Walton Burns (2016) 50 Activities for the First Day of School. Alphabet Press. US $1.95 ebook. $6.95 pbk.
You know me. I am cynical. I am down on every kind of thing. I do not review products – I rail against the status quo. I only do Dogme and task-based teaching because of their cool, outside-the-mainstream-ness. I don’t do book reviews.
I had never been asked before, and while I more or less knew that Walton Burns’ book would not be my kind of thing. His Alphabet Press indie publishing venture is an admirable thing; some say that self-publishing is vanity publishing but I think this is a myth put out by big publishers to avoid doing anything worthwhile but keep selling dreck. Anyway, he asked nicely, I said are you sure you want me to tear you apart and then stich you back together with gravel where your soul once was and he said he was sure this wouldn’t happen. I am trying to be less of a negative person, so I said yes.
Still, the book is not my thing really though there are some things I really like.
Things I liked
It is obviously rooted in practice. You can imagine that these activities have been tried and tried again. The variations of the activities are good, and usually more difficult than the original. Some activities are quite contrived but they get students talking. Though I say contrived, it’s no bigger a contrivance than the average EFL classroom. There is also a lot of moving around which can be good for young-ish learners. There is a very good activity about having learners talk about their strengths in the language. The time capsule activity is good as an activity to later compare to the baseline to see progress. There were rough time limits, too, and I’d think about making these subheadings (of which more later).
Things that weren’t for me
I knew the book wasn’t my thing. It’s very icebreaker heavy and I’m not an icebreaker kind of guy. I normally ask learners to find out about each other but not “five things”. Life isn’t constantly numbered.
I think the memory chain activities were rather over represented, too. Memory chains for names in particular. There could have been more for vocabulary (there are some, however).
The English names thing has always made me feel a bit uneasy as it’s often an excuse for monolingual teachers to get out of trying to actually pronounce real names. “Yasuhiro? OK: Joey.” Sometimes I think this is a (this specific) teacher annoyance more than a student one but I honestly don’t know. I’ve taught on courses where students were obliged to pick an English name and there were some amazingly bizarre ones, possibly picked as a piss-take.
The learning myths bit was a bit less student-centred than most other activities.
Would I buy it?
No. But I have been teaching since before my hair was grey. I have seen almost all of these activities before in one iteration or another in various in-house resource books in language schools or just from observing other teachers.
Would I recommend it to anyone?
Yes, maybe. If someone is new to teaching, fresh off a certificate or just on-the-job ‘training’ it might be useful and saves them reinventing the wheel, especially if they have a real academic year (unlike most EFL language schools who take all comers all year). I’d say the ebook would be useful for planning on public transport. There are worksheets available to download for some of the activities which might be nice for those with little experience.
So, I hope this was a fair review. If you write materials and have a desire to have your dreams torn to shreds you can always get in touch.