Vol. 4. No. 3 R-13 May 2000
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New Ways in Teaching English at the Secondary Level
Deborah J. Short, Editor (1999)
Alexandria, VA: TESOL
Pp. xiii + 314
ISBN 0-939791-77-3 (paper)
US $29.95 (members, $25.95)

New Ways in Teaching English at the Secondary Level, edited by Deborah Short, is a collection of activities suited to meet the demands of education at the secondary level, both in ESL and EFL settings. All the practices proposed have been created by ESL/EFL teachers, who have tested them with their students. As the editor points out, one of the most striking features shared by all the activities is that they develop several skills instead of focusing on one only. These activities do indeed reflect the teaching practices that are typical of secondary teaching. Another key characteristic of all the activities is that they help make students proficient in general academic skills that can be used in different school subjects and outside the classroom.

The contributions are organized into six sections, each opening with an introduction by the editor: Icebreakers to Start the School Year; Integrated Language Development Activities; Connections With Content Areas; Multimedia Infusion; Cooperative Projects; Assessment, Review, and Language Games.

The distinctive, user-friendly format of the New Ways series is maintained, so each contribution begins by stating the language level and school level required. The school levels are based on the U.S. school system, where secondary school education is divided into middle school (serving students 11-14 years old) and high school (serving students 14-18 years old, although some students are allowed to remain until they obtain a diploma). The aims of the activity are then explicitly specified and the type of activity (e.g., motivation, practice, review, critical thinking) is described. The amount of time needed to prepare and to conduct the activity is given, together with a list of the required resources. This overview is followed by a more detailed account of the procedures and by a section called Caveats and Options, where possible adaptations and suggestions are put forward. Appendixes with handouts and other classroom data may follow and provide some ready-to-use material.

The contributions in the first section include activities that have been designed to facilitate peer relationships and to develop familiarity with the school environment. The first set (Getting to Know Your Classmates) concentrates on the students and proposes a series of game-like activities aimed at using the language to communicate and to promote group work. Speaking and listening skills are exercised in real-life conversations among students. The second set (Getting to Know Your School) centers on strategies for giving and understanding directions concerning different locations in the school. Activities such as "What's Happening?" and "The Library: Check It Out" can improve spatial orientation and provide curriculum information, as well as help learners with linguistic structures. [-1-]

Part II includes activities concerned with the skills of vocabulary development, listening and speaking, reading, and writing. Many of the activities are integrated and invite students to develop more than one language skill at a time. The vocabulary exercises mainly consist of games that can be used to make students aware of semantic relations among words (e.g., gradable concepts that range along a continuum such as warmth, or lexical fields), or to teach them how to infer meaning from context. The listening and speaking section begins with listening activities that use popular music to practice pronunciation and improve listening skills, and also includes activities that advance oral interaction and oral presentations. The reading activities are designed to encourage students to read critically and respond personally to what they read. Students are stimulated to read for a purpose (such as looking for specific information through ad hoc reading techniques such as scanning, as in "News and Views"), or to learn "What Happens Next" in works of fiction). The activities in the writing set try to develop better awareness of the basic features of writing (vs. speaking), and to teach strategies to create different text types, such as accurate descriptions ("The Personality Exploration Exercise"), event description ("Who Stole Mari's Wallet?"), letter writing ("The Monday Letter: A New Twist on Journal Writing"), and dialogue ("Comic Strips"). On the whole, it can be noticed that the techniques to develop writing skills include both individual and group exercises to learn or widen vocabulary, and to improve sentence, paragraph, and text structure.

Part III is devoted to activities that integrate language learning with other subjects. The first subsection, Integrating Language with Academic Content, addresses the issue of inter-disciplinary projects including activities that involve several subjects and different skills. Most of the proposals are devised for ESL students, for whom English is not only one among the school subjects but also the vehicle through which they learn other disciplines (cf. "How Big Is It Anyway?" whose aim is to review measurements, or "Supply and Demand," in which economic definitions and concepts are introduced and exemplified through a simulation sale). Some of the tasks proposed (e.g., "Reading Across the Curriculum: A Genre-Based Perspective") focus on contextual features of texts, such as for whom and what purpose they are written, so that ESL students with different cultural backgrounds can be made aware of cross-cultural differences in relation to genre appropriateness. The second subsection, Survival and Career Orientation, concentrates on developing a series of strategic abilities which are essential in students' lives beyond school, such as understanding and giving directions, map reading, understanding advertisements in newspapers, learning how to make real-life applications, and promoting oneself in job interviews. Some of the activities are basically survival skills which might be used in solving practical problems. Others deal with career qualification and experience, including university admission. All teach not mere data but useful, appropriate life behavior. [-2-]

Part IV is devoted to activities that combine technology and language learning. Their strength lies in the integration of verbal and non-verbal communication, which helps students understand and interpret different types of stimuli. Most of the tasks concentrate on listening skills and on strengthening vocabulary, but the competence that students acquire in these areas may be used in writing and speaking as well.

