[Jonathan Jackson. Eurasian Editions, 2018. pp. 60. ¥1,750 ISBN: 978-4-9909792-1-8.]
FLOW: Building English Fluency is a lower-intermediate level English conversation textbook written for Japanese university students, but it can also be used at the high school level. Unlike many English conversation textbooks, which have content that does not match their stated focus of helping students become conversationally competent (Kroeker, 2009), this textbook is almost entirely focused on English conversation. It is designed to help students who have studied English for many years but still have trouble holding a simple conversation.
I used this book to instruct a class of 20 high school girls for an hour a week for approximately six months. Through plentiful conversation practice and explicit instruction of effective, research-
supported conversational strategies, such as asking follow-up questions using wh- words, turn taking, and requesting and giving clarification (Washburn & Christianson, 1995), most students showed a marked improvement in their speaking fluency. Students were able to progress from not being able to carry on a conversation for two minutes to being able to talk for at least three to four minutes about any given topic.
FLOW consists of 14 units, with four pages per unit, fitting perfectly into a 90-minute class. Each unit focuses on a particular topic, such as food, art, technology, and entertainment. These topics are further broken down into sub-topics, with a myriad of conversation questions for each. For instance, in the unit on entertainment, sub-topics include TV, films, and celebrity culture. The wide variety of topics and questions means that teachers should have no problem selecting something to suit the composition of their classes.
Each unit also has a particular language focus. The first two units start simply by stressing the importance of sharing many details and asking follow-up questions. More advanced skills and strategies are introduced in subsequent chapters, such as asking questions about time and place, making opinion statements, checking understanding, and agreeing and disagreeing.
Each unit follows the same format. On the first page, example conversations introduce both the topic and language focus of the unit. This is followed by an explicit explanation of the unit’s objectives, and then a cloze activity using a word bank to put sentences or phrases into the blanks of a conversation. On the third page, students get a chance to try out the new language skill they have learned through discussing two prompts related to the topic. Finally, numerous conversation questions are provided to give students more fluency practice. Some grammar practice involving cloze exercises has been integrated into some of these questions. One final thing to note about the book is that it does not include any pictures, although this did not seem to hinder my students’ learning.
In addition to the textbook itself, FLOW comes with several supplemental booklets that can be very helpful to students and teachers alike. These are also available online as pdfs on the publisher’s website. One booklet contains a bilingual glossary with difficult-to-understand English words and their equivalent meaning in Japanese. This can be extremely helpful to students as they try to understand the meaning of the questions, in addition to helping increase their vocabulary knowledge (Folse, 2004). Another booklet contains a teacher guide with helpful ideas and key teaching points. A third booklet contains a student guide to each chapter written in Japanese. However, Units 6 to 14 appear to be missing in both the paper booklet and the online PDF. Another omission in FLOW seems to be the lack of an answer key for the cloze exercises. In my class, some of the answers were not immediately obvious, therefore it would have been helpful if an answer key had been provided.
To conclude, FLOW is a simple, yet effective textbook for helping students improve their English conversation skills. The skills taught in this book are well-structured, and the topics and questions in the book are thought-provoking for students. FLOW should be a welcome addition to anyone seeking to improve their students’ conversational fluency.
Folse, K.S. (2004). Vocabulary myths [Kindle Fire version]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Vocabulary-Myths-Applying-Language-Classroom/dp/0472030299
Kroeker, R.H. (2009). The reality of English conversation classes: A study in a South Korean university. [Master’s thesis, University of Birmingham]. Semantic Scholar.
Washburn, N. & Christianson, K. (1995). Teaching conversation strategies through pair-taping. TESL Reporter, 28(2), 41-52. Retrieved from https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/TESL/id/1385/rec/93