Review ~ English for the Australian Curriculum Book 1A new integrated skills textbook incorporating literacy and language skills in the classroom.
English for the Australian Curriculum (Book 1) is a new textbook aimed at teaching English and literacy in an Australian context for junior secondary (Junior High School), but I decided to try it in two of my university EFL classes in Japan where students were in their 3rd and 4th year of English study.
At first glance it is very colorful and glossy and its layout is well constructed and easy to navigate, although it is a little big and heavy to carry. The text begins with an informative Contents page, followed by a Foreword from the editors, information about the authors and also advice on how to use the book. The textbook itself is divided into 7 chapters which are color-coded, making it easy to access. Their titles are My Story Our Stories, Poetry Activated, Getting Animated: Genre and Narrative in Animated Films, Ghosts, Ghouls and Doppelgangers: Exploring Gothic Horror Stories, Fairytales Revamped, Meanwhile Somewhere Else: Three Films from Iran, and Dream On: Storytelling, Reality and Identity.
Each chapter integrates all the skills students need and begins with a detailed description of what the chapter contains and the skills students will develop. There is a list of introductory questions which encourage students to think about their own lives and are a great lead-in to the chapters. There is a glossary of terms found in the margins of the pages and all terms are found again in the Glossary and Glossary of Film Terms at the end of the textbook. There are activities which are identified by literacy skill: “respond”, “interact”, “analyze” and “evaluate”. There are also questions which require students to look at the text or ideas more closely and which offer chances for additional research. Students then have a section to reflect on aspects or ideas from the chapter while drawing on their own self. Finally, there is a section at the end of each chapter where students either complete a major activity or a series of small activities, connecting what students have learned in the chapter to enable them to create their own texts.
I like the textbook as it is highly interactive and my students liked that it was colorful and the activities were interesting. They liked drawing on their own lives and experiences in the activities, as it gave them a chance to talk about themselves and also reflect. We also liked that each chapter was a very different topic, from poetry to ghosts to fairytales to animation.
My students especially liked chapter 3 on Animation and looking at animation from a cultural point of view. This chapter looks at a number of different aspects of animated films. It begins by having students think about the topic of animation and lists a number of introductory questions for students to think about such as the first animation they ever saw, what characters idolized, the most recent animated film they saw at the cinema and why etc.. I had the students take notes and then discuss their answers in small groups. The first activity of this chapter was Interact and Research and encouraged students to develop a timeline of animations that they had seen since kindergarten until the present. My students enjoyed interviewing their classmates and developing a final timeline as a class as everyone liked different genres, making their timeline quite long. They went on to learn about the Academy Awards and the animated film categories, humor in animation, movie trailers and narrative structure, followed by a detailed section on genres. The main part of the chapter that my students enjoyed was the cultural importance of animation. They were asked to watch three different animated movies but as one of these was unavailable in Japan they only watched WALL-E and Howl’s Moving Castle. While watching each movie students had a number of activities to complete and reflect on, including ones on the genre, storyline and narrative structure, characters, artwork and Japanese anime. They were able to watch two very different films and compare and contrast numerous aspects. At the end of the chapter students had to write a 200-word film review on the animation they enjoyed the most in the chapter. They enjoyed the writing activity as it was highly scaffolded, advising students what to include in their review, including description, summary and judgement.
My students liked that the textbook gave them opportunities to use a number of skills such as speaking, listening, writing, reading and that it encouraged their creativity. At times they felt there was a little too much emphasis on writing but I adapted some activities so they were based on collaborative writing or discussion instead. There are a lot of speaking and discussion activities throughout the textbook. The listening aspects are different in the sense that there are no CDs and students practice listening skills by listening to each other and by watching films and clips, something which I found to be more motivating for my students as they preferred to have visuals when listening. The reading texts are usually less than one page long and are laid out in a way that is not intimidating or off-putting for students.
In addition, I really enjoyed the access to the Cambridge GO online resources. Each textbook has an access code which enables the purchaser to access the activities for each chapter in a Word document (making it easier to print and edit) as well as an electronic PDF version of the textbook. For an additional fee there is also an option of the Interactive Textbook.
Overall, although the textbook is not classified as an ESL textbook, I highly recommend considering it for your classes. It is modern, up-to-date, attractive and easy to use and most importantly it is engaging for students, which helps create a positive atmosphere in the classroom. It helps develop not only students’ language and literacy skills but also literary knowledge. The textbook states that it is aimed at the Australian curriculum, but I feel it would be useful in any context. It is not culturally specific and can be adapted to suit any cultural classroom and age, although it is best suited for Upper-Intermediate to Advanced level students.