[Louis Roger & Jennifer Wilkin. London, UK: Macmillan, 2013. pp. 110. ¥3,024. ISBN: 978-0-230-43194-2.]
Part of the Macmillan Academic Skills series, Skillful Reading & Writing 2 is an intermediate level English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course book which divides reading and writing skills equally over ten units. Each unit is thematically based, with topics reflective of university and college majors, such as technology, psychology, business studies, and sociology. Units are divided into two sections: reading with vocabulary, writing and grammar skills, and critical thinking development. Additionally, Skillful Reading & Writing 2 offers users an online digital resource containing: Digibook (a virtual copy of the textbook with embedded audio), Skillful Practice (additional exercises for self-study), and video resources.
English for Academic Purposes courses require materials that prepare non-native language speakers with the skills and strategies to become successful language users and academics. Academic compositions require students to synthesize, summarize, paraphrase and cite sources based on research; therefore, materials which stimulate interest and discussion, and offer alternative approaches to language learning, may be more beneficial (Hyland, 2013). Skillful Reading & Writing 2 offers numerous reading and writing strategies for learners. Reading is a large component of academic study. According to Grabe and Stoller (2013), learners should be aware of reading strategies, and aim to become “strategic readers” (p. 146). Reading strategically involves learning and applying a strategy, and exposure to models of the strategy in use. From the first unit of Skillful Reading & Writing 2, students utilize strategies such as underlining parts of speech in a text or highlighting verbs. However, some problems are present. In Unit 2, the concept of mind mapping is introduced to students as a gap fill exercise with two practice mind maps provided. Despite this, the writing task at the end of the unit erases all mention of mind mapping, and instead, asks students to brainstorm ideas for writing in a chart format. In addition, passive voice is introduced early in Unit 3, yet many linguists agree this tone is very challenging for language learners and should be one of the last skills presented (Parrot, 2010).
Academic writing materials should stimulate students to write and produce work of high quality. Tomlinson (2013) stresses the need for EAP materials to be “humanizing” (p. 141), a concept which invites learners to tap into the psyche of emotions as a means of learning. Continuing, Tomlinson (2013) notes materials which offer “problem solving [or] problem posing questions” (p. 143) may aid in the assistance of promoting higher-order thinking skills. Humanistic language can be found repeatedly in this course book. One example seen in Unit 7 asks readers to “Look at the picture. How does it make you feel?” (p. 67). The same unit poses a critical thinking task in which students are to form groups and debate whether fears are a cause for worry. Discussions with others may stimulate students to write viewpoints which may be more balanced. Furthermore, the personal pronoun “you” is used repeatedly throughout when explaining functions, language structures and strategies, drawing students into seemingly personalized course materials. An example on page 28 exemplifies this point: “When you read a factual article, look for definitions of topic-specific vocabulary you are not familiar with.” The humanizing language interspersed throughout this textbook is one of its strongest assets.
Skillful Reading and Writing 2 also incorporates a variety of approaches to building vocabulary which includes: introducing academic keywords inside colorful boxes; including word families based on a general theme (e.g., types of food); matching exercises featuring previews of new words; and tasks which call upon students to actively process and play with the language itself (e.g., change verbs into nouns). Such variation is likely to stimulate students to explore lexical items in new and creative ways.
The plethora of vocabulary, reading and writing strategies in Skillful Reading & Writing 2 appealed greatly to students. Pupils noted the guided answers to critical thinking questions were especially helpful, such as those seen in Unit 3 when discussing amateur space exploration: “I think ...’s discovery was very important because…” (p. 29). Guided practice is noted in most discussion-based tasks, and surprisingly, students often later utilized these verbalized phrases in their writing. In addition, the textbook allows for practice in short, manageable exercises. Each unit’s grammar, reading, writing or vocabulary task contains a maximum of four exercises each, which many students cited as ideal for homework without being burdensome.
Skillful Reading & Writing 2 is suitable for intermediate EAP reading and writing programs. The plethora of pedagogical approaches for acquiring vocabulary, building fluency and stimulating writing will certainly interest those teachers who appreciate humanistic and alternative learning methods.
- Grabe, W., & Stoller, F. L. (2013). Teaching and researching reading (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Hyland, K. (2013). Materials for developing writing skills. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Developing materials for language teaching (2nd ed.) (pp.391-404). (Kindle Edition). Retrieved from amazon.co.uk.
- Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English language teachers (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Tomlinson, B. (2013). Humanizing the course book. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Developing material for language teaching (pp. 139-156). (Kindle Edition). Retrieved from amazon.co.uk.