[Chuck Sandy, Curtis Kelly & Neil J. Anderson. Boston: Heinle, Cengage Learning, 2009. pp. 128. ¥2,415. (incl.: CDs, workbook, teacher’s book). ISBN: 978-1-4130-2031-1.]
Active Skills for Communication Book 1is part of a three-book series with strong emphasis on speaking and listening. The textbook offers a variety of communication tools and conversation skills needed to increase fluency and build the confidence that some Japanese students lack. Activate Prior Knowledge, Cultivate Language, Think Critically, Increase Fluency, Verify Objectives, and Evaluate Progress (ACTIVE) is an approach developed by Neil Anderson, and is the guiding philosophy of the textbook. The series consists of 12 units with an extra activity for each unit, and there is a project after every three units. The book begins with a self-rated section of what your communication skills are like before and after using this book. This is followed by a short lesson on basic classroom language students may need in order to ask questions or maintain a basic conversation with their instructors or peers. The back of the book has an audio script for each unit and sentence-level explanation on pronunciation. Each unit uses an approach that combines engaging topics with a skills-based focus. Students discuss topics that are relevant and authentic to the lives of high school or university ESL or EFL students. They also practice various speaking activities, such as interviews and role-plays. There is a companion workbook that is a great supplementary resource for each unit.
The structure of the book is easy to follow, and the goal of each unit is clearly displayed at the beginning of each lesson. Students learn less cognitively demanding fluency skills at the early stage, such as exchanging information or asking follow-up questions, and progress to more demanding skills, such as refusing an offer and showing gratitude. In the last unit, students learn to encourage others to speak, a strategy which many Japanese students are unfamiliar with. Each unit starts with a warm-up activity, which enables students to freely engage in the topic. For example, Unit 7 starts with three pictures of people receiving gifts. There is no dialog, but students can easily guess what is happening. These pictures can activate students’ schemata, enabling them to bring information, knowledge, emotion, experience, and culture to each picture (Brown, 1994). The book then guides them through to the targeted skills or language, focusing not just on giving and receiving gifts, but on showing appreciation as well. The last activity is less controlled and more authentic, as it requires students to recycle all the skills and vocabulary they have learned in the unit. For those students who seek more challenges and practice, extra activities are available at the end of each unit (for example, crossword puzzles, gap-fill conversations, and/or communicative speaking activities).
One of the most valuable aspects of this textbook is its focus on creating and raising students’ motivation. This is significant, because motivation plays an essential role in promoting and sustaining rather monotonous second-language learning (Guilloteaux & Dörnyei, 2008). Topics serve students from a wide range of interests and backgrounds, such as music, fashion, personal goals, and shopping. Even though not all themes are interesting and relevant to some of the students’ lives at the moment, it is essential that students learn to take part in various conversations for the future (Jones, 2007). Exercises and tasks are student-centered and often require a combination of pair and group work. Most of the activities avoid passive learning and promote interactions among peers, instead of simply having students listen and write down information.
Although some students may find it challenging to freely engage in a conversation with their classmates, this book gradually prepares students to collaborate with others. For example, Unit 1 starts with sample dialogues on introductions. Then students have 5 minutes to meet their classmates, introduce themselves, and finally memorize their names. By the end of this unit, students are able to make a class album about their classmates with more detailed information, such as their hobbies and special talents. The projects that are included after every three units are great resources for both instructors and students to reflect upon previously learned knowledge in a fun and relaxed manner.
Even though Active Skills for Communication Book 1 tends to rely too much on learners’ willingness and eagerness to think creatively and interact with each other, it provides interesting topics that students can relate to, and fun activities that enhance cooperative learning. Students learn a variety of practical conversational strategies, practice them with engaging activities, and participate in numerous projects. This process enables students to become independent and active learners who enjoy using English to meaningfully interact with each other.
Brown, D. H. (1994). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
Guilloteaux, M. J., & Dörnyei, Z. (2008). Motivating language learners: A classroom-oriented investigation of the effects of motivational strategies on student motivation. TESOL Quarterly, 42(1), 55-77.
Jones, L. (2007). The student-centered classroom. New York: Cambridge University Press.