Vol. 8. No. 3 R-2 December 2004
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Grammar Sense 1

Susan Kesner Bland, Series Editor (2004)
Cheryl Pavlik, Author
Oxford: OUP
Pp. xvii + 396
ISBN 0-19-436565-7 (Student Book, paper)
Student Book £16.80

Grammar Sense 1 -- Teacher's Book
Tay Lesley
ISBN 019-436568-9

Grammar Sense 1 -- Workbook
Susan Iannuzzi
ISBN 019-436618-9

Grammar Sense 1 -- Cassette
ISBN 019-436569-7 £21.00


Grammar Sense 1, by Cheryl Pavlik, is the first in a three-level series (Level 1, Basic; 2, Intermediate; 3, High Intermediate to Advanced) that develops accuracy, fluency and deeper understanding of basic grammar concepts. The Student Book is a comprehensive selection of ten parts comprising 26 chapters, as well as a 'Before you begin' section (described below), 13 appendices, a glossary of grammar terms and an index. The Workbook (by Tay Lesley) provides extended practice for each chapter, a two-page review of each part (2-3 chapters) and removable answer keys. In the Teacher's Book (by Susan Iannuzzi), each chapter begins with a description or overview of the target grammar point, including caveats on common student problems and key form points to emphasize. This is followed by detailed notes to accompany the Student Book lessons and suggested additional activities to extend and reinforce the target language. Also included, as needed, are 'Troublespot' sections alerting teachers again to common student difficulties, and Cultural Notes. Finally, there are tapescripts and an answer key for the Student Book tasks.

The language areas (covered in 'parts' of 2-3 chapters) covered are: the verb 'be' and imperatives; nouns (singular, plural, (non)count); adjectives and pronouns; the present (simple and continuous + adverbs of frequency); the past (simple and continuous); articles, quantity expressions, there is/are; the future (be going to and will), modals (may, might, can could, request, permission, advice, necessity, prohibition); and objects ((in)direct), infinitives and gerunds. Parts of speech (N, V, Adj, Prep) and subject pronouns are covered in the 'Before you begin' section, along with a wide range of ancillary and more mechanical language points such as spelling of plural nouns, pronunciation (-s/-es, -ed), irregular verbs (without past participle form) and contractions.

For each target language point, form is introduced and practiced before addressing meaning and use. As explained in the introduction, students establish what the form looks and sounds like before tackling more challenging, open-ended tasks targeting meaning and use. To accomplish this, each chapter in the Student book follows a set pattern--grammar in discourse, form, meaning + use, and review (combining form, meaning and use). Following a carefully structured discovery approach, students move from context-embedded language to inductive noticing tasks and finally to guided and free production. The contexts in 'grammar in discourse' expose the students to authentic but accessible language, drawing from a variety of sources (dialogues, advertisements, classified ads, journal entries, excerpts from academic texts and magazine articles, general interest magazine quizzes, etc.). Graphics and brief glossaries provide students with opportunities to work more independently to decode the texts. After exploiting the content (e.g. T/F, inference, comprehension questions), students examine the form of the target language by answering questions. They are then presented with grammar charts and key usage and form points. Once this common ground is established, the form is reinforced aurally, when the students listen to identify the target language in context (generally sentence level). A variety of exercises follow, including production (controlled and free), editing, pronunciation, speaking and writing). [-1-]

Key additional components of practice activities include references to relevant appendices and recently covered material (e.g. meaning and use notes) directly related to the task. Where applicable, vocabulary and pronunciation notes provide brief, but highly relevant guidance on related lexis or phonetic features. In addition, 'Beyond the Sentence' and 'Informally Speaking' sections inform the student of a wide variety of academic (e.g. logical connectors used in the simple past) and general (e.g. elision in spoken forms of Did + pronoun) features of English.

The two cassettes offer extensive input on pronunciation, as well as opportunities for aural reinforcement of all discourse contexts (even advertisements are read). Particularly useful is the input on pronunciation for common student errors (e.g. -ed, -es) and features of connected speech with suprasegmentals of everyday speech (e.g. elision with reduced forms of 'will').

In a progression similar to the Student Book, the Workbook, by Tay Lesley, takes the learner through more limited discovery activities and on to practice sections on form, meaning + use, combining form, meaning and use (combo of MCQs/matching (selected response)), editing and writing. Yet more material is available online at http://www.oup.com/elt/global/teachersclub/products/grammarsense/, where chapter and milestone tests are available (for diagnostic or achievement measurement). Both test types include input boxes for students, indicating how the grammar point might be tested on TOEFL.

