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An engaging and stimulating read

1 August 2017 No Comment

Sunanda Ali

I must confess that the prospect of reviewing a textbook (even for teachers) filled me with dread. Most textbooks are text-heavy, dull, often with language so turgid that even teachers find them difficult to understand. However, to my relief this textbook proved to be very, very different. Extremely well designed, with interesting lay-outs and an image at the beginning of every chapter with a significant quote, this book tells you how to start teaching a skill/concept, suggests different ways of reinforcing it, gives rationales for the same and includes tasks/activities where the students can practise whatever is taught.

The book is divided into the four language skills: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. There is also a section on ‘Fundamentals of Language, Grammar and Vocabulary.’

learn-engligh-teach-english In the ‘Reading’ section, the author divides reading into three stages: pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading. At each stage, he tells you the functions that the teacher must ensure, the kind of activities which will ensure these, and the activities which will help the student. There is also a detailed table on the differences between loud reading and silent reading. There is an interesting case study on how a teacher (Nandini) used different strategies to get her students to enjoy reading. The case study is systematic, detailed and well planned. At the end of the reading section, there is a text which evaluates a person’s reading level.

In the ‘Listening’ section, he has included a table which has listed the ‘sub-skills of listening’ and then listed activities for students at various levels to develop their listening skills. Many of the activities are enjoyable and students will love them. The section has been divided into three stages again; pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening. He has given an example of how to conduct a lesson to ‘teach’ listening where there is a discussion on certain concepts from a passage which will be read out later. At the while-listening stage, students will have to listen for answers to questions they have been given earlier. The passage is then read again. At the post-listening stage, the teacher checks the answers, the students read the passage with correct pronunciation, pause, stress and intonation and then find meanings (of some unfamiliar words from the passage) in the dictionary.

There are many fun listening activities which students will love, like riddles, listening to a song and then filling in the blanks with important words of the song, etc.

The ‘Speaking’ section too has many fun activities like interviews, ‘story chain’ with children sitting in a circle, and several games. The author has identified three key features of learners’ speech to be fluency, accuracy and complexity. He has listed out the factors that affect our choice of words and expressions, the different kinds of language we use for different occasions and exercises where students practise speaking appropriately in different real-life situations. Some rhymes, chants and songs have also been included to develop fluency and familiarity with the language.

The ‘Grammar’ section has listed some recurring errors that students make. The chapter on Modal Auxiliaries and Question Tags is extremely interesting and he has shown us how nuances of tone are altered when we use them: for e.g. ‘could’ is more polite and indirect than ‘can’, and ‘may’ is the most polite and indirect usage. Approaches to teaching grammar are explained. This is extremely valuable for the teacher’s in-depth understanding. Here too, many games and exercises to develop the vocabulary are included.

The section on teaching writing skills focuses on developing coherence, cohesion and unity. The author tells us to get students to do different kinds of writing (paragraphs, letters, diary entries, story-writing). A table by which students can assess themselves is given.

The author reiterates that both teachers and students need to understand that writing is a difficult skill to acquire; it is impossible to produce a good piece of writing at the first attempt and therefore it is essential to look at writing as a process with planning, drafting and evaluation as necessary stages. The student must be trained to follow these stages and review and edit her piece of work before giving it in.

The intricacies of pronunciation are dealt with in the last section. There is an exhaustive list of phonemes, some commonly mispronounced words, homophones, minimal pairs and tasks where students can practise pronunciation. Syllabification, stress, rhythm and similar concepts are explained.

Overall, the book is extremely engaging, stimulating, has a wide variety of tasks the teacher can use in class, explains concepts which are essential for the teacher to understand and has texts from across disciplines and case studies. It is an invaluable companion for an English teacher both at the beginning of her career and even when she is experienced but needs to dip into a resource for new ideas and clarification. Dr. Richard Smith, in his foreword talks about the author’s enthusiasm for English Language Teaching and his ‘strong commitment to teacher education in India.’ We can clearly see these two parallel strands in the book which make this a truly valuable resource and a special addition to an English teacher’s personal library.

The reviewer has been teaching mainly English Language and Literature for many years. She now heads a residential school in Chittoor district called The Peepal Grove School. She can be reached at sunandaali5@gmail.com.

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