In the Community: An Intermediate Integrated Skills Textbook
Pub Date: 2016
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In the Community is described as an integrated skills textbook for high intermediate learners. The introduction to the book states five objectives, among them “recognize how people interpret spoken and written messages” and “adjust how we speak to... read more
In the Community is described as an integrated skills textbook for high intermediate learners. The introduction to the book states five objectives, among them “recognize how people interpret spoken and written messages” and “adjust how we speak to different listeners and write for different readers”. In other words, the textbook has a special emphasis on pragmatics, or how people express and interpret messages in specific contexts. Because of this emphasis on communication in context, the text seems most appropriate for a class with a Listening/Speaking focus, especially since the readings and writings are mostly short communicative formats, such as emails, brief reports, etc. The book covers a wide variety of cultural and social contexts, and gives practice in recognizing and producing language appropriately for formal and informal situations. The global approach to communication is balanced with intensive practice on isolated elements of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Two positive features of the text are the many opportunities it offers for learners to be reflective and to apply their learning outside the classroom. Each chapter begins and wraps up with an activity where students describe their own communication style and reflect on how this relates to their personality or their cultural origin. Similarly, the book encourages students to transfer their learning to their daily life through ‘language logs’. As they move through the book, students note down words and expressions they learned in each chapter and either then heard or tried to use themselves in the real world. These two unique features support the text’s overall goal of effective communication in different social and cultural contexts. A glossary of words and expressions is available at the end of each chapter, and these are listed together in a comprehensive glossary as one of the appendices to the book. Unfortunately, the text offers neither a scope and sequence nor an index of terms for the book. Each chapter’s table of contents references only section headings. Thus, a teacher or student would have to scroll through the whole book in order to locate, for example, an activity to practice question tags, or any other specific content.
The explicit presentations of vocabulary, grammar forms, and pronunciation elements are all error-free. Content related to the storyline and topics also appears to be accurate and unbiased.
The story setting - a group of people organizing a music festival at a campground - feels very up-to-date. This imagined setting allows the book to bring in many current issues and realistic conversation contexts, like gathering community suggestions for the festival, or protecting the natural environment etc. However, many of the Reading sections draw on formats familiar in social media, such as text messages or comment forums; since these formats tend to change rapidly, it is possible that some parts of the book will look outdated in a short period of time. On the positive side, the modular structure of the text would allow the authors to easily update the Reading sections with similar content that had a more modern look in the future, if necessary.
The text exposes students to natural, everyday language, including many slang and idiomatic expressions. All new words and expressions are presented in communication contexts and are explained in a glossary at the end of each chapter, as well as in the appendix. In addition, the textbook highlights important communication elements of any new items, such as formal v. informal usage, etc. The instructions for individual activities are written in prose that is clear for intermediate to advanced level students. A feature of the text that ensures clarity is the inclusion of objectives outlined at the beginning of each chapter, which are also re-visited at the end of the chapter when learners self-assess whether the objectives have been met.
The textbook maintains consistency throughout by following the same layout with identical order and similar types of activities for each chapter. Activities and sections that appear in every chapter are referred to with the same terminology, and online activities (listenings, videos, fillable pdfs) are identified with identical symbols in each chapter. There is also consistency within each chapter, as the theme in focus is clearly evident in every skill and sub-skill throughout that chapter.
The text is intended to be used in a modular fashion. Each chapter is separated into four modules that correspond to the four language skills - Reading Writing Listening and Speaking. While the chapter has a main theme, such as making requests or expressing obligations, the four modules are meant to be independent enough to be used as stand-alone lessons. At the same time, the choice to base everything on a storyline with an element of character development limits how modularly a teacher can use the textbook. Even the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation exercises reference the background story and characters in a chapter. Thus, a teacher is forced to at least use the introductory video for the chapter in order to establish the story context and character relationships for all of the subsequent activities.
Organization and structure are one of the strengths of this book. Each chapter presents a language function, such as apologies or opinions, in the context of a realistic life situation. The chapters are all divided in the same way between Reading, Listening followed by Speaking, Writing. All of the activities, vocabulary, pronunciation and other elements within the chapter relate to the same storyline and theme. This design provides a logical flow and makes the material easy to follow, especially in the case where a student may be using the book individually for self-study. Similarly, the structure would aid a teacher in planning lessons for a class when using the textbook as a whole.
