[Nobuhiro Kumai & Stephen Timson. Seibido, 2019. (Teacher’s book and DVD available, as well as student access to streaming videos) p. 113. ¥2,400. ISBN: 978-4-7919-7186-2.]
CBS NewsBreak 4 is the latest in a series of course books for intermediate-level students. It aims to present a variety of authentic news stories from America’s CBS Television relevant to university students’ interests that utilizes an integrated four-skills approach. The textbook is organised into 15 units that deal with a range of topics such as Selling Charity, How Microfibres in Clothes are Polluting our Oceans, and Please Come In: Brick-and-Mortar Stores Looking for New Ways to Lure Customers. Three of the topics also directly relate to an aspect of Japanese culture. Each unit begins with picture prompts and two Before You Watch questions to active knowledge and contextualize the topic. This is followed by a word and definition matching section that highlights potentially new vocabulary from the video. For the first viewing, there are two Getting the Gist statements that students must correct. For the second viewing, Getting into Details, portions of dialogue are blank, and there are nine true/false comprehension questions interspersed throughout. Additionally, there is a column that provides Japanese translation of specialised, low-frequency vocabulary, or idiomatic phrases, such as harem pants, chic, and wave a magic wand. A summary of the video with 10 missing words follows, a grammar focus in some units, and a short dialogue/phrase translation task. Finally, there is the Critical Thinking section with 5–6 discussion questions. The videos are mostly around 3 minutes—the longest at 4 minutes and the shortest at 1.5 minutes.
Many teachers these days turn to the Internet as a source of authentic material with which to supplement the contrived listening and reading tasks often found in textbooks. With lower levels, teachers may be hesitant to do this, and there is research to support reserving authentic materials for intermediate levels and above; however, McNeil and Miller (cited in Akbari & Razavo, 2005, p. 109) counter that the use of authentic materials is effective for lower-level students too, as they are encouraged to learn coping strategies for complex tasks. The CBS NewsBreak 4 DVD has English sub-titles as well as audio speed control. Therefore, teachers of low-level learners should be able to adequately scaffold students’ listening capabilities.
University English courses in discrete skills are still in vogue—think of the perennial academic writing and discussion classes—despite abundant research that learners benefit from skill integration. Oxford (2001) argues that discrete-skill teaching does not prepare students for the communicative acts they will face in academic, business, and real-world settings. CBS NewsBreak 4 goes part of the way towards meeting this criteria, but falls short in its writing tasks. There is a summary writing activity, but it is, basically, a gap-fill exercise. The short dialogue requiring Japanese-to-English translation is also a missed opportunity. Summary writing is one of the many writing skills that learners require, particularly those with study abroad in mind. The basic components are “comprehending and identifying the main propositions in the text, condensing the main propositions, and writing succinctly in one’s own words” (Hosseinpur, 2015, p. 71). While CBS NewsBreak 4 offers students a summary model, it does not scaffold learning beyond that.
For this review, two units of CBS NewsBreak 4 were used with a freshman, mid-level production skills class who meet weekly for 90 minutes. I was limited to Japan: Unusual Rental Universe—You Can Even Rent a Family and Lost in Translation: How China is Cracking Down on Poor English Translations due to the sample DVD/teacher’s manual supplied. Due to time and curriculum constraints, the in-class focus was on pre-listening vocabulary task, listening/viewing, comprehension checking, and discussion. The writing activities were completed independently. Students reported that they found the topics and discussion questions interesting and half of them found the translations helpful. Almost all of them said they found the video a little difficult to understand, which is to be expected. When polled on other topics/units of interest, the two most popular were: Do Happy People Live Longer? and Is Coffee the Secret to a Longer Life?
In short, CBS NewsBreak 4 is a very useful textbook for teachers wanting to use authentic, topical listening materials for mid-to-intermediate level learners. Those who are teaching four-skill courses will also find this a valuable resource, although the writing tasks provided are merely a springboard for a more robust approach to summary writing and beyond that teachers will need to supplement the material.
Akbari, O. & Razavo, A. (2005). Using authentic materials in foreign language classrooms: Teachers perspectives in EFL classes. International Journal of Research Studies in Education, 5(2), 105-116. https://doi.org/10.5861/ijrse.2015.1189
Hosseinpur, R.M. (2015). The impact of teaching summarising on EFL learners’ micro genetic development of summary writing. The Journal of Teaching Language Skills, 7(2), 69-92, Retrieved form http://jtls.shirazu.ac.ir/article_3531.html
Oxford, R. (2001). Integrated skills in the ESL/ EFL classroom. ERIC Digest, 6(1), Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED456670.pdf