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Provoking Thought by Hall Houston. Booksurge Publishing -

reviewed by Kay Brushett, IH Vancouver

Intrigued by the title, I was expecting a book about the theory and practices of including reflective activities in the classroom that would require students to examine their opinions, beliefs, and values.  I was surprised, yet not quite disappointed, to find that the book was in fact about the mental processes of thought; including the act of thinking itself, memory, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as a chapter on organizing ideas on paper.

The book is clearly laid out; beginning with an overview of what can be found in the book and the best way to use it.  Each chapter begins with a brief description of the research done on the topic, along with mention of top experts in the field.  Following this, the author then jumps right into practical activities for the classroom – most that require little to no preparation to implement.  The length of the activities range from five minutes up to over an hour and while some, such as discussing a different quote or riddle every morning, can be repeated, others are meant only to be done once with any particular group of students.  An example of the latter is activity 1.1 in the first chapter which entails writing the word, “think”, on the board and having students consider associations they have with this word.

An interesting addition to the book can be found at the end of chapters two, three, and four, where an interview with a leading expert has been included for the benefit of the teacher. It discusses their thoughts on how the subject is relevant to teachers, along with frequently asked questions, and common misconceptions on the subject.  Also appreciated is the extensive list of websites offered in the bibliography in conjunction with the written resources.

One should note, when considering this book though, that much of it is limited to an intermediate level or higher; as might be presumed from the title.  The students require the use of an extensive lexicon, the ability to understand subtleties, as well as to express themselves.  Many of the activities also require interaction among students.  Teachers should be aware of this and aware of their students’ comfort levels if they are to implement the activities in their classroom.

It may also be difficult to adapt its use to programs where students are immigrants or refugees from particular countries where these kinds of thinking processes are not focused upon, or even encouraged.  I believe it reflects the educational culture of the ‘Western World’; on the other hand, it is a very useful tool for examination of the meta-skills that are recognized as life skills, but often overlooked as components of learning a language. 

I would encourage anyone with upper level students, or simply an interest in the workings of the mind and the desire to bring the reflection of such into a classroom, to explore what this book has to offer.  Houston has put together a valuable resource and has, in fact, provoked my own thoughts on classroom practices.

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