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Language Activities for Teenagers

Seth Lindstromberg (Ed.)
Cambridge University Press, 2004
pp. xi +225

Reviewed by :

To the Profile PageRobert J. Dickey
Gyeongju University, Korea

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Those Troublesome Teens!
Goodness Gracious, Teenagers! There are certainly lots of teachers who love working with adolescents, helping students discover their adult identities. We find that much of the program from Teaching Young Learners is no less appropriate at the college level -- keep them active, keep changing things, don't let them get bored. Depending on the structure of your coursebook (and the weather outside?), a good activities resource can be absolutely invaluable. Seth Lindstromberg has edited a book to fit the bill, with 99 activities addressed to teenaged language learners. And even though Lindstromberg identifies teens as 11-16 (??), the strict discipline exerted at Asian high schools means that even 20-year old college students fit the teenager profile.

Depending on the structure of your coursebook (and the weather outside?), a good activities resource can be absolutely invaluable.

Activity books, a primer
Every teacher will deviate from a textbook. For some it may be a very rare event, other teachers refuse to select a single published textbook or even work from a narrow set of "classroom texts," and surprise their students daily. Of course there is every possible variation between these two extremes. It is fair to say that nearly all teachers will borrow from other textbooks and consult a book of "classroom ideas" from time to time. The question then becomes, what are the aims, what's on offer, and how to apply this? Activity books vary from the "photocopiables" collections to mostly-narrative "idea starters," and some books include both. Language Activities for Teenagers is an attempt to cross the bridge between the extremes, fill in some gaps, and provide a level of theoretical support as well: in this way it fits well in the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series (Series Editor, Penny Ur). Lindstromberg has collected activities from more and less famous teachers/trainers, and incorporated them around a syllabus focusing not on activity types, but challenges in teaching.

Activities here may be compared with tasks (task-based learning) or project-work, both of which imply classroom events requiring a full class period or longer. Lindstromberg's activities, as one would predict based on the target population, are short-term, many running less than 20 minutes.

Activities, a means or an end?
If you've never considered a syllabus, have no plan beyond the next class hour, and consider the photocopier your best friend, Language Activities for Teenagers can still be helpful in getting through the day. What it does far better, however, is prepare you for a change in thinking. No, it won't convert you to becoming a coursebook fanatic (of course, when you have stuff available by folks like Marc Helgesen, it's easy to love coursebooks!), but what it can do is prepare you to think about the underlying advantages of particular activities, why you should choose one over another, and how to detach your hand from the photocopier while still doing activities.

Organization, not just A-Z
Some of the most popular activity books (none of which will be named) organize activities around basic grammar areas, basic vocabulary, or even common functions/notions. These can make substitution with a less desirable activity in a textbook simple. Even too simple, it allows teachers to fabricate a simplistic "syllabus" and teach according to some activities plan that leaves important aspects of language learning behind. Language Activities for Teenagers approaches things in a different way. This is not "a desperate teacher's best friend," but rather a tool for the developing teacher. The introduction is an absolutely invaluable read, it not only sets the premise for this book, but should be required reading in all teacher training programs regardless of learner age. There are a couple of interesting activities here, but the "ten features of interesting lessons" should be carved in stone and carried down from the mountain-top onto each teacher's desk.

Following the introduction, the chapter organization pretty well sets the tone for the book, with numerous activities under each: (1) Maintaining discipline in the classroom; (2) Short auxiliary activities (icebreakers, closer, etc); (3) Mainly speaking; (4) Mainly listening; (5) Mainly reading; (6) Mainly writing; (7) Learning and reviewing vocabulary; (8) Literature; and (9) Building the skills of discussion and debate. Under these chapters are included such sub-sections as peer mediation, authentic English, and learning a poem really well.

Applying the tools
There are a few photocopiable images within the book. There are also sections designed to be retyped and photocopied, or printed on the wall (or OHP?). There are activities in here I would never use, but they provide excellent starting points for personalized innovation. Half of what I learned in my own teacher training programs I would never use in my Asian classrooms, but they were no less valuable in that they inspire worthwhile variations. As teachers, we routinely do this with our materials anyways, why should an activities book be any different?

Final Comments
There's already plenty of "photocopiables" and "ideas" books available. I'd like to see this book become a launching pad for a whole new generation of teachers committed to creating well-founded activities for their classes and their peers. The limited references makes that more challenging. Without question, Language Activities for Teenagers goes further in the right direction than anything we've seen so far. In supporting the development of new and improved activities for their classrooms, schools could certainly do far worse than to purchase a copy of Seth Lindstromberg's resource for the teachers' workroom. When you are ready to move beyond blind photocopies, look to this book for guidance.

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