Alphabet Publishing

Book review: Stories Without End

Alphabet Publishing recently sent me a copy of Stories Without End by Taylor Sapp. Here’s a review and a bit about how I used the book…

The book

Stories Without End is a collection of 24 open-ended stories for use in the classroom. The texts, usually no more than three A4 pages in length, come with reading and discussion activities and possible project work for extension.

General format

Each text usually includes…

  • ‘Before You Read’ – usually orientation questions, sometimes prediction
  • ‘Vocabulary’ – a matching task to pre-teach vocab. This appears before the text but I guess you don’t have to use it as a pre-teach. Up to you.
  • ‘After You Read’ – usually discussion questions encouraging personal response
  • ‘Projects’ – possible extension tasks

There are a few supplementary resources provided for these tasks at the back of the book.

The stories

There are two types of stories in the book. ‘Short Takes’ are texts under 500 words, and ‘Mid-Length Stories’ are between 500-2000 words.

Things I like about the stories

I like the fact that most texts in this book don’t seem to be graded. I spend a lot of my time as a materials writer grading texts, and at times this takes away the richness, perhaps authenticity too. I see why the writer has opted to provide pre-teaching tasks as the language can be challenging at times (milquetoast was a new word for me!). Sure, there can be benefits to simplifying a text, but it’s nice to be presented with a resource that provides texts as intended.

The text topics overall are interesting and useful. In my context, I’d say about half of them would ‘work’ – by that I mean engage my students, prompt discussion and have relevance. This book has arrived just at the right time for me, with our school promoting a ‘Reading Challenge’ this term. I know some of my students shy away from this initiative each year – the aim is to read 1-4 books across term. That’s ambitious for my students, and these short-stories will be more accessible. (more…)

Book review: Her Own Worst Enemy

Alice Savage

The latest offering from Alphabet Publishing looks like a great resource for bringing drama into the language classroom. Her Own Worst Enemy is written by Alice Savage, a Professor of ESOL in Texas who has previous publications with Longman and OUP.

The book is based around a short one-act play. A complete curriculum is built around the play (pitched at ‘low intermediate to high intermediate’ level), including:

  • preparation tasks such as discussions, background reading, understanding pragmatics and attentive listening practice
  • the script itself along with post-reading discussion questions
  • a step-by-step production section which helps learners analyse the play, learn their lines, get into character, and develop pronunciation skills for their performance
  • post-performance tasks including debates, follow up tasks and resources for peer and teacher feedback

The play

The deal-breaker for me with a resource like this is whether the play is actually engaging. Can I see my learners getting into it? Here’s a blurb on the play from Alphabet Publishing:

Aida, a high-school student, wants to get a university degree in science. But her performance in a school play has caught the attention of the theatre director at a famous performing arts college. Which passion should she pursue, her love of science or her talent for acting?

Of course, such a topic won’t suit every context, but it’s definitely a topic that many teens and young adults will be able to relate to. My studious teen classes would certainly enjoy debating some of the issues that the characters face. In other contexts I’ve worked in, especially summer schools back in Europe and short courses with closed groups back in the UK, I can see this topic would be relevant and generate a lot of interest. (more…)

Book review: Successful Group Work

Alphabet Publishing must have been feeling generous! Not only did they send me Classroom Community Builders (Burns), but I also received a copy of Successful Group Work by Patrice Palmer. This book hasn’t been out long, so it’s the perfect time for a review!

Successful Group Work is a short book of 13 activities for teaching teamwork skills. Palmer begins by writing about some benefits of group work in the EFL classroom, such as increased student talk time and the chance to negotiate meaning. She highlights, however, that to ensure group work is effective learners first need to be aware of what makes it a success – that’s where teambuilding skills come in. Activities in the book are designed as a ‘complete course’, helping students identify and develop the necessary teamwork skills in order to succeed in group projects.

In defining ‘teamwork skills’, Palmer refers to a list compiled by the Conference Board of Canada, clearly stating how each of the activities in the book focus on these various skills. Some examples include:

  • Recognising and respecting diversity
  • Contributing to a team
  • Understanding and working within the dynamics of a group
  • Planning, designing or carrying out a task

There are some good tips in the introduction about setting clear expectations and post-task reflection. (more…)