September 1998 — Volume 3, Number 3
Discovering American Culture
Cheryl L. Delk (1997)
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xvi + 131
ISBN 0-472-08359-7 (paper)
US $15.95; UK £12.95
Teacher’s Manual, ISBN 0-472-08378-3; US $14.95, UK Ј11.95
Cassette, ISBN 0-472-00258-9; US $15.00
Discovering American Culture is one of several texts in the Alliance Series, the University of Michigan Press series of theme-based content instruction for ESL/EFL courses.  This series is based on three commonly accepted premises for the adoption of content-based second language instruction: that interesting and relevant material improves motivation and promotes effective language learning; that teaching should build on previous learner experiences in both content and language; and finally that students can gain knowledge not just in language, but also in content awareness and cognitive development. Each text, which is designed for a specific proficiency level in postsecondary institutions, is devoted to one theme and utilizes authentic materials whenever possible. The content material is supplemented with activities that aid students’ comprehension, and language is addressed in an inductive format to encourage students to assume an active role in the decoding and use of language.
Geared to the intermediate-level ESL learner, Discovering American Culture aims to introduce the dominant values, beliefs, and traditions of American life through a variety of reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities. The text covers six main topics in American culture: the meaning of culture, communication, consumerism, the educational system, the workplace, and family life. Each of these main themes is further subdivided for in-depth treatments of specific issues, each chapter ending with a values application activity. While the author recommends using the text sequentially, it is also possible to vary the order of the chapters after the first introductory chapter which forms the basis for the remainder of the text.
The language activities vary in each chapter and offer a full range of integrated skills from notetaking to reading graphs. In the chapter entitled “Earning a Living: The American Workplace,” the following language practice activities are included: a fill-in-the-blank vocabulary chart, a text scanning activity, writing an outline, a categorizing chart, a word unscrambling exercise, a word stress completion chart, a brainstorming activity, true/false questions about a reading, a synonym exercise, graph interpretations, graph creation, a newspaper scanning activity, a word association chart, text previewing, definition matching, [-1-] distinguishing fact from opinion, group discussion, and a values clarification exercise. This large number of varied exercises in a 20-page chapter ensures that students are learning both content and language through active participation and engagement in the topic.
Accompanying the text is an audiotape which provides short listening activities for most chapters. These activities include identifying degrees of formality in farewells, recognizing topics in “small talk” conversations, taking notes of a lecture on enrollment in American schools, and listening to an interview about different work and family roles. While the recordings are clear and comprehensible for intermediate level students, they tend to sound “staged.” For example, the lectures are evidently being read aloud rather than taped live, and some of the voices which are supposed to belong to students are clearly those of older adults. Nevertheless, the audiotape is a helpful addition to the text and could well have included more material than the mere 20 minutes’ worth that is presented.
A Teacher’s Manual is also available which, according to the author, provides extra detail for teachers new to content-based language teaching. It includes an answer key, listening scripts, student handout masters, and suggestions for follow-up activities. However, some chapters have no student handout masters nor additional activities listed, and they are minimal even in the chapters which do include them. A more well-developed Teacher’s Manual would certainly be more helpful in order to adequately address the needs of teachers new to content-based language teaching. In fact, the topics included in the text are not difficult for most American teachers, and the text is easily supplemented by readily available materials in a variety of media. However, some examples of supplemental activities in each chapter would be worthwhile for inexperienced teachers.
Overall, Discovering American Culture is an informative and interesting text for use in content-based ESL courses. It covers a great deal of information in both content and culture in its relatively brief format. While too short without heavy supplementation for a semester-long course, it is ideal for an 8- or 10-week course or for special short-term programs in which American culture is a curriculum component. Although this text is by no means exhaustive on the many topics that could be included in an American culture course, it provides a good starting point for intermediate-level (and possibly low-advanced) ESL students to begin to understand the people among whom they are living.
 Reviews of two other books in this series were published in TESL-EJ 2(4): [-2-]
Varieties of English (Gass & Lefkowitz, 1995): http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej08/r2.html.
Ecology and the Environment (Tickle, 1996): http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej08/r5.html.
West Virginia University
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor’s Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation.