book review

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…)

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Book review: Classroom Community Builders

I’ve just received a copy of the latest book from Alphabet Publishing. Walton Burns is following up last year’s ’50 Activities for the First Day of School’ with a new cookbook of ideas for building a classroom community.

Burns states this book is a natural continuation to his previous offering, which was a compendium of icebreaking activities. Having considered the role of icebreakers more, he reflects that these types of activity aren’t always used effectively in lessons. Many icebreakers encourage teamwork, and are best used when they are a) relevant to the content of the class, and b) give learners the feeling of accomplishment. With this in mind, he offers a range of activities that go beyond simple rapport builders – aiming instead to build a culture of collaboration and community from day one.

The book is organised in four sections:

  • Set Your Expectations
  • Working Together
  • Getting To Know You
  • Getting to Know Your Teacher

(more…)

Classroom silence and digital natives

Svetlana Kandybovich recently wrote a post about allowing students thinking time. It’s full of useful ideas for the classroom and well worth a read.

Something else worth reading is ‘The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World’ by Laurence Scott (2015). I’m only halfway through, but it’s one of those social commentaries that has you nodding your head in agreement after almost every page.

One topic of interest in the book is silence. Scott dedicates a few pages to describing how, due to social media, the very notion of silence has changed. He states that ‘technological progress is, by all appearances, making life noisier…’ and suggests that the buzz of tweets, likes, status updates, etc, create some sort of ‘slipperiness between noise and silence…’. Even awkward silences between people are now filled with noisy, 4D silences in cyberspace when we hide behind our phones – something apparent the moment I walk into my adult classes! (more…)

Interactive whiteboards – some pros and cons

At my current school we have interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in every classroom. These are a luxury, but I do think they have their drawbacks.

In ‘400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards’, Sharma et al (2011:10-11) list these benefits of using an IWB:whiteboard3

  • Teachers and students can use a wide range of multimedia in the classroom
  • They can make lesson lead-ins memorable (using videos, photos, etc)
  • Reviewing language has never been easier’, especially as you can save the flipcharts you create
  • They help with creating personalised content
  • It encourages ‘heads-up’ learning. Teachers can keep learners working at a similar pace, and focused by controlling what’s on the whiteboard. Feedback can be instant too.
  • Audio transcripts can be displayed easily.

This is a fairly loose list of benefits – there are plenty more. However, they don’t mention many problems with using IWBs. They highlight that…

  • technology is never 100% reliable
  • there’s a temptation to use the IWB merely as a presentation tool (teacher-centred)
  • there’s a tendency to overuse IWBs at first

Perhaps most importantly, they stress that IWBs are just another classroom tool – they should enrich the learning experience, but not take over.

Their book is a useful resource for IWB users, but it lacks discussion. Here are a few more pros and cons with IWBs that I’ve been thinking about recently. (more…)

Punctuation..? – Book Review

punctuation2Punctuation..? published by User Design Books is a short guide for using common punctuation marks. The blurb actually says it covers ’21 of the most used punctuation marks’, which I found a little embarrassing as I hadn’t heard of half of them! Pilcrow, interpunct, guillemets… I’m sure I’ve come across a couple of those in my Guide to the Birds of the British Isles…

Anyway, the book has been doing the rounds for a while and has been reviewed by a lot of ELT blogs. I find this a tad annoying as all the good punctuation-related puns have been taken, and I’m not going to sit here and think up something clever to say about colons.

So, to the book. Its 35 pages, each one has a short description (very concise in some places) for a particular punctuation mark, with half the page taken up by a quirky illustrations. Actually, quirky is an understatement – most of the people have cows hooves for arms, there are Pinocchio-like policemen, a football that looks like a plug socket, and the smallest mug of ‘Builder’s tea’ I’ve ever seen. (more…)