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ELT Book Reviews


Seeds of confidence

Self-esteem activities for the EFL classroom

Verónica de Andrés
Jane Arnold
Helbling Languages, 2009
pp. 189

Reviewed by :

To the Profile PageRobert J. Dickey

Keimyung University, Korea

Everything you might want… and more?
What is it that is missing in your language classroom? Most of us teachers would say we cover the language issues, but is that all there is?

… there is more to language learning than studying the linguistic science and developing communicative skills

Verónica de Andrés and Jane Arnold have partnered to put together a dynamite package of affective activities to positively power an EFL classroom.

No mere collection of handouts to fill-in coursebook gaps or cover surprise teaching days, Seeds of confidence could be used as a regularly-scheduled supplement to an existing or proposed language-learning syllabus, in the same way one might use Tim Murphey’s Language Hungry (as I have done) or other resources designed to lower the affective filter and heighten student emotional attachment to learning.

The 68 activities range from 5 to 50 minutes in length, covering elementary through advanced levels. Most activities can be easily adjusted across wide ranges of learner language competences.

The other side of learning
The activities are premised on the argument that there is more to language learning than studying linguistic rules (grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, genre/register, etc.) and developing communicative skills. This is hardly an original idea, but tools towards this are particularly well-done here. de Andrés and Arnold are primarily concerned with building student self-esteem: while the authors point to classic texts asserting the critical importance of learner motivation and affect, the broad issues of emotion in learning are still very relevant in English language learning (e.g., see Merrill Swain, 2013). There are also interesting quotes of people like Steven Jobs and Hodding Carter.

The five chapters of the book are organized following Robert Reasoner’s (1982) model of self-esteem. There are five themes:
1. A sense of security
2. A sense of identity
3. A sense of belonging
4. A sense of purpose
5. A sense of competence

These themes are pretty clear to those who have read in the area of contemporary pop-psychology (as so many language teachers have done), but many of us can use help in putting these ideals into practice. That’s where the book shines.

Language learning too
Seeds of confidence was nominated for a 2011 ELTons award. Small wonder!

Each chapter begins with a helpful introduction that explains the "why" and some "hows" for the applicable theme, followed by a dozen or so activities, each of which can be customized, most of which have media supplements on the CD-ROM. These important yet enjoyable activities are not just "fillers on a Friday afternoon" (p. 15). Some are variations on others' works, and it's nice to see such a broad-based approach.

Language skills are integrated with soft psychology in activities, such as active listening in "Listen to me" (activity 1.7), speaking, and reading. Various other options could include creating a video (such as activity 2.7, "A commercial about yourself") and web-projects as homework.

Amazing technology
It’s not unusual for so-called "resource books" to be based on photocopy technology. A few even include a CD-ROM or a website where some of the activities can be loaded into your favorite word-processor, or simply printed from PDF files. Let’s be clear – I like resource books, my favorites include Grundy (1994) and Hall and Shepherd (1991) along with photocopiables like Battersby (1996). Seeds of confidence, however, provides audio and video files as well as PDFs to enrich the classroom experience. While the authors admit that the audio and videos can be replaced with other materials, it’s a nice surprise these are here, and that the audio files can also be played by merely inserting this same data/CD-ROM into any audio-CD player. These are oft-overlooked teacher-friendly tools. (You could also copy the flash video files and mp3 audio files onto a USB stick if your classroom has a computer audio system but no access to a CD-player.) There are also motivational posters and poems to display in the classroom.

Gotta love the supplements
As one who has experimented with various classroom techniques targeting the affective filter, I appreciate the activities de Andrés and Arnold present here. I’m less impressed with the audio and video – I think we can find better materials online – but now you don’t have to. The PDFs are much nicer than fighting the book at the photocopier.

Perhaps the best parts of the book are in the appendices! The teacher’s self-evaluation worksheets are a great start for reflection on practice and planning our own development. There is a worksheet for each of Reasoner’s five themes. These are marvelous instruments for a graduate practicum or TESOL Certificate, much like Salaberri's worksheets on teacher English evaluation checklists.

The quick-reference-guide is wonderful, it displays each activity by time required, learner levels, and focus area (Reasoner’s themes). It would be nice if the language focus and skills for activities were included. Unlike most resource books, references and suggested further readings are presented. Most of these are classic texts on self-esteem, motivation, and learner affect. Again, this is evidence that de Andrés and Arnold are looking beyond simply providing classroom handouts.

Confidence-building goes beyond the learners, the authors encourage teachers to look beyond the classroom. Confidently.

Battersby, A. (1996). Instant Grammar Lessons. Heinle.
Grundy, P. (1994). Beginners. Oxford.
Hall, N., & Shepherd, J. (1991). The Anti-grammar Grammar Book. Longman.
Murphey, T. (2006). Language Hungry. Helbling Languages.
Reasoner, R. (1982). Building self-esteem: a comprehensive program. Consulting Psychologists Press.
Salaberri, S. (1995). Classroom Language (Handbooks for the English classroom). Macmillan Education.
Swain, M. (2013). The inseparability of cognition and emotion in second language learning. Language Teaching 46(2), 195–207.

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