[Lida Baker and Laurie. Heinle ELT; 2017. (Audio/Video and Student Workbook available Online) pp. ix + 184. ¥3,168. ISBN: 9781337275804.]
Reviewed by Deepti Mishiro, Osaka Metropolitan University
21st Century Communication is the first of a four-level series of EFL textbooks appropriate for low-intermediate to intermediate level students. This textbook aims to enhance students’ critical thinking and communication skills. The robust collection of inspiring TED Talks aids in building students’ critical thinking, presentation, and note-taking skills. The text effectively assists in preparing students to speak confidently and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their technical skills in the final task of each unit, thereby building the necessary skills required for academic success.
The textbook is organized into eight theme-based units with appealing visuals and clearly stated goals. Each unit includes two parts, Part 1 focuses mainly on listening skills and learning new vocabulary to familiarise students with the theme. Part 2 includes TED Talks that aid in developing students’ presentation skills and critical thinking. Recently, TED Talks have served as an excellent tool for activating learning and promoting thinking about topics affecting society and the world (Martinez et al., 2018). Each unit begins with picture prompts and two Think and Discuss questions that spark interest and contextualize the topic. Part 1 has three sections: Pre Listening, Listening, and Post Listening exercises; encouraging students to predict, learn new vocabulary, and reflect by confirming their comprehension through discussions. Students further enhance their final presentation skills by practicing pronunciation exercises given at the end. Part 2 has a similar structure of three sections: Before you watch, Watch for Main Ideas, and Details including TED Talks video in section 2 will allow students to think critically and give their views on the questions related to the unit’s TED Talks in section 3. In addition, it prompts them to think about how their perspectives can be different from their classmates.
Universities in Japan opt for teaching strategies that would aid in building learners’ communicative proficiency and speaking skills (Thompson & Millington, 2012). This book allows teachers to fulfill this aim by focusing on developing the students’ ability to communicate and express themselves through real-world assignments. Most of my students favored group work using the whiteboard while expressing their opinions and views. Additionally, pair-work facilitated sharing of personal anecdotes and life experiences while answering questions. The final task in each unit, individual presentations, can be time-consuming and may become repetitive. Therefore, assigning varied tasks such as interviews, videos, poster presentations, or surveys would further build on and expand students’ communication skills.
This series can be used by teachers both for hybrid and blended classes. Students have access to the online workbook which includes all the audio and video material. It was difficult to cover all topics from the text since it was used in a 50-minute class that met five days a week, hence, additional homework from the student book was assigned as well. The student book includes an independent student handbook that is a useful resource providing strategies for listening, common phrases for presentations and classroom communication, note-taking strategies, and TED Talk summary worksheets for each unit with a vocabulary index. There are also rubrics for evaluation that are useful for supporting students in preparation for the final tasks of each unit. Students can share peer feedback using this rubric as a guide. However, they may need to be customized depending on the type of final task the teacher has chosen to fit students’ needs.
My students were highly inspired by various TED Talk speakers in this book. Throughout the text, students are exposed to a variety of topics ranging from the environment to music which evokes Japanese students to think from a more global perspective. This book certainly assists students in building confidence and overcoming their stage fright with presentations after each unit. Many students relished the opportunity to use the Internet to research given topics and prepare slides and the opportunities to process linguistic and content information it affords (Kasper, 2000). Moreover, the scaffolding of each unit with effective vocabulary activities assisted students in learning and using these newly acquired words in their final task. However, some students found listening challenging at times, as they struggled to understand the content.
Overall, I recommend this book to instructors wishing to strengthen their students’ communication and critical thinking skills in particular. It is a fun and creative text, filled with a variety of activities connected to the real world that instructors would enjoy teaching. However, since this text mainly centers on listening, students would further benefit if the text provided audio transcripts in the appendices. In addition, students would benefit further if they are given opportunities to work in pairs and groups on the final task.
Kasper, L. (2000). New technologies, new literacies: Focus discipline research and ESL learning communities. Language Learning & Technology, 4(2), 96–116. http://dx.doi.org/10125/25102
Martínez, H. M. A., Vargas, C. J. A., & Ramírez, V. A. (2018). TED Talks as an ICT tool to promote communicative skills in EFL students. English Language Teaching 11(12), 106-115.. https://doi.org/10.5539/elt.v11n12p106
Thompson. C., & Millington, N. (2012). Task-based learning for communication and grammar use. Language Education in Asia. 3(2), 159-167. http://dx.doi.org/10.5746/LEiA/12/V3/I2/A04/Thompson_Millington