an idea of how you could set yours out:

GoalPrerequisiteCritical actionCompleted byResultAccountable to
Get a materials writing jobCreate 5 lesson plan samplesCreate sample lesson plans for colleagues and get feedback15/06/205 plans completed, waiting for feedbackFred
Get a materials writing jobCreate a portfolioSet up a wordpress blog to exhibit samples10/08/2020Done, need to tweak designFred
Get a materials writing jobJoin ELT Publishing professionalsApply for 10 jobs30/09/2020Asked to write a sample lesson planFred

We also noted that having an accountability partner (like “Fred”!) can be a great motivator. Look for a friend or colleague and mutually push each other further and cheer each other on as you go.

A few pro-tips:

Be entrepreneurial
Get an editor/mentor
Start a blog
Attend more events
Join interest groups
Update your Linkedin
Build an online portfolio

And, of course: apply, apply, apply!


Resources for teachers

Finally, I’ll leave you with some of the resources I covered in the webinar. 

ELT Teacher 2 Writer

A series of paperbacks and ebooks full of valuable content for aspiring writers in various ELT niches:

ELT Publishing Professionals

A directory for service providers and clients which currently costs £50 P/A. Seems to feature most major publishers, including Pearson, National Geographic, CUP, OUP, Ladybird, Collins, LearnJam, etc. 

Innovative Teachers of English

Another active and friendly Facebook group – an ideal place to share your materials and blogs, especially if you want feedback:

Content Creators Barcelona

An active and friendly Facebook group with resources, events, job opportunities and advisors:

Serveis Linguistics de Barcelona Cooperative

A cooperative for teachers and language service providers. Training, collaboration, mentorship and employment opportunities:

If you have any questions or would like further guidance on starting your writing career, please get in touch with us in the comments section below. 

You can connect with George on Twitter – @designerlessons or on Linkedin.

Watch George’s webinar here: A Wide Horizon: From ELT to a Writing Career

Photo by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash


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