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Thinking in the EFL Class

Writer(s): 
Caroline Bertorelli, Rikkyo University
Publisher: 
Helbling Languages

[Tessa Woodward. London: Helbling Languages, 2011. pp. 251. ¥3,490. ISBN: 978-3-85272-333-4.] 

Thinking in the EFL Class is a rich resource of innovative activities for the EFL teacher to incorporate in the classroom to enhance the students’ language learning experience. It covers a wide range of skills including speaking, listening, reading, as well as grammar and vocabulary development. 

While the book is designed for EFL classrooms of all levels, from beginners to advanced, many of the activities could also be used for other learning contexts, such as the ESL classroom and mainstream elementary school English classes. 

Thinking in the EFL Class is divided into seven chapters that incorporate thinking and thought processes with language learning in the classroom, for example, structuring lessons to promote thinking, observing, analyzing, or comparing concrete or abstract objects or information. The chapters follow a set format, starting with a number of teaching tips outlining the purpose and focus of the chapter, followed by icebreakers, grammar and vocabulary practice, problem-solving, creative thinking, as well as wrap-up activities to finish lessons. The activities range in length of time from a few minutes up to an hour, so they can be used as a short transitional activity or as a major part of a lesson. 

I trialed some of the activities in Japan in an English discussion class at a four-year university. One activity I used was Crazy Questions or Thunks. This activity is to encourage students to think about things from a different perspective. After the Golden Week break, so-called because of several public holidays in close succession, instead of asking students a typical question such as “What did you do during Golden Week?” as an ice-breaker, I asked the students “What color is Golden Week?” Although a little puzzled at first, many of them enjoyed coming up with their own ideas, for example, orange because it was fun, blue because it rained a lot, and sky blue because of going to the beach. I did this activity in a dozen different classes. Students in all classes responded positively, even the quieter ones. 

Another activity I used was How times have changed! with the topic of technology. I asked the students for examples of what technologies their grandparents had compared with today. During this activity, many of the students appeared to be focused away from studying English per se as they were concentrating on the task at hand. Moreover, many students seemed more alert and interested in subsequent tasks and activities in the lesson then usual. 

To demonstrate the possibilities of the activities, the author has condensed multiple tasks as well as offered multiple variations in some of the activities. For example, the activity Odd one(s) out focuses on opinions, comparison, contrast, and reasoning, which may benefit from being broken down into separate parts that focus on only one language point at a time to make it more accessible for students.

On the other hand, varying lesson tasks and activities is one way to improve students’ attention and motivation (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p. 65). So if we can harness students’ interest by getting them to think outside the learning English box, even for a short time, it is surely worthwhile. It is all too easy for the sake of time saving for teachers to follow a similar lesson structure throughout a course, in terms of both lesson preparation outside the classroom and explaining new tasks to students in the classroom. However, as mentioned above in my trial of Crazy Questions or Thunks and How times have changed!, taking the time to vary tasks and activities can improve student attention and motivation. This in turn not only improves the classroom atmosphere, but also has a positive influence on the teacher’s motivation.

Overall, Thinking in the EFL Class is a valuable resource for both new and experienced language teachers looking for innovative ideas to spice up their lessons and motivate students.

References

Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

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