Top Notch TV Video Course: Fundamentals

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Pearson Longman, 2008
Irene Iwasaki, Hannan University and Momoyama Gakuin University


[Joan Saslow, Allen Ascher, and Rob Morsberger. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. pp. xiii+139. ¥1,544. ISBN: 9780132058605. VHS/DVD: ¥5,513. ISBN: 9780131731370/9780132058605.]

TheTop Notch program comprises four levels: Fundamentals (starter), 1 (low intermediate), 2 (intermediate), and 3 (high intermediate). There are two sets of textbooks: Top Notch and Top Notch TV Video Course. Either textbook may be supplemented with a workbook, a CD-ROM, a book of photocopiable interactive activities, and a photocopiable assessment package, which contains listening and writing tests and software in whichoriginal tests can be created. There is also an online learning lab, which can give students extra practice with textbook content. The online lab immediately and automatically marks student work and provides instructors with performance charts. It also has a discussion board where any student can participate in communication with the rest of the class.

Top Notch TV Video Courseconsists of sitcoms, interviews, and pop songs. The videos include a teacher’s manual and photocopiable worksheets. However, the videos are best used with Top Notch TV Video Course textbooks, which are more thorough and allow opportunity for students to practice their productive skills through discussions and writing tasks.

Top Notch Fundamentals, the easiest level of this ESL series, would be suitable for most Japanese EFL students. Introductory topics for false-beginner students, such as making introductions and giving directions are reviewed, and topics of interest to university-aged students, such as food, music, and dating are covered. It has 14 units, which can be completed during a one-year university course if approximately two lessons are taught per unit. Vocabulary and grammar are scaffolded so that students who successfully complete each unit will be well prepared for the next level in the series. Although there is no Japanese language support, the textbook is easy to follow. It is also visually appealing for a young adult audience with its colourful illustrations and photographs.

The video isof good visual quality and has well-written sitcom scripts with professional acting.My students seem to be most interested in the sitcoms, probably because the characters become familiar to them after several units, similar to becoming attached to characters on regular TV shows. Some of my students enjoy role-playing the characters by reading the scenes aloud with the help of the tape scripts, which are provided in the back of the student textbooks. One aspect of the sitcoms that has given my students and colleagues mixed reactions is the laugh track, which cannot be turned off. Each scene and interview is approximately 2 minutes long and has optional closed captioning. As the interviews seem authentic and unrehearsed, students will have a chance to watch and hear language spoken at a natural speed in real situations. However, teachers have to be aware that certain parts of the video may be too fast for students who are not used to the natural pace of spoken English. To confirm comprehension, scenes may be viewed more than once and the video may be paused after difficult sections of dialogue. After every couple of units, a pop song reviews vocabulary and grammar. Each pop song is followed by a karaoke version which allows students to sing along to the music with captions. Most of my students are too shy to participate in karaoke, but the pop songs work well for listening or lyric comprehension.

Video textbooks maybe especially beneficial for lower level learners, learners that have never been abroad before, or learners that have had little opportunity to use English outside of the classroom. The visual input allows students to see facial expressions and gestures that correlate with dialogue. It can also givethem the opportunity to activate background schemata, which can stimulate interest and motivation (Canning-Wilson, 2000). Students may also build up their cultural knowledge from watching how people interact in various situations, seeing what hairstyles they have, what clothes they wear, or what their homes and workplaces look like.

Successful audiovisual learning requires that there be stages of pre-viewing, viewing and post-viewing, as well as an opportunity for repeated viewing (Stempleski, 2008). Using multiple-stage instruction and repeated viewing allows students to be more active, or more critical in response to the video they are watching and listening to. Top Notch TV Video Course is teacher-friendly, because the materials guide teachers and students through the lessons step by step. Students can build target vocabulary and grammar, make predictions in the pre-viewing stage, attempt to remember the sequence or specific dialogue of a scene in the viewing stage, and then participate in a related discussion, role play, or writing task in the post-viewing stage.

Although at first glance watching TV may seem to be a passive act, using audiovisuals in the classroom can be very effective if teachers select and facilitate the right activities before viewing, if viewing is given an active purpose, if comprehension is confirmed, and if teachers follow up with appropriate tasks. Top Notch TV Video Course provides high-quality materials for teachers who want to bring multimedia into the classroom effectively.


Canning-Wilson, C. (2000). Practical aspects of using video in the foreign language classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, 6(11). Retrieved from <>

Stempleski, S. (2008). Video in the ELT classroom: The role of the teacher.In J. C. Richards & W. Renandya (Eds.), Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice(pp. 364-367). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.