Vol. 5. No. 2 R-3 September 2001
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More Grammar Practice

(No author mentioned) (2001)
3 volumes
Heinle & Heinle
Pp. 143 (each)
ISBN 083841893-7 (vol. 1); 083841902-X (vol. 2); 083841947-X (vol. 3)
US $10.00 each

More Grammar Practice is a three-book series of grammar exercises from beginner to upper-intermediate level. Each book is composed of 70 two-page units. Each unit starts with a grammar box of target structures, with examples and explanations, followed by three exercises most of the time (sometimes two or four).

The layout is pleasant. These are slightly large (but thin), square books. The grammar box has a color background (blue for volume 1, pink for volume 2 and mauve for volume 3) and there is a same-color exterior margin containing the title of the chapter. The very regularity of this layout is what makes the books immediately familiar. Navigating through them is simple.

Volume 1, appropriately, starts with the basics: forms and uses of be, subject pronouns, demonstrative adjectives (units 1 to 8), then forms and uses of the present simple tense, plurals of nouns, there (units 9-18), articles and quantity words, expressions of frequency, prepositions of time, possession, subject and object (units 19-29), present continuous (30-33), future (34-38), simple past (39-44), imperative, infinitive (45-48), modals (49-53), (un)countables, adjectives, compound nouns, adverbs (54-61), comparatives and superlatives (62-66), auxiliary verbs and tag questions (67-70).

The exercises are classical: filling a blank with the correct form (with or without a prompt), correcting mistakes, choosing the correct answer (2 choices), re-writing (using a particular form), transformation (affirmative to question form for example), substitution, drilling, very controlled cloze exercises, unscrambling words to make sentences. Occasionally, an exercise will involve some freer expression. Rare are analytical exercises that require the students to think about what a form means, for example 9:2 with the use of the present simple to express origin, habit, etc., or 14:1 on the formality and informality of statements.

There is no fantasy here, no visual aids, no innovation, no imagination. The chapters concentrate on the subject and do not deviate from the point. There is no surprise, no time wasted understanding instructions and the sentences admit only one answer (except for the rare cases of free expression). The exercises are strictly utilitarian, which has its good sides but can become terribly tedious if the student is not highly motivated. Although the blurb at the back of the book claims that "a wide array of exercises keeps students motivated", I think it takes a dedicated learner to enjoy this rather dry, minimalist book.

Book 2 presents roughly the same grammatical points, with a few additions like the passive voice or the gerund, in a different order and in more depth. The sentences in the exercises are longer. A few new types of exercises appear: recognising structures, matching, choosing words from a list, totally free expression. [-1-]

The students are no longer beginners here and I find some exercises too mechanical to be of any use. Language is about choice: choosing the right structure and words and using them in the right place, in the right context and it has to become an unconscious process. A chapter like Unit 10 where only one structure is concerned, the future tense with be going to, consists in conjugating be in the present since no other option is proposed (or even possible). Even if some answers are open, the problem at hand is not a problem since there is no choice, just a mechanical filling of blanks with a single structure. This will not ensure that, when the structure is required, the student will be able to summon it. Fortunately, this is repaired in the next unit which does just that: offer a choice. Similarly, in 63:1, there is nothing to do except choosing superlatives from a list and putting them in the blanks: a vocabulary exercise, not a grammar one. Worse, in 57:1, turning the gerund into the infinitive or vice-versa misleads students into thinking that the two structures are always equivalent. We know this is not the case and the exercise does not help improve the difference between the two.

Finally, an exercise like 12:1 seems to me to take artificiality too far: a sentence in the present or future has to be turned into the past. Why? Why make sentences at all, then? 30:3 could be a good exercise as the use of adverbs of manner can be tricky. But nothing indicates, in the grammar box, when very, quite or extremely are appropriate or not. This is not a grammar question, anyway, but one of usage and meaning (why should quite, quietly or extremely fluently be impossible ?) and you have to have a good feeling for the language to do it properly... and then you don't need to do it at all. In the same way, 55:1 has nothing to do with grammar but with vocabulary (meaning of adjectives).

Book 3 is pretty much the same with the same type of exercises. It insists on the present perfect, introduces the past perfect, deals at length with modals and tackles details of the grammatical questions raised in the preceding volumes. Quite a few units deal with link words, or connectors, which, again, are not really grammatical issues.

No author is mentioned and there is no introduction that would tell us what the intentions are. There has been progress in the teaching of grammar and it is certainly possible to enjoy it, with games, pair work activities, songs, visuals, etc. More Grammar Practice seems to ignore this progress or has chosen to ignore it.

The books probably work best as a self-study tool precisely because there is no surprise and no help is required from a live teacher to complete the exercises. The books, with the explanations and the answer-key volume, are self-sufficient. As students who engage in self-study ought to be highly motivated (or they will not study for long), then the books should work. I would not advise using them in class though. The exercises are too controlled, too repetitive in form. Homework, self-study, definitely. Class work, no.

To sum up, these three books are, in spite of their shortcomings, a minefield of exercises, either for the teacher looking for supplementary material or the students who want to work on their own.

Nicole Décuré
<Decure@cict.fr >

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