[Jack C. Richards & David Bohlke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. pp. vii + 154. ¥2,850. ISBN: 978-1-108-56021-4.]
Four Corners is a series of four English textbooks leveled according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR; Council of Europe, 2001), each split into twelve general topic themed units. Four Corners 2: Second Edition is intended for CEFR A2 learners. The authors use the book four times a week for 45 minutes for a pre-intermediate English communication course. Four Corners 1: First Edition was reviewed in The Language Teacher (Andrews, 2016); therefore, this review discusses changes made between the editions, text content, and supplementary material.
Each unit of Four Corners has four sections sharing a theme. These sections are clearly influenced by Nation’s four strands framework of second language acquisition, with each focusing on a mix of listening and reading, speaking and writing, fluency, and language skills development (Nation, 2007). Units begin with a warmup intended to activate existing schemata. Sections A and C of each unit are comprised of vocabulary and grammar focused activities, starting with vocabulary matching exercises. For example, Section A of the television themed unit 6 has a matching activity involving types of TV shows, a short listening about TV preferences, and a grammar explanation followed by fill-in-the-blank exercises. Finally, there is a Keep Talking segment, which leads to pair and group activities in the back of the book. The quality of these varies, but the better ones provide a break from the more confined vocabulary and grammar lessons and a chance to use the target language in a less controlled activity. The pedagogy is communicative and task-based, with each section ending with an “I can” statement (e.g., “I can talk about types of TV shows I like”), which suited the needs of our learners. Part B focuses on oral communication, including functional language and pronunciation. Section D alone contains extended reading and writing activities in a variety of textual genres. This section also includes a final speaking activity intended to integrate everything learned in the unit.
One significant change in this edition is the inclusion of Presentation Plus software. This is a downloadable file which works as an all-in-one solution for class materials. It can be used with interactive whiteboards, screens, and projectors. Audio files and answers are embedded in the electronic text that forms the core of the software. It includes all other materials (e.g., videos and workbook), and links to online resources. It even offers the option of embedding your own files and links in the existing text. All this makes it unnecessary to bring materials such as DVDs and CD players to class. The new interface is smoother than previous versions, with less glitches. Drawbacks include the fact that the software is not compatible with tablets and requires relatively up-to-date computers.
Changes to the textbook are cosmetic, with many photos changed to illustrate target language more clearly. The photographs and design were assessed positively in a class survey to gauge learners’ opinions of the book. However, minor mistakes have been added, including a duplication of an illustration and the mislabeling of activities on the DVD worksheets.
The main strength noted by the authors and their colleagues was the user friendliness of the text. Sections within units are self-contained, with clear presentation, practice, and production elements. The amount of grammar and vocabulary in each section seems appropriate for the designated CEFR level, allowing students to utilize language provided in the units without being overwhelmed. The unit topics are common in most widely-publicized English language teaching (ELT) textbooks and were easily comprehended and appreciated by respondents according to the class survey. The topics also give the teacher a good base for supplementary activities. In addition, an increase in difficulty of vocabulary and grammar as the book progresses gives it a logical structure.
Although chapters being self-contained is useful for the teacher, there could have been more recycling of previously introduced language throughout the book; earlier units may be forgotten as the course progresses. The reading, writing, and listening tasks are staged and lack authenticity as noted by Andrews (2016) and Thomas (2017), which may have led to some students describing the book as too easy.
Overall, Four Corners is accommodating and provides a solid base for a vocabulary and grammar based general English course. As noted, more integration of language as the book progresses and greater authenticity would make the textbook more attractive. However, the book is logically structured and has a range of supplementary materials for expansion. This material breaks up the monotony of following the units, which can be repetitive. In conclusion, the book can be recommended for teachers who teach short lessons and need a book to provide a basic curriculum.
Andrews, R. (2016). Four corners book 1. The Language Teacher, 40(6), 28-29.
Council of Europe. (2001). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge, U.K: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
Nation, I. S. P. (2007). The four strands. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1(1), 1-12. doi: 10.2167/illt039.0
Thomas, K. (2017). L1 literacies and possible implications for the communicative language teacher. CELE Journal, 25, 99–120.