New English File (beginner)A solid methodological syllabus with clear objectives, interesting subject matter, and genuine opportunities for practice and engagement
There has been a great deal of recent discussion about the value of textbooks. On various blogs and discussion forums, educators have been debating the merits of textbooks (Oxford’s New English File range being one), and their role in the classroom. The overriding view among a number of experienced educators is that an over-reliance on these books is indicative of a lack of imagination, effort or ability on the part of the teacher and it is his or her duty to create lessons that are more closely tailored to the needs of the students. It is felt that a dependence on a textbook does more than just provide a teacher with a framework, rather it provides him or her with a straitjacket. I’d like to suggest an alternative to that viewpoint. I believe that the best course books (and in my opinion, the New English File series is one of the best available) can allow inexperienced and untrained teachers a valuable support system which can lead to successful teaching.
The latest in the New English File series is aimed at beginner level students, but it doesn’t radically alter its formula as used in the previously published levels. It is divided into seven chapters, each containing three units. Each unit concentrates on a grammar point, a small set of vocabulary and an area of pronunciation. It follows an integrated skills approach, so each chapter can begin with a reading or listening text, a speaking activity, or any combination of these. As a result, the book is unlikely to become repetitive, for both students and the teacher. Furthermore, maintaining student interest is aided by the addition of a range of separate communicative activities, grammar exercises, songs and a vocabulary bank, which the teacher can use to support the learning of the students and offer them some variety and opportunities for self-study.
At the end of each chapter there is a Practical English unit, which highlights a particularly useful area of vocabulary (personal information, “What time is it?”, “How much is it?”, etc) and gives the students an opportunity to practice. This is followed by a Revise and Check unit, which gives students the chance to go back over the previous chapter and test themselves.
One change from the Intermediate level books is the expansion of the Practical English pages, and the dispensation of the character-based, almost soap opera-like story used as the basis for the unit. A wise choice, I think, as it frees up the authors to present a wider range of topics. However, the decision to minimise the writing activities (one page of activities has been reduced to one smaller activity in the Revise and Check pages) is regrettable and underestimates the usefulness of practical written activities, even at lower levels of proficiency, in an integrated skills course book.
The main strength of this book, and indeed of the whole of the New English File range, is its clear and focused activities, the purposes of which are evident to both student and teacher. For teachers who are yet to develop the skills to generate their own materials or the ability to predict their students’ requirements, textbooks such as this one provide them with a solid methodological syllabus with clear objectives, interesting subject matter, and genuine opportunities for practice and engagement. As this represents a considerable proportion of the teachers currently working (a number that is almost certain to increase in forthcoming years), the value of texts books such as the ones in the New English File series should not be underestimated.
March 2010 | Filed under Level A
James Taylor has taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea, Belgium and Costa Rica. He is the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. He can also be found moderating #ELTchat, a twice-weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, and blogging. His website is theteacherjames.com.
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