[Simon Capper, Nagoya: Perceptia Press, 2014. pp. 96. ¥2,160. ISBN: 9784939130625.]
Any Questions is an EFL lateral thinking puzzle textbook. The book’s stated aim is to solve lateral puzzles through active English communication. The textbook is ideal for intermediate level university speaking classes that focus on form communication and want to develop their problem solving skills.
Each unit sets out to solve a puzzle in a two-paged structured sequence. The first page has a question jumble and a match-the-question head to the tail section to help students grasp the topic and linguistic content. The second page requires students to fill in question heads and question tails; then each puzzle ends with students making their own questions. Students accomplish the task through focus on form questions and remedial grammar tasks.
The teacher’s manual supports the textbook by explaining what lateral thinking is, and how to help the learners solve the puzzles. There is also an English grammar guide and a lateral thinking puzzle explanation in Japanese. The textbook uses relatively well-known lateral puzzles, some taken from gleaned contemporary news stories.
Most students look forward to the puzzles, even though they display frustration in trying to solve them. One articulate student theorized that you should have to disregard your own preconceptions. This is very similar to De Bono’s (1970) definition, which states, “lateral thinking requires changing concepts and perceptions” (p. 85).
Any Questions is not specifically targeted to Japanese students. However, it is mainly culture neutral, with the exception of a few topics that presuppose some knowledge or experience of Western culture. However, this posed no problems I simply avoid using those puzzles in which background knowledge deduction was vital to solve them.
Any Questions’ puzzles usually take about 40 minutes to complete. Student feedback was always positive and they mention that it was unlike any other class they had experienced. Lateral thinking in the classroom offers something new to the field because it breaks the mold whereby Japanese students expect to participate passively in language lessons. The puzzles have a bizarre outcome, and finding the answer requires students to think outside the box.
The text follows a notional-functional approach to syllabus design it that it provides opportunities to practice pre-selected, pre-sequenced linguistic structures through meaning-focused activities (Kumaravadivelu 2006). The sequential order of the question format is repeated in all units and the receptive language allows students to gain information and meaning.
The textbook also follows the Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) approach as solving the puzzles requires a work plan that necessitates learners to process language pragmatically in order to achieve a successful outcome (Ellis 2003). It also involves extensive meaningful repetition, which enables high student involvement through information gathering and problem solving.
Any Questions can support either student-centered or teacher-fronted lessons. In my case, I like to demonstrate the format and explain the rules; then, after a routine is formed, I delegate a student or group to take on the role of answering the other students’ questions. These puzzles are versatile because they can be assigned to individual students for homework, or given in pairs, or given as a group activity.
I only use the Puzzle section because the other sections such as; Speed questions, Questions for communication, and What did you say? are only used to challenge groups that have completed the tasks. Since my class consists of four students, after we solve the puzzle we continue with a different activity. The unexpected answer to the puzzle can generate discussion for follow-up activities. For example, has this happened to you? Alternatively, do you agree with the answer to the puzzle? Is it realistic?
Overall, Any Questions is an ideal textbook for challenging students’ problem solving skills and providing genuine information gap tasks. The questions range from general to specific. The questions can receive one of only three possible answers: yes, no, or irrelevant. The aim of the task is to ask many questions and eliminate irrelevant lines of questions until the students get closer to solving the puzzle. A weak point I found is that the additional communication tasks and crossword puzzles did not relate to the unit puzzles. However, it acted as a consolidation activity and helped assist in both understanding and retention of key vocabulary. A strong point is the repetitive nature of the puzzle completion tasks as I find that they develop students’ active questioning skills and provide a clear focus on form.
Any Questions offers exciting ways to regularly practice English grammatical questioning forms through puzzles, which arouse students’ curiosity in a fun and challenging learning environment.
De Bono, E. (1970). Lateral thinking: creativity step by step. Cambridge: Harper & Row.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching: from method to post-method. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates