Language Games: Innovative Activities for Teaching English

Language Games: Innovative Activities for Teaching English
Maureen Snow Andrade (Ed). Alexandria, VA: TESOL, 2009. Pp. xii + 283.

Reviewed by Colin J. Toms
The Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Just the other day, I was telling a colleague about a game for teaching directions involving a box of eggs, a bag of potato chips, and a blindfold. As I outlined the directions, I watched his face light up–just as mine must have done when it was first explained to me. Imagine then my own joy when, flipping through the reference chart at the beginning of Language Games: Innovative Activities for Teaching English, I came across a rich assortment of exciting games.
Designed for different student populations . . . in diverse settings (from pre K-12 to college to postgraduate, from local to global from formal to informal) (p xi), Language Games: Innovative activities for teaching English comprises 30 chapters: an introduction and another 29, each of which is dedicated to one, individual game.
The table of contents separates the games into two broad classifications: Skills and Beyond Skills . The first is broken into four sections: Reading and Writing, Listening and Speaking, Vocabulary and, finally, Grammar. The second is also divided into four: Game Templates, Get Acquainted, Content-based Instruction, and Critical Thinking. Despite this seemingly ordinary format, what Language games: Innovative activities for teaching English manifestly is not is a structure-governed, elementary-to-advanced, recipe book of yore. There is more–far more–to each game than a simple level guide and an iconic pair of scissors advising the user where to cut.
Consider one chapter, by way of example, Podquests: Language Games On The Go , by Hayo Reinders and Marilyn Lewis. Like the other chapters, it is composed of an Introduction, which offers an overview of the game and roots it in sound pedagogy; Context, a section which broadly delineates the target audience; Curriculum, Tasks, Materials, in which the modus operandi is outlined; Reflections in which insights from the contributor are offered; and, finally, a References section for those who wish to read further.
To consider the chapter in greater detail for a moment, the chapter begins with an Introduction which describes what a podcast is before citing precedents which can be found elsewhere in both the literature and ELT practice and how they can fit into the curriculum. This is followed by a section entitled Context. This section described what contexts the activity has been used with and how readers can adapt it to their classrooms. The third section, Curriculum, Tasks and Materials explains how to conduct the activity by describing how it was done in a real world context (e.g. a language school in New Zealand). It then walks the user through the stages of the activity via a series of bullet-pointed explanations and offers a rationale for podcast use and pointers for their creation. The fourth section Reflections broadly outlines variables dependent upon local context, student population, technological evanescence and teacher comfort zones. The last section closes the chapter with, as one might find in any scholarly work, References, and concludes with brief biographical details of the chapter s two authors.
Even in so a brief a review as this, it is clear that what Language Games: Innovative Activities for Teaching English manifestly is not a photocopiable panacea for careful planning. Each game takes a considerable amount of preparation and planning if it is to be performed effectively in the classroom. And this, perhaps, is the book s greatest strength: It is anchored in sound pedagogical principles.