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Jazz English

Published by Compass, Jazz English is a speaking textbook for lower-intermediate students. It works very well with junior high school students that have been studying for a while and are ready to take things to the next level in terms of speaking, as well as with high school and I imagine lower level university students. I have only used the first textbook, so this review does not address Jazz English 2, nor the companion workbook (which I am going to try soon).

The textbook consists of ten main units and three supplementary ones, with all units following the same pattern: new vocabulary, conversation prompt questions, a dialogue, a short reading section, a crossword to practice the vocabulary, a short reading task, exercises to support speaking, and a final speaking activity.

The focus of the book is for students to develop more autonomy while speaking, and to try to have longer and more complex conversations. It does this very well, at least in my experience, with students that have a solid base of vocabulary and English exposure, and who are motivated to improve their conversational skills. Our ‘advanced’ classes, consisting of junior high and high school students that have been studying for four or more years took to it very well.

This has been a real find for us this year, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for classes similar to the one described above. The course requires a lot of student input, so this book would not work well with unmotivated or reluctant learners.

Anybody else using Jazz English?

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End of term/semester

I just finished my grading for this semester. It’s nice to be done with classes, and time to start looking ahead to the next semester.

Here are some changes I’m planning to make:

  1. Make my computer class more interactive. This semester was my first teaching in a computer lab, and the strange environment threw me. Now that I am more used to it, I am going to try to involve the students more in talking to each other.
  2. Create a workbook for extensive reading classes (this is a team project). Our extensive reading classes are going really well, but we’re hoping that a bilingual workbook/briefing will make things much smoother at the start and allow teachers to run their classes more easily.
  3. Start using a new textbook for my presentation classes. I used to use Speaking of Speech New Edition (Harrington and Lebeau) but while useful it is a bit simple and childish for my students. It was a good match when I was starting out teaching presentation, but I think I have outgrown it now. We’ll be using Presentations in English (Williams) instead.

This is my fourth year here, so I have established routines and am fairly comfortable. There is always room to tweak and improve though.

How about you, what are you going to change next time round?

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Penguin Kids Readers

Resuming our kids’ readers roundup after a brief hiatus 🙂

I received a set of these a couple of weeks ago from the publisher (thanks!). While I appreciate the gesture, it will not affect how I review them here.

Having said that, this is a fantastic new series that has a lot going for it. There are currently 23 readers over six levels of difficulty.

Level 1 (200 headwords)
Level 2 (400 headwords)
Level 3 (600 headwords)
Level 4 (800 headwords)
Level 5 (1000 headwords)
Level 6 (1200 headwords)

As you can see, the jump between levels is fairly minimal, something that is extremely important for beginner and younger readers.

The current titles are all based on Disney films, and the artwork and covers are beautiful. The writing isn’t bad, either, in that the books actually tell coherent stories. That is often a problem with low-level readers based on films or TV content -they try to fit in too much with a minimal wordlist so the stories end up not making sense. Luckily that is not the case here. In many of the books they have taken just one scene from a film and told that. Our students found the books really attractive due to the topics, but there was enough of a spread that they had not seen all of the movies featured.

Another thing I liked were the simple exercises in the back of the books. They have pre-reading and post-reading questions that are visual and fairly easy -perfect to do in class after reading or to check out of class reading. If anything, I would have liked to see this section be slightly longer.

Apparently the series will end up having twelve books at each level, and there will be different content in the next wave of books (ie not just Disney).

Overall, this is a fantastic new resource. We ended up ordering two more sets, and I’m really looking forward to the release of the rest of the books in this series.

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David Lisgo’s new card games

I am a big fan of David Lisgo‘s work, especially the Switchit card game.

Recently he has made a new set of card games based on verbs. Unlike Switchit, which is similar to UNO, these are more like a combination of Go Fish and Happy Families or Rummy.

There are nine sets of cards:
-three sets of irregular past simple verbs
-three sets of regular past simple verbs
-three sets of present continuous verb

Play is simple: players are dealt a number of cards and they try to collect sets of four by asking other players: if the other player has the cards, they hand them over; if not, the asking player takes a card from the middle (like Go Fish). Play continues until all the cards are gone or the time is up.

One caveat is that the game if played in full can take a long time: I have found setting a time limit or removing cards or sets from the deck helps speed things up.

Our students enjoyed the new game and I liked it very much as well. Students are talking a lot more, using full sentences, and getting a lot of practice with verb forms. These cards are a great addition to a teacher’s toolbox.