Practical suggestions for exploiting the learning potential in your book and creating a whole new audience.

Whether you write chicklit, literary fiction, historical fiction or crime, like me, there’s an opportunity to extend your book’s reach.

This post is about how to create a Study Guide for language students. (Material for literature appreciation is a different beast and deserves a post all its own.)

Here we’re looking at advanced students of English, their teachers and ways to generate a mutually beneficial relationship. Here’s ten tips on how to do it:

cover image

First off. this wasn’t my idea. Credit goes to Sherida Deeprose, an English teacher, author and member of my writing group, who suggested using my book as the subject for two of her advanced reading groups.

Behind Closed Doors is a crime novel, set in Zürich, Switzerland, where I now live. Sherida’s students are mostly Swiss, with some German, French and Italian speakers. It seemed like a good fit. Two years later, this is what I’ve learned.

Sherida with one of her classes

Sherida, second from left, with some of her students

1. Find a collaborator. Sherida’s experience and knowledge of her students led her to create exercises and activities which stimulated their imaginations and extracted as much as possible from the text. I’m a Diploma-qualified EFL teacher of 20 years, but an author writing questions about his/her own work? It’s impossible to sidestep the ego. Sherida’s clear eyes were invaluable. Approach a language school, ask a teacher from a local comp, offer an undergraduate an opportunity, but try to find someone experienced in the art of teaching.

2. Use existing expertise. When we got down to the nuts and bolts of variety, range and practical use of the guide, we looked to precedents. Pearson, Macmillan and Oxford Bookworms showed us what a good guide should contain, plus sites such as Discovery allowed us to create visual puzzles, such as crosswords and wordsearch activities.

Sample pages

Sample pages

3. Make it teacher friendly. Teachers are always short on time. Provide them with a well-thought-through exercise, targeting a language point, add a suggestion for development and the answers in the back/Teacher’s Guide. Make sure the answers are correct. This is vital, or you risk embarrassing the teacher in front of the class.

4. Make it reader friendly. Endless comprehension questions will bore the most avid reader. Sherida’s groups were both learners of English and literature appreciators, so we included lots of variety: exploration of text construction, authorial intent, use of subtext, as well as exploiting every opportunity to consolidate grammar points or recycle vocabulary.

5. Let people know a free resource is downloadable. Contact The British Council, International House, and whoever the leading schools are in your area. Add a PDF to your website or blog and get the word out.

P10004326. Engage. Provide an opportunity for the readers to ask questions – if you can’t manage this in person, perhaps make a recorded video, responding to their individual points. A bunch of bookmarks, an audio clip, or even a deleted scene can all act as a thank you for their engagement. I visited both groups and found their opinions heartwarming and educational.

7. Be clear regarding appropriate level. In addition to the usual guidelines regarding age range and potentially offensive material, you need to be clear on language ability. Use the Council of Europe Framework and label the Study Guide /Book as suitable for use with the sufficient comprehension level. If not, you risk switching people off. We labelled Behind Closed Doors as B2 and above.

8. Try to keep the language focus broad. We had no choice in Switzerland – home to four official languages – but if you tailor all the exercises to German speakers, you’re limiting the guide’s usability and reach.

9. Don’t add colour images. Black and white is easiest for teachers who want to be able to print and photocopy. And avoid fancy fonts. Helvetica or Arial work well for clarity across the board. Remember to be consistent. Eg, always have exercise title in bold, rubric in italics and activity itself should be normal.

10. Gauge interest. Take feedback from the teachers. Which bits excite more interest than others? Are there dull sections? Could one exercise be developed? Is there mileage in suggesting more creative engagement for the active reader? The guide is easy to update, and should respond to readers, languages and learning preferences.

Here’s one we prepared earlier – Beyond Closed Doors

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