[Jack C. Richards & David Bolke. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. pp. vii + 154. ¥2,850. ISBN: 978-0-521-12615-1.]
Four Corners Book 1 is a four-skills EFL textbook in a four-book series for teaching American English to adult learners. The series follows the Common European Framework of Reference (Council of Europe, 2001) from A1 (beginner/basic) to B1+ (intermediate), with Four Corners Book 1 pitched at the A1 level.
The Student’s Book consists of twelve topic-based units consisting of four two-page lessons labeled A, B, C and D. The units are bookended with a warm-up section which introduces the topic of the unit, and a wrap-up which offers a topic review and a suggested real world extension activity. Each activity is helpfully labelled with an intended dynamic such as Pair Work, Group Work, or Class Activity. The activities are distributed across the four skills. Speaking is strongly emphasized, with six activities per unit, three listening activities (including pronunciation), a reading activity, and a writing activity.
The textbook follows a grammar syllabus with Lessons A and C introducing structures inductively, in which “the learner studies examples and from these examples derives an understanding of the rule” (Thornbury, 1999, p. 49). A typical example is Lesson A of Unit 6, in which students initially use “What is her job?” and are then introduced to the more natural construction, “What does Lucia do?” in the Language In Context section (p. 56). The following grammar section consists of examples and controlled practice of the target form, before the lesson moves on to progressively freer speaking activities. Lesson B in each unit also has a functional target, for example, asking for someone’s number (p. 58). This is presented in the Interactions section, which is then practiced in the following Listening and Speaking sections. These lesson structures–presentation of contextualized form and controlled practice becoming progressively freer–suggest the PPP methodology (Willis & Willis, 1996, p. v).
Lesson D in each unit introduces reading and writing. These activities give students the opportunity to consolidate what they have learnt in the previous lessons as well as to practice their literacy skills. In this lesson, some of the most up-to-date material and tasks appear, as many of the reading and writing tasks are designed to look like websites or blog posts.
One strength of the textbook is the use of CEFR can do statements, such as “I can ask for and tell the time” (p. 39), at the end of each lesson. This provides clear aims and assessment for teachers and learners. Another strength is In the Real World on the wrap-up page. Students are encouraged to use the unit’s learning outcomes in real life, such as by browsing English websites to research famous people or read magazines, thus breaking through the classroom walls and allowing some learner autonomy. Furthermore, the textbooks include an excellent self-study CD-ROM with vocabulary, grammar and listening activities, and explanations.
At my university, I taught material from Book 1, as a trial, to four elementary classes on topics related to work and hobbies, then gave students a survey in which they could compare Four Corners to their regular textbook and add any additional comments. The students generally responded positively to the activities, particularly the classroom activity in which they had to ask their classmates if they knew anyone who worked in specific occupations.
In addition to the Student’s Books, there are Teacher’s Editions, Workbooks and a DVD-ROM classroom presentation software called Classware, which allows teachers to present the textbook pages, audio and video using a projector or interactive whiteboard. These components are both a strength and a weakness of the Four Corners series. For teachers who have access to them, if they or their teaching institutions can afford the expense, they are excellent. However, without them, students will have no listening scripts or audio recordings for independent study. Also, potentially frustrating for teachers who have to rely on the audio CDs, there are no track numbers in the textbook.
In terms of content, I was concerned that the textbook used very few authentic materials. The listening sections used unnatural-sounding pedagogic language, and little variance in accents beyond general American. Consequently, the listening exercises were considered not very challenging, and overall a majority of students preferred the audio of their current textbook. In addition, the layout and illustrations, while attractive and popular with my students, would probably only be suitable for young adults rather than all adults as the series claims.
In summary, I can recommend Four Corners to teachers who can afford the extra components and whose students would like an attractive and unthreatening, albeit imperfect, introductory textbook.
Council of Europe (2001). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Retrieved from <www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/Source/Framework_EN.pdf>
Thornbury, S. (1999). How to teach grammar. Harlow, UK: Pearson.
Willis, J. & Willis, D. (1996). Challenge and change in language teaching. Oxford, UK: Heinemann.