Monday, 13 May 2013

Book Review: "Spotlight on Learning Styles" by Marjorie Rosenberg (Delta)

Spotlight on Learning Styles
Teacher strategies for learner success
Marjorie Rosenberg
Delta Publishing 2013

ISBN: 9781905085712
Sample blurb: "Spotlight on Learning Styles focuses on how we learn rather than what we learn. It sheds light on our personal learning preferences and what we can do to learn and to teach more successfully..."

It's always fun to review titles in the Delta Teacher Development Series, and recently The Company Words Keep, Teaching Online and Digital Play have all come favourably under the ELT Resources Review's critical fingers.

Spotlight on Learning Styles is no exception, although this one is even more succulent because some tend to find its premises funny ha-ha or even funny-peculiar in addition to simply 'fun'.

For in considering learning styles we are edging inexorably towards the shadowy extremes of mainstream teaching precepts and principles. Most of us are perfectly happy to  incorporate as wide a variety of learning activities as possible into our lessons, but some of us are unable to take the more left-of-centre ideas on board, either personally or in their professional context. So be it.

Read on and you too can decide whether this particular volume by Marjorie Rosenberg, whose interests also include Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), is right for your particular teaching and learning style. "The book," we are told, "... provides opportunities for us all to step outside our 'comfort zones', multiplying our possibilities for success." You have been warned!

Personally, I enjoyed doing a very lively 'learning styles' session outside in a park as part of a TEFL Certificate course I used to run, so I'm a fan, within reason. Anyway...

Spotlight on Learning Styles is divided into three sections.

The first part covers the theory of preferred ways of learning, and how they affect how learners learn and teachers teach. The aim is to include and motivate all students as fully as possible in the learning experience  through a wide range of different activities covering the famous audio, visual and kinesthetic learning preferences.

We're also introduced to the fascinating Global-Analytic model, and the abstract and concrete ways in which students perceive, process and store information about the world around them, all of which have ramifications in the teaching and learning process.

The second section, and the guts of the book, is a large number of inventive activities focusing in turn on all of the approaches covered in part 1. This includes an introductory mini-section for determining what our learners' styles actually are, although a fairly good level of English would be required to actually perform this activity competently.

Then come the main activities. Under the Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic learning styles category we have activities for Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic emotional, Kinaesthetic motoric and Mixed VAK learners. In the Global-Analytic learning styles category there are Global, Analytic and Mixed Global-Analytic activities. And  for the Mind Organisation learning styles part, Flexible friends, Expert investigators, Power planners, Radical reformers and Mixed mind organisation learners are all taken care of admirably.

If this is all making your tiny minds boggle, I can only empathise. But my aim isn't to explain all of these terms - that's what the book's for. Rather it's to give you a taster of this undeniably intriguing field in case you want to take your studies, and indeed your teaching, further down this subtly shining path.

The last section is, appropriately, a Further... section - further approaches, further applications, further activities and further reading for those who want to pursue it, well, further.

Now this is all well and good, but whether you actually believe it all, or, alternatively, can realistically envisage using these activities in your classes is another matter. It very much depends, vitally, on you as a teacher, the openness of your learners to new ideas, and of course the philosophy of the teaching establishment you work for. If nothing else, Spotlight on Learning Styles should allow you to understand where you stand as far as that is concerned.

I only wish I had the patience, err, the time to tell you about some of the wonderful activities the author has imagined and what a fun, lively lesson it would be that included one or more of them to complement the rest of the session. But I haven't (I think I'm an impulsive-expressive learner, if such a thing exists), so I'll leave you with some page shots to give you a tiny idea and encourage you to at least check out this title in the book shop or on-line if you feel it could be for you.

In the world of English teaching, the teacher is often remembered more than what was taught, and often for the wrong reasons; by incorporating some of these activities into your lessons you should be able to have both and for the right ones!


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Spotlight on Learning Styles"
© 2013 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Book Review: "Macmillan Global Business Class eWorkbook"

Business Class eWorkbook
Pre-Intermediate & Intermediate
Campbell, Metcalf, Hogan, Moore, Tennant
Macmillan 2013

ISBN: 9780230443754 (Pre)
9780230443778 (Inter)
Sample blurb: "global is a ground-breaking 6-level adult course for today's learners of English. It enables you to learn English as it is used in our globalised world, to learn through English using information-rich topics and texts, and to learn about English as an international language."

The Global Business Class eWorkbook is a professional addition to Macmillan's Global coursebook series which I reviewed in some depth here so I won't be going into as much detail this time.

It consists simply of a CD-ROM in the same style as the general English offering that comes with the original course but with more professional topics covered.

Either as a complement to the course books or perhaps more likely as a stand-alone component, the core package consists of 10 units. Each unit has a variety of interactive gap-fill and matching vocabulary exercises, a business skills video and worksheets, along with listening, reading and writing activities. A colourful booklet explains how it all works.

Further sections include comprehensive coverage of grammar points, vocabulary and pronunciation with more interactive exercises, additional videos and audio recordings and a range of other back-up material such as word lists and dictionary, grammar help, writing tips and tests.

Your results are charted as you progress through the units so you know what you've already done and what needs more work.

An 'On The Move' section allows you to download recordings and videos for use on your mobile device and the recordings from the course book are also available if you are using the two in tandem.

My feeling is that this is a worthy component to the over all Global course which can also stand alone and be used conveniently by the busy professional both at home and on the move.

It's also further evidence of the industry-wide drift away from physical dead tree coursebooks over to the digital medium, and it's a constant delight to see what the ever-inventive publishers will come up with next.


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Macmillan Global Business Class eWorkbook"
© 2013 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Book Review: "Advanced Grammar in Use" by Martin Hewings (Cambridge)

Advanced Grammar in Use
Third Edition
Cambridge University Press 2013
ISBN 9781107699892
Sample blurb: "Advanced Grammar in Use Third Edition meets the advanced-level learner's needs with comprehensive grammar coverage and a user-friendly layout."

A long, long time ago, I can still remember... when I interviewed the likeable Martin Hewings back in my superstar ELT interviewing days. Sigh.

The first edition of Advanced Grammar in Use had just come out and I remember a very pleasant and interesting conversation although don't ask me what we talked about. This, that and the other, no doubt.

Now the third edition is here and I don't intend writing as comprehensive a review as I did back then. Simply a nod to let you know the book exists and that it's somewhat of a bible for the ultra-keeno advanced learