Longman's new four level series for teenagers, Challenges, contains an attractive, informative set of texts suitable for teenagers all over the world today. Written by a team of authors, each level is inclusive of a student book, a workbook and an optional video, replete with activities that smoothly flow together. Two initial factors struck me when first using Challenges 1: the dual emphasis on visual attractiveness in the student book, and the well-designed activities that are sequenced to facilitate vocabulary acquisition. Both factors, combined with an emphasis on utilizing all four skills, result in a solid text well worth exploring further.
In particular the 'Readings' in Challenges 1 impressed me in light of my experience of teaching JHS (Junior High School, approx. 13 to 16 years old students) in Japan. This year my students used an all-skills text that followed uninspiring 'Readings' with comprehension (true or false) questions. Often these reading texts were tenuously connected to the pedagogical unit and, worse still, tagged on at the end. Challenges 1 does not fall for these traps, with authors Michael Harris and David Mower placing the 'Readings', accompanied by glossy pictures, at the centre of a smooth pedagogical cycle of activities.
This cycle ensures that all four skills are used, with Readings frequently accompanied by Listening activities. They are preceded by Warm-ups that encourage students to do spoken pair work using Key Words. Following completion of the Reading, and after processing the text for meaning, form-based Grammar activities follow which, in turn, segue into Speaking activities. The stimulating Your Challenge Writing section completes a skills cycle where activities are built upon each other.
The 'Readings' are also accompanied by real world photographs, including positive role models from the sporting and entertainment world. Including the likes of Maria Sharapova, Ronaldinho and The Beatles in JHS texts is highly beneficial, and ensures that even the least motivated will have incentive to attend to the text. Yet one slight criticism, from within my Japanese context, is the absence of baseball players (surely Hideki Matsui could have been included?), but that's only a minor gripe, for an impressive number of major international stars are there.
Overall, this text, with its emphasis on vocabulary and its flow between four skills activities, is exactly what my students need. Too many Japanese students enter university unable to produce written and spoken English in real time. Using a text such as Challenges 1 (and the rest of the series) would go some way to remedying the situation in the future. It's teacher friendly too, with the fun 'Time Out' magazine section useful for dealing with faster students, and a workbook including extra vocabulary practice for homework, together with a CD Rom full of quizzes. The generous teacher's pack also contains plentiful worksheet activities for interactive classroom practice.
To conclude: Challenges is a set of texts which would certainly assist students in attaining quicker vocabulary acquisition, and ensure that more students leave junior and senior high school with the solid base of English that is increasingly beneficial in today's world.