A web site for the developing language teacher

Book Review

The Minimax Teacher cover
The Minimax Teacher
by Jon Taylor
(Delta Publishing/English Teaching Professional)

Review written by David Holden,
Teacher Trainer at the BLC in Madrid

Ever spent hours preparing materials and activities only to have them last a few minutes in the classroom ? Ever felt that the teacher is doing far too much of the work yet seen at the same time the students are sitting there unchallenged and uninvolved ? Ever realised it's you who's doing most of the talking in the classroom ? If you have (or have seen/ heard of a class where this has happened), this is a book for you.

The central idea behind the Minimax Teacher (Jon Taylor) is that teachers need to minimise input i.e. preparation time and energy spent in the classroom and maximinise output i.e. making the students produce more by involving and engaging them in the classroom. These are principles which any hard-working teacher would fully endorse both for their own and for their students' benefit !

An engaging introduction where Jon Taylor describes examples of teachers overloading themselves and underloading the students is followed by a series of extremely useful insights such as "A squash coach is a true MINIMAX artist, taking two steps to send the pupils running all over the court. They wouldn't learn half as much just by watching , so they do most of the work, pay for the lesson and thank the coach. " (p.g. 7) , or "You don't need the practice as much as they do…Teachers frequently fill the silences which, in fact, represent thinking space for learners." (p.g. 7) and by the 10 MINIMAX principles which cover essential ideas like "Put the focus on the students" (no 3, p.g. 10) which reminds us to step back and take a less central role from time to time , "Share correction" (no 7, p.g. 11) which encourages peer correction and "Respect your students as people " with justly proclaims that " Learners are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge from the teacher, or a restless, passive audience to be entertained by the teacher." All of these are words of wisdom and well worth pondering…

The book is then divided into six chapters : Starting Off, Personalisation, Student-generated activities, Exploiting Materials, Inspiring Writing, and Dealing with Diversity.

Each chapter has a brief but thought-provoking description of the thinking behind the principle laid out under different headings and includes extremely useful bullet points and hints. This introduction is then followed by a series of activities - 87 in all - each provided with a complete description and step-by-step procedure.

A lot of these activities are time-honoured classroom favourites like mingles, brainstorming, Drawing Quiz (a.k.a. "Pictionary") , dictations, lateral thinking puzzles etc. Others, such as the ideas for Exploiting Materials may not be as well-known. For example, the idea of getting students to do a quiz about the coursebook's contents and layout is very nice. This section provides some very useful hints for making the most of a coursebook without recurring to photocopies but I felt that at some point more mention could have been made of resources like the Internet and newspapers, especially as these can be exploited in a very learner-centered way and don't necessarily involve a lot of preparation time. There was a list of hints for using newspapers but more some example activities would have been helpful.

The section Inspiring Writing contained some interesting writing activities. My personal favourites are Mini Saga and Genre Circle writing (A chain writing type activity). A high proportion of them, however, did seem to be poem-based. Maybe, given the fact that most adult learners have work interests and experience, they would find writing tasks based on these areas more stimulating and might enjoy writing ads, leaflets, recipes etc. I felt that there could be more emphasis on the feedback given to students' written work by their peers e.g. via questionnaires and on process writing techniques such as re-drafting etc., both of which are excellent ways of implementing the Mini-Max principles.

The last chapter on Dealing with Diversity contained some useful hints for dealing with different kinds of learners and some nice activities especially to do with songs. Perhaps more photocopiable material - more questionnaires about learning preferences and more mention of & materials to do with tutorials, the possible use of learner diaries, class newspapers/ posters could also have been useful.

My criticism of the book has more to do with what was left out possibly deliberately due to space or other criteria. For example, at times the activities give the impression of being a set of one off 15 minute fillers whereas the idea of a continuing theme or topic is very useful and effective when planning a series of activities or tasks. Could there have been more about follow-on activities and skills integration ? Simulations or extended roleplays are mentioned but again, some examples/ tasks would have been interesting. For example, how to set up an election campaign , build up and exploit a scenario like an imaginary country or island etc with minimal material and maximum student participation. Overall, however, criticisms aside, there is a stimulating range of useful ideas and activities.And in a book which is only 96 pages long the density of content is quite impressive !

I found the methodology and the ideas behind the book to be sound, well-written and very useful. Out of the 87 activities, teachers are bound to find something for their teaching situation and the different sections are well worth reading, if for nothing else, to re-assure the overworked teacher that learner-centered teaching is possible and does work. Overall, a stimulating and thought-provoking book, full of useful hints and ideas and one I would thoroughly recommend.

The Minimax Teacher cover

To the book review index

To the Books Page

Back to the top

Tips & Newsletter Sign up —  Current Tip —  Past Tips 
Train with us Online Development Courses    Lesson Plan Index
 Phonology — Articles Books  LinksContact
Advertising — Web Hosting — Front page

Copyright 2000-2016© Developing