Total English (Elementary)
The Total English course package includes: a student's book, DVD, video, cassettes/CDs, workbook, catch-up CD-ROM, teacher's resource book, and website. I reviewed the student's book, DVD, and teacher's book.
The Total English (Elementary) Student's Book is different to those I've seen before because it has been written with certain realities in mind: that students need to be interested and engaged in every lesson in order to learn, and that all the students won't come to all your lessons.
These realities often result in more work for the teacher. The Total English books use a format that means the work load on the teacher is lessened. Students who miss a class can make use of the reference and practice pages at the end of each unit, which provides a sort of cheat sheet to the grammar points taught in that unit. The practice page encourages the students to use their new language along with that they have learnt in previous units.
By far the most successful aspect of the Student's Book is the ability to engage the students, primarily with high-quality photographs on interesting topics. The book recognises that students all over the world enjoy the same sorts of things: movies, television, holidays, shopping, etc, and has tailored each unit to appeal.
The Student's Book is available with a DVD which has a short film for each unit. The Student's Book includes Film Bank pages with comprehension activities to be used with the DVD, as well as transcripts of the tapes available for use with the books.
Total English derives its teaching units from the Common European Framework. Each teaching unit is prefaced with a Can do statement, which is designed to let the student know where they are heading before learning the language.
The Teacher's Book clearly explains how to use the Total English package. It contains many worksheets that can be photocopied, as well as suggestions for activities and extensions for each unit, and summary tests. The Teacher's Book makes everything seem straightforward, which is highly useful, but - conversely - it highlights the problems with the Student's Book.
Care has been taken to make the pages in the Student's Book look pretty, so it will engage the students. Unfortunately, this makes the pages less user-friendly: nice to look at, not so easy to read. When opening a page you are confronted with attractive pictures, but the questions seem to run into each other, and the text could do with additional space. When opening a page things are not immediately obvious; sometimes clear formatting has been neglected in favour of pretty pictures.
The DVD that can accompany the Student's book is thoughtfully presented with one side in PAL format, and one side in NTSC. This means it will play on almost any DVD player. Rather less thoughtfully, the listening material used in every unit is provided on a separate CD (or cassette), when it could also be on the DVD.
However, these are minor problems with an overall successful attempt at making a teacher-friendly, student-engaging textbook.Michael Curry is an English teacher and freelance writer based in Anhui Province, China.