Ice Cream Series - Vanilla
Just as teaching the highest and lowest levels is the hardest part of an English teacher's job to do well, so is teaching the youngest and oldest students. I have yet to see a textbook for the retired language learner, and the same was more or less true for textbooks for 3 or 4 year olds when I first started teaching that age group. Suddenly, though, there has been a flood of books for pre-school students from a range of publishers. Far from following that trend, Apricot seems to have specialised in the younger ages for quite some time. As I am a great fan of their story books, I was interested to see if that experience could extend to the more difficult task of making a whole course for the youngest kids work.
Despite not being blessed with the TV tie-ins of the more publicised courses, the author has managed to come up with a cute and original book mascot in the form of a smiling ice cream, with various body parts fitted ingeniously to his whipped face and cone body. He appears regularly throughout the course- illustrating the songs and dialogues/ target language in the Student's book and accompanying CD, giving short little teacher's tips through the teacher's book, and showing various amounts of enthusiasm on the various reward stickers. Along with the book and stickers, the teacher's pack is rounded off with a pack of large vocabulary picture cards, a similar set of alphabet and phonics cards and a badge you can put round the neck of any student who you want to lead the class in a teacher's role. Posters are also available.
Getting students to wear the badge and take the teacher's role and ask questions etc. is one way in which the book seeks to get students really using English to communicate as soon as possible- rather than just repeating what the teacher says. A similar emphasis on real meaning is shown in the fact that all but one of the 11 chants and songs has a series of actions the students can perform while they sing (all illustrated in the students' book), which helps to make sure the students are singing something they understand rather than just a melody and collection of sounds. Making the language real for students and usable in the classroom is also helped by the fact the vocab is all things the students can relate to (with the possible exception of the stereotypically American breakfast) and that all the dialogues come in question/ answer pairs.
Aside from Breakfast, the units deal with the alphabet, numbers, colours, face parts, clothes, transportation, presents (toys etc.), pets, manners and classroom commands. Each unit has 6 pages in the same format, pictures of 8 items of vocab first, then the song words and actions, an illustration of the target dialogue, a small space to draw and three letters of the alphabet to trace. The ideas for the drawing activities in the teacher's book are nice and imaginative, e.g. drawing faces with an ear where the nose should be etc. and making drawings out of the number of their ages and the first letter of their names. Other ideas in the teacher's book I liked include making simple jigsaws by cutting up the letters of the alphabet, a version of "pin the tail on the donkey" with body parts, and Find the Commander where the student who was sent out of the room has to spot which student everyone is copying when they come back in. Some of these were too complex for my younger classes, however, and a 5 year old beginner class is probably the best match for this material.
And that's it--the student and teacher's books come in at about 120 (smallish, sparsely printed) pages the pair, with a simple to follow and easy to use format. As a teacher picking the books up for the first time, you could have a handle on what to do for a half decent lesson in 10 minutes and have read every detail of both books in less than an hour. Very little preparation and equipment is needed for most of the lessons, too. There's not a lot of recent or complex teaching theory going on here, and certainly none written down for you to plough through- and very little sit down bookwork for the kids either. Instead, there are some simple but effective illustrations, songs, actions, dialogues, personalisation and other teaching tips and game ideas. You might want to add storybooks, word recognition work, recycling activities, craftwork and some more songs to the 5 or 6 good ones here. If you are looking for a simple but thoroughly tested course that gives you a structure but leaves you plenty of space to do those other things, Vanilla is well worth considering.Alex Case has worked as an EFL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, Director of Studies and EFL Editor in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, Italy, the UK and Japan. Alex Case is Reviews Editor of TEFL Net.