Smart Choice Level 1
[Ken Wilson. Oxford University Press, 2007. pp. ix + 136. ￥2,600. ISBN: 978-0-13-430562-4.]
Smart Choice Level 1is part of a four book series based on American English. The Oxford University Press website <www.howdoyouteach.com/tour/no_preparation.htm>bills this as a course ready to teach without any preparation. Offering such a variety of support materials may seem at odds with this claim, but the preparation is interesting and enjoyable. According to the teacher’s book, each book in the series contains about 60 hours of teaching material, expandable to upwards of 80 hours with the additional resources.
The series is visually appealing, with a variety of illustrational styles. Book 1 begins with a classroom English unit titled Essential English, followed by 12 topic-based units (each with six pages), and a review after every three units. The back of the book has a vocabulary and grammar reference section, audio scripts, writing activities, and pairwork activities for each unit. Units are logically sequenced, moving from basics like vocabulary and model conversations to a communication task on the last page of each unit, such as a survey or interview.
Smart Choicehas a discrete skills approach, with each skill being highly focused. The first pages of a unit tend to have fixed answers, with activities such as gap fills or matching. For students who can be more creative, extension activities are available. For example, vocabulary pages have a Stretch your vocabulary section, which invites students to give each other extra vocabulary they think may be helpful. Gap-fill conversations can usually be remodelled with students using their own information. This provides an element of security for students, clearly showing what is right or wrong in the units. I found the students thrived on the scaffolding this fixed answer style provided and easily maintained a high level of English in the class. It was easy to adapt the material for differing levels and group dynamics. The last page of each unit is open-ended, and ideal for output such as small group work or mingling activities. These activities left students with a sense of achievement, and the book produced results well above my expectations.
One of the key elements to this book is the peripherals. Besides the items reviewed here, there are other items, such as placement tests. Websites are printed on the back of the text, with a limited number of additional games and activities. The student book comes with a multi-ROM which looks and plays like a limited version of the Class CD. In addition to the audio files, however, it contains a multimedia review tool for students. The inside of the back cover contains a list of those tracks available on the multiROM. The text itself shows track numbers from the Class CD which are not on the multiROM.
The students thoroughly enjoyed using the computer-based review tools. The quizzes can be done many times, and the scoreboard records the first score and last score, so students can keep trying until they get it right. In addition, after the conversation activity, there is a chance for students to record themselves playing a role in the conversation. One class said this was their favorite feature of the CD. Unfortunately this activity is only available after students complete the conversation quiz, and so it is easily overlooked.
The Teacher Resource Book features a Windows-based Click-and-change CD that allows teachers to print resources in colour. An easy to use interface lets teachers replace text or pictures from the resource book with something different. Although the process is a little time consuming, students seemed to appreciate me so clearly spending time preparing something especially for them. Using this function, I substituted a picture of myself in a flashcard game in which members of a group had to guess the identity of famous people. My students enjoyed seeing their colleagues’ puzzled faces as they reassured them, “You definitely know this person!”
The best thing about this book has been simply that it suits Japanese students. In particular, the scaffolding of each unit was easily adaptable to my students’ comfort-levelwith ambiguity. The methodology is not new or groundbreaking: It is the result of careful work and a solid understanding of students. Although it is probably possibleto use the book with no preparation, the wealth of material available for planning makes preparation simple. The sum total is a usable text that provides enjoyable materials for the students and the clear sense of progress for teachers that makes for a successful classroom.