Review ~ Weaving it TogetherWeaving It Together successfully integrates reading and writing skills with stimulating content sure to engage learners.
Critical thinking is in vogue in the EFL/ESL field at the moment, and at a recent conference I saw myriad materials touting the development of students’ critical thinking skills. The question, however, is whether these materials actually follow through on their claims or are simply roses by other names with very little innovation. I can say that the Weaving It Together series from Cengage blends actual development of critical thinking skills, on multiple levels, with reading and writing development. The format across the four levels is similar, with increased difficulty coming in the length of readings (one page in level 1 and 2 up to three pages in level 4), writing products (paragraphs in level 1, paragraphs to basic essays in level 2, full length essays in levels 3 and 4), and level of analysis required in the tasks (level 4 ends with analysis and interpretation of fictional work). Levels 1 and 2 are appropriate for low intermediate (high school EFL) while level 3 would be appropriate for mid to high intermediate (university level EFL). Level 4 is solidly for high intermediate to advanced level learners, because the combination of analytical and linguistic demands will be more than lower level students can likely handle. These are also good texts for adult students, or for those in a university ESL classroom in which they are learning to write.
Each text has 8-9 units, with 2 chapters in each unit, cumulatively focusing on one type of writing. A chapter begins with a picture and a few pre-reading questions to prompt free discussion on the topic to come. Following this, there is a reading, comprehension questions, and vocabulary. The comprehension questions encourage students to write out complete sentences so right from the start, there is writing practice. It naturally gets the students used to writing in a non-threatening way that can easily be expanded, with increasing difficulty. They are split between “looking for main ideas” and “looking for details.” The vocabulary focuses on understanding in context, and then focusing on expanding that knowledge into a new context. The final two parts of the reading aspect of each chapter are discussion questions and critical thinking questions. There is a clear distinction both within the text and content-wise between these sections, but visually the 2 sections of questions looks a bit daunting and a better choice would be to combine them, or eliminate the more “general” discussion questions.
Moving on to writing, the tasks for the levels diverge. Level 1 is primarily grammar-focused, while level 2 focuses on grammar and adding detail. Level breaks down essay structure and tackles various types of them. Level 3 and 4 focus on further analysis of essay types and analytical writing skills. Each part includes a focuses on error identification, outlining, and self-editing of a piece of writing. This emphasis on the process and development of a writer’s skills is a solid step in the development of critical thinking. There is a natural transition across each chapter from reading to writing that makes these solid texts for an academic high school or university course in both an EFL or ESL context.