June 2004 -- Volume 8, Number 1

Matrix: Pre-Intermediate Student's Book

K. Gude & M. Duckworth. (2002)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Pp. 151
ISBN 0-19-436966-8 (paper)
£16.05

Matrix: Pre-Intermediate Student's Book is an English textbook for secondary students at the low-intermediate level that integrates multiple English skills, including both a communicative approach and mechanical practice.

The book is divided into 10 thematic units­Communication, The Big Time, Home and Family, Body and Soul, The World Ahead, New Horizons, A Sporting Life, Strange but True, Time of Change and Off to See the World. Each unit contains the same sections­Reading, Grammar, Listening, Speaking, Culture Focus, Writing, Word Focus and Reading for Pleasure. In addition, a Revision Focus is provided after every two units, offering students suggestions to revise the materials used in the lessons.

In the Reading section, prior to the main reading section, the vocabulary review box and picture prompts are provided to help students activate their existing knowledge related to the topic. The texts from the main Reading and the Reading for Pleasure section cover a variety of genres, such as scientific reports, magazine articles, ghost stories, biography and literature. The content of the reading is rather interesting and appropriate for adolescents. For example, there are such excerpts as Arnold Schwarzenegger's short biography in the Success unit, or the life of a young teenager in a foster home in the Home and Family unit. The activities are constructed to develop the reading skills through predicting, skimming, reading, scanning and anticipating the content. After reading, the students will do a comprehension check exercise, such as answering questions from the text and matching the paragraph with the topics, as well as study and apply newly-taught vocabulary in new contexts.

The Grammar section is mainly organized according to the contrasting structures of selected grammar points, such as the present simple and the present continuous. This organization is likely to benefit the students in pointing out the distinction between the two related grammar structures. After the structures are presented through a short reading or listening text with blanks or underlines, the students have to analyze the features and articulate explicit rules by completing the form and use of the structures in the blanks. Interestingly, the authors did not supplement the semantic component to satisfy the three-dimensional grammar framework, as suggested by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999), which might affect the students' ability to use the structure meaningfully. The exercises range from controlled to freer practices, such as filling in the blanks and information exchange respectively. At the end of the Grammar section, the students will perform a conversational task in Activate, which is expected to elicit the newly taught structures. Given the opportunity to produce output immediately after input, the students will further their development of language acquisition (Swain, 1995). [-1-]

The Listening section is introduced through a range of recorded texts, including news reports, interviews, voicemail messages, television advertisements, weather forecasts and songs, which contribute to the practice of listening for specific and general information. Some examples of listening tasks are multiple choice questions, matching and identifying true or false statements, all of which demand the students to reinterpret the content and speaker's intention rather than to simply fill the missing words in the blank or answer questions straightforwardly. Additional tasks implement pronunciation enhancement by identifying individual sounds, word stress and matching sounds to spelling. Generally the students will undergo some schema-building activities, such as a brief discussion about the topic or vocabulary revision, prior to listening, so as to attune their focus toward the task.

In the Speaking section, the students perform various tasks relevant to the topic, such as role plays, information gap activities, problem-solving, and group discussion. The tasks usually relate well to other parts of the unit such as grammar. For instance, in the unit about the future forms, the students are to utilize the structures in constructive dialogues about their hopes and plans with their partner(s). Another instance is the exercise Time to talk, which usually follows the reading section. Here the students will respond to topic-related questions and engage in a meaning-based communicative task. These activities help broaden the students' minds as well as encourage them to recycle the new vocabulary in another context. However, many speaking tasks come with a model in a dialogue box. On the one hand, providing useful phrases in bold may help the students perform the task accurately and fluently, and perhaps lead them to uptake the form more easily. On the other hand, it may obstruct the students from forming their output freely and creatively. The teacher should prudently consider this issue and adapt the model in the way that will be most appropriate to the specific group of learners.

