[Keith S. Folse, April Muchmore-Vokoun, & Elena Vestri Solomon. National Geographic Learning: Cengage, 2020. pp. i + 198. https://myelt.heinle.com/ ¥3,430. ISBN: 978-0-357-02085-2.]
Reviewed by Nick Boyes, Meijo University
Great Writing: Great Essays 4 is an excellent choice for teaching the standard five-paragraph essay. It is the fourth book in the Great Writing series that starts with paragraph writing and finishes with research essays. The textbook Great Essays 4 has a wide variety of sample essays and exercises. In the new edition, the sample essays are even more interesting and applicable to students’ lives. The textbook uses a process writing approach (Harmer, 2004) consisting of four stages: brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and editing. It has five units that cover different academic essay genres as well as an introductory warm-up unit Exploring the Essay.
The different essay genres are: Cause and Effect, Comparison, Argumentative, Problem-Solution, and Reaction. Hyland (2004) advocates this genre-based approach to writing which adds variety to student writing throughout the semester. The textbook uses outlining and transition word activities to make students notice essay structure. Students are asked to read the sample essay and then fill out an outline, and circle or choose transition words for an example essay. Students are sometimes asked to write the hook, thesis statement, and topic sentence of essays. Exposing students to many types of essays adds variety to the semester and is invaluable for them because students are often unfamiliar with the five-paragraph essay format. Even if you are not familiar with all of the essay genres, the textbook contains plenty of scaffolded material to guide you and your students through each genre.
My students are upper-intermediate second year university English majors. The objective of our writing course is to prepare students to write their graduation theses. The textbook is targeted at Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) levels B2 to C1. According to the textbook’s appendix, 53% of the included vocabulary is at the B2 level, and 29% of the vocabulary is C1 level. The material is challenging, but doable for my students. However, my students tend to write slowly. To save valuable class time, I have them underline the parts of the essay in their book rather than rewrite the sentences as is recommended in the instructions. In my class, along with the introductory unit, we selected three different units to cover, and thus three different genres of essays to write. We usually covered one example essay every week, and then students are assigned online homework from the textbook for review.
The topics of some of the sample essays are a little difficult for my students, for example, the essays about insomnia, parenting, or becoming an entrepreneur are sometimes outside the realm of their vocabulary level and life experiences. To help students, words they may not know are bolded and glossed in footnotes. The textbook is written completely in English, and there are no bilingual glosses. There are many current topics that engage students such as online shopping, urban versus rural living, school uniforms, and smartphones. Additional vocabulary and grammar exercises are in every unit as well.
The textbook comes with optional online homework on Heinle’s MyELT platform (https://myelt.heinle.com). While teaching online for the last two years, I made Google Forms activities that walked students through pages of the textbook (simulating what I normally would have done in a face-to-face class), and then I assigned the MyELT homework as usual. Although I have found the MyELT system difficult to use with other textbooks, the content for the Great Writing series is very straightforward. The premade MyELT assignments reduce the teacher’s burden of creating, collecting and checking homework.
The MyELT online homework system can take some time to get used to at first, but it is well worth the effort. To register, students and teachers must enter: their email address and name, the content code from inside their textbook, and the class code, which is automatically generated when a teacher creates a course. I recommend having students sign up with their university email to keep things orderly. By doing so, teachers can see student login names and reset student passwords. My students reported that they usually spend about 20 minutes per week on the online homework.
Overall, Great Writing: Great Essays 4 is a challenging yet supportive and versatile textbook for teaching the standard five-paragraph essay. The textbook uses a process writing and a genre-based approach to writing. There are plenty of supplementary activities and example essays both in print and online. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or novice teacher, Great Writing: Great Essays 4 offers plenty of customizable support for teachers and students.
Harmer, J. (2004). How to teach writing. Pearson.
Hyland, K. (2004). Genre and second language writing. University of Michigan Press.