As a beginner-level grammar book, Grammar Sense is ambitious in its goals--and succeeds overall in achieving them. The goal of providing discourse-based grammar input and practice that is also highly structured and carefully graded is its strongest feature. For inductive, discovery-style pedagogy to work well, students need to be engaged in the content and, through careful guidance, notice gaps in their interlanguage or become aware of novel or salient features of the language that they want to explore further. The contexts and tasks that begin each chapter achieve this. The topics (e.g. first year university experiences for foreign students, fashions in history, ghost towns, Europe's worst language learners) are neither offensive nor controversial, and tend to be engaging for teenage and adult learners. Additional variety is derived from the mixture of text types and genres (newspaper and magazine articles, academic texts, personal emails, advertisements). Further, although the textbook is aimed at the American ESL market (additional background input about American culture is provided in the Teacher's Book), it could be used in any secondary, tertiary or vocational college where English is a second or foreign language. [-2-]

The goal of providing clear structure without suppressing creativity is another strength that appeals to learners at the beginner and pre-intermediate level. Both false and true beginners benefit from highly structured input and practice, but they can occasionally be limited by the scope and may even reach their plateau in language development because of it. Grammar Sense 1 provides solid scaffolding, initially by focusing on form, including pronunciation pointers and caveats (e.g. not using negative adverbs of frequency in negative sentences). Each chapter builds on this knowledge base to focus on meaning and use. Plenty of controlled practice is provided (and can be supplemented with the Workbook) on form, meaning and use and students then progress to freer practice and extension activities. A particularly good example of this can be found in each 'Beyond the Classroom' activity, at the end of each chapter. Students are instructed to search for authentic examples of the target grammar point in a variety of real world contexts. In the chapter on possessives, for example, students must search for advice columns on the Internet, find examples of possessive and demonstrative forms, record them and explain them to a partner. In addition, there is a speaking task in which students bring in photos of family or friends, describe their relationship and ask questions about the people in their partners' photos. Examples of this interaction are provided.

One potentially weak feature is the level of language in the Student book and Workbook. Learners using these resources independently would likely struggle with the amount of meta-language and challenging terms and expressions in various explanations. For example, in the very first section for students (Before you begin), the verbs refer, express and replace are used to define parts of speech, and other terms and expressions such as 'states or conditions', phrases, stative and origin are well beyond the decoding abilities of beginner or even pre-intermediate learners in most cases. True, students need to learn certain grammatical terms and common meta-language to be able to progress and work independently, but this should be limited for lower proficiency students who need to build a strong base of highly frequent words and expressions before moving on. Similarly, the Introduction and Tour of a Chapter sections at the beginning of the course book are of use only to the teacher because of the level of the language. Indeed, the text itself is addressed to teachers. For instance, the description of the Beyond the Sentence section reads, "Beyond the Sentence sections show how structures function differently in extended discourse." Any beginner would be overwhelmed at the language itself as well as the dense noun phrases and complex syntax.

While the recordings provide aural reinforcement of all discourse contexts, the 'Pronunciation notes' sections, paradoxically, do not have recorded counterparts on the cassette. The 'Informally speaking' sections partially make up for this, as features of informal speech are highlighted and then practiced. Perhaps a greater mix of accents would enhance the recordings, as only North American native speaker accents are represented. Since characters from countries where English is not the first language play an important role in most of the discourse contexts, a mixture of accents of non-native speakers would also be of use. One speaker laments his strong accent and explains that he is so embarrassed that he does not participate in his class. Oddly, he does so in a native speaker accent. On the other hand, a strong argument can be made that beginners benefit from a great deal of exposure to the target language and aural exposure should be from native speakers where possible. [-3-]

The layout of both the Student book and Workbook is very clear and systematic, again providing valuable structure to the beginner student. There is no use of colour (aside from various shades of green), however the wide variety of visuals and careful use of white space make up for this. There is also a mix of 'busy' or crowded pages and pages which provide much more space for writing.

To the experienced ESL or EFL teacher, these potential weaknesses are largely non-issues and can be easily remedied with careful lesson planning. The more novice teachers are so well-supported by the suggestions and caveats in the Teacher's Book that few, if any, of the weaknesses could turn into even moderate obstacles to successful classroom exploitation of the Student book, Workbook and cassettes.

Karen E. Caldwell
United Arab Emirates University

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