Part V centers on cooperative projects that involve all class members and possibly various teachers. Projects such as the establishment of a classroom library ("LORE, A Classroom Library Program") are to be organized on a long-term scale and require much effort. Help may be elicited from parents, colleagues, and community members, but students should have an active role in the running of the library so that they have the feeling that it is theirs. After setting up the library, students engage in personal reading. The final stage of the project is classroom discussion, in which students share their reactions and comment on their favorite aspects. Students keep personal written records of their own reading in reading logs, which the teacher checks regularly. Other projects establish a regular cooperation between ESL and English classes ("Second Language Learners and Literature," "Folktale Collection of the World"). In this way each group takes advantage of the specialized skills of the other and cross-cultural awareness is advanced. Another example is provided by buddy journals ("Buddy Journals Build Relationships and Literacy"), in which ESL and native English-speaking students exchange journals where they write to one another about pre-established topics. Students naturally develop writing fluency while establishing relationships and friendships with young people from different cultural backgrounds.

The sixth and final section presents activities for reviewing and evaluating what has been learned. Some of them allow for self-evaluation, whereas others enable teachers to ascertain to what extent students have learned the material presented. The fact that most of these activities have a game format has two main advantages: firstly a non-threatening, relaxed atmosphere is easily established and students learn while enjoying themselves; secondly, the competitive nature of games strongly reinforces motivation and active, willing participation.

The book offers a thorough collection of secondary school activities, which are economically and accessibly presented. Most of them are easy to prepare and to perform in class. Adaptations for differing contextual requirements are often suggested and if not are nonetheless easy to devise. One of the advantages of the book is the spirit of cooperation that is presupposed by many of the activities, which are to be conducted in partnership with colleagues, or which integrate language teaching with content areas such as economics, sociology, mathematics, science, and so forth. Although this is an effective practice that particularly suits the American school system, where classes are often made up of students of different origins and cultures, it might turn out to be difficult to carry out in other contexts. What is theoretically a good quality of the activities might prove to be a deterrent when transferred to different contexts, where cooperation in the curriculum is not so easily achieved. [-3-]

One fault in the organization of the book is the disproportion between the sections, especially if one considers the scanty attention that has been devoted to new multimedia technologies. The countless CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) and CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) projects developed over the last few years have been totally ignored [1]. For example, the Internet is a limitless and very convenient resource to exploit, in that students have direct control over the learning process. Furthermore, the medium responds to the needs of individualized instruction. Students can therefore work at their own pace, concentrate on their own problem areas, receive immediate feedback for both correct and incorrect responses, be offered on-line guides, help pages, data banks, and so forth (Gagliardi, 1997). These activities develop a comfort level of computer use for those students who have not yet been exposed to computers but must nonetheless acquire some competence. For those who are already familiar with computers these programs are very stimulating and produce a further spur to their motivation.

End Note

[1] There is a vast bibliography on the use of computers in language teaching that cannot be provided here (see, however, Brumfit, Phillips & Skehan, 1985; Porcelli, 1988; Maddux , Johnson & Harlow, 1993; Boswood, 1997). Some interesting material can be found in the "On the Internet" section of TESL-EJ and in various articles published by the ITESLJ journal. Some web links are on display at the following address: http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/links/TESL/CALL/.


Boswood, T. (Ed.). (1999). New ways of using computers in language teaching. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Brumfit, C. J., Phillips, M., & Skehan, P. (Eds.). (1985). Computers in English language teaching. A view from the classroom. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Gagliardi, C. (Ed.). (1997). Imparare ad imparare nei centri linguistici multimediali. Pescara: Libreria dell'Université.

Maddux, C. D., Johnson, L.,. & Harlow, S. (1993). The state of the art in computer education: Issues for discussions with teachers-in-training. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 1(3), 219-228.

Porcelli, G. (1988). Computer e glottodidattica. Padua: Liviana.

Silvia Bruti
University of Pisa

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