Saturday, 27 March 2010

Book Review: 'Provoking Thought'

Provoking Thought
Memory and Thinking in ELT

by Hall Houston
Anthimeria Press 2009
ISBN 9780439251997
From the introduction:
"This book, Provoking Thought, is a resource book of activities for the language classroom. The activities are designed for an ESL/EFL context, but they can be adapted for teaching other languages.
Within three minutes of opening and perusing Provoking Thought my head was spinning with ideas for approaching some of my favourite, but rather tired, activities in new ways. The section on brainstorming was the first I stumbled upon, and straight away I was fascinated by a single paragraph which gave 15 examples of quick brainstorms which can 'ease students back into speaking English after speaking their native language for many hours outside of class.' Great for introducing the topic of today's lesson. Here they are:
- Draw a small blob on the board. What is it? (an amoeba, a lake, an island, etc.)
- Words that start with the letter B
- Words that rhyme with cat
- Fill in the blank (e.g. He was surprised to see a _____ in his chair.)
- Things that make a loud noise.
- Things that are expensive
- People you admire
- Bands you think are overrated
- Things you have in common with the people in your group
- Places you want to visit
- Things you can buy with less than €5/$5/£5
- Collocations of 'time'
- Words that are four syllables long
- Different ways to say goodbye
- Familiar advertising slogans
This single section gave me more ideas for my brainstorming sessions than I've had in years. A sign of the inevitable staleness that sets in without us even noticing when we do the same thing for too long. And this wasn't even one of official activities in the book, but part of the informative and well-written introductions to each of the five parts of the book, namely:
1) Thinking
2) Memory
3) Creativity
4) Critical Thinking
5) Organising Ideas on Paper
Let me say immediately that Provoking Thought reminds me of the classic Cambridge and Oxford series of somewhat serious teachers resource books before they went all sexy and ring-bindery and photocopiable: a rather dry-looking prosaic presentation of an exceptionally inventive and inspiring collection of activities to make our lessons sizzle. Let's hope the lack of a punchy presentation doesn't limit the book's appeal too much, because people would be missing out on a brilliant collection of out-of-the-box and totally engaging humanistic teaching gems.

Funnily enough, often the newest and most radically wolfish ideas are presented in sheepish clothing simply because the young Turk in question doesn't have the funds or contacts to get his provoking thoughts out in any other manner. Or because he wants to keep control of his intellectual property. As a bit of a UTO* myself, I fully appreciate and admire this endeavour.

Not that Mr. Houston is unknown to the English teaching world. As his second book shows, he has both a deep understanding of typical teaching issues and an unerring knack of imagining thoughtful activities to stimulate our students' imaginations and keep their motivation high.

Each of the five sections offer up to 24 unique activities clearly explained for the teacher to quickly integrate them into their lessons. The extensive introductions to each section are engrossing reading in their own right, and give us important background on the theory and practice of making the activities work well.

In addition, there are interviews with three internationally renowned thinkers on memory, creativity and critical thinking, which really add to the richness of the book. An interesting list of brain-churning websites completes this compact package.

If I actually started talking about the endlessly intriguing topics the author has imagined, such as Remembering the Past, PowerPoint Review, E-mail Competition, Courtesan, Warrior and Observer, Five W's and H... I wouldn't know where to stop and would probably start seriously breaching his copyright!

So, if you want to zap up your lessons with tons of highly inventive new ideas, I'd certainly recommend Provoking Thought to all educators in need of inspiration or simply on the lookout for offbeat new teachbites. The TEFL Certificate trainees at TEFL Paris are going to be my first guinea-pigs and I'm sure that Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT, isn't going to gather much dust on our teachers resource shelvesstay on the shelves very long!

*Unidentified Teaching Object
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