Read All About It, Book 1
Lori Howard (1999)
New York: Oxford University Press
Pp. vi + 106
ISBN 0-19-435196-3 (paper)
Read All About It, Book 2
Lori Howard (2000)
New York: Oxford University Press
Pp. vi + 122
ISBN 0-19-435224-2 (paper)
Book 1: ISBN 0-19-436977-3
Book 2: ISBN 0-19-436978-1
US $17.50 each
Finding authentic and engaging reading material appropriate for adult learners can be a challenge, especially if language skills fall below intermediate to advanced proficiency. The Read All About It series by Lori Howard is designed to help adult and young adult learners foster self-confidence in their reading skills by developing interactive reading strategies. Book 1 is identified as a high-beginning level text, while Book 2 covers a high-beginning to low-intermediate range. Readings include simplified reprints from authentic sources as well as material researched and written by the author. Activities promote skills such as "predicting, skimming, scanning, guessing meaning from context, inferring, and comprehension" (Book 1, p. iii). Cassette recordings of the readings are available for both books; these were not reviewed. None of the exercises require listening to the cassettes.
Each book is divided into twelve units surrounding themes such as people, food, and work. Although these categories seem broad and conventional, the specific readings in each unit rise above the mundane. The twelve themes are parallel in both books, offering the possibility of simultaneous use in a multi-level classroom. For example, Unit 6 focuses on "health." In Book 1, readings about astronaut hygiene and how astronauts' bodies change in space are filled with a lot of health-related vocabulary. The same unit in Book 2 presents articles on acupuncture and nutrition, again rich with health and medical terms. Thus, the whole class can focus on "health" together while the exercises and readings accommodate varying proficiencies.[-1-]
Every unit is organized into three sections. A "Talk About It" section gets students thinking about the unit theme through partner and small group activities. These are usually centered around photographs or drawings and serve to activate students' prior knowledge and generate interest in the reading topics. Then a "Read About It" section presents the unit's central reading selection. This is accomplished through pre-reading, reading, and post-reading activities. Finally, "Read More About It" presents a second, shorter reading selection complete with similar activities. It offers continuation and expansion of the unit's theme and helps students solidify the concepts of the unit. A unit could be completed in 2-3 class periods.
The pre-reading exercises usually direct students' attention to illustrations, photos, titles and captions, asking students to make guesses about what they will be reading. These questions are often multiple choice, fill in the blank, or matching exercises. During the reading stage, students are to be thinking about their guesses. Comprehension questions ensure that students have understood the main ideas of the selection. These begin with fairly basic, fact-centered queries leading up to reflective and process-oriented discussion questions such as, "Why does Habitat for Humanity help people build homes?" and "Do you ever volunteer? What do you do? Why?" (Book 2, p. 22). Then a post-reading section challenges students to interpret and apply the concepts and vocabulary of the reading. Sometimes grammar and vocabulary practice is integrated into this section, which generally concludes with a brief writing activity. Although many of the exercises throughout the unit are given as pair work, students could also complete them individually without much adaptation. At least some of the exercises in every unit require students to creatively express their own opinions and interpretations of the readings and various related issues. This communicative element is one of the strengths of this series.
The readings have their roots mainly in American culture, but some ethnic diversity is represented in the photos and drawings as well as the reading content. For example, Book 2 contains a reading about Jaime Escalante, a mathematics teacher in East Los Angeles whose students are primarily L1 Spanish speakers (p. 3). Although the cultural foundation of the texts makes them more suitable for use within the United States, I believe they are broad enough for use in EFL contexts too. Use in other English-speaking countries may seem odd unless there was an intentional focus on American culture.
The Read All About It texts are clearly organized with headings that are easy to track unit to unit. Frequent changes in font style and size as well as color tone aid in clarity and also keep pages from appearing as boring blocks of text. All photos are black and white and of satisfactory quality. Tones of blue (Book 1) and green (Book 2) are included in text and illustrations, and pleasing graphic layouts assist in capturing interest. Some of the units include diagrams, tables, or graphs, such as a bar graph on U.S. fruit and vegetable spending with another blank graph for students to personalize (Book 1, p. 21).
In both books, the reading selections are fairly short, 200-400 words in Book 1 and 300-500 words in Book 2. The grammar, especially in Book 1, is not difficult, although there are a few complex sentences scattered through Book 2. Instructions for the exercises are always short sentences, usually 2-5 in number. The verbs in Book 1 include present, past, present continuous, and future tenses. Book 2 adds the present perfect tense and includes somewhat more academic readings. The types of accompanying exercises are nearly identical. Most of the readings of both books are styled as magazine articles with folk tales, letters, recipes and other genres also included. In my opinion, the reading levels of the books are too similar. A student who is finishing Book 1 would likely be ready for more of a challenge than Book 2 provides. Indeed, a student may benefit from Book 2 readings before finishing Book 1. For use in EAP courses, Read All About It would need to be supplemented by longer passages and examples of more academic writing. Even for use in community-based adult programs, longer supplemental texts would be useful.[-2-]
Teachers will appreciate a clear and concise introduction in each book explaining the organizational strategies and instructional objectives. I really like the "Teacher's Notes" section in the appendix. It offers tips on teaching the standard sections of the units, going on to provide specific procedures, extension activities, and additional references for every unit. Many of the references include website information for further research, which is a very valuable element in my opinion. It reinforces the authenticity of the readings and facilitates further Internet research as a classroom activity.
The entire appendix is removable. An answer key is provided, as is a word list organized by units and handily cross-referenced to page numbers in the Oxford Picture Dictionary (Shapiro and Adelson-Goldstein, 2001) . The unit themes were designed to correspond to the twelve general themes of the Dictionary. This seems like a proprietary move to promote the Dictionary, as there is no regular word glossary appearing in Read All About It. For users of the Oxford Picture Dictionary, this reference could be quite useful. Lastly, there is a photocopiable "Remember the Words" chart in each book designed so students can build their own dictionary of new terms, pronunciations, definitions, and sample sentences. It's a nice idea, but I think it's unlikely that students will consistently use the page unless it's assigned.
Overall, Read All About It is a well-rounded reading textbook integrating reading, writing and speaking skills. In going beyond simple comprehension of grammar, vocabulary and main ideas, the learning experience becomes personal and student-centered. The readings and exercises represent a balance between being basic enough to help students build self-confidence and challenging enough to encourage critical thinking skills. Specific reading strategies (skimming, predicting, inferring, etc.) are consistently reinforced and applied in wider contexts. Lastly, the flexibility of the books for use individually or in classes (including multi-level) as a central or supplemental text in ESL and EFL settings with the options of both cassette and picture dictionary support demonstrates Lori Howard's thoughtful design in creating the Read All About It series.
 Shapiro, N., and Adelson-Goldstein, J. (1998). The Oxford picture dictionary: Monolingual. New York: Oxford University Press.
Colorado State University
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