The book is downloadable as a pdf with interactive links when used online. Students can print the textbook to have a physical copy, or they can use the book from a computer or tablet. The symbols linking to listenings and fillable pdfs open seamlessly from the main textbook page. Even learners with limited digital experience could manage this online textbook without losing their way. Unfortunately, some elements did not work as expected. Above all, a number of the videos in the second half of the book (starting in Chapter 3 on p. 136) went to a 404 not found page. Attempts with a variety of search terms in YouTube did not bring up the videos, meaning these activities would be unusable until this problem is resolved. In addition, a few individual listening items within some exercises did not play. Finally, although the introductory video says that students can click on underlined words to see a definition, this feature was not functioning.
The text is free of grammatical errors. American users should note that the book follows Canadian English usage, which means some variation in spelling (‘honour’ etc.) and idiomatic phrases.
One of the main focuses of the book is how people modulate communication to fit conversation partners and/or situations. As a result, the text makes a great effort to include a variety of ethnicities, ages and genders, and to show them in varying and non-traditional roles. There is also some attempt to include varieties of spoken English through characters with different backgrounds. The topics and situations are realistic and broad, including music, ecology and management.
This textbook is enjoyable and engaging. It feels very connected to real-life, both through the characters and situations presented and the extension activities which encourage students to take their learning outside the classroom. Learners would likely find the material entertaining and motivating when employed as part of an English-language communication class.
Funded by the Alberta Open Educational Resources (ABOER) Initiative, _In the Community: An Intermediate Integrated Skills Textbook_ is aimed at “Canadian Language Benchmarks levels 5/6”, targeting therefore students at high-intermediate/advanced... read more
Funded by the Alberta Open Educational Resources (ABOER) Initiative, _In the Community: An Intermediate Integrated Skills Textbook_ is aimed at “Canadian Language Benchmarks levels 5/6”, targeting therefore students at high-intermediate/advanced levels who are studying English as a second language (ESL). The textbook’s preferred audience seems to be students who are studying English in a full immersion environment since several of the tasks and assignments instruct students to put in practice in their English speaking community words, expression, grammar and cultural information that they learn. Though the textbook is designed to be facilitated by an instructor, it can also be used for self-study. Answer keys to most activities are included in the Appendix, while online exercises are automatically graded, thus allowing students to assess their progress even in absence of an instructor. As the introduction clearly points out, the main aim of _In the Community: An Intermediate Integrated Skills Textbook_ is helping students learn social communicative skills in English at a high-intermediate/advanced level so that they can later apply them to different social situations. In particular, the introduction lists five interconnected goals: • recognize how people interpret spoken and written messages • compare how people talk or write to each other • identify why conversations happen and messages are exchanged • look for patterns (also called social conventions) in conversations and messages • adjust how we speak to different listeners or write for different readers. The overall organization of the textbook revolves around these five goals, therefore each chapter includes multifaceted communicative situations that help student familiarize themselves with different cultural and social contexts, while several task-based assignments allow them to put in practice what they have learned in real-life situations. Several examples, activities and tasks focused on the four communicative skills—listening, speaking, reading and writing—are included in every chapter, so that each topic is presented in an exhaustive manner. Structurally, the textbook follows a set of characters who interact with each other in different situations, from the familial to the very formal. Scenarios depicted vary from intimate conversations between a parent and an adult child or between siblings, to, for instance, conversations in professional contexts between an employer and a newly hired employee. Special attention is dedicated to the development of a rich vocabulary. The textbook does not simply teach the meaning of new terms or give examples of their use, but, through the “extension activity”, present in every chapter, it forces students to explore their everyday life in order to identify and then use those same terms in other contexts; students are instructed to keep a “language observer log” in which they are asked to add the expressions that they had learned and then discover being used in their everyday life. As new vocabulary is introduced, students are invited to expand it by paying attention to homophonies, synonymies or antinomies. Substantial space is dedicated in every chapter to the use of different communicative registers (both spoken and written) in order to give students a clear overview on how to interact with other speakers in both formal and informal situations. Thus, for instance, in the textbook young characters interact via text messages (a good excuse to teach students common abbreviations, such as b/c, lol and the like), while older characters are shown preferring phone conversations or emails. Relevant grammar and syntax elements are also presented and discussed in each chapter through clear examples, while practice is offered through appropriate assignments.
The book appears to be accurate in its presentation of the language, the vocabulary, the grammar and of the cultural references it includes.
The book is up-to-date in its presentation of today’s use of the English language in Canadian society. The background story is set in the present time and makes references to the today’s every-day technology with which students are familiar. Such frequent references to current technology might cause the book to become obsolete in just a couple of years. However, considering that language textbooks are routinely updated every five years on average, this textbook’s longevity will be probably roughly equivalent to that of any ESL textbook. Updating cultural references might not be necessary for several years, and revisions/corrections/updates are probably not difficult to implement, given the easily editable interface chosen by the publisher.
