[Miwako Yamashina, Mitsuru Yokoyama, & Yasuko Okino. Tokyo: CENGAGE Learning, 2011. pp. 111. ¥2,300 (including DVD and teacher’s CDs). ISBN: 978-4-86312-187-4.]
Messages from the Globe is a textbook that is recommended for beginner to low- intermediate students at Japanese high schools and universities as a means to foster reading fluency. The content of the textbook is based on stories from National Geographic, which allows the learners to study English while also learning about issues relating to nature and animals from around the world. While the textbook places an emphasis on building reading skills, the other three skills: listening, writing, and speaking are also covered. There are 14 units which include pre-reading, reading and post-reading activities. One DVD and two CDs accompany the textbook. Since the content of the DVD and CDs is similar, I highly recommend using the DVD if possible so that the learners can experience the stories through both images and sound. In this review I will address the main reading activities.
In one type of pre-reading activity, the learners watch a video related to the unit. This pre-reading activity also asks the learners to write down what they feel is interesting about the topic while watching or after watching the video. Next, the learners work in pairs or groups, and discuss what they have learned. These activities of watching and discussing equip the learners with knowledge and experience which provides necessary schema to make the readings easier to grasp.
Another type of pre-reading activity focuses on vocabulary. There are two types of vocabulary exercises; matching a new word with its meaning, and matching a picture with its written form. Knowing 98% of the surrounding vocabulary is optimal for effectively guessing unknown words from context (Nation, 2001, p. 2). Thus learning new vocabulary before reading is important. However, vocabulary that learners study in the previous units is not recycled in the following units. Therefore, I get students to use vocabulary cards so that they can study the vocabulary through frequent repetition until they reach automaticity with the new vocabulary.
There are two readings in each unit, with most of the readings between 150-200 words. Thus the textbook is best used for intensive study. However, the readings can also be used for fluency practice. According to Levelt (1989), speech is normally produced at a rate of about two to three words per second. Learners may set this speech rate as a goal and practice how fast they can read within a given time.
There are also several types of post-reading activities such as dictation, review, and summary. These activities use the same stories from the DVD and CDs which the learners utilize in the pre-reading activities. This will lead to the learners hearing the same story several times, which may bore them, so it would be sensible to not try all of the activities at one time.
For the last activity, the students are asked to think critically and evaluate the stories. This activity can be done in pairs or groups, and the learners can share their feelings about the current topic in the lesson. The four skills are practiced along with critical thinking, and ideas that the learners form in pairs or groups foster deeper interactions with the text. Reading ability will be developed best in association with writing, listening, and speaking activities (Brown, 2007, p. 357). Evaluating stories in such a manner requires deep cognitive processes which could benefit long term memory and recall.
A survey with a Likert-scale was conducted to find out the students’ and teachers’ reactions to the textbook. The participants in the survey included 27 students and 4 teachers. The data from the survey suggests that 13 students liked the textbook, while another 13 students thought that the textbook was acceptable. Only one student did not like the textbook. All the teachers found the textbook to be user friendly. A majority of students and teachers felt that it was beneficial in that it helped students learn about environmental issues, and they also liked the textbook because it included many colorful pictures. On the other hand, some students prefer topics related to more everyday issues, while one teacher found that the textbook did not provide an adequate amount of readings and new vocabulary for the learners.
Introducing rules, generalizations, and specific strategies should only be viewed as a starting point for reading development (Grabe & Stoller, 2002, p. 70). Having huge amounts of input is the key to language acquisition, and activities such as reading circles, and teachers giving learners readings on similar topics are solutions that can expose learners to even more vocabulary and make up for the lack of vocabulary in the textbook.
Other than these points mentioned above, the textbook was found to be useful for developing reading fluency for low-intermediate students. The textbook is colorful and intellectually stimulating, and the many activities are theoretically based. However, as one teacher pointed out, the learners are not exposed to enough new vocabulary.
Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.
Grabe, W., & Stoller, F. L. (2002). Teaching and researching reading. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.
Levelt, W. J. M. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Nation, P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.