[from classic and modern English literature]

Title: Selections
Author: Clare West
Publisher: Georgian Press
Consists of: Student’s book with key
Reviewed by: Kaithe Greene B.Ac, Cert TEFLA, Dip TESOL
Review date: December 2002

SelectionsSelections is not a new book, as it was first published in 1994, but when we consider that it includes extracts from literature up to 300 years old that doesn’t seem important. What is different about this book is that it contains unabridged and unsimplified extracts from a wide range of classical texts such as Robinson Crusoe, Great Expectations and Rebecca. Having infrequently, but on a number of occasions, come across students who want to study, or at least read, some classic literature this book seems like a good idea.

The texts are arranged in chronological order, so that by working through the book from the beginning one could experience an (incomplete) history of English Literature. One of the most interesting, and different, aspects of this book is that each text is preceded by notes about the author and his/her life. For me this added human interest. It also adds the possibility of consideration and/or discussion about the relationship between the authors own life experience and the themes dealt with in the texts.

Each text is followed by an interesting and individual range of activities, which can be used as they are presented, or further developed according to individual requirements. Towards the back of the book there is a short section of topics for further discussion.

With biographical notes, and vocabulary, comprehension and grammar exercises, it provides an interesting and useful package for those students who want to sample the classics. The ideas behind the suggested composition and role-play ideas are connected loosely to the themes and topics presented in the texts, thus providing some material to start with – helpful for students who find it difficult to be imaginative in a foreign or second language.

The comprehension exercises are reassuringly conventional in that the student merely has to understand what s/he has read in order to be able to answer the questions. The vocabulary activities are frequently a little more challenging, for example the student is asked to define the meaning of such words and expressions as environed, fowling piece, personage and impassivity, in context of course. The student is asked to imagine him/herself in Crusoe or Silas Marner’s situation, to think about why Jane Austen might have called her novel Pride and Prejudice or to consider why Mrs Kirkpatrick is delighted now “she need not struggle any more for a livelihood”. These and other activities call for linguistic activity and interaction or communicative use of English, in much the same way that we tend to take for granted in our mother tongue.

If this book’s aim is to introduce students painlessly to the classics, to interest them in reading more, and to stimulate discussion it certainly does it better than the conventional simplified readers. Whereas the simplified readers lose much of the poetry and linguistic artistry for which the classics are so well regarded and valued, this volume attempts to involve and interest students in such a way as to engender an appreciation of various classical literary styles. For those students who can make this intellectual leap this volume and its accompanying activities will prove to be both an enjoyable and valuable addition to their studies. It holds an invaluable key to unlocking the beauty of classical literature in a way which is often lacking in, and would not be inappropriate in, a mainstream English-speaking classroom.

I love the idea of reading material from the classics being accessible to EFL students. And I love the idea of having a collection of short texts with accompanying activities for use with students who want to, and are capable of, working with them. Used imaginatively the role-plays are an inspirational way of involving the students in communicative and creative use of English.

I would have liked the texts to be longer – I was left wanting to know what happened next over and over again. However, the remedy to this is more than obvious!

This book is ideally suited for use with students who are genuinely interested in English, for those who simply just enjoy learning and extending their English, and for those who like to explore the wider reaches of the language. As these texts are not simplified I would not be inclined to use it with students below Intermediate level. Although these texts are short, the language is a little too difficult for students whose level (of English) is lower than Cambridge PET, or thereabouts. It is, of course, also useful as an alternative to, or extension of FCE and IGCSE course material. The ‘Further Discussion’ section at the back of the book serves to widen students' views on developing their writing and speaking skills – which become more and more important for those students who wish to continue their studies of English to a higher level.

All in all, an interesting and useful addition to the bookshelf of the EFL classroom. ESL Reviews & ArticlesKaithe Greene is currently teaching in a small private language school in Spain. She also teaches on-site business courses from time to time, and yearly participates in summerschool courses in the UK.