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Some people might not believe it, but indulging oneself in seemingly informal activities such as singing, play rolling, and acting out words and sentences, role play activities can be extremely effective for people who are learning to pick up English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Such common misconceptions are challenged by Jim Witherspoon in his book English Comes Alive! Dynamic, Brain-Building Ways to Teach ESL and EFL. This is a book in which the author takes on a more dynamic, didactic approach to teaching English. The traditional methods are summarily challenged by this innovative book, in which the author proposes that learning English, either as a second language or simply as a foreign language, need not be complicated. Learning English can be very much like playing a game at home with friends (playing charades for instance, or monopoly). Upon reading English Comes Alive! Dynamic, Brain-Building Ways to Teach ESL and EFL it becomes instantly clear that it is a book in which students (of any age level) can learn how to listen, read, and write in English; they can also learn about pronunciation, so as to become fluent and articulate in the language.
This book is designed specifically for low intermediate learners of English, and due to this, the author takes on a comprehensive approach that seeks to develop each of the aforementioned competencies (reading, writing, listening, and pronunciation) independently. The book is divided into 27 chapters, each of which focuses on a different activity that is specifically designed to develop English learning skills. The first fourteen chapters of the book focus on English speaking and pronunciation. Activities such as planning, singing, storytelling, role-playing, acting, rhyme reading, and blooper corrections are some of the activities that Jim Witherspoon contends will engage students and teach them all of English’s basics.
The remaining chapters of the book focus on developing the student’s reading and writing skills. Reading, commenting, and making jokes allow for a fun way of reading and writing. Furthermore, on the second part of the book, the author invites students to take their basic knowledge of the English language beyond the classroom. Each accomplishment is celebrated (each time that students get a role play or a rhyme down correctly, for example). It is not just about learning, it is about motivating students and making them feel that they are actually succeeding in their quest to learn English. Another interesting idea that the author introduces is the role that the teacher should play within the entire process. Instead of being a figure of authority that intimidates students with tests, excessive homework, and a gravely serious voice, the author contends that the teacher should act like another student. Teachers need to embrace the teaching process with enthusiasm, participate in the student’s activities and share in their fun.
All in all, this is an excellent book for English beginners; it contains all of the knowledge and innovative methods and ideas that Jim Witherspoon has learned from his twenty year experience teaching overseas. This is a book that makes no discrimination. It matters not if a student is young or old, if it is a doctor or a layman. Instead, this is a book specifically tailored to remove students’ fear of engaging, learning, and mastering a new language.
Witherspoon, J. (2012). English Comes Alive! Dynamic, Brain-Building Ways to Teach ESL and EFL. Bryan, TX: Synapse Books.