(by C. Heath & D. Heath)
I believe this book should be compulsory for any educator. Indeed I will go a step further – I think it may well be more useful to us than any single book on EL Teaching.
The book is about effective and persuasive communication. The Heath brothers start with the Q: ‘Why is it that some ideas are so memorable?’ A: Six key elements [SUCCES]: i) Simplicity (Keep it simple!) ii) Unexpectedness (Surprise = retention!) iii) Concreteness (Avoid abstract or ‘deep’ messages) iv) Credible (Is it believable?) v) Emotions (It is emotion, not reason that makes people act!) vi) Story (The most memorable messages are in the form of a story).
In analysing these elements they explain all kinds of interesting notions, such as ‘the curse of knowledge’ (p. 19). What would happen if you were to tap your finger to the rhythm of a well-known song without actually humming it? Would people be able to guess it? 50% of respondents said ‘Yes’. Incredibly, the actual number was 2.5%!! It is exactly the same when we try to communicate a message – we think others understand, but very often they don’t! (Moral: check that your students have really understood what you have told them or what they have to do. Get feedback as much as possible!)
Heath & Heath go on to stress the importance of ‘curiosity’ (pp. 84 – 87). This is the technique that soap operas, cinema trailers and some gifted presenters use to hook the readers/listeners’ interest. (Moral: Whether it is the contents of a text, or the lesson, it pays not to tell students everything up front. We can excite their curiosity even about mundane things!)
A surprising research finding on p. 89 is of great importance to us; Q: Which is better: consensus-building activities or ones encouraging heated debate? A: The latter! In a controlled study, 18% of students who had done a consensus-type activity chose to watch a short film about the topic, but the number rose to 45% among those who had engaged in a debate! (Moral: use more debates to get students worked up so they are motivated to find out more!)
The two brothers also give us a host of useful tips on how to make our presentations / articles interesting (which is of course of immense value for our Business English students!). Here are a few research-supported findings: a) avoid obscure language (p. 106) b) including details makes your argument more convincing (p. 139) c) ‘translate’ statistics down to the human scale (the human brain cannot cope with huge numbers! – p. 144).
Above all however, remember to use stories. Human beings are wired for story. As somebody once so memorably put it: ‘Facts tell – stories sell!’