[Stephanie Diamond-Bayir and Kimberley Russel with Chris Sowton. Cambridge University Press, 2019. pp. 223. ¥3,520. ISBN: 978-1-107-68232-0.]
Unlock Listening and Speaking Skills 2 is an English for academic purposes (EAP) textbook, providing focused skills development for learners within academic contexts. It forms part of a five-level series that has been developed using Cambridge’s corpus and provides up-to-date and relevant academic language whilst developing critical thinking skills. The book features accessible unit topics, with each student book enabling access to the Cambridge Learning Management System (LMS). Throughout the textbook, the units begin with a focus on receptive listening skills, progressively moving towards a productive speaking activity at the end of each chapter, for example, a presentation or debate.
Each unit opens with an Unlock Your Knowledge section, where students are provided with a picture prompt and a number of questions to promote discussion around the theme of the unit. I use this textbook with freshman students at a foreign language university, and they generally responded to these questions well. However, since the books have not been designed for monolingual classes of Japanese students, it was sometimes necessary to use supplementary material or scaffold the questions to help students discuss the topics in more detail. This first section is followed by the Watch and Listen section, featuring a short video and a number of related language exercises that were well received by my learners.
Each unit contains two listening sections that are designed to improve students’ listening skills within academic contexts. The first section provides information about the topic and pre-listening, while listening, and post-listening activities. This section includes a useful focus on pronunciation (e.g., linking, vowel sounds), and I often employed these exercises so that Japanese students could practice sounds that they often find problematic (e.g., /ʃ/ and /s/). The following language development section provides practice of the vocabulary and grammar introduced in the first listening section, whilst also pre-teaching the vocabulary and grammar for the remainder of the listening chapter. The second listening section presents a further exercise on the same topic, which serves as a model for the later speaking task. Van de Meer (2012) notes the importance of note-taking skills within academic environments because test performance has been shown to positively correlate with the quality of student notes. I have therefore found the scaffolded note-taking activity included in this section to be useful practice for students who wish to study abroad in academic settings. One note of caution here is that the audio material for both listening sections is often quite long (sometimes in excess of five minutes) and may take up a considerable amount of class time. As such, I would sometimes elect to only play part of the audio in class or assign it for homework.
The next section of the textbook focuses on speaking exercises, with the end goal of a productive speaking task or group activity. These sections begin with a critical thinking component designed around Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956). I find this particularly useful, as it supports learners in a structured fashion, from lower order thinking skills, such as understanding, through to the higher order thinking skills, such as evaluating and creating, thereby enabling students to analyse information, develop their own ideas, and express themselves effectively. A scaffolded section for the speaker’s notes also lends support during this activity, helping to clearly organise ideas and information. In addition, a task checklist reminds students of the target language and key focus of their presentations.
Mezirow (1981) notes the importance of reflection in deeper learning, and each unit ends with an objectives review, which enables students to reflect on how well they have mastered the skills studied. I particularly liked this section, as it provided a pause for students to consider what they have learned before proceeding to the next unit. I would often ask students to complete this section as part of their homework and then compare their ideas as a warm-up activity in the next class.
The textbook is further supplemented by activities included in the LMS. It provides learners with a learning environment in which they can access the book’s audio and video files. It also contains extension activities for further language practice and assessment. It is easy to set up, and the automatic grading proved to be a useful timesaving feature. Alternatively, the LMS can also be used for self-study for those who feel they may benefit from additional language practice.
Overall, I have found Unlock Listening, Speaking and Critical Thinking 2 to be a well-structured, engaging, and easy-to-use textbook for teachers seeking to improve their learners’ academic skills.
Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Longman.
Mezirow, J. (1981). A critical theory of adult learning and education, Adult Education, 32(1), 3–24. https://doi.org/10.1177/074171368103200101
van der Meer, J. (2012). Students’ note-taking challenges in the twenty-first century: Considerations for teachers and academic staff developers. Teaching in Higher Education, 17(1), 13–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2011.590974