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Positively English! Developing Speaking Fluency

Writer(s): 
Branden Kirchmeyer, Sojo University
Publisher: 
Carpe Diem Learning Solutions

[Diem, Robert. Location: Carpe Diem Learning Solutions, 2013. (Media files available online) pp. 99. ¥2,160. ISBN: 9784905299486.]

Positively English is a speaking-focused course book aimed at young-adult learners at the false-beginner and low-intermediate levels. The text is organized into twelve topic-oriented lessons, each of which follows a sequence based on Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS) (Rowan, 2014). A companion website also includes a teacher manual, graphic organizers, and several resources for students. Stated in boldface on the first page in a letter to students, the aim of this text is to help students become more confident and fluent in English. 

The text opens with three ice breaking activities. Straightforward and simple, these can be re-used with different student pairings in the early weeks of a course. Similarly, the text concludes with three pages of scaffolding materials aimed at helping students practice follow-up questions, new vocabulary, colloquial phrases, and classroom language.

While the topics covered in the text are familiar to this type of conversation course book (Meeting People, Family, Hobbies, My Schedule, etc.), the pedagogical foundation of the lesson structure sets it apart from the others. A relatively new and underrepresented method of language teaching, TPRS prioritizes repetition of comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985) and structured, student-focused content to facilitate language development (Ray, 2013). The connection to TPRS is clearly visible in the highly structured format of the lessons, which also follow an established process of raising awareness and facilitating appropriation and autonomy (Thornbury, 2005). 

During the warm up, students are asked to read roughly twenty statements (sometimes one of their own crafting) and decide whether or not they are true for the student (e.g., I’ve never eaten snake). Then students listen to very brief conversations before practicing a similar conversation with a partner in which much of the warm-up content is recycled. After an optional presentation of personal information, the lesson moves into the main activity wherein students read short stories to each other line by line. Finally, students are prompted to select a research question and conduct a class survey (e.g., Have you ever seen a ghost?), with the intention of presenting the results to the class. Various extensions are also included at the end of the lesson, and serve to provide confidence-building experiences with using the targeted language features. 

For the current review, this book was trialled in several non-major communicative English classes with first and second year university students. As these classes had prior curriculum requirements, the trialling did not involve every lesson, nor were the lessons always followed in the prescribed manner, it was discovered that the individual activities in this book can be selected and adapted to suit such teaching situations. Most students found the difficulty level to be a good fit for speaking practice, and I was genuinely impressed with the lesson’s ability to retain student attention and engagement. These students seemed to appreciate the lesson structure, as it provided a high degree of scaffolding to get through to the final survey activity. Surveys of student attitudes towards the book were overwhelmingly positive, with specific praise given to the yasashi structure and student-focused content.

As a teacher, I also found this course book to be a positive addition to my resource collection. The lessons, which are self-sufficient and can be used as-is in a pinch, are flexible enough to be adapted to existing curricula, and model a reliable and effective method of teaching false-beginners with little ability or confidence in using English. Also of note is the teacher’s manual, found on the companion website. Everything is clearly laid out, even sample teaching styles and techniques, suggestions for classroom seating and assessments. Especially for teachers starting out in their careers, this packet of information should be very useful. Unfortunately, not much else can be said of the companion website. Links for extra practice point to privately-run websites that often are not at an appropriate level. Extension videos present awkward though clear recordings, and while comprehension quizzes provide immediate feedback to responses, pop-up blockers will block this feedback if enabled. Most frustrating of all, links to language practice games simply do not work in any browser. Certainly, the book functions well enough on its own, and it is the opinion of this reviewer that the website should all but be disregarded.

Overall, Positively English is a great speaking development resource for false-beginners and low-intermediate students. Structured and straightforward, students will find it easy to use as a scaffold for conducting extended conversations, and teachers will appreciate the blend of consistency and flexibility it offers as a course book or as a supplementary resource. 

References

Krashen, S. (1985). The Input Hypothesis: Issues and implications. New York, US: Longman. 

Ray, B. (2013). New developments in the evolution of TPRS. The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 8(2), 41–42.

Rowan, K. (2014). What is TPRS? Retrieved from http://tprstories.com/what-is-tprs

Thornbury, S. (2005). How to teach speaking. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

 
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