Straightforward (Beginner)

Title: Straightforward (Beginner)
Author: Lindsay Clandfield
Publisher: Macmillan
Components: Student's Book, CD-ROM
Reviewed by: Clair Taylor
Review date: November 2007
Summary: An engaging coursebook which takes learners further than many other beginning texts.

Straightforward BeginnerStraightforward (Beginner) is divided into 12 units, each consisting of three double-page lessons followed by a review lesson. There is a 'Language Reference' section after every two units, with grammar notes, lists of functional phrases and lists of vocabulary. At the back of the book there are materials for communication activities, tapescripts, and an irregular verb list. The textbook comes with a CD-ROM, which provides material for each unit, vocabulary and grammar reference material and self-assessment tests. There is also a website which provides teachers with supplementary worksheets and material for roleplays. The course teaches British English.

The coursebook places a lot of emphasis on vocabulary learning and on functional language for everyday situations such as checking into a hotel, ordering food in a café and shopping. Each unit also has grammar, pronunciation, reading, listening and speaking activities. The material for the reading activities is very practical, using the kinds of real-world texts that learners of this level are likely to encounter, such as labels, signs, posters, short illustrated articles, emails and blog entries, as well as written dialogues which serve as models for speech. In all, Straightforward (Beginner) covers the beginner level thoroughly and extensively, taking the learners further than many other beginner textbooks do.

The layout of the book is clean and attractive, with beautiful illustrations. There are plenty of high interest topics and engaging activities. With a coursebook like this, you are likely to find that when you enter the classroom your students already have the book open and are browsing through or studying.

The CD-ROM is also attractive and user-friendly, with a wide range of activity types. The learners can attempt each activity and test as many times as they like. Their highest score is recorded in the results section, so that learners can track their own progress. Students can look up words in the vocabulary reference, which provides definitions from the Macmillan Essential Dictionary. However, some beginner level students may find entries such as: 'Factory (noun) - a building where large quantities of goods are produced using machines' rather inaccessible. Pictures or L1 translations may be more helpful. The students can make notes or translations of their own on the entries (and on any of the activities), although it seems that they must use the roman alphabet - I was unable to enter notes in Japanese, for example.

What I really liked about Straightforward is that learners are helped to reflect on and monitor their own progress. Learners are encouraged to be independent and take responsibility for their own learning from the outset. I also liked the way that vocabulary is given high priority. Vocabulary items are clearly presented with pictures, there is a lot of recycling, and the word lists use asterisks to indicate word frequency.

I feel that the book is not appropriate for slower learners or for learners who are not very familiar with the English writing system. The font size is quite small, and emphasis is often indicated using italics, which do not stand out for learners whose first language uses another script. There is also not enough space provided for learners to write their answers when listening and filling in the gaps, and no space is provided for learners to write when they are asked to replace words, rewrite sentences or rearrange words to make a sentence. Thus, some students could find the book frustrating to use. It is a shame that these little oversights have been made, because overall Straightforward (Beginner) is a rich, stimulating and well-designed textbook. ESL Reviews & ArticlesClair Taylor teaches at Toyo Gakuen University in Chiba, Japan.