[Rebecca Moeller. Tokyo: CENGAGE Learning, 2013. pp. 112. ¥2,520 (including DVD). ISBN: 978-1-285-19751-7.]
World in Focus is a video course book aimed at high-beginner to intermediate students with a suggested TOEIC score of 380-700. The book draws content from National Geographic, with each of the 15 units focusing on a topic related to culture, science, or the natural world. The book’s stated aim is to prepare learners to join the global community. The book is ideal for university students who are interested in learning about general interest topics through English.
Each six-page unit has been designed for supporting students to understand the content and accomplish the communication tasks. The first two pages of every unit present introductory and vocabulary questions to help students grasp the topic and linguistic content. Students also accomplish a task while watching the video, such as sequencing events, which helps scaffold the viewing experience (Ellis, 2003). The third page presents a reading passage that mirrors the video content. The fourth and fifth pages offer comprehension and listening skills practice for use with the video. Each unit concludes with a section on grammar and a communication task.
Although the book does not directly discuss pedagogy, the publisher describes World in Focus as offering a multidisciplinary approach to language learning. Upon closer inspection, the book is structured as a notional functional syllabus with what Littlewood (2004) describes as structured communication tasks. For example, Unit 14 concludes with an explanation of superlative adjectives, form-focused exercises, and a task where students select which parts of the Hajj that they would most like to watch and why.
The videos and readings are the main focus of each unit. The videos last an average of three to four minutes, which I found was long enough to present the topic while maintaining students’ interest. One helpful feature of the DVD is the option to show English subtitles during playback. Subtitles in other languages are not included. As Ellis (2003) points out, modifying the input can affect the difficulty of a task. In this way, it is possible to use subtitles to modify the difficulty of video-related tasks. The DVD also includes audio for the reading passages and video segments for comprehension and listening-skills questions. The only criticism I have of the DVD is that the content can appear dated at times due to people’s fashion and the lack of widescreen playback.
As far as support materials are concerned, the teacher’s manual only consists of answer keys to the textbook questions and Japanese translations of the reading passages. Teaching suggestions and additional activities are not included. There is also no teacher’s version of the textbook or DVD, though I did not find this to be problematic. I was pleased that the DVD is included with every student book so students have full access to all of the videos.
I used World in Focus with a second year class of 12 students majoring in either International Tourism or Social Work. Based on my observations, the videos, topics, and layout of the book appealed to students. It was easy to connect the content with students’ main area of study. For example, I modified a communication task that called for students to list the advantages and disadvantages of living in Venice so that students considered the problem from the perspective of tourists, seniors, or people with disabilities.
There are a lot of practice activities for working through the content, averaging around 55 questions per unit. At times, I opted to have students complete schematic diagrams instead of some of the textbook questions. As Anderson (2003) states, “Concept maps and unstructured drawings enable teachers to gain a deeper understanding of their students’ understanding” (p. 76). I found that schematic diagrams were effective both as a change of pace and as a way for students to demonstrate a holistic understanding of the content. Though most university students will have covered the main grammar points before, in some cases the grammar sections were helpful. At other times, I found it more helpful to focus students’ attention on discourse and genre conventions of the texts.
Overall, World in Focus is highly recommended as a source of interesting content that is easy to use and adapt according to one’s teaching situation. Ample support is provided in the form of vocabulary and comprehension questions, high quality photos, and grammar practice. The readings and videos complement each other and provide a meaningful context for communication in the classroom.
Anderson, L.W. (2003). Classroom assessment. New York: Routledge.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Littlewood, W. (2004). The task-based approach: Some questions and suggestions. ELT Journal, 58(4), 319–326.