May Street Stories from Urban Lyrebirds


Carmel Davies from Urban Lyrebirds is one of the founding members of our ‘teacher to writer and publisher’ group, ESL-SPIN. I interviewed her about her latest books, ‘May Street Stories’.

Carmel, congratulations on your new reading series

Thanks! It’s taken a while, but I’m really happy with the books. 

What are the titles?

At the Park, The Lost Key, Broken Computer, Underpaid!, Where’s my Bike? and Fire! Fire!

They sound very topical.

Yes, they’re all loosely based on experiences my students and friends have had over the years.

And the May Street connection?

The characters in the books include teenagers, refugees, international students and retirees. They live in the same block of flats in May Street, and get to know each other better through the events of each story.

The illustrations are very evocative of students I’ve met. 

Yes, I was very happy with the illustrator we worked with, Veronica Dixon. You can also see how the cover design of each book incorporates visual elements from the culture of the main character, and that’s carried on throughout the pages of the books.

I noticed that! What’s in the books?

Each book has a problem-resolution story of about 400-500 words, and two pages of activities and conversation questions. The stories are aimed at strong beginner to post-beginner learners (adult or young adult).

There’s audio, but we decided not to go down the CD route as so many people no longer have CD players. Instead the audio will be available for free download from our website – no codes to enter, as we want it to be simple for learners.

I see that Urban Lyrebirds is now distributing through Bookery…

Yes, that’s been a great experience for us, after doing our own distribution initially. They’ve been very patient and supportive. They were the ones who told us how keen the libraries were to find new Australian readers. 

So our books are still available through all the other language bookshops and library suppliers, but we don’t have to organise that any more.

What advice would you give other would-be writers?

Write stories about characters that students will care about, in situations grounded in reality, that reflect their lives. Humour is good, as well as relevance, and authentic characters. Universal themes, interesting stories expressed simply…

I notice how much students love to discuss moral predicaments and dilemmas – those ‘What should he/she do now?’ questions. Even beginners are eager to participate in the discussion when they feel strongly about an issue.

What else is coming from Urban Lyrebirds?

Sharon (Duff) and I are also working on some more readers, to accompany the Sing With Me! songs. She’s illustrating them too, which is very impressive.

We’re also planning to work on an unfinished book by our wonderful friend and business partner Maggie Power, who sadly passed away last year. She asked us if we’d finish her Preliminary level Passages to English, and we’re going to do that with her daughter.

That will be so valuable – and a great tribute to her.

Yes, she’s sorely missed, as a friend and a creative collaborator.

Just to finish up, if you ran the ESL world…?

I’d like to see more engaging PD for teachers, and more engaging activities for students, with meetings, social events, volunteers in the classroom and opportunities to build community – and only relevant assessment! 

And what would you create if money was no object?

I’d love to make short 3-minute videos. Or a mini-series – remember the 2006 ABC series, English: Have a Go!  There’s been nothing like it since…

My second dream venture would be a small travelling theatre company, taking live drama based on students’ life experiences out to learners across the country. I had this idea 20 years ago and got funding to do a one-off. It worked so well that the idea is still with me. So any interested funding bodies out there – do get in touch!

Good luck!

On the road with ESL-SPIN


Here’s an update from ESL-SPIN members Sharon and Carmel, from Urban Lyrebirds, who’ve been on the road, presenting on singing in the classroom, and promoting ESL-SPIN: 

In May, we flew to Brisbane to present workshops on Song in the ESL Classroom for QCAL and QATESOL.

At the first workshop in Brisbane we met an enthusiastic group of QCAL teachers at Musgrave Park, an important meeting place for local Murri people who held corrobborees there and demonstrated culture. A privilege for us to sing here and enthuse teachers under the Moreton Bay figs… they really got into the warm-up at sunset on the deck!

Next stop was the Townsville QATESOL PD DAY at St Saviour’s College, for the Plenary Session on English Through Song.

Close to 100 teachers ordered lyrics, sang “Open Our Hearts” (from Sing with me! 3), flopped on their chairs to “Too much technology is driving me crazy – I’m sitting in my chair and I’m feeling pretty lazy” and were fully engaged for over an hour at the end of the day! A testimony to the power of song.

We heard from teachers who are using Sing with me! songs across the region in primary schools. One teacher was preparing a concert the following week, with songs from Sing with me! 1. Very exciting.

Jennifer Wills gave an excellent presentation on Secret English – discussing the latest research into successful literacy practices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

We also had a table and display of ESL-SPIN resources – and interest from teachers on how self-publishing works.

Thanks to Hazel Davidson for a great job organizing and inviting Urban Lyrebirds to present, and to the friendly teachers from QCAL /QTESOL.


Later in May, we presented Multiple literacies through Song at the 2016 VALBEC Conference at William Angliss Institute in Melbourne (and showcased ESL-SPIN resources between sessions, with great interest in how to develop resources).

5 things that made it a great conference:

  1. Chris Falk launched the Conference with songs by Glenroy Harmonisers from the Glenroy Neighbourhood Learning centre – another reminder of the power of singing to bring people together and break down barriers of social isolation.
  2. Tony Dreise from ACER talked about literacy being about far more than job preparation. Emotional literacy, cultural literacy, developing entrepreneurial mindsets, supporting personal agency and fostering creativity must also be central to any program.
  3. Public libraries are developing partnerships with other literacy providers to support adult literacy. A project with Urban Lyrebirds is in the pipeline! Very exciting for us.
  4. Prisoners in Tasmania are making leaps and bounds in their literacy with a new approach using direct instruction in phonological awareness. The program was piloted by Rosalie Martin, a speech pathologist with expertise in literacy acquisition disorders.
  5. The food at William Angliss is excellent – we really enjoyed the lunch and morning tea and the healthy choices – all made by trainee students. Well done!




ESL-SPIN at the ACTA/ACAL Conference


photoA Just a quick update as so much has been happening: this was the ESL-SPIN table at the ACTA/ACAL conference in Perth last month – a huge thank you to the organisers! We (that’s Clare and Karen) had a great location, just around the corner from the Language Centre Bookshop’s stall, and were able to chat to so many teachers about resources and publishing ideas. We don’t sell anything at our tables, just talk about what we all do, what ages and levels the resources might suit, noting down suggestions… it’s a very fun way to spend a day.

It was also exciting to realise that there are other ESOL/EAL teachers ‘out there’ writing and self-publishing. We met up with Pauline Bunce, who has just produced a resource for biscriptal learners – you can see sample pages on her website, and Clare has also interviewed her.

Then in the photo, Clare is holding a brand-new, ‘arrived in the post yesterday’ Australian grammar book from Helga Burry, Let’s Connect. 

Next we’ll report from Queensland, so watch this space…