Marks out of 10 - Start as you mean to go on

20th August 2010 at 01:00
Good EAL teachers know that poor teaching early on is woefully difficult to undo later

The Fun Guide: Games for Learning English

John Mayston, Cambridge Academic, #163;29.95, Martin Spice

The Fun Guide offers itself as "an all-in-one teaching book aimed at young learners, parents of foreign language children who would like to teach from home, teaching assistants and au pairs". It contains 35 lesson plans graded from beginner to advanced, a set of well-presented worksheets to support each lesson and a free downloadable set of flashcards and activity worksheets.

The only information given about John Mayston's background is that he was a teacher of young children in Korea and Japan for about three years, and that this book represents a collation of games and activities that he found helpful over this period of time. There is no further information about his training or qualifications.

The first and most obvious point about this format is that a book containing 35 lessons - however well-supported those lessons are - cannot realistically claim to be an "all-in-one teaching book", and any implication that this book will seamlessly move young learners from nothing to advanced over the course of so few lessons needs swiftly dismissing.

There is also a disconcerting lack of awareness that differing ages and backgrounds require differing approaches.

The book's general presentation would suggest a target audience of three to eight-year-olds. In this case I would question the effectiveness of, to choose just one example, presenting chunks of the phonemic chart as Lesson 3 at beginner level and offering an activity worksheet only "once all the phonemic sounds have been learned". That might be half a lifetime later.

On a more positive note, The Fun Guide is well-organised, offers ample, if largely familiar, resources, and is rooted in the right kind of approach. The value of games in language teaching is well established and Mayston's advocacy of the pupil's engagement in the learning process through Total Physical Response (TPR) is to be welcomed, even though there is an over-reliance on activities such as word searches, playing catch, holding a toy microphone and throwing suction pad balls at charts.

So who is this book for? Good EAL (English as an additional language) teachers know that poor and inaccurate teaching early on in the acquisition of a target language is woefully difficult to undo later. Aiming a book at untrained "parents, teaching assistants and au pairs" is therefore fraught with danger. Experienced practitioners may have reservations about the structure and presentation of some of the material here, although I suspect that it will be seized upon gratefully by gap-year students, volunteers and the untrained. That may not be the best foundation for children's future learning.

That said, The Fun Book is the kind of book that many teachers would like as a resource book to supplement a systematic and well-grounded programme of study. Unfortunately, this would implicitly contradict its structure as they would want to select the worksheets, games and activities that were appropriate to their topic rather than following the sequence proposed here.

Problems of age and background would also turn up with a vengeance when teaching from this book. Tracing the letters of the Latin alphabet may be a valid activity for Korean or Japanese students but is far less so for European migrants. Similarly, unscrambling the jumbled-up letters of "strawberry" in an affirmatives worksheet may be significantly beyond the capabilities of even a six-year-old native speaker.

In short, by trying to be something of a "catch-all", The Fun Book's focus is blurred - which is a pity, as in the right hands it could be a constructive and helpful classroom resource.


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