June 1997 — Volume 2, Number 4
Ecology and the Environment: A Look at Ecosystems of the World
Amy L. Tickle (1995)
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xviii + 183
ISBN 0-472-08299-X (paper)
ISBN 0-472-08326-0 (paper)
This textbook, one of a series of content-based instruction (CBI) textbooks in second language, is directed at high intermediate ESL students. Like all CBI materials, Ecology and the Environment aims to help students improve their language competency while learning a particular subject matter, in this case, what ecology is and how a number of the world’s ecosystems function. With the continued growing interest in environmental issues (in both second language teaching and in the “new” field of “ecocriticism” in literary studies), the urgency of the problems facing the planet, and the need for general scientific literacy, this book responds to a pressing need in the second language classroom.
The two opening chapters set up the framework for the scientific material in the rest of the book. The first, “An Introduction to Ecology and the Environment”, defines the various terms which will be necessary to understand what is presented later in the book. Students learn to understand the parts of a biosphere, to define ecology and an ecosystem, list a number of the earth’s ecosystems and enumerate their basic characteristics, and begin to understand some current environmental problems and their causes. The second chapter, “The Structure of an Ecosystem,” goes into considerable detail to describe various factors and interrelationships within an ecosystem in general. Basic scientific information concerning chemistry, physics and experimentation is included as it pertains to an ecosystem. Each of the remaining five chapters elaborates upon the particular characteristics of one of the earth’s ecosystems: forest, ocean, tundra, grassland, and desert. The appendices contain a listing of measurement units (both American and metric), a glossary of terms relevant to the subject, and a directory of American and Canadian environmental organizations. [-1-]
Each chapter opens with an activity that draws students into the particular ecosystem to be described: vocabulary practice, identifying animals and plants, or true and false statements, for example. A section titled “A Look Behind/A Look Ahead” is useful in that it reviews what the students have already learned and outlines the goals of the chapter. Students are invited as well to assess their achievement in reaching a number of listed objectives. Vocabulary development proceeds in different ways in the various chapters: by identification, pronunciation, morphology, and definition, to name a few. Each chapter then outlines, using graphs, charts, drawings and/or readings, the various types of information needed to understand each ecosystem. The chapters close with a series of activities based on an environmental application. For example, chapter 3, “The Forest Ecosystem,” asks students to do various tasks based on the topic of deforestation. They brainstorm, develop ideas by cause or effect, define vocabulary, and read articles on the topic. References for further reading and study are also included.
The challenge to the ESL teacher in using a content-based approach is that not all teachers will have a background in the subject matter to be taught. This is where the teacher’s manual comes in. Although the textbook itself is quite clear in its explanations of the science necessary to understand the subject, Tickle cautions that the teacher may be required to “research and familiarize [yourself] more thoroughly with the material” (p.3). However, the teacher need not despair, for as we are all aware, popular magazines, newspapers and television programs abound with information and discussion of the current environmental situation. The teacher’s manual is useful in that it mirrors the student’s textbook as well as providing answer keys, listening texts, scripts, and handouts where appropriate.
Using the environment as a subject for reading, writing and discussion in language classrooms is not new, and students are often tired of dealing with issues such as pollution and global warming. However, this textbook is a welcome addition to the field, in that it approaches the subject by outlining and describing the scientific background which one needs in order to truly gain an understanding of the crisis we are now facing. In addition to the valuable scientific literacy that it provides, Ecology and the Environment also helps students improve in a number of language skills through its various activities and tasks. This text would be useful for science students whose first language is not English, as well as any others who take an interest in this subject. In a class containing [-2-] students from various disciplines, the teacher could always supplement the text with a number of less scientific readings and activities, such as poems and articles about nature (of which there are literally thousands), short films or videos, or even discussions of current popular films with environmental themes.
I recommend this text, as it promises to respond to two important goals: it will help students improve their language competency and introduce them to this crucial and fascinating topic.
Universite de Montreal
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