500 Activities for the Primary Classroom
My first impression of 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom was a good one: it has a bright and colourful cover that is very attractive, and is a good size for a reference book: bigger than a novel yet not so big as to be unwieldy.
My second impression was that the title seemed a little vague. This is clearly a book designed for EFL or ESL teachers, yet this is not mentioned anywhere on the cover or back, something that seems like an oversight and could cause confusion.
The author, Carol Read, has an impressive professional history but seems to have spent most of her time working with Spanish or Portuguese speakers. I wondered if this would make her work less suitable for the Japanese students that I work with.
Finally, the concept of the work is a little tired. There are countless numbers of “X Activities for Whatever”, and I was initially concerned that this would be yet another random collection of activities thrown together to fill a book.
I was pleasantly surprised. The General Introduction (p.5-16) is an excellent concise overview of theories, issues, and techniques for teaching children English. I liked Read’s ‘C-Wheel’ and ‘7 Rs’, that describe how to set up optimal conditions for children to learn and how to manage children positively.
Each of the eight sections: Listening and Speaking; Reading and Writing; Vocabulary and Grammar; Storytelling and Drama; Games, Rhymes, Chants, and Songs; Art and Craft; Content Based Learning; ICT and Multimedia; and Learning to Learn, also has a short introduction (3-4 pages each) that briefly covers relevant concepts or techniques.
There are four indexes in the book, and this is one of its strongest features: organized respectively by Language Structures and Grammar, Topics and Lexical Sets, Learning Skills and Attitudes, and Activity Titles, they make it very easy to quickly find appropriate activities for class, even at short notice.
Which leads me to the activities themselves. By my count, there are only 255 activities in the book, with the remainder presumably made up of variations and alternatives. The activities are clearly described and instructions are clear. There were no activities I didn’t understand, and most of them do not require photocopying or extensive preparation. The descriptions are standardized and refer to the CEF bands, which makes matching them to learners’ levels fairly painless.
Many of the activities are old favourites, such as TPR, using puppets, and making name cards, to mention a few. Others I had not come across before and can’t wait to try with my own classes include “Favourites bar chart”, where you construct a blank bar chart on the board and have the students place their markers on it to insert the data, and “Counting cut-outs”, to practice counting with younger students.
The book is slightly marred by a few clichés, such as the ‘you can lead a horse to water…’ proverb in the motivation section, for example. However, the sheer range of activities and the clear explanations and introduction sections make this an excellent resource for new teachers or those switching to teaching children for the first time. More experienced teachers will get a lot less out of the book, but may still find a few gems, particularly in sections that they have less experience with (personally, I found the Art and Crafts section most interesting, as I have ended up teaching children after adults and teenagers, and haven’t done much in the way of crafts before). Overall I recommend the book and expect to still be using my copy a few years down the line.
Ben Shearon is currently Chief ALT Advisor at the Miyagi Prefectural Board of Education and co-founder of Cambridge English, a private language school in Sendai, Japan. He also lectures on a part-time basis at local universities.