The Master Plan

As we move towards the summer — and, even more, towards the fall when a lot of language courses start up — I’ve been brainstorming how I’ll promote the worksheet generator. It’s not something I’m naturally good at, but I rationalize that means it’s an area where I can grow the most.

So far, two things are clear to me: 1) I can’t afford to buy every click I get on Google 2) I need to increase the rate at which people who do click through to my site create free accounts and experiment with them.

That brings me to step one:

Finish the worksheet generator

It’s an obvious step and will mean a bunch of small changes, tweaks to the interface, and walkthrough videos. I hope to fix the one thing I’m aware of going wrong, as well as to add an extra review activity.

Basically, this step addresses part two up above: before I start really pushing people towards the website, I want it to be as ready as possible to wow them with its functionality.

On the topic of pushing people towards the website, that brings me to the next step (which isn’t necessarily chronologically next — I can do these things in parallel).

Make two free websites

That’s right. In order to promote what I hope will be a paid website, I think it makes sense to make two more free websites. These should attract English teachers and ‘prepare’ them to want to see great vocab worksheets.

Here is the idea:

The New Spork City Website

I have already moved the stories I wrote for EFL students to their own website, called New Spork City. (If you never read the stories, New Spork City is the fictional setting.) This website should serve several purposes:

  1. Get me to keep writing the stories. I use them, and I can’t write them week-by-week just in time for a class. I have to set aside time to sit down and make the stories.
  2. Let me showcase the worksheets. Using the worksheet generator, I’m creating vocab worksheets that could be passed out in parallel to the stories. Naturally, these will be amazing on their own, but I’m hoping they’ll be an argument for creating tailor-made worksheets for your groups.
  3. Let me showcase the other resources. I don’t think I personally would invest class time playing a memory game based on a reading activity, but the website will give me a chance to show the resources it can make.
  4. Let me promote a free website. Having a free website means I could add it to lists that are only for free resources. Or, I could upload a few stories to worksheet-sharing sites with links back to the New Spork City site.

A blog for teachers in Germany

I don’t know if I really have time to commit to a second blog (third, if you count New Spork City, which has a blog component), but I rationalize that I could pre-write articles and commit to an article-per-week plus things like conversation topics/games.

Here are the goals that I think this could help me accomplish:

  1. Promote the worksheet generator, of course. After all, teachers who come to a blog with teaching tips are probably more open to learning about new resources. What’s more, I couldn’t find a list of online resources for teachers in Germany. I could make (and be on the top of) that list.
  2. Push me to get some stuff done. That is to say, there are activities and ‘teacher documents’ that would make more sense to host on a site for teachers as opposed to on the specific New Spork City site. Having a site that needs content might push me to get it done.
  3. Push me to learn and do some of the things I want to learn and do. It might surprise you to know that I’m not a perfect teacher, but there are things I could improve at. Researching, practicing and writing about those things for a blog would be a great way to improve. That’s in addition to the fact that writing about the things I do think I know will make me understand them better.
  4. Give me a second free website to promote. This is the same as point four above (and it’s point four, here!) It’s not a high priority, but I think that it could be part of a sustainable model for the worksheet generator, to have things that I give away for free as well as a service I provide for money.

That certainly seems like enough, doesn’t it?

So, in addition to finishing the one website I’ve been working on for years, I’m looking at making two more. I get that it seems absurd.

However, most of the work for the two websites can be divided into two categories: initial setup work that has to be done once, and then stays done; and work like writing stories, making worksheets and classroom activities that I would do either way, and which I might do a little better if I knew it was for an ‘international audience’ and ‘promotional purposes.’

I’ll check in again soon.

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Branding, or how much material can you copy from the Internet?

I’m going to sit now in judgment on other English teachers. I think that most of them make one of two opposing mistakes:

  1. Everything comes from the Internet. Their students experience the lessons as a hodge-podge of formats and headers. The general impression that students have is ‘All Toby does is print stuff off from the Internet.’
  2. They make everything themselves. The people I have seen do this generally have pretty abysmal formatting, but they make great resources tailored to each group. The groups are impressed with the work they put into preparation and would happily recommend them to friends and colleagues, but the teacher is so swamped with preparation, that they don’t have time for more lessons.

As a guy who wants to make a resource to create worksheets on the Internet, I’m very aware of the risks of over-relying on downloaded (or photocopied) resources. Students do not value your talent in leading a conversation, introducing vocabulary, and explaining grammar. The best teachers make it seem so effortless, that most students won’t appreciate the effort you invest until they try to teach their own native language.

And, of course, going the other route and just doing everything yourself is great… for one group, but not for twenty or thirty. (Not if you also want to learn to code, have writing projects, make music… This post is basically aimed at me.) What’s more, when I create a resource for only one group, we always find typos, and there is no point correcting them because nobody will ever see it again. This means that everyone basically sees the first draft of everything. I make a pretty good first draft, but the second draft is always better.

The first pillar of my solution: I use stuff from the Internet. But I have also become very proactive about communicating in the I form what my plans are, and on what basis I’ve made them. And that I got some resources to help us with whatever. Here are some things that I have said in my lessons:

Steffen, Mary, and yes, sometimes you Bert, have been making the ‘He, she, it — s muss mit’ mistake and I know that you know it. But we’re going to drill it a bit more in the next lessons to help make it automatic.

Or:

Normally, I’m happiest when you don’t make mistakes, but I’m glad you made that one because it brings me to something I want to talk about: the passive voice!

I know you all love grammar, but it’s important to master this if you want to talk about processes…

The goal in these little chats is to explain that I am a professional who has a plan, and not just a guy who was lucky enough to grow up speaking the language they are paying to learn.

The second pillar of my solution: With my worksheet generator (mostly) finished, I’m focusing this year on creating worksheets that are highly reusable, and yet tailored to me. The goal is to make it clear that I made the resources and to make them so quirky that it feels tailor-made for my classes. (Which are, fortunately, all quirky.)

The way I’m approaching this goal is by using two kinds of text in the worksheets. There are the absurd texts that I write, illustrating the use of the structures to be practiced. (See this example.) And there are the ‘drill texts’ in which the students fill in the blank, or complete the sentence, or translate from German, or whatever… and these are (almost) entirely boring, could-be-copied-from-the-internet bland.

The goal is to make something that confronts students with the vocabulary and structures they need and is still uniquely me. Then, after one group finds a typo, I can correct it and use it with another group. Because I teach in three different schools, I make them without a header and just paste in the header I made for the appropriate school.

In summary: I’m only about two months in, on using the second pillar of the solution. Nonetheless, the first results are positive and, combined with using my dynamically generated worksheets (which are, being made by me, also quirky) with the appropriate header on them. (That’s automatic with my great website!)