Vol. 1. No. 3 R-2 March 1995
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Comics and Conversation;
More Comics and Conversation

Joan Ashkenas. (1985, 1991)
Studio City, CA: JAG Publications
Pp.iv + 30. ISBN 0-943327-00-8, 0-943327-06-7 (paper)
US $12.95 each

Note from the Book Review Editor: The following is one of four reviews written by students in a Practicum in ESL course at the University of Idaho. An endnote, written by the instructor, explains the goals of the course and the procedures for writing the reviews.

Comics and Conversation and More Comics and Conversation were designed for all levels of ESL students. The texts are collections of comical observations of human nature. They are composed of a series of reproducible blackline master cartoons, each two or more panels in length. The purpose of these texts is to provide ESL students with material that will help elicit conversation and develop vocabulary. Because there is no text with the stories, they offer a great deal of versatility for the language classroom.

The material can be used as a supplementary text, to reinforce a grammar point, elicit storytelling from students, or explain cultural phenomena. In the introduction, the author provides several suggestions for pair work. One suggestion is that Student A have a copy of the entire story (with numbers) and describe scenes to Student B. Student B has the same story, but it is cut apart and is not numbered. Student B must understand the description and hold up the correct scene. The author also suggests that low-level students use the material for storytelling as well as to help identify nouns, verbs and adjectives. Higher level students could use the stories for more complex vocabulary work as well as for language games.

One of the weaknesses of this text is that there are no categories or grouping of the stories. While it is true that each story has several uses, it seems that the stories would function as a more useful resource if they were categorized according to subject matter. Another area that I found problematic was the fact that the roles of the characters seemed somewhat dated and stereotyped. While it is possible that this type of material could be used to portray aspects of communication that should be avoided, the tone of some of the cartoons was disturbing. Much of the humor was derived from a derogatory attitude toward both the male and female characters. For example, in one story a woman is performing on a stage, wearing a low-cut costume. She is balancing a man on her head. A man in the audience is observing her with admiration (hearts above his head). In the next scene, the man is standing at the back door of the theater with flowers in hand (more hearts) and [-1-] a sheepish grin on his face. In the next scene, the woman performer is walking with him arm in arm. The man she was balancing is still on top of her head because they are Siamese twins. The ardent admirer is now sweating (worried about how to get rid of her/ them?) and has his tongue hanging out, suggesting that he is disgusted.

Another example of a derogatory attitude is a story in which the male character takes dance lessons with a dummy strapped to his feet. He goes to a real dance and asks a girl to dance, but first puts straps on their feet (apparently he thinks that this is standard procedure); the girl then sticks her tongue out to show that she is disgusted. Also disturbing are the stories containing negative stereotypes. There are depressing "fat lady" and "haranguing wife" stories which seem to be promoting an unacceptable, insensitive attitude. While there are amusing stories in both books, it is unfortunate that so much space is devoted to negative images.

A strong point of the text is the author's ability to observe and portray human experience. This text could be strengthened with the addition of more of the humorous observations of people's experiences, such as those depicted in the story of a grandfather trying to take a picture of two little boys and their sand castle on the beach while the tide is coming in. This story has several frames that require careful observation, and would work well in the group activities suggested by the author.

Overall, this book is not without merit; the author has a knack for depicting human nature. The text contains some very humorous material, but it is weakened by the inclusion of the negative material mentioned above.

Nancy Nishimura
University of Idaho


Hands-on teacher education: Book reviews in the ESL practicum

The goal of the Practicum in English as a Second Language at the University of Idaho is to prepare participants to assume responsibilities in a variety of areas of TESOL. These responsibilities include administration, curriculum and syllabus design, materials and resource development, classroom practice (methods and techniques), and assessment and evaluation. One concrete objective for the course is for participants to be able to make educated recommendations for and actual choices of classroom materials. To this end, during the practicum participants are [-2-] exposed to a variety of textbooks and other ESL resources. Building on discussions of optimal classroom language learning environments, and with a list of possible issues to address, participants are assigned to choose any three texts/resources to evaluate; they then prepare written reviews of these materials. Following examples/ guidelines published by journals in the field, graduate students in the class must then prepare one of the three reviews for publication. The reviews are revised as many times as necessary for clarity, content, and structure. The review intended for publication is then submitted to the appropriate journal; however, the course grade does not depend on whether or not the review is actually accepted for publication.

This activity reinforces for participants in the practicum the value of a broad overview of available resources and the importance of sharing ideas with colleagues. As a result of the assignment's unfamiliarity, participants learn the necessity for organization and planning that is crucial to ESL professionals. The result of this assignment, as seen below, is a diverse set of informative text reviews; they are written in different styles and concern a variety of content. Most importantly, this assignment has given the course participants encouragement to become involved in professional activities and has initiated the growth of their professional identities.

Joy Egbert
University of Idaho


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