[Book 2: Joe McVeigh & Jennifer Bixby. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. pp. xix + 205. ¥3,360. ISBN: 978-0-19-475623-5; Book 3: Margot F. Gramer & Colin S. Ward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. pp. xix + 223. ¥3,887. ISBN: 978-0-19-475624-2.]
The six-levelQ: Skills for Success series consists of two strands, Reading and Writing and Listening and Speaking. The 10 units in each textbook provide sufficient material for one academic year in courses where students attend one 90-minute class per week. It is ideal for university programs where reading and writing classes are taught in parallel with their listening and speaking counterparts since the respective units are topically related and thus can provide more input for essays or class discussions. This review focuses on Book 2, intended for TOEFL 397-435 student levels, and Book 3 targeting the 437-473 range.
Although the series is sometimes marketed as English for Academic Purposes (EAP), light-academic, as described by the publisher, is more accurate as no truly academic research essays are included. The two readings introduced in each unit are invariably high-interest, which is the most important requirement for the success of any reading textbook (Williams, 1986). Cognitively challenging but linguistically suitable for these basic to lower-intermediate levels, they present simple topics in an academic manner. For instance, a Book2 chapter on colors, describing their cultural, emotional, and business significance, and a Book 3 passage about food, adding a scientific perspective of taste sensitivity, were popular with classes and generated great essays. Several fresh and unique opinion paragraphs such as In Praise of the Throwaway Society (Book 2, p. 132) are included. Scanning, skimming, and other reading strategies are introduced and practiced effectively, and the preview tasks presented before each reading have adequate variety. In addition to their printed versions, all readings are available on the audio CD.
The vocabulary component of the course avoids the common pitfalls of many materials, namely teaching too much vocabulary in one unit, presenting vocabulary in lexical sets and insufficient review and recycling (Nation, 2001). A target vocabulary of 8-10 lexical items is presented before each reading. Two corpus-based word lists, the Oxford 3000™ (Turnbull, 2010) compiled for theOxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as a list of the 3000 most important English words), and the Academic Word List (AWL) (Coxhead, 2000), are the source of most of these lexical items ensuring that the majority of this vocabulary is essential, frequent, and useful for academic study. Of the 180 items introduced in Book 2, 153 are on either or both lists and only 27 (15%) are on neither. In Book 3, 46 (24%) of the 187 items are off the lists. Various attempts to recycle and review vocabulary are noticeable. First, several units have vocabulary consolidation activities. The target lexical items are also reprinted at the end of each chapter with their membership on the AWL and Oxford 3000™. Vocabulary is further recycled in the Q Online Practice system and in chapter tests thus in total approaching the lower end of the recommended 5-16 repetitions (Nation, 2001, p. 81) necessary to remember a word.
Writing skills are taught clearly and gradually, always with relevant and easy to understand examples, following the principles of process writing and including activities for self- and peer-review, editing, and self-assessment. What I found was the main shortcoming of the first three levels of Q: Skills for Success Reading and Writing is not unique to this series. In most tertiary EFL writing programs, multi-paragraph compositions are a requirement even at the lowest levels. Yet, the writing instructions and models in Book 1 and2 do not go beyond the individual paragraph, and instruction on writing complete essays is first presented as late as Unit 7 in Book 3. I also found the ordering of the introduction of different essay types questionable in Book 3 where the opinion essay, possibly the most common and most requested essay type (Leki & Carson, 1997), is explained only in the final unit.
The Teacher’s Handbook is simple to use, and contains extra activities and useful background information. The printable chapter tests on the included DVD are easy to administer and can be scored quickly by the learners themselves. Two cumulative tests and one placement test are also provided. However, some errors were present in both the tests and the answer keys. The Q Online Practice system mirroring the chapter structure of the textbooks is excellent for homework assignments.
Overall, the series is easy to use and adapt, and its online components are clearly designed to help instructors teach efficiently. The texts provide up-to-date and thought-provoking readings, introduce carefully selected vocabulary, and teach reading and writing skills effectively making it an ideal textbook choice for any university or high school English program.
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new academic word list. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.
Leki, I., & Carson, J. (1997). Completely different worlds: EAP and the writing experiences of ESL students in university courses. TESOL Quarterly, 31(1), 39-69.
Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Turnbull, J. (Ed.). (2010). Oxford advanced learner's dictionary. (8th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Williams, R. (1986). Top ten principles for teaching reading. ELT Journal, 40(1),42-45.