The Writing section begins with warm-up activities that encourage the students to think about the topic, based on their previous knowledge. Then, a model of the writing format is introduced, followed by a set of guiding questions, which leads the students to analyze the organization of the written texts as well as to check their comprehension. After that, the students are urged to create their own writing in a similar fashion. Regarding the variety of text types, a wider range of genres should be introduced: of the ten writing tasks, six are in the form of letter writing. The others deal with notice/note writing, description and a short story. In addition to the genres' improper distribution, most exercises are too rigidly controlled. Despite many benefits of the model usage, such as providing students with a writing guideline and introducing elements of successful writing samples (Hyland, 2003), it could negatively affect the students' performance in their writing content and style as well. In terms of writing focus, the authors do not seem to agree with intervention in the students writing process, as the lessons lack activities on brainstorming or outlining. Moreover, only twice do the editing exercises appear in the whole book.

In addition to the language skill sections, the book contains the Culture Focus section, designed for students to read about different aspects of life in some English-speaking countries. Some topics are, for instance, British cinema, lives in Alaska, special days in the USA, etc. The lessons encourage the students to broaden their mind by making cross-cultural comparisons of the topic with their own country, corresponding to Hinkel's (1999) perspective on culture in language learning. According to Hinkel, the students need to gain socio-cultural knowledge in the target language because without it, their linguistic proficiency alone is not sufficient to be considered communicatively competent. [-2-]

In terms of the authenticity of materials, the authors make use of some authentic literacy texts, giving the students examples of texts written by native speakers across genres. However, due to the students' low proficiency, several texts are modified so that they are not too complex for students to acquire. In listening, although the materials are not authentic in the sense that they are originally used by the native speakers in real-world tasks (Lynch, 1983), the scripts are produced based on authentic materials and feature a variety of speakers and accents, which should result in giving a similar wealth of high-quality input to the students. However, the learning can be more interesting and beneficial if the lessons combine more authentic speaking dialogues from movies or telephone conversations.

Although the authors do not specify what teaching philosophy they use or what type of students this textbook is designed for, except that it aims to prepare secondary students for school-leaving examinations in English, the book seems beneficial to both EFL and ESL students. However, I regard it more suitable for the former group, because a great proportion of the book is devoted to grammar skills and vocabulary for the purpose of examination preparation. That is usually a main goal of most EFL classes, whereas ESL students tend to be more concerned with the language in everyday communication or in academic contexts. Moreover, this book is designed to increase the quantity of students' input and output, solving the major problem of EFL learning--limited exposure to the target language. In regards to topics and stories used in the lessons, many circulate around teens' interest­pop culture, make-up situations and exotic places­ most of which are fascinating, and therefore appropriate for the adolescent audience.

Considering the appropriateness of the lessons and contexts, the book is well presented and contributes to the reinforcement of learning. General activities are moderately short, yet when combined together, they build upon one another and promote learning of particular grammar structures and vocabulary. One strength of the book is that the students do not only work on the so-called "drill and kill" exercises, but are also exposed to the communicative use of the language through meaningful tasks which can be applied in the real world tasks.

In sum, the book is well organized, clear and full of appealing features, such as colorful and modern illustrations that can benefit learning. I would particularly recommend the book as a main textbook for an EFL class, to be used alongside an additional writing textbook and extra extended activities.

Patcharaporn Buranakul
Michigan State University
<buranaku@msu.edu>

References

Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The Grammar book: an ESL/ EFL teacher's course. 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Hinkel, E. (1999). Building awareness and practical skills to facilitate cross-cultural Communication, In Celce-Murcia, M. (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language ( pp. 443-459). Boston, MA: Thomson Learning.

Hyland, K. ( 2003). Texts and the materials in the writing class. Second language writing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lynch, T. (1983). Study listening. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Swain, M. (1995). Three functions of output in second language learning. In G. Cook & B. Seidlhofer (Eds.), Principle and practice in applied linguistics (pp. 125-144). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..

[-3-]