Vol. 6. No. 4 R-2 March 2003
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Practical Readings 1

Anthony Bruton & Angeles Broca (2002)
Tokyo and San Francisco: ABAX Ltd.
Pp. 72
ISBN 1-896942-11-3

Practical Readings 1, an English reading textbook for beginners in both ESL and EFL settings aims to develop students' top-down and bottom-up reading skills using a wide variety of prose and non-prose texts.

Practical Readings 1 consists of 18 units, each of which includes the following: glossaries, maps, advertisements, descriptions, questionnaires, news articles, and tour itineraries. Each unit contains various topics as well. These topics can be grouped into three: language-related topics (e.g. US and UK English, Origin of English); daily issues (e.g. House Hold Tips and Advice, Flat Hunting, On Tour); and readings on general information (e.g. Prehistoric Animals, Facts and Numbers, Grids and Maps). The length and structure of reading material are various. Some of them consist of three to six paragraphs, which contain two to five sentences each. Other units are lists of words (e.g. Unit 2. Flat Hunting, Unit 15. Clothes and Footwear) or charts (e.g. Unit 3. How Practical Are You?, Unit 8. Household Tips and Advice).

Each unit consists of seven sections: Warmer; Reading One; Words; Reading Two; Beyond the Word; Reading Three; Beyond the Text. The general structure of each unit follows a pre- reading, during-reading, and post-reading format.

First, Warmer is a pre-reading activity with a schema-building effect. In this section, students are asked to work in pairs or group to discuss the topic. This part includes activities like filling in charts, true or false questions, making judgments, ranking, guessing the story, and so forth. For example, in unit 9, US and UK English, students are asked to rank, on a scale from one to five, the difference between British English and American English under the following six categories: grammar, spelling, vocabulary, speed of talking, slang, pronunciation.

In Reading One, students are asked to grasp the gist of the text using their pre-built content or formal schema. For example, after reading the text, students match a title/picture with a story or fill in the charts or maps. For example, in unit 11, Eavesdropping, students are asked to circle a corresponding picture after reading a summary of eavesdropping.

Reading Two and Three are designed to lead students to concentrate more on the text. In these sections, students use the knowledge they get from reading and to find specific information in the text. Various activities, such as drawing a route on the map, sentence completion, true or false questions, grouping or ordering, matching, and inferencing are introduced.

The Word and Beyond the Word sections are designed to raise students' vocabulary and grammar awareness. Word focuses on specific words and expressions in the text. It includes matching, sentence completion, and collocation exercises. Beyond the Word is more challenging in that it directly tests students' metalinguistic knowledge in the areas of: declarative/interrogative sentences, use of a/the, can/could, countable/ uncountable noun, and passive/active voice. Sentence completion is the main exercise of this section. In both sections, exercises are presented within the context of each unit's topic to facilitate students' reading comprehension. Including these exercises in context makes these two sections more meaningful and effective than isolated vocabulary or grammar instruction. The answer key for exercises is given in an appendix. [-1-]

Each unit ends with Beyond the Text in which students activate other language skills. They make a speech, have a discussion, and write an essay on each unit's topic using what they learn through reading. For instance, in unit 8. Household Tips and Advice, students are asked to write a short solution to the given problem that is oversleeping.

The structure of the textbook, together with its diverse exercises and activities, will help learners comprehend the texts and keep their focus on structure (grammar and vocabulary) at the same time. While engaging in Reading One, the students may develop a skill to grasp the main idea of the texts using their background knowledge. In Reading two and Reading three, the students learn to look for specific information and use it in interpreting the text. Word and Beyond the Word section make students focus on main vocabulary, phrases, and sentence-related grammar. Thus, this textbook will help students naturally acquire both top-down and bottom-up skills, which are necessary to becoming a strategic reader.

This book has a number of merits. First, readers can develop a wide variety of reading skills through Practical Readings 1. As the authors note, this book is designed to cultivate reading skills such as scanning, skimming, reading for detail, contextualizing, reading for meaning, inferencing, and focusing on discourse. As described earlier, this book includes many different exercises in which students demonstrate both their content comprehension and vocabulary and grammar knowledge: collocation, sentence completion, multiple choices, matching, true or false questions, and word grouping. By raising learners' vocabulary, structural awareness, and content knowledge at the same time, this book may naturally lead students to master these skills.

Second, students can develop other language skills while studying this book. Students' speaking and writing abilities will be enhanced by the activities such as group discussions and free compositions in the Beyond the Text section.

Third, the length (72 pages) and appearance of this book, including rich visual information, are suitable for its intended audience: elementary to low-intermediate students.

The textbook does have several limitations. First, the balance between prose and non-prose text is not appropriate. The authors admit they made the text short to allow more class time to be spent focusing on elements within the texts. Non-prose texts that do not consist of coherent paragraphs, however, will not enhance students' awareness of various text structures or discourse organization. For example, units 2, 3, 8, 13, 15, and 16 involve non-prose texts and units 1, 5, 6, 11, and 12 include two to six short paragraphs, which do not conform to a single coherent passage. Consequently, we cannot expect learners to develop their formal schema, such as discourse structure knowledge, synthesis, and evaluation skills. Providing longer review units with internal structure is one possible solution to this problem.

A second drawback is that most of the materials contained in the text, such as newspaper articles, advertisements, and pictures, are revised or recreated and so lack authenticity. For EFL students who don't have many chances to be exposed to a target culture and language, presenting real materials is more desirable. This would improve the book's appearance as well. [-2-]

There are two other suggestions for material of this book. First, by adopting materials from websites, the yellow pages, and dictionaries--all of which students often scan in the real world--one of this book's intended skills (scanning) will be effectively achieved. Second, including tables and graphs in the text or in the exercises and teaching students to read them would help students not only in terms of language, but also in cognitive skills, which can be used in other classes.

A third problem with this textbook is its limited topic and text choices. Topics like prehistoric animals (unit 6), Paul Gauguin (unit 13), and personal space (unit 17) seem irrelevant to English language or culture. Considering that the intended audience of this book is teenagers or young adults, more realistic topics and texts from English culture should be provided. Restaurant menus, comic strips, humor, poems and short stories, information on websites, simple business letters and notes, and resumes would provide an authentic reason to read and thus increase students' motivation.

Practical Readings 1 offers topics and text types that are suitable for its audiences' proficiency level. Diversified exercises and activities are properly located throughout the textbook to develop students' top-down and bottom-up skills in reading. Short and separate passages in many units, however, fail to provide an opportunity for students to raise their awareness of text structures or discourse organization. By adding more attractive, authentic material in longer texts with internal structure and providing authentic purpose to reading, this book would achieve its intended objective more effectively.

Moon-jeung Chang
Michigan State University
<changmoo@msu.edu >

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