[Angela Buckingham & Philip Hawke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, 2006. each pp. 80. ￥2,000. ISBN-13: 9780194575140;ISBN-13:9780194718004.]
Following on the heels of their very popular Passport series, Oxford University Press has published My First Passport 1 and My First Passport 2 aimed at junior and senior high school oral communication classes. This series focuses on homestays and school trips abroad for teenagers. The textbooks focus on international communication and language that students may encounter while traveling aboard or meeting foreigners who are traveling within Japan. Characters are the same age as the target users, illustrations are colourful and appealing, and topics and vocabulary are age appropriate. The series covers three skills (reading, listening, speaking) but teachers can easily add in a writing component if needed. Both textbooks are accompanied by a teacher’s book, student workbook, and a CD, all sold separately. There is also a free Passport website for students to use either independently or during class, offering support in both Japanese and English for tests and activities.
My First Passport textbooks follow the standard Passport format. First is a warm-up listening activity, complete with a word list, followed by a key phrase section. This is followed by another listening activity with a short fill-in-the-blanks section that offers pair-work opportunities. Each of the 15 units is closed with an independent thinking activity where students demonstrate what they have learned.
Each unit clearly outlines the communication skills, grammar points, and vocabulary needed to successfully complete tasks listed in the table of contents. However, units do not provide nearly enough support activities to prepare students to complete the tasks. Teachers may find that they need to make extra materials and handouts in order to ensure that students complete the tasks and obtain the communication skills needed to do the final task. With fifteen units in total, four review lessons, and a final game, it may be difficult to incorporate support activities for students and still finish the textbook in one school year.
The teacher’s book includes lesson plans, activity suggestions, photocopiable activities, audio scripts, answer keys and tests (after every third unit). The tests are valid, well written, and fairly assess the students’ abilities and skill levels. However, some of the lesson plans in the teacher’s book are difficult to implement due to time constraints and lack of support materials. Varying activities for different skill levels would be a big improvement and would make the series more user-friendly.
The workbook, on the other hand, is wonderful! It includes many great activities and games and constantly recycles grammar and vocabulary in varied activities and tasks that students often find engaging and challenging.
I found that the My First Passport series works very well for small, highly motivated, high level classes only. They enjoyed being pushed by the new vocabulary and challenging listening tasks. However, many lower-level students or non-motivated students “shut down” during the first listening task and complained that the listening was too fast and too long. This hindered the rest of the lesson, as activities become progressively more difficult. If students have problems with the foundation listening tasks, they will struggle with the remaining tasks and be unable to complete the unit to a satisfactory level. Some of my students also complained that the accents on the CD were difficult to understand as various native and non-native English speakers are used (Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia) as opposed to just American or British accents. Of course, teachers are more likely to regard variety in accents as an asset.
The vocabulary level and the speed and length of listening activities were sometimes overwhelming for students and much classroom time was spent replaying conversations numerous times. Assigning pre-study of the vocabulary lists and My Story readings for each unit helped combat this problem but, as students did not have a copy of the CD or audio scripts, some listening activities were too time-consuming and some units either had to be abandoned or carried over to the next class. Recycling of vocabulary and grammar is minimal and students often forgot things they had learned in previous lessons. Vocabulary and sentence patterns were quickly forgotten as they did not appear again or not until much later in the textbook. It is vital for students to continuously meet and repeat new vocabulary (Waring, 2000) in order to remember it and be able to use it appropriately. In the end, aims and goals were not always achieved, vocabulary and grammar points were not always acquired, and the students did not have the preparation and support needed to perform the final task of the unit.
Overall, the workbook and the teacher’s book are the main components of the series. Without them, My First Passport would be a lot less substantial. If teachers enjoy making extra materials, can go at their own pace, and do not have to finish the book in one school year, this book is highly recommended. However, if you teach at a high school that does not allow such leeway, or has lower-level or less-motivated students, teacher and students alike may struggle to get as much completed as they would like to.
Waring, R. (2000). The ‘why’ and ‘wow’ of using graded readers. Tokyo: Oxford University Press Japan.