The Creative Classroom: teaching languages outside the box

Title: The Creative Classroom: teaching languages outside the box
Author: Hall Houston
Publisher: Lynx Publishing
Reviewed by: Kaithe Greene
Review date: June 2007
Summary: Great book - use it to fill the gaps, liven up a dull syllabus, promote pro-active learning, or just because it genuinely promotes creative thinking.

The Creative ClassroomThe first thing that attracted me to this slim and colourful book was its title – what a great title! Then I thought “shouldn’t all teaching and learning be creative?” Well, yes, of course it should. However, anyone who has ever felt constrained, or even straightjacketed, by a syllabus, course book, number of hours or deadline will understand the attractive nature of a book entitled The Creative Classroom.

This book is for anyone looking for something different to do in class, for teachers who want to be more creative and stimulate more language, anyone interested in creativity, or anyone in need of some material to fill up the first or last ten minutes of class. In short, it is a great collection of useable and user friendly activities. It’s entirely up to you, the user, whether you use activities as fillers and warmers, or whether you want to get seriously involved in the business of being creative and generating creativity. This, in itself, singles out this book as a little different from the now vast collection of classroom materials available. Every activity can be used with, or adapted to, a variety of levels and ages; they can be used as stand alone activities or linked into course book or syllabus requirements.

The book starts with a nine page introduction, which explores concepts of creativity, some basic techniques for being creative, and how to exploit these techniques in the EFL classroom. The main part of the book groups activities into five sections – A Creative Start, Short Activities, Classic Creativity Activities, Individual Activities, and Group Activities. I found that these categories were useful, but allowed plenty of scope for adapting the material to suit the requirements of different age groups and levels or to link into course books and syllabi.

I particularly like the sections at the end of each chapter which give activities for teachers. Not only are these an excellent way to get your old grey matter into gear, but could also be adapted for teacher training or INSETT use.

There’s a couple of very interesting and enjoyable interviews with experts in creative thinking, followed by a long and useful list of books and websites. I found the interviews provided a lot of food for thought, particularly the bit about Einstein being asked to explain the difference between himself and the average human being – “...if you asked the average person to find a needle in a haystack, the person would stop when he or she found the needle. He (Einstein) on the other hand would tear through the entire haystack looking for all the possible haystacks.” Another little pearl of wisdom that I particularly liked was “Creativity enhances every aspect of our lives...” just in case you hadn’t realised! Or had temporarily forgotten!

I enjoyed experimenting with these activities in class, and so did most of my students. However, I did find that there were times when I had to police their use of the mother tongue because they became so engaged that they lost their language focus and wanted to do the activity in their own language. One or two of my students weren’t comfortable with activities that they felt didn’t sufficiently resemble what they considered to be genuine language class exercises. This is, for those students, an ongoing concern which I hope to resolve with a little more creativity.

I recommend this book to any teacher in any teaching context – particularly those of you who wish to extend your own thinking and that of your learners. ESL Reviews & ArticlesKaithe Greene: teacher and materials writer with the British Council in Tunis when not busy grannying in Devon.