[Richard R. Day, Joseph Shaules & Junko Yamanaka. Hong Kong: Pearson Longman Asia ELT, 2009. pp. 96. ¥2,867. ISBN: 978-962-01-9930-1.]
Impact Issuesis a series of three books, new and reworked from the previous Impact Topics, Impact Issues, and Impact Values. Each book comes with a self-study audio CD, and online resources include downloadable unit-by-unit lesson plans, unit tests, semester and final tests, author interview audio, bonus videos, and extra units (coming soon). The series is designed for beginning through to intermediate level students, and all three levels of the textbook contain 20 different topics which, depending on the teacher’s preferences and use of the book, could be used for one or two semesters. Each topic is explored across four pages, and has various different activities, including warm-up discussion questions, readingand listening passages, opinion-sharing exercises, in-depth discussion questions, debates, role-plays, and presentations. This review primarily focuses on the use of Impact Issues 2 with a university oral communication class.
According to the introduction, the learning philosophy of the series is student-centered, helping develop comprehension, critical thinking, self-expression, and motivation. Such an approach is intended to help students develop their autonomy, and as Benson (2001, p. 183) states “[a]utonomous learning is more effective than non-autonomous learning.” That is to say, students must learn to learn for themselves, not always rely on the teacher, if they are to maximize their education and be lifelong learners. The nature of the series itself certainly fulfills the promises of the introduction; students are expected to have the sense and maturity to discuss issues such as cyber-bullying and weight discrimination, and discuss them in an appropriate manner. Furthermore, the series is student-centered insofar as the aim of the book is clearly to give the students opportunities to use English. Explicit and prescriptive focus on language structures is largely absent from the book and, instead, students are presented with opportunities to actually use “language as meaning” (Willis & Willis, 2007, p. 6), through conversation, opinion-sharing, debate, and presentation. This is good for teachers who prefer a more task-based approach, with a focus on form being employed according to the teacher’s recognition of students’ errors and needs, whether pre-task, during-task, or post-task (Ellis, 2003).
Another strength of the books is that students actually care about the topics and want to say something about them. Students found the topics interesting and, perhaps more importantly, different from anything they had done before. Furthermore, as well as helping students to improve their English communication skills, the mature and thought-provoking nature of the topics means that the students learn to reflect on their own beliefs and feelings, and to think more critically.
I used Impact Issues 2 for thirty 90-minute classes, and I found that there was more than enough material for the semester. It is not strictly necessary to teach the units in order, and this provides considerable flexibility and potential for adapting and supplementing the units, and it also allows the teacher to select topics in which students expressly display an interest. The online unit-by-unit teacher’s guide does have suggested lesson plans and timings for each topic, and this would be useful for new teachers or teachers unsure of how best to approach this sort of oral communication class. Some preparation by the teacher, but not a prohibitive amount, undoubtedly improves the classes.
I would, however, dispute that Book 1 really is for beginner level students, as is claimed on the back cover. To really engage with the unit-opening texts, and to really benefit from being an active member of discussion pairs and groups, some reasonable foundation in English is required. Conversely, I see no reason why Book 3 should not be used with all levels from intermediate to advanced. Although the unit-opening texts and extension activities do increase slightly in language complexity from Books 1 to 3, and there is an increase in the number of role-play and debate activities, were the teacher willing to provide extra language support I do not see these as being beyond a student with intermediate language skills. Those with advanced proficiency may be able to engage the topics in a more in-depth manner, but this does not mean that the activities are beyond the abilities of lower-level speakers.
Impact Issueslooks professional, and clearly a tremendous amount of thought was put into the series. Importantly, the students stated that they found the book refreshing and motivating, and the text provided students with ample opportunities to improve their confidence and fluency in English. The book is ideally suited to university oral communication classes, but I see no reason why it could not be adapted to other university classes (such as debate and presentation courses), or even private language classes. I would strongly recommend this series for any teacher looking for a fresh, intelligent, motivating textbook that provides students opportunities to develop their fluency as well as think for themselves.
Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willis, D., & Willis, J. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.