Book reviews…

 Drama and improv

Hania Kryszewska <> has written a  review in HLT of my book Drama and Improvisation, and she kindly sent me a preview of it.  In return, I will advertise the online HLT magazine as well:

Humanising Language Teaching
ISSN 1755-9715 (online)

Here’s the (p)review:

Drama and Improvisation. Ken Wilson (2008) Oxford University Press. ISBN  978-0-19-442580-3, pp 125.

The book is rooted in the work of the Comedy Store Players and the work of Viola Spolin. The author not only acknowledges their influence on his work but pays a true tribute to them.  The author himself has had an impact on the ELT drama world, through his involvement in the English Teaching Theatre.

In the foreword to the book Alan Maley, the series editor, puts in a nutshell the reasons why we should use drama in class. Drama offers: “playfulness”, “enjoyment”, “physical movement”, “affective engagement”, “effortless effort” and  “unpredictability”. The book offers activities which have all these features at their core.

The activities are grouped into five chapters which focus on icebreakers and gelling, interaction and improvisation, games, drama club, working with text and transcript. I cannot quite see why there is a special section devoted to organising and running a drama club. The activities contained there seem to belong to other chapters of the book.

On the whole the book is a good balance of classic drama activities and innovative ideas which will surely become classic. The book is very inspiring and refreshing. A must have.

Hania Kryszewska
Humanising Language Teaching
ISSN 1755-9715 (online)

The following is from English Teaching Professional, Issue 65, November 2009

They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and here’s a very good example of one that shouldn’t be so judged. Clad in a maroon and turquoise jacket redolent of the Scunthorpe United football kit, and with a poor quality photo of some out-of-focus students in what looks like a 1970s drama group engaged in who knows what on the front, this one wouldn’t have made it off the staffroom shelf and into my bag if it hadn’t been recommended by a friend.

 It would certainly be a great shame if the unappealing exterior put people off, because this is actually a very good book. It is packed full of activities designed to bring English classes to life through drama and improvisation and to stimulate the students’ imagination and creativity. The activities are well laid-out and easy to follow, giving important information (such as level, the time needed to complete them, any preparation required and the aims) at the top so that a quick flick through is enough to enable teachers hunting for something to do with their classes to identify likely candidates. After the main instructions, there are suggestions for follow-up activities or ways in which they can be varied, together with comments and hints on getting things to run smoothly.

A brief but comprehensive ‘How to use this book’ section at the beginning will answer many questions that teachers have about doing activities such as these, and goes a long way towards tackling the ‘Yes, but what if..’ mentality which puts many of them off attempting drama in the classroom.

 The activities themselves are chosen so that they cater for those who just want to add a little drama and improvisation to their classes as well as those who are ready to run a drama club or get their students working with full-length scripts. The last chapter has a number of humorous sketches that teachers can photo-copy and use with their classes. Full instructions for activities using these sketches are provided and some have additional worksheets.

 A book full of entertaining but productive activities that will make learning enjoyable for students. What more could anyone want – apart from a more attractive cover?

 And there’s more! 😛 In an interview on Alex Case’s website, Karenne (Kalinago English blog) Sylvester was asked if there were any recent books that she liked. She answered Teaching Unplugged  by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings and Drama and Improvisation by Ken Wilson.

She went on to say this:

Ken Wilson’s Drama and Improvisation is a brilliant book offering endless creative real-play (simulations) and role-play activities which can be easily incorporated within any lesson.

In my opinion it’s an important book to buy if you want to add personalization to your lessons and if you’re a teacher looking for a way of having fun while sticking to the learning objectives yet exiting the dullness of using a textbook from cover to cover.

smart choice

And a rather nice endorsement of Smart Choice from Maria Cristina Salinas Guzmán from Universidad de Guadalajara Mexico.

Let me tell you why Smart Choice is the best series I’ve used in my 15 years’ career. My students are so motivated to be in class because they can do the Smart Choice activities every day with success. After many years with my students just sitting there, I see them now making an effort to speak in class. So, you can see why I am feeling very good with my textbook. Smart Choice really works! And the really satisfying thing is that I’m feeling good with ME as a teacher because I’m having so much success in class.

I’m especially pleased with this review, because it’s written by a non-native speaker teacher. I really love it when non-NESTs feel good about using materials, regardless of who writes them.

7 thoughts on “Book reviews…

    1. So am I, though I teach Russian students.
      But, I’m afraid, the book isn’t on sale in Saint- Petersburg.

  1. I can confirm that Drama and Improvisation is a must-have.

    It is filled with engaging activities, is easily adaptable for most ages or types of classes.

    For example, an exam class can use “language rules race” – teens will enjoy “famous person interview” and any new group subjected to using a new course book should do “your new coursebook.”

    My students, in particular, have gotten much out of “the hot seat” (so have my teacher-trainees) – “Superhero” and “A day in my life.”

    I highly recommend this source of creative exercises as a way of breathing fresh air into language classes!

    Thanks for writing it and sharing your knowledge, Ken.


    1. Wow, KS – what a lovely endorsement to wake up to!

      Did I ever tell you that you are the most generous-spirited blogger out there???

  2. I had to leave my copy in Japan due to my luggage pulling my arms out of my shoulders, but I remember it being by far the most interesting book I’d received that month. Damn fine work Mr Wilson!

    1. Thank you, Alex!

      Isn’t it a bind about how much books weigh? We’ll be reading everything on Kindles soon.

      I was reminded how things change when I re-read John Grisham’s 1991 novel The Firm, in which everything seemed so high-tech and modern at the time.

      There is a sequence where two of the lawyers are flying off somewhere, and one of them has to take about five ring-bound files to read on the plane. Oh how we can laugh now.

      Soon, the idea of carrying multiple books around will seem antidiluvian. Sad though, huh?

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