[Nancy Douglas & David Bohlke. Boston: MA, 2015. pp. x + 176. ¥2,770. ISBN: 978-1-305-25452-7.]
Reading Explorer 1 is the second in a six-level textbook series for use in content-based language teaching. It is a resource for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) learners to develop literacy skills, vocabulary knowledge, and global awareness. The textbook’s topic-based structure provides the learner with a means of studying English, while at the same time exploring stories about natural, social, and historical phenomena.
Each of Reading Explorer 1’s twelve units contain two lessons. Textual content is presented in reading passages and comprehension sections. Unit themes and target vocabulary form the basis for assessment in cloze passages, multiple-choice questions, true-or-false statements, as well as exercises involving gap-fill, information classification, and term matching. Many of the comprehension exercises include notes indicating the kind of information being assessed or details about word usage. This provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the textbook’s pedagogical aims, possibly encouraging greater learner autonomy.
The textbook presents pictorial content in the form of photographic images adapted from National Geographic magazine, and through video. Videos are accessible through the textbook’s supplementary DVD, or online at MyELT (myelt.heinle.com), National Geographic images help the learner contextualize reading passages, while videos offer real-world examples of unit themes.
One of the biggest changes between the textbook’s first and second edition is the inclusion of online content. After creating an account and logging in to MyELT, learners are given access to audio files of the textbook’s reading passages, as well as a variety of self-study activities. Native English speakers are featured on the audio files. Self-study activities allow learners autonomous means of practicing the textbook’s target vocabulary, as well as a drag-and-drop format for inputting answers. MyELT also saves information regarding the date and total amount of time users spend on the website. It also tracks the percentage of correct answers and the number of times users attempt exercises.
I used Reading Explorer 1 in combination with another textbook to teach high school lower-level EFL learners. We met twice a week for fifty-minute periods in a classroom without Internet access. Since many of my students also did not have a personal computer at home, we used the supplemental DVD in lieu of online content.
Most of my learners enjoyed Reading Explorer 1’s topics and reading passages, and found its comprehension exercises challenging. The variation in the format of comprehension exercises throughout the textbook helped keep my learners engaged. On the other hand, they did not enjoy the broader reading skills it presented. In particular, they did not see the value in learning how to read a passage for its gist, make inferences, or skim.
Overall, I would recommend using Reading Explorer 1 for content-based instruction. Each textbook in the series is labeled according to its level in the Common European Framework for Language Learning (Council of Europe, 2001). This makes it easy to choose an appropriate textbook for a given group of learners. In addition, the textbook’s reading passages are substantial enough to be challenging, but brief enough to hold the reader’s attention. Target vocabulary within passages appears in red, helping it stand out from the rest of the text. Furthermore, units titled Amazing Animals, Travel and Adventure, and The Power of Music, accord well with the interests of many teenage and young adult learners. The textbook is also visually appealing enough that one could imagine the reader keeping it well beyond its intended period of use.
Reading Explorer 1 is also a good tool for eliciting readers’ schema (Nunan, 1999, p. 133), or background knowledge. Liu (2015) found that activating learners’ schema prior to reading significantly improves their comprehension (p. 1353). Reading Explorer’s generative material activates readers’ schema in three ways. First, the provocative full-page photo at the beginning of each unit stimulates related images in the reader’s mind. Second, the consciousness-raising questions and pre-reading tasks help the reader draw connections between unit topics and their own life experience. Third, critical-thinking exercises encourage the reader to formulate and express opinions related to unit themes.
One disadvantage of using Reading Explorer 1 is that it does not have a bilingual glossary. Also, unlike its predecessor, the second edition does not include a headwords list or review sections. Moreover, for students to access online content, they have to be able to create an account, as well as learn how to use the website. Lastly, while the second edition of the textbook claims to have updated material, this author found much of that update incremental. With the shift to online content, Reading Explorer 1’s Second Edition moves in a more utilitarian direction.
Council of Europe (2001). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Retrieved from coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/Source/Framework_EN.pdf
Liu, Y. (2015). An empirical study of schema theory and its role in reading comprehension. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 6(6), 1349-1356.
Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching & learning. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.