Tag: textbooks

Review (part 1) – Keynote

Review (part 1) – Keynote

I’ve recently been given two inspection copies of the “Keynote” series by National Geographic Learning / Cengage and am considering whether I should adopt it as a set text for my EAP classes. In case anyone else out there is thinking about using it, here are my first thoughts of a review!

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The series, like Cengage’s other title “21st Century Reading”, takes TED talks as the basis for the topic of each unit. The “Keynote” books train all four skills, as well as pronunciation and grammar. They include authentic listening tasks and critical thinking exercises, which I think make them quite appropriate for university classes, but actually the series seems to be targeted at a rather broad audience, especially regarding topic choice. I’ve been informed that National Geographic won the tender to use TED talks commercially thanks to their previous materials based on authentic input, and I do think that “Keynote” continues this tradition of good work. Each book has 12 topic-based units, and the topics are based on TED talks.  The talks are mostly by native speakers of different varieties English, though in the more advanced books some talks by non-native speakers have been included. These all have very clear diction, and thus provide some (though rather limited for such advanced levels!) practice at understanding various accents. The talks are not slowed down at all, but they are sometimes abridged, especially for the lower-level books. My initial impression is that the talks and excerpts are well chosen and well prepared for use in this textbook series.

In what I’d describe as ‘classic textbook manner’, the units start off by focusing on the TED talk, and then develop the language beyond this. The structure of all units is the same, which may be good for learners who like to have a common routine, though could also become repetitive. The first section of any unit focuses on comprehending the main idea and supporting evidence from the TED talk. This is followed by grammar and language noticing and practice, with activities which work towards spoken production and include some well-conceived communicative practice. The third section of each unit focuses on extensive reading, which often incorporates critical thinking skills and vocabulary work. And finally, each unit closes with functional oral/aural exercises, which move towards writing skills with some nicely modern and motivating tasks such as writing blog posts or  online profiles. After every two units there is a review section, which usually takes a case-study approach. For my taste this is a few too many ‘review sections’, but this may be appropriate in other contexts. I think it’s important to mention here that only the first section of each unit really uses the TED talk – far less than I was expecting from the adverts for this series! The rest of the sections work with authentic materials adopted from National Geographic publications, in a similar manner to their other textbook “Life”.

What I like about the “Keynote” series is that every student’s book comes with a DVD containing all of the video and audio material, sometimes with sub-titles. This is definitely a bonus over other series where there is just one DVD included in a class-set of books, and makes the series particularly appealing for those of us teaching classes where the number of credits requires a substantial amount of work from learners beyond the lesson time. The tape-scripts are also included at the back of the books, as are some role cards for extension activities, and a brief grammar reference section. The textbooks really feel like textbooks and not like workbooks – so learners can’t really write their answers into their books, in contrast to other series such as “21st Century Reading”. For university classes and adult education I find this more appropriate anyway, though that might just be personal taste. “Keynote” is also available as an e-book, and there is also an interactive workbook and other additional e-materials which can be purchased separately (I think a licence is for 12 months). What I find frustrating with the teacher’s book is that the answers to tasks are interspersed with other input and instructions in the description of each unit, which makes them sometimes time-consuming to locate and not practical for photocopying to allow learners to check their own work.

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Overall, the “Keynote” series has more of a feel of preparing learners for professional use of English, so I’m not convinced that it is the best choice for academic settings, though the skills and grammar practised are generally appropriate. The amount of time a class would need to complete one level of “Keynote” would probably be about a year, at one-two lessons per week, depending on the amount of homework given; sadly this is another factor making it impractical for use on one-semester university modules. I am also a little disappointed that the biggest selling point – working with TED talks – has turned out to make up only about a quarter of the textbook. So I think my initial decision will not be to adopt this as a set textbook, though for Part 2 of my review I plan to try out some of the units with different class groups, and perhaps the students will convince me to use “Keynote” after all! Watch this space!

How to choose an ELT textbook

So you need to choose a new textbook for your class? It’s no secret that the market is full of shiny, colourful, attractive-looking books… but which one is right for you and your learners? Here’s a quick guide to finding out…!

Before looking for potential textbooks and collecting inspection copies, whoever is going to be involved in choosing a textbook should be clear on the following points:

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– What level are the learners (realistically) and what level do we want to get them to?

– How long is the course? How much time do we have to work with the textbook?

– Will we want to supplement a textbook with our own materials? Or use supplementary materials that go with the book?

– What is the focus of the course? What skills should be trained? What language should be introduced/practised?

– Will the textbook only be used in class? Or also for homework tasks?

 

Once the above points have been clarified, you can go on the hunt for potential textbooks. Most publishers offer complimentary inspection copies to teachers, you can often order these online or by contacting the local representative of the publisher in your area. Try to collect a handful of textbooks to choose from. When making the actual decision, ask yourself the following:

– What do other teachers/reviews have to say about each book?

– How much do the student’s books cost? Is it reasonable to expect the learners/school to pay this much?

– Do the exercises really suit the level the learners are working at?

– Does the book’s approach to ELT match the teaching methodology preferred by the teachers involved in the course? And the philosophy of the school?

– Do the activities and methodology suit the learning styles and expectations of the learners?

– How do the topics covered relate to the learners’ needs and interests? And to the teacher’s interests?

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Probably after considering all the questions above you’ll have a couple of textbooks which make the ‘final round’ of decision making. If possible, now would be a good time to try them out. Of course, it’s not always possible (in fact, probably rarely!) to try out the books with the actual learners they are intended for, but here are some other ideas which help (probably in order of effectiveness):

 – Test one unit with a similar class: You can photocopy a couple of pages, or make a worksheet or OHT with some of the book’s information and exercises, and use them in a similar class. Then you can judge whether the level and methodology suits the kind of learners you have at your institution, and your teaching style.

 – Ask similar students to review the books: Perhaps the learners who have previously taken the class you are planning for, or at least learners who are working at a similar level. Ask them to try out a unit or two by themselves and to do a quick review – perhaps you can provide a little questionnaire to focus on the points you’re interested in – to see how well the book comes across, from a learners’ perspective.

 – Work through a chapter: Take the learner’s role and read through a unit or two, doing all of the exercises. You can then see whether the activities, for example, are clearly set up, or repetitive, and whether any answers given match what you would expect students to produce.

 – Read other reviews: A standard search engine will probably help here, or book sellers, blogs, etc. See what other people are saying about the textbook – but (if possible) focus on reviews written by those working/learning in a similar setting to your own.

At some point, you’ll have to bite the bullet and make a choice. Following the guide above, will (I hope) help to guarantee your decision(s) are good ones and the text books chosen are appropriate and work well in the class your planning. You might also find it helpful to elicit feedback from your class during the course –  then you’ll know for next time where you went wrong, if at all.

One thing I have learned from working with various textbooks – it is almost impossible to find one that perfectly fits your class on all levels. But do not despair – you can always supplement it with your own materials. And passing on your feedback to the publisher can also help to improve what’s on offer when you have to choose new textbooks in future!