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Plain Language Tips for Teachers

October 13, 2016

Happy International Plain Language Day!

Plain language awareness is on the rise. People want clarity in all areas of communication, from legal documents to health care information to education. In honour of Plain Language Day, Canadians across the country met up for a Twitter chat this morning using the hashtag #plainshare2016 to share tips and ideas.

What is plain language?

Plain language is a process. Start by focusing on your readers. Keep your audience in mind at all times as you develop materials. Is your message clear and simple? Will your readers understand what you are trying to say?

After you have written with your readers in mind, it's time for user testing. If possible, you want typical readers and your peers to go through your message and give you feedback. Even editors have trouble editing their own writing—what is crystal clear in your mind might not be logical to someone else.

The final step is to apply plain language principles to the writing. Avoid jargon and the passive voice. Use clear language, such as use instead of utilize and since/because instead of owing to the fact that. Find other plain language tips on the Canadian government's site and Sue Horner's blog post.

How does plain language benefit English language learners?

English teachers are probably already applying plain language principles to their lessons without even realizing it. We constantly have our audience—our English language learners—in mind, and we adjust our speaking and writing to their level by simplifying as much as possible.

However, all teachers and material writers know that it's not always easy to make things simple and clear! Plain language principles and guidelines help us deliver a message that our students can understand.

See the Reading and Grammar sections of my post, Teaching Tips from the Plain Language Conference, for some tips specific to English learners and teachers.

What are some tips from the experts?

During the Twitter chat, tips came up that could be applied to the ELT classroom. Several tweeters suggested using Twitter to help get people comfortable with plain language—the limited 140-character window forces people say things simply. Turn tweeting into a fun classroom exercise that will naturally involve plain language. Try our How to Tweet lesson for more ideas and examples!

Other people suggested reading what you've written out loud because this helps people catch when their sentences are too long. Encourage your students to do this after completing a piece of writing.

Not only should teachers keep their students in mind when developing materials, but students should also keep their readers in mind as they write in English! As they work on their writing, make sure they think about clarity for their readers. When they get a corrected essay back from you, remind them to look over revisions carefully—review and revisions are all part of the plain language process. Tell them to ask you to explain any revisions that they don't understand.

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Comments (2)

Sue Horner(Guest)

Thanks for sharing my blog post, and fighting the good fight for plain language!

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for all your great tips, Sue!

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