The language used in the book is very clear. Learning objectives are clearly stated at the beginning of each chapter in a language appropriate to the proficiency level of the reader (high-intermediate-advanced). Instructions on how to complete each assignment are also very clear and examples are given beforehand, so that students are not confused when they begin to complete their assignments/tasks.
The format of the book is consistent. All chapters follow the same structure. Exercises, readings, audio clips, videos and assignments are also always consistent with the topics dealt in their respective chapters. All chapters have roughly the same length and include the same number and kinds of activities and assignments
The book is divided in five chapters. Each chapter is then divided in four sections, one for each of the language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. All activities in each section are geared at enhancing the skill in question. For this reason, it is possible for a student who is mostly interested in developing or reviewing just one or two of the skills to focus only on those sections of the book without begin confused, as it instead often happens when a chapter of a section of a chapter is skipped.
The book is well organized and its structure is consistent and coherent. As mentioned above, the book is divided in five chapters, each focused on a specific context for social interaction. Thus for instance one chapter focuses on how to offer apologies and excuses, another on showing respect and giving responses, and so on. Videos, audio clips and readings are all interconnected and linked to the main background story, providing a natural flow in the chapters’ sequence and organization. Though no realia are used, the material included in the book is aptly chosen to depict a particular aspect of Canadian culture in each chapter. Scaffolding is used in each activity, by providing a a “before” and an “after” section before every assignment, thus gradually preparing students to complete the tasks at hand.
The textbook introduction underlines how the book can be either downloaded or used online, however, the only option on the Open Textbook site is to download it as a pdf file. Each chapter provides links to an online repository of audio clips and exercises; this allows students to listen to dialogues as well as to some pronunciation and intonation drills. Several videos, hosted on youtube.com, are also linked from the downloadable pdf file. The book’s interface is straightforward, since pdf files are familiar to most users. The introduction is very clear in describing how the textbook is structured and how it works. Though the pdf format does not allow students to fill in blanks or to write in the file, all exercises are available online. Most of the online exercises provide students with an immediate response on the correctness of their answers, making the textbook suitable for self-study. There are, however, some technical glitches that represent “bumps in the road”. As of mid-January 2018, several links to online audio clips in the “listening” sections do not work, but send the user to a “404 not found” page. This begins to happen on page 134 and continues to the end of the textbook. Another glitch is the discrepancy between the text printed in the textbook and the audio file containing a reading of the same text: there are sentences that are missing from the printed script (this happens on page 266). Hopefully the textbook’s authors will manage to correct these mistakes, because they damage the otherwise good quality of this book.
As far as I could see, there are no grammatical errors. However, I noticed a few spelling mistakes of the kind that a spell checker does not usually correct, such a “us” instead of “use” or “an” instead of “and”.
The book seems to give a comprehensive and relevant description and discussion of today’s Canadian society in its day-to-day interactions. The book approaches relevant topics and contemporary use of language in Canada. Several cultural aspects of Canadian multiethnic society are presented, from interaction between first generation immigrants and their Canada-born children, to differences in perceptions between people from different cultural and social backgrounds. Cultural references transpire naturally from the situations presented.
Overall, I enjoyed reading through this textbook. I liked the online activities presented and I think that the textbook can be a great resource for students who want to perfect their communicative skills in English at a high-intermediate/advanced level. As mentioned before, though as in all language courses, it would be advantageous to use this book in a course, _In the Community: An Intermediate Integrated Skills Textbook_ can very well be used for self-study, additionally, it could be a valuable text to use in a hybrid or online ESL course.
Table of Contents
- Note to the Learner
- Book Tour
- Chapter 1: Reception, Respect, and Relationships
- Chapter 2: Requests and Responses
- Chapter 3: Permission, Prohibitions, and Obligations
- Chapter 4: Apologies and Excuses
- Chapter 5: Opinions, Clarifying, and Filtering
- Appendix 1: Answer Keys
- Appendix 2: Glossary
About the Book
With funding from Alberta Open Educational Resources, Bow Valley College and NorQuest College collaborated to create Open Educational Resources (OER) in the form of e-textbooks for English language learners.
NorQuest College created In the Community: An Intermediate Integrated Skills Textbook. The textbook:
- helps learners notice, learn, and practice English that will be helpful in your community
- gives learners practice in the four main language skills–listening, speaking, reading, and writing
- helps learners learn about intercultural skills
- helps learners develop some important essential skills
- can be used as an online textbook with interactive activities or downloaded, printed and used as a regular textbook
The textbook is aimed at Canadian Language Benchmarks levels 5/6 and has been designed to be facilitated by an instructor.