Puzzle Time for Starters
The only thing I can think to say about these books first off is that I loved them and used them all the time- not very descriptive language for an aspiring writer, I know, but certainly the first thing that pops into my head when I think about these titles. The first time I looked at these books in the online catalogue, I was kind of put off by the "puzzle" part of the title (not being a huge fan of puzzles such as word searches and crosswords- either for EFL classes or for myself). The fact that they are designed for the Cambridge Young Learner exams must be a huge selling point for some, but wasn't so much for me- I'm not teaching the exams at the moment, and I don't think I would choose to again if I didn't have to. However, the fact that I was getting a free review copy and that the description of the books promised me photocopiable games for young learners (something I'm still searching for a truly good example of) made me think I may as well give it a try- and I'm very glad that I did!
As I mentioned, these two books are specifically designed to practice the language in the syllabi of the first two of the Cambridge Young Learner exams. From what I remember of the exams, it seems to stick to the grammar and vocab syllabi very well, and although the puzzles couldn't look less exam-like, many of the task types are actually similar to exam questions as well. Much more important for me, though, was that mention of the exams was kept short and the valuable page space was saved for lots of fun-looking games and the accompanying teacher's instructions. What I particularly liked about the teacher's instructions was drawings of the students in the classroom doing the activities (e.g. doing mimes of "crocodile" for "Back to the Board")- an idea I very much intend to "borrow" if I get round to writing a book of my own.
The first section of each of the books is an introduction, which gives the advantages of using puzzles (e.g. it allows students to work alone without losing the competition and fun element of more "run around" team games), various ways the puzzles can be used in the lesson (e.g. as an end of lesson "reward") and how to go about actually presenting the puzzles and checking them in class. A tip I particularly liked was for classes working on the puzzles in teams- it suggests giving each member of the team a copy of the worksheet, to make sure that the more dominant members of each group don't monopolise the handouts.
The next section of each book is 4 pages of "General activities" (without photocopies), which teachers can adapt for warmers, fillers and further practice. The games are all fairly well known, e.g. Chinese whispers, "Back to the Board" (a team miming game), Simon Says and a less bloodthirsty version of Hangman. All the games are simply and briefly introduced.
On page 10, the business end of the book starts. There are 30 photocopiable activities in each book, with teacher's notes on each facing page. Along with more of those lovely instructions pictures, the teacher's notes contain simple step-by-step procedures and ideas for additional activities for each language point. Each page is designed to take 25-40 minutes with all the additional activities, and can be used as the basis for a whole lesson. Amongst the photocopiable activities themselves, a selection of my many favourites include Fred's Photographs (difficult to identify pictures), Cats, Frogs and Snakes (colouring practice of superlatives that reveals the picture of a fish), Can the Monkey Have a Banana? (a maze game), and Join the Dots (where the dots have pictures of food next to them rather than numbers or letter). Some of the other activities were more like exercises with pretty pictures than games, but every single activity was at least useable and challenging for the kids. In fact the only disadvantage of this book is that the importance of the pictures means that you really must photocopy the activities for the students and just using an OHP or copying the puzzles onto the board couldn't really work- meaning its use is a bit limited in large classes. However, if you did have a copy around it would be well worth looking at the additional activity ideas, which range from the well-known Bingo to the more original Clothes Bingo, Shadows (kind of charades with an OHP), Nice or Nasty? (reacting to combinations of foods), Comparatives Tennis and Coin Race (for ordinal numbers).
Although obviously your own choices will depend on what ages and levels you teach, if I had to choose only one book of the two it would have to be Puzzle Time for Starters (designed for 7-10 year old beginners, as against 8-10 year olds after 100 hours study) as it has a few more of my favourite activity and is more suitable for the low reading levels that I usually get here in Japan. As it is, though, I am very glad to have free copies of both sitting at home!Alex Case has worked as an EFL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, Director of Studies and EFL Editor in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, the UK and Japan. Alex Case is Reviews Editor of TEFL.net.