Book Review

22/01/2023 - 17:33

101 EFL Activities for Teaching University Students ( 2022) by Hall Houston

Reviewed by Jurgen Basstanie

Hall Houston is an author, university lecturer and teacher trainer currently teaching at the National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences in Taipei, Taiwan. With his newest publication he has brought out a very practical handbook with a wide range of language learning activities that can be used in university EFL courses.

I tried out many of the activities in an English course at a Belgian university college to bachelor students in social work learning English at an upper-intermediate level. My students had not had any English courses since they left secondary school, so they first needed confidence in talking in English before concentrating on the specific language of their professional context.

Many of the activities of the book involve information gaps, so the students are keen on getting their message across, not thinking about accuracy a lot. “Tell me about your high school” is such an exercise. The students get nice prompts on slips of paper and have good materials to get conversations going in a networking event of half an hour. With activities like this one, students quickly gain confidence again: the students are focused on output and bridging communication gaps. It is a useful back-and-forth language building activity, which fits the TALK model that Hadley et al. (2020) discuss as a rich conversation method to build new language.

Houston’s language activities focus on three main topics: 1) the university environment, 2) group dynamics and 3) active learning. The last two are relevant to increase learner motivation. Ideally, students have intrinsic motivation, but for my social work students this was usually not the case and it was certainly necessary to push their more extrinsic motivation with controlled exercises that guarantee success. The social workers are not language students but realise that they will need English in their professional environments a lot. Houston’s activities are certainly designed in such a way that they improve active learning. According to Ryan and Deci (2000) learning environments in the classroom should be created that help fulfil the students’ needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence. 101 EFL Activities is certainly a great help to create such environments. The students feel they can achieve success with the activities (competence), they feel in charge (autonomy) as they can steer conversations in a way they want (many activities involve problem solving techniques) and the students develop a sense of belonging in the classroom (relatedness). They will feel safe and manage to find common ground with fellow students.

“Taking about our topics” (N°22) is an example of an activity in which the students are completely in charge and much as they want to learn about the language of social work, they are so happy when they can bring topics of their own to the classroom. It turns out that favourite books and films, as well as holiday destinations keep coming back. Also dilemmas like ‘Do you prefer films or books?’ often lead to fierce discussions and opinions. The point is that students focus on expressing meaning and becoming resourceful in getting their point across. They need to find ways to say things otherwise when they lack specific vocabulary or language chunks. I always end these activities by presenting language that could have been useful for them but they did not access yet and then ask them to repeat the discussion with new partners.

Houston’s book has so many of these useful activities (a 101 to be precise!), they are well-structured and will certainly help teachers to get their students become more motivated, establish rapport with the teacher and develop group dynamics. The book also gives teachers tips on how they can supplement activities with their own ideas and materials and it will help teachers reflect about their classroom approaches. So it is a very resourceful book if you want your students to be more engaged.


Hadley, E., Newman K. and Mock, J. (2020) Setting the stage for talk. Strategies for encouraging language building conversations. The Reading Teacher 74, 39-48 r

Houston, H. (2022) 101 EFL Activities for Teaching University Students (for some Sample Activities and Worksheets)

Ryan, R. and Deci, E. (2000) Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54-67


Jurgen Basstanie studied Germanic philology at the University of Antwerp and obtained a Master of Science in Applied Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh. He teaches English language and culture at Thomas More university college, has a fascination with cultural differences in ELT and followed specific training courses to this end, amongst others at the renowned Richard Lewis Communications institute in Hampshire.