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Teflnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Teaching : Imagine That! (Mental Imagery in the EFL Classroom)

Imagine That! (Mental Imagery in the EFL Classroom)

Summary: An interesting introduction to guided visualization and mental imagery to help students connect to language meaningfully. What do you do when you listen to a radio play? Can you smell the cigar smoke in the casino? Do you see the handsome cowboy as he tethers his horse outside the saloon? Can you feel the […]
Reviewed for Teflnet by Darren Elliott

Summary: An interesting introduction to guided visualization and mental imagery to help students connect to language meaningfully.

What do you do when you listen to a radio play? Can you smell the cigar smoke in the casino? Do you see the handsome cowboy as he tethers his horse outside the saloon? Can you feel the cold drops of rain on your face? Chances are, you probably do interact with the language in some of these ways, perhaps even subconsciously, and it is this skill that the authors of this resource book hope to utilize in the language classroom.

From three such well-known names in the ELT world one would expect something interesting and innovative, and this book doesn’t disappoint. Basically, visualization requires the students to `see` objects in their mind’s eye, usually prompted by careful narration from the teacher. It also takes into account multiple intelligence theories and can be used to stimulate other senses, which generates meaningful language and motivation for the language learner. The two introductory chapters of this resource book place the activities in context by providing theoretical support for this concept. Citing numerous neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and applied linguists, the authors posit that visualization can provide stimuli for writing and speaking, enhance motivation and facilitate memory.

Don’t be put off by the theory; this is first and foremost a practical book for the classroom practitioner. The activities themselves are divided into five chapters. The first is a set of training activities to help learners begin to work with imagery, and the next four focus on specific language aspects, stories, time and space, and introspection. An example from the first chapter is typical- in order to practice prepositions of location and vocabulary of the home, the learner puts a heavy book on her lap, closes her eyes and imagines she is holding her room. She then, with guided narration from the teacher, traces her fingers around the room and touches various items. This can be used to produce a piece of writing, a pair discussion or a number of other variations. The authors explain that this helps kinesthetic learners develop visual memory through synesthesia.

This is an interesting activity, but perhaps highlights a shortcoming of the project. The nature of the technique is somewhat limiting and after a while the activities do become somewhat repetitive. In class, this is a benefit; repeated practice of the method in different contexts should enable better visualization in learners. However, in a resource book, the reader soon becomes accustomed to the pattern and I wonder if a whole book of such tasks is necessary.

When I loaded up the CD ROM I wondered no longer; this is a key part of the text and really sets the whole project apart. There are snippets of soothing music and narration, of course, but the versatility of the worksheets stored on the disc is excellent. Each can be downloaded in PowerPoint or Microsoft word and edited to the teacher’s satisfaction. It is easy to navigate and something we will probably be seeing more of in forthcoming resource books.

So, would these techniques work in your class? The authors claim that the activities are appropriate at any level, and suggest that the narrations could be given in L1 for lower level classes. These seems a little contradictory to me, given their assertion elsewhere in the book that visualization works by providing direct links between the target language and the real world and helping negate translation. That said, with language adjustment and used after language input and structured practice, there is no reason that elementary level students couldn’t get something out of such tasks. The other possible problem is resistance to the technique itself – it is something new for many students (and teachers), and there are likely to be those who feel uncomfortable or see little profit in doing these activities. The authors have built the tasks from short and simple to ease those students in gently. I think this book will inspire a number of teachers to try something new with their students – from next semester, I’m included.

Authors: Jane Arnold, Herbert Puchta and Mario Rinvolucri
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Components: Teachers’ Resource Book with CD ROM/ Audio CD

Reviewed by Darren Elliott for Teflnet August 2008
Darren Elliott, Nanzan University, Nagoya

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Teflnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Teaching : Imagine That! (Mental Imagery in the EFL Classroom)