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Feb 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities

Who is Alan Maley professionally?

From a practical point of view I would say Alan has been and is the leading propagator of humanistic language teaching in the UK spheres of influence across the world. From 1962 till 1988 his day job was English Language Officer for the British Council in a variety of countries that included two rather large ones, India and China. Part of Alan’s role during these postings was to organise a plethora of teacher training workshops  for  teachers  to bring them up-to-date with new developments in language teaching , and much of  this new thinking came from humanistically minded teachers and trainers, from centres like International  House , Hastings ( Adrian Underhill) , The Experiment in International   Living, Brattleboro, Vermont,  South Devon College, Torquay and then NILE ( Rod Bolitho) and last but not necessarily least, Pilgrims ( Lou Spaventa). My guess is that Alan encouraged plenty green, young teachers and trainers and strengthened their resolve. This was my personal case when he first invited me to lead a week’s training in Paris. Wow! Rue de Constantine! The thrill of it!  How many people world-wide owe him personal debts of gratitude for help way beyond the call of normally conceived duty.

 In the eighties and early nineties of the last century Alan’s evening and week-end job was working with Alan Duff to produce a set of lesson idea books that set the standards for other aspirant authors. These two young men, under the direction of Adrian du Plessis, created Cambridge University Press’s highly successful break into the field of EFL publishing.

Maley, in the last decade of the century, was invited by Oxford University Press to take editorial control of their teacher resource books. In this role he carefully and sensitively guided authors, most of whom were part of the student-centred movement, to improve, sharpen and enrich the manuscript they had offered to the press for publication.

The above swift outline of Alan’s work does not pretend to be exhaustive and leaves whole areas unmentioned. I can hear grateful students of his in places like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam who knew Alan as a very, very unusual University lecturer, sending me grumpy emails!


50 Creative Activities

What I have written above about Alan the professional is I hope, accurate but also suffused with positive emotion that it would be dishonest to wrap up in the passives and other devices of “academic writing”. But now how about a bit of “objectivity” *** in introducing Alan’s recent book? Let me quote the man himself from the introduction:

“Creativity is widely regarded as a desirable quality in many fields. Yet for all the talk of creativity, there is relatively little of it to be found in educational contexts. I passionately believe creativity to be central to learning, including language learning, so this book is intended to offer, in however small a way, some resources for teachers who are interesting in implementing more creative activities in their classes.”

The book is in five sections:  






Let us take the MUSIC AND SOUND section.

In NEW SONGS FOR OLD (page 38) Alan suggests getting the class used to singing a repetitive song like: SHE’ll BE COMING ROUND THE MOUNTAIN WHEN SHE COMES, WHEN SHE COMES.......

Once the students know the tune really well get them singing the following parody of the song:


She’ll be

She’ll be using her computer when she comes.

She’ll be using her computer when she comes.

She’ll be using her computer,

And no one could look cuter,

She’ll be using her computer when she comes.


She’ll be checking on her email when she comes.

She’ll be checking on her email when she comes.

She’ll be checking on her email,

She’s an electronic female-

She’ll be checking on her email when she comes.


She’ll be sending SMSs when she comes.

She’ll be sending SMSs when she comes.

She’ll be sending SMSs,

While she’s thinking of new dresses.

She’ll be sending  SMSs when she comes.


She’ll be tweeting on her laptop when she comes.

She’ll be tweeting on her laptop when she comes.

And nothing could be sweeter,

Then this laptop- packing tweeter,

She’ll be tweeting on her laptop when she comes.

The description of the lesson continues with the author suggesting the students themselves choose another song to parody; sing it though several times, before working on their parodies.

The lesson closes with lusty singing of the new parody.

I chose this unit because I firmly believe that parodying is a superb exercise in getting students to try new writing styles on for size.  Have you ever asked students to write a parody of a short passage from the 17th century authorised version of the Bible.?                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I have done this, and found the results both rhythmically accurate and very funny.

In the chapter headed WRITING CHARTS AND SONGS (page 36) Maley reminds us of Caroline Graham’s beautifully rhythmic jazz chants. While she proposes ready -made texts he suggests getting the students to concoct their own. These can be works of imagination or may hinge on some current problem in the group.

An Iranian student of mine, called Ferhat, was having a lot of trouble transferring money from his home country to cover his school fees in Cambridge. This was at the New School in Bateman Street.

His lower intermediate class mates dreamed up a chant that went something like this:

Poor old Ferhat hasn’t paid his fees,

Paid his fees,

He pleaded with the school, down on his knees.

Down on his knees.


They say his cheque from home has bounced,

Has bounced

His money order never did get through,

Never did get through

So  what can Ferhat do?

What can Ferhat do?


Poor old Ferhat hasn’t paid his fees

He tried to pay the school in dollars

But they didn’t like the colour of his cash

But they didn’t like the colour of his cash

Like the colour of his cash.


Ferhat’s Dad was bent and old

Ferhat’s Dad he paid the fees in gold,

In gold, in gold, in gold.

Though he went on being rather old.


Though the rest of the group had paid their fees this chant jokingly expresses late adolescent worry of being stranded short of cash in a not very racially friendly town like posh and arrogant Cambridge.


A major downside of Maley’s latest book

Alan has written I don’t know how many teacher idea books using the familiar format of telling the teacher, set by step, one, two, and three, what she should do in her class.

In this book he abandons that classic shape and introduces the potential lesson shape in a friendly, chatty way.  No bossy imperatives, no caveats and warnings. He is not your instructor, just a senior friend chuntering on.

Though I sympathise with Alan’s wish to escape from the “instructional cage” he has helped to create  in  teacher lesson plans books over the years I think he is 100% wrong  in this one. The teacher emerging from her tuk-tuk, hopping off her Honda, parking her car or emerging from the underground does not want to cope with avuncular waffle as she has to go into class in precisely five minutes time. She wants a concise set of clear steps  ... thank you.


Final words

Let me end this review on a comic note: at the front of the book we read these pretentious words:

“ACKNOWLEDGMENTS   - The authors and publisher acknowledge the following sources of copyright material and are grateful for the permissions granted…

Alan Maley for the text o pp 21-22 from Campbell’s Crossing and other very short stories, by Alan Maley, published by Penguin Bks, copyright 1995 Alan Maley.”

It is heart-warming to know that, at the beginning of his eighties, Maley is still getting on sufficiently well with himself to grant himself permission to use a passage in this book that is anyway under his copyright though previously published elsewhere.

Alan, may you continue long is this state of inner concord!


*** The word  OBJECTIVITY is an unuseful hangover from Ancient Greek thinking. I would suggest that since humans perceive the world through their senses and since they each have powerful and well developed belief systems it is impossible to imagine a person reading or listening to any text “objectively”.  I would propose that every single act of perception is SUBJECTIVE and that to suggest that a technician explaining a crankshaft malfunction is not working from her own subjectivity is simply not factually true. Let us delete the grotesque term OBJECTIVITY from our mental lexicon.


Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Methodology and Language for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the 21st Century thinking Skills course at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Publications 
  • The Strategy Factor in Successful Language Learning: The Tornado Effect (second edition)
    Adem Soruç, UK

  • Jack-the-Cat’s Adventures
    Sezgi Yalin, Cyprus and US

  • Alan Maley’s 50 Creative Activities
    Mario Rinvolucri, UK

  • ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback Handbook
    Jeanette Barsdell, UK

  • Tune into English
    Fergal Kavanagh, Italy