Vol. 3. No. 1 R-8 November 1997
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Into English!

Josefina Villamil Tinajero and Alfredo Schifini (1997)
Carmel, CA: Hampton-Brown Books
Pp. T42 + 306 (TE Level C); T42 + 310 (TE Level F)
ISBN 1-56334-694-X (TE Level C); 1-56334-738-5 (TE Level F)
Level C: US $70.85 (TE); $675.00 (Classroom set)
Level F: US $70.85 (TE); $544.60 (Classroom set with CD- ROM); $525.20 (Classroom set without CD-ROM)

The task of creating a basal series for elementary ESL is a challenging one, with multiple, often conflicting, demands. Instruction should be theme-based, literature-based, content-based. We must respect the natural stages of language acquisition, the social nature of children, the authenticity of language. Explicit instruction is needed in the structure of the language, strategies of language learning, critical thinking. Literacy instruction must be holistic, must include phonics, must be integrated. Children at any grade level may be at any level of language proficiency, any level of literacy ability, any level of academic achievement.

The authors and publisher of Into English! have faced these challenges and come up with a series that comes as close to meeting all the demands as any I have seen. The series contains materials for 7 levels, kindergarten through grade 6. All levels include literature books, audiocassettes, posters, an ESL library, and a Teacher's Guide. There are also picture cards and manipulatives for all grades except K, big books for grades K-2, and CD-ROMs, independent practice books, newcomer books, and patterned books for pre-literate students for grades 3-6. The materials are available in complete classroom sets, or any component can be purchased separately.

Into English! is language-based, literature-based, and content-based. The program is organized around thematic units, which can be taught as is, integrated into native language themes and content, or matched with themes and content being taught in students' mainstream classes. Each unit begins with five lessons that build the concepts and vocabulary that will be used during the rest of the unit. This is done through extensive use of realia, posters, and audiocassettes containing songs, rhymes and chants. The next five lessons are based on a literature book--authentic, high-quality, multicultural children's literature--which is made accessible to students of all proficiency levels through a pre-reading story talk-through and multiple re-readings featuring strategies for comprehensible input. The last ten lessons consist of content-based activities that teach grade-level concepts and develop academic language and critical thinking. Throughout the second two sections of each unit, there are mini-lessons that present and [-1-] practice language structure in the context of the literature or content activity. There are also extension and reinforcement activities, opportunities for students to share their cultures, modeling and practice of learning strategies, role play and theater presentations, suggestions for cooperative learning, and writing activities. The lesson plans provide ample opportunities for extensive practice of both spoken and written language, and the suggestions for accommodating students at various proficiency levels make the lessons adaptable for beginner, intermediate, or advanced students, or for heterogeneous classes.

The Teacher's Guide is the core of the program. It includes, for each unit, a list of resources; lists of objectives, academic concepts, and vocabulary; an activity planner; day-by-day lesson plans; reproducible activity sheets to accompany the daily lessons; and take-home letters in 6 languages. There are also articles on staff development (including, at the upper grade levels, a valuable section on success for newcomers and pre-literate students), activity banks for teaching phonics and writing, lists of professional and cultural resources, and an excellent section on assessment. This section provides assessment guidelines that include suggestions for creating student portfolios and instructions for using the assessment forms that are included in the Teacher's Guide. These forms consist of a self-assessment form for students to use to reflect on their own learning, a book log which students can fill out to keep track of their reading, and a family interview form that provides valuable background information. The essence of the assessment program, however, is the progress forms, which allow the teacher to easily operationalize performance assessment while teaching the unit. There is one form for each unit, listing performance criteria for assessing fluency, critical thinking, language functions, language structure/patterns, and writing, as well as suggesting one of the unit activities that lends itself to observation of each of these aspects of language.

This facilitation of authentic assessment opportunities is only one of the many strengths of the Into English! program. Another major strength is the integration of content, literature, and language instruction. Too often in the past, content-based activities have been sprinkled through a language-based program with no real attempt to make them an integral part of the program. Or language-based activities are inserted more or less randomly into a literature-based program. In this program, all three types of activities build on each other. The content-based activities and the literature build on and extend each other through the unit theme. The structure mini-lessons are motivated by a structure that is used in the literature or in a content activity. Students will know why they are doing a content-based activity or practicing a language structure, and everything they are learning will make more sense to them because of its inter-relatedness. [-2-]

A third major strength of this program is the quality of the literature used. These are trade books, written by excellent authors and illustrated by talented artists, which are appealing to students and teachers alike. Students will be pleased to be able to read the same books their native English-speaking peers are reading. Teachers will rejoice at the quality of the writing and illustrations. These books are a far cry from the simplified, poorly-illustrated fare we too often serve to our ESL students. In addition to one book that is the focus of the literature-based section of each unit, there is an ESL library that includes two additional related titles for each unit, one appropriate for lower proficiency levels and one for higher levels.

There are many additional points that add to the quality of Into English!:

  1. Lessons begin with what the students know.
  2. The language and concepts needed for the literature and content lessons are developed extensively before those lessons are taught.
  3. The lessons can be taught at various language levels; objectives are coded for which of five levels of language development they apply to, and many lessons include multi-level strategies for presentation, checking understanding, activity options, roles for cooperative groups or for role-playing, writing options, and others
  4. There are many opportunities for home and community involvement, for sharing culture, and for interacting with native speakers--these latter activities are especially nice because the interaction is designed to be reciprocal, rather than the more common one-way interaction where the native speaker "tutors" the non-native speaker.
  5. Language structures are presented in the context of a literature book or a content-based activity, and the mini-lesson format means that a particular structure need be taught only when and if the teacher decides it is needed.
  6. The organization of the program makes it very flexible for use in a variety of contexts, whether a self-contained language development classroom, a pull-out ESL program, the English portion of a bilingual program, or a mainstream classroom with a number of ESL students in it. Suggestions for teaching the program in various contexts, written by teachers who have used it, are included in the Teacher's Guide. (Although the program was written for teaching ESL in the U.S., I see no reason why it would not be equally as [-3-] effective in EFL situations, as long as the teacher was reasonably fluent in English--it is not the kind of program that provides "scripted" Teacher's Guides.)

The only major weakness I found with the Into English! program is that it does not include student books. At the lower grades, this is not a problem; the design of the program does not depend on students having their own textbooks, and not having them contributes to the program's flexibility. Students do like to have their own books, however, especially ESL students who may not be able to participate fully in other subjects. At the upper grades, however, the lack of student textbooks becomes more crucial than simply being a matter of student preference. Beginning in fourth grade, elementary students are more and more often required to read textbooks to gain information. Reading for information requires very different kinds of skills than reading for pleasure, and ESL students using this program will have little practice in developing those skills. I would recommend that teachers using the program make the additional readings (from both the ESL Library and the theme connections resource list) a more integral part of the program, and that students be required to read at least some of these books on their own to gain specific information.

If this is done, the Into English! program can provide all of the activities students need to develop both social and academic language, through themes that will capture and maintain their interest, and with enough guidance so inexperienced teachers can feel confident teaching from the program, but enough flexibility so experienced teachers can easily adapt it to their own teaching styles. While some of the other new elementary ESL programs on the market are excellent, none provides the kind of integration of language, literature and content that this program does, and none provides as much quality support for the teacher. To anybody looking for a way to improve elementary students' learning of English as a second language, I highly recommend Into English!

Suzanne Irujo
Boston University
<sirujo@bu.edu >

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Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page in the paginated ASCII version of this article, which is the definitive edition. Please use these page numbers when citing this work. [-4-]

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