New Ways in Using Communicative Games in Language Teaching
Nikhat Shameem & Makhan Tickoo, Editors (1999)
Alexandria, VA: TESOL
Pp. xv + 214
US $29.95 (members $24.95)
I had not seen a new collection of games for language teaching for a long time and was looking forward to examining this book. It is part of New Ways in TESOL Series: Innovative Classroom Techniques, whose series editor is Jack Richards. It boasts more than a dozen such books and aims at giving teachers tips ready for classroom use in certain specific domains such as drama, culture, or English for specific purposes.
This particular volume is concerned with games as a tool for communication. In the introduction, the editors claim that "the goal of communication is the least threatening aspect of language learning" (p. ix). I can only assume this is a typo; we all know, and research shows, that on the contrary, it is the most threatening. This is why games prove to be an irreplaceable tool in language teaching; the fun and the enjoyment inherent to all games diminish the stress and fear of communicating in a foreign language in which people feel inadequate to express themselves.
The activities in this book are grouped into five main sections: Learning Communication Strategies, Learning Content Matter, Learning from One Another, Developing Skills in Discourse, and Developing Fluency. These five sections have been subdivided into smaller parts with two to five activities in each. It seems to me that these groupings are a matter of giving some semblance of order and coherence to material that was submitted by teachers without any pre-ordained plan, rather than being a comprehensive exploration of the various purposes games can fulfil. For example, there is more to learning communication strategies than just asking questions, negotiating, and pronunciation. Many similar types of activities occur again and again in different parts of the book, and they are not always placed under the most relevant category. However, it does not really matter; any order is better than none. What matters is the content of the exercises themselves.
The editors propose nearly one hundred games in the book, some well-known, some more original, some with barely sketched ideas, and some well-developed. There are some redundancies; the game that everyone has tried, consisting of finding an assumed identity through questions, is proposed three times with various titles and small changes. The games are not always well-targeted. "Guess my Combination" (p. 36), aimed at all levels, is obviously only suited for beginners who need to learn the names of colours and does not require "expressing and supporting opinions." I would also question the wisdom of taking a class to the supermarket just to find out prices, brand names, or special offers, since the aim here is not communication but just writing the results of one's findings on a check-list. I would assume that students are already able to do that when they do their shopping. In the same way, "Pick the Right Ones" (p. 52) takes students to the library and asks them to pick yellow books, or books beginning with The, and so on. [-1-] The learning value of such an activity is fairly low. It is more a time-filler than anything else. Students should be given more intellectually challenging tasks. With "Desktop Shopping" (p. 54), the time required to go through a sales catalogue is not necessarily well spent, nor is a word search puzzle an efficient use of time. The efficiency, and even feasibility, of an exercise such as "Audio Stories" (p. 90) is doubtful. Finally, it would have been nice to have practical examples for many of the exercises, "Murder Mystery" (p. 57) especially, or clearer instructions for others, such as "World Market" (p. 99). Ready-to-use material not only saves time but gives colleagues the benefit of one's experience by providing what works best.
Next to these unconvincing activities are extremely good and innovative ones. "Design a Menu" (p. 39), "Hacky-Sac Review Game" (p. 46), and "Good Riddance" (p. 69) are variations on activities seen elsewhere, but are basically good activities that work well. Using a game board always acts as an incentive, and "Invitations Galore" (p. 73) uses that device to remodel an exercise on the practice of invitations, making it more stimulating. It also provides all the necessary material to enable teachers to create the game for their classes without having to rack their brains for examples. "A Few of my Favourite Things (p. 76)" is the first exercise I have seen that really uses question-tags in a meaningful context. "Spell it Out" (p. 97) introduces an element of fun and mystery into the tedious task of spelling words. Many activities involve the practice of questions, which is good, as this is a particular area of difficulty.
The layout of this book, as of all the books in this collection, is pleasant. The volume is square and the relevant features of the exercises are placed in a margin on the left (level, aim, class time, preparation time, resources). There are pictures at the beginning of each of the five main parts, which serve no apparent purpose other than decoration, since they are neither used for any of the activities nor do they always illustrate the topic. A final index would have been nice to enable teachers to find a game in a particular grammatical, functional, or lexical area.
In spite of some reservations then, I find this book well worth having on one's shelves, as it is a rich mine of ideas for lively, communicative activities in class. Teachers are bound to find quite a few to suit their tastes and their publics.
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