[Milada Broukal. Boston: Heinlein, 2010. (Included: Audio CD) pp. viii+190. ¥3,610. ISBN: 978-1-4240-5603-3.]
Weaving it Together 1 is part of a four-book series which aims to improve both students’ second language writing and reading abilities through a combination of individual and co-operative learning exercises. At the heart of the textbook lies the central premise that: “. . . reading and writing are interwoven and inextricable skills” (p. 4). This text is suitable for lower intermediate ESL or EFL students in a high school, college, or university.
The pedagogical approach at the core of the text, where explicit writing practice is coupled with extensive reading, is reflective of current first and second language literacy research (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2013). The textbook is clearly structured, engaging, and systematic in its reading to writing approach. All four books in the series consist of eight thematic units, each of which is separated into two chapters. The chapters share the same theme, for example Unit 5 Food has chapters titled, For the Love of Chocolate and Coffee: The World’s Most Popular Drink. Each chapter contains eight activities presented in the same order and to be completed in generally the same way. The majority of the lesson focus is split somewhat evenly between reading and writing activities, with speaking activities taking a limited role.
Students begin each chapter working with a piece of text after a brief pre-reading activity which generally involves an introduction to the topic and some group discussion. The passages presented are approximately 300 words in length, and whilst graded compared to native materials, were challenging for my lower intermediate classes. Each passage contains a grammatical structure which later forms the focus of the writing section. In the reading stage students can see how the structure functions rhetorically and linguistically. This reading to writing approach takes advantage of the complimentary nature of the two skills, allowing students to draw on what they learn here as readers when they transition to being writers.
Following the text, students begin the transition from reading to writing by working through vocabulary building exercises. These activities help give a clearer understanding of the text and topic. They varied across chapters helping to maintain student interest. Some students commented that owing to the exercises they could more easily draw upon the new words in the later writing activities. This made them feel like they had achieved tangible progress. Following the vocabulary exercises, there are reading comprehension questions which encourage responses written in full sentences. I found this step invaluable as it gave students much needed writing practice at the sentence level. Following the writing sections two sets of questions are given to allow students a chance to discuss the topic in more detail in groups. These questions generated lively discussion and some students’ writing contained ideas that they developed in the discussion. The last half of each chapter is devoted to writing.
The writing section of each chapter starts with a concise description of a grammar point, such as the comparative forms of adjectives. The explanation is quite clear, however, if your students are unfamiliar with grammatical terms in English, the explanation does require an investment of class time. After the explanation there are exercises which focus on practicing the grammar point, generally giving learners many opportunities to write full sentences. Both the functions and the forms of the grammar points are familiar to the student from their inclusion in the reading passage. Their explicit practice allows for meaningful writing activities to be undertaken confidently. After the grammar practice activities, students are prompted to write freely. In the earlier chapters at the sentences level, progressing to paragraphs in the later units.
There are almost no drawbacks to the text, other than two slightly problematic areas. The level of difficulty of the introductory text and discussion questions was a concern. My students, Japanese 1st year university students who are not English majors, were often unable to answer the critical thinking questions satisfactorily, though all other activities presented no problems. Seeing as the text is not aimed at improving oral ability this is a minor obstacle, but it did interrupt lesson flow. The second issue relates to the purposeful layout of the text. Writing skills learned in earlier chapters are applied and improved upon in later ones as the text progresses. Studying units out of order or omitting any chapters would increase the difficulty of writing activities in later chapters.
Instructors looking for an engaging text which allows students to improve through each unit, without feeling overwhelmed, would be pleased with this choice. All exercises and activities have been well thought out, leading to an easy to use and accessible text for both instructor and student.
Ferris, D. R., & Hedgcock, J. (2013). Teaching L2 composition: Purpose, process, and practice (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.