[Ken Wilson. New York, US: Oxford University Press, 2016. pp. iii + 137. ¥2,990. ISBN: 978-0-19-460264-8.]
Smart Choice 1 is part of a four-book series aimed at teaching American English to beginner level, young adult, and adult EFL students. It consists of 12 units (plus introductory and review units) in a topic-based, integrated 4-skills textbook. For students, a student book, workbook, student book-workbook split edition, and online learning components are available. For teachers, a teacher’s book, audio CD’s, interactive teaching-testing tools on USB, and an online learning management system are available.
The book’s 12 units contain the following eight sections, in order: Vocabulary, Conversation, Language Practice, Pronunciation, Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking (with only a slight variation in Unit 1). These eight unit sections culminate in a speaking activity the vast majority of the time. As I teach elementary-level, oral English classes to first year university students, this emphasis on oral communication fulfills my students’ needs and course requirements. To examine pedagogy and sequencing, I will outline Unit 3, Do you like spicy food?
Unit 3’s first section, Vocabulary, begins with a lexical set, transitions to a matching activity, and finishes with an oral communication task. Next, the Conversation section dialogue (with both audio and video texts) enables students to practice using the target lexis as well as introducing grammatical form (simple present) and conversational function (inviting). Then, a pair work personalization task involving local restaurants is introduced. The ensuing, inductive, Language Practice section—with yes/no questions using the simple present form—finishes with a controlled, fixed answer, pair work activity. After the Pronunciation section, the Listening section, employing main to specific stratagem with restaurant menu content, ends with an information gap titled Smart Talk that further consolidates the target linguistic form. Next, the Reading section provides an authentic, magazine-style text about eating out in San Francisco and Seoul. It concludes with a group work discussion activity, consolidating vocabulary and grammar previously learned. The Writing section personalizes material previously learned. Students, following a model, write a letter about their favorite restaurant and finish with a group discussion. Finally, the Speaking section, based on world foods, is a fluency activity. Every unit concludes with the new authentic Go Online activity. In this particular case, students search online for local ethnic restaurants and share information with the class.
The above description of Unit 3 suggests a weak version of the Communicative Language Teaching approach that “stresses the importance of providing learners with opportunities to use their English for communicative purposes” (Howatt, 1984, p. 279). This approach is effective. Students can acquire comprehensible input with minimal anxiety, thereby lowering their affective filter. Krashen’s “Affective Filter Hypothesis states that acquirers with a low affective filter seek and receive more input, interact with confidence, and are more receptive to the input they receive” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001, p. 183). In the classes where I used this textbook, I have indeed observed the students enthusiastically and with minimal stress, partake in the book’s communicative tasks.
Smart Choice Online Practice has been further enhanced in this edition. This computer-based, self-study, online learning program contains course correlated grammar, listening, video, and speaking activities. It has an improved interface and two new features, a discussion board, and Go Online. Both of these features encourage autonomous learning outside the classroom. I use this online program for homework and to efficiently monitor students’ achievement and seat time. Interactive tests and downloadable tests are available for teacher use as well.
A new smart phone or tablet learning component, On The Move, furthers autonomous learning. It supports textbook units with vocabulary, grammar, listening, speaking, video, and challenge sections with the option of downloading or streaming all course video and audio. While it does have several memory and matching activities, I had hoped for more innovative learning through gaming opportunities. I had also hoped CD track numbers would be in student books (as in the 2nd edition). Unfortunately, they are not.
Regarding authenticity, the book has believable, level appropriate texts. The visuals and content are noticeably more up to date—Leonardo DiCaprio out, Emma Stone in. Note that there is a paucity of Japanese cultural content. However, by adding such content into pair, group, and class activities, I did not find this problematic. In addition, with iTools (on USB), the teacher can insert local images in presentation material and customizable worksheets, providing visual scaffolding to both personalize subject matter and make it more easily understandable.
In conclusion, for those wishing to use the four skills to develop and stimulate oral communication in a fun, low anxiety environment, Smart Choice 1, is, excuse the pun, a smart choice.
- Howatt, A. P. R. (1984). A history of English language teaching. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Richards, J. & Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.