Book review – 50 Activities For The First Day Of School

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50 Activities For The First Day Of School, published by Alphabet Publishing, is, as the title suggests, a highly practical resource book for teachers looking for ways to add some variety to their first day activities. The author, Walton Burns, has created this ebook as a handy guide containing a variety of tasks mainly for lower level learners, although they are easily adaptable for all abilities and ages. In fact, one of the book’s main strengths is the flexibility the activities have, and it’s easy to imagine them being tweaked for use in any lesson.

Walton starts with the most famous of first day activities, Getting To Know You. This is such a classic of English teaching, you could forgive him for a lack of originality. And while he does include familiar tasks like Find Someone Who…, he also includes more unusual tasks like Snowball Fight, where learners write questions and throw them around the classroom, and Time Capsule in which students leave messages for themselves to open at the end of the course (the version of this involving filming interviews with the students which they watch on the last day I found particularly interesting). As a result, I found this chapter to be full of great ideas, ready for use by teachers. 

The second chapter looks at Assessing and Evaluating, and includes ways of encouraging the students to produce in English with whatever they are able in order to allow the teacher to get a sense of their level. Personally, I’ve never done specific activities with this in mind, preferring to get a sense of the students’ level over time, but I enjoyed these tasks and I think they have a lot of potential, particularly with lower levels.

The final chapter contains 6 activities for setting the tone in a course, a crucial and easily underestimated part of a first lesson. While I enjoyed the activities he included, I felt that this chapter could perhaps have been expanded to include a greater variety of tasks.

This minor criticism aside, the book is a very good resource for teachers, particularly those in the first few years of their careers, looking to add some variety to their lessons. It’s always a good idea to have a suite of activities to rely on, but these tasks can easily become stale. Walton Burns book is a great help in keeping your first day activities fresh and motivating for your learners.

The ebook is available here. It is accompanied by a support website containing online resources including printouts. Find out more about the author Walton Burns here.

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Book review: Punctuation…? by User Design

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Readers of this blog will remember a previous post in which I argue that punctuation errors by students shouldn’t be ignored…

There is a temptation to ignore (punctuation errors) which must be resisted, I think. It’s very easy to think that the priority must be the vocabulary and grammar, and while I would agree with that, it doesn’t have to come at the expense of form. If the students are writing in the first place, they need to understand that in a professional capacity, which is how most students will use their writing abilities in English, poor writing can create a lasting and damaging impression.

So you can imagine how pleased I was when I had the opportunity to get my hands on the book Punctuation…? by User Design. The book is a handy and accessible guide to the rules of punctuation, accompanied by witty and original illustrations.

Each chapter describes how different punctuation marks, from the often confusing apostrophe to the underemployed semicolon, are used in text that clearly and directly explains the rules. As a teacher, I particularly appreciated the straightforward nature of the descriptions and in this respect the book is an excellent resource for teachers who wish to have a quick and easy reference for checking students work and explaining the functions and use of punctuation marks to their students.

I also enjoyed some of the more esoteric punctuation marks described. These include the pilcrow, guillemets and the interpunct. Admittedly, these aren’t very useful for your everyday teacher, but if you’re a bit of a word nerd, you’ll find them interesting.

What sets the book apart from other reference books are the illustrations. Each entry is accompanied by a series of humorous drawings which provide the reader with an amusing visual representation of the rules and examples in the text. I especially enjoyed the apostrophe snakes and the colon footballers, but any of the David Shrigley or Spike Milligan-esque figures with their long noses and longer limbs are a part of the unique look of the book.

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All in all, I’d recommend Punctuation…? as a handy guide for teachers who need a convenient guide to that most underrated aspect of English writing, punctuation.

To find out more about Punctuation…? click here to go to their website where you can see more images and find out all the places it can be bought.

Video Games Unplugged

I’m currently reading Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley’s Digital Play, published by DELTA, for a book review (which I’ll share with you as soon as it’s online). So far it’s a great book, passionately and convincingly arguing for a place for video games in the ELT classroom.

The second part of the book, and the biggest, contains a myriad of activities, including ones that are about video games rather than using video games. I was particularly struck by an activity on page 39 called Game Chatalogue. The essence of the activity is that students use video game catalogues to discuss what they find interesting. Continue reading