Review ~ 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards

An exhaustive repository of integrative language activities both for newcomers to and existing users of IWBs.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Matthew Turner
400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards

400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards

400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards is a practical resource book published by Macmillan Books for teachers as part of an accessible series edited by Adrian Underhill. This book follows other titles such as 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom and 700 Classroom Activities in providing an exhaustive set of ideas for the classroom. Written by Pete Sharma, Barney Barrett and Francis Jones, all of whom are established figures in the field computer-assisted language learning (CALL), 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards is aimed at providing users of IWBs with a wider scope of activities than they may already be aware of, or for newcomers or buyers of the apparatus who may be looking for ways or reasons to introduce the technology into their schools or classes.

The core of the book is divided into four chapters, all dealing with different aspects of IWB usage. These chapters are preceded by a foreword by the authors and a brief introduction, which include a helpful assortment of explanations about the many IWB features there are as well as a page detailing the benefits of using IWBs. The authors also shed brief light on the challenges facing IWB users and some forecasts of their uses in the future. The four chapters of activities which follow are all preceded by a pair of case studies displaying firsthand experiences of IWB in action.

Chapter 1 provides a series of tasks that utilize preexisting or regular programs, such as Internet browsers, audio players, and word processors. Each of the activities outlined in this chapter and others are initially catalogued by different skill, for example activities marked with ‘G’ refer to grammar and ‘L’ is for listening. Procedural information about how to go about the activity is then given, together with any necessary preparation or follow-up needed before or after the lesson. Examples include completing crosswords, constructing mind-maps or creating a restaurant menu. Although there is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking presented here, what this chapter tries to show is that IWBs have the ability to integrate with apparatus, programs or activities that may already occur in the classroom, allowing for an easy transition to this new technology and more interesting ways of doing an old activity.

The second chapter looks at how software intrinsic to the interactive whiteboards themselves can be used for language activities in the classroom. In all the activities listed in this book we are given some information about what level of learner each is aimed at, as well as the language focus the activity is designed to practice or develop. This section seems to be more aimed at current users of the system rather than newcomers, who may find the activities listed in chapter 1 to be sufficient at this stage. Programs that are less commonly known are detailed in this chapter at the start of each activity but are then not detailed anywhere else in this book. At this stage, IWB users may be left looking for a glossary or an explanation of these in-house programs. Again, the activities here cover all the four skills, as well as how the IWB software could be used to provide language games for the class such as quizzes and the card game snap.

The next section asks the reader to think about published materials and informs us that some of these are IWB compatible. Publishers and textbook titles are listed here to help the reader identify what these might be. This chapter also sets out to highlight what the beneficial factors are of using such interactive versions of paper-based textbooks, by praising the ability to manage materials more coherently, the editing and malleable functions IWBs can bring, and the pure supplementary qualities IWB can afford. Unlike the other chapters, activities shown here correspond directly to certain published materials, such as R6 “The Gapping Game,” which relies on “New Headway iTools” in order to work. Reading over the activities, however, there is nothing particularly unique shown here, and most could be replicated in some way by using regular programs.

Perhaps predictably, the final chapter looks at ways that users can go about creating their own materials or ideas with an IWB, with some interesting activities being presented here. Personally I think this is where this book really comes into its own, as some viable and original alternatives to conventional methods such as using whiteboards and pens are presented here. For example, the “digital camera conversations” (p.236) and the “balloon debate” (p.232) tasks can easily add a visually stimulating element to the class in a way that would be very difficult otherwise. Games using a “kooshball” (an object which can be thrown safely at the IWB) seem like an interesting way of adding a kinesthetic and spatial angle to classes which young learners might find appealing.

One of the real positives of this book, and one of its distinct selling points, is the nature of the type of activities it details. The activities provided here are not simply ones that the teacher can solely use as a means of instruction, control or language practice, although these are included; but activities which fully take into account learner involvement, language focus and class interaction. Certainly, Pete Sharma, who is one of the leading proponents of a Blended Learning (BL) approach has demonstrated this here. The book attempts to highlight and promote integration in every aspect: learners, preexisting computer programs and traditional practices in the classroom. This has to be one of the main advantages of this text, as many technology writers fail to address these angles, or simply abandon them for the prevalent “wow” factor of new technology. As a teacher experiencing this new onset of technology in language teaching, another thing I find particularly appealing and comforting about this text is the emphasis on applying technology to existing methods, materials and contexts. There is always the urge to get too carried away with the technology and make it central to class activities, which may lead to teacher-fronted lessons with little interaction between learners, but this book puts aims over form.

If there was one criticism of the layout of the book, it would be that more references to page numbers (either as a more detailed contents page or an index at the back of the book) would make finding particular types of tasks easier to achieve. Activities are organised into chapters based principally on the IWB instead of the language skills practiced, which I found difficult to access at times. You really have to dig deep into the text to find a certain speaking activity making use of a particular language aim, when an index not just giving titles of activities would have in some way addressed this. As a point of comparison, the “Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers” series does this very well, with activities listed for quick reference at the start of each book.

This resource book is packed full of interesting activities designed for the IWB, making interactive use of the technology. What remains to be seen, however, is if this title has come slightly too late for the large numbers of language educators, schools and scholars now turning to the likes of smartphones and tablets as a more viable, mobile and affordable way to integrate technology into the classroom. It is understandable that IWBs do still occupy an established position in classrooms across the world, but it is unclear to what extent they are being phased out or replaced with cheaper alternatives. The authors mention in the foreword that “IWBs have the potential to change English Language Teaching classrooms around the world, and perhaps more thoroughly than previous technological developments”, which truly puzzles me. Certainly in my own teaching context in Japan, IWBs don’t feature heavily in classrooms or academic conferences discussing the matter of computer-assisted language learning. So it is questionable if this is really the case, or an attempt to reestablish a technology that has failed to remain dominant and is actually languishing its way out of modern language teaching. Although challenges and predictions on the future of IWBs are briefly touched upon at the beginning of the book, there is little mention of other prevalent and emerging technologies which are coming to the fore, such as tablets or smartphones which offer far more mobile, less financially, and physically cumbersome alternatives to IWBs.

In summary, this book is very usable and adoptable for schools or individuals in the position of having IWBs at their disposal or thinking about investing in the technology. A host of activities are presented here that range from working with existing programs in Chapter 1, to far more creative and adaptable uses in Chapter 4. Although I would question if IWBs are really necessary in the current financial climate, this book has certainly provided a strong argument as to why this apparatus could be or should remain essential for the classroom, through the way learners, learning and language aims have been considered and integrated throughout the activities included.

Reviewed by Matthew Turner for February 2013

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