Nancy Callan - ESL Teacher, Writer (ESL Jigsaws)

canada writer Feb 01, 2019

Nancy Callan turned her love of jigsaw readings into a series of successful books.  Read Nancy`s views on the importance of testing your materials before publishing, and how criticism of one's materials is an opportunity for improvement.  

1. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview.  Can you start off by telling us where you teach?

In Vancouver, BC, Canada, but no longer full time as I have another job. Contrary to popular belief, I have not retired off the profit from my books!

2. How long have you been teaching?

Since 1992.

3. Teacher self-care is so important.  How do you relax?  

I run a dining group, I garden and study languages.

4.  You took on the tremendous challenge of writing several books: Callan’s Thematic Jigsaws 1 and 2, Callan’s Contemporary Jigsaws 1 &2, Callan’s New Canada Jigsaws, Callan’s Beginner Canada Jigsaws, Callan’s Holiday Jigsaws 1 & 2, Callan’s Canadian Holidays for Low Beginner ESL, Callan’s Conversation Surveys  and Callan’s Beginner Essentials.  Can you talk a bit about the content?

All but the last three books are jigsaw books. I like to call jigsaws “Info Gap Squared” in that four students have a part of the story or text that others do not have. After learning their part, they teach it to others in the group. The follow-up exercises are done cooperative learning style as students rely on each other for information they are not expert on. It’s an authentic communication situation as students undertake the task of making themselves understood and understanding others. The other three books are non-jigsaw books, written because so many teachers asked me for lower level materials.

5. How long did it take you to write your book(s)?

The books took on average two full years to write and publish, but in some cases more because of time waiting for the field testing and subsequent editing.

6. How were you able to teach and write books at the same time?  Can you share a productivity tip? 

Creating materials you use in your own classrooms is key. Not taking time out to exercise can also increase productivity.

7. What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?

Teaching helped develop my attention to detail and creativity.

8. I talk to many teachers about their fear or doubt in trying something new or "putting themselves out there".  What advice would you give to these teachers?

If you put yourself out there, it is highly likely that eventually, someone will point out flaws in your material or something that was poorly thought out. Criticism can be scary. My best advice is to let go of the need to defend and open yourself up to the idea that your critics, even those who may be unnecessarily harsh and perhaps without benevolent motivations, can end up being your best allies in improving your material.

9. Where can we find you on social media?

10. Where can teachers purchase your books? 

Sometimes at conferences, at some bookstores, but now more often through my website:

11. Are you working on any new resources right now?

I am always producing free materials to give away on my blog. I'm also working on a book of strip stories for beginners to learn about holidays.  I’m trying to resist writing another jigsaw book, but it’s hard!

12. What advice would you give to teachers who are considering writing a book or developing a resource?

Be aware that writing is the least time-consuming part of any book project. The proofreading, editing, layout, and field testing are more time-consuming. Testing only in your own class is insufficient. Your materials must be tested by other teachers and their students. It is difficult to do more than cover the costs of attending conferences in other cities even if your sales are very good. Having spoken to so many fellow teacherpreneurs also exhibiting at conferences over the past decade, my impression is that this work is mostly a labour of love rather than a path to early retirement. But it is a labour you will love!

13. What have you had to do outside your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?

My first conference presentation to a large audience of teachers in my exact niche of ESL was well outside of my comfort zone. My voice actually shook I was so nervous--very embarrassing in front of an audience! I eventually got the hang of large presentations, but that first one still stings in my memory.

14. Is there anything that you would like to add?  

If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m a big fan of jigsaws and I’d love it if you tried jigsaws in your own class. Here is a video to get you started:

And here is a free jigsaw of mine to try out:

Thank you for a great interview Nancy. 


Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started?  Here are some ways:

ore than 80 inspiring teacherpreneur interviews at

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6. Connect with other teacherpreneurs by joining my LinkedIn group

7. Set up a private coaching call with me

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About Me

My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., CPP.  I have more than 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer.  I spent seven amazing years teaching in Hong Kong and have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs. I now work as a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing books, courses and teaching materials; coaching teacherpreneurs, travelling at any time of the year and applying the science of positive psychology to all my work ( Contact me at [email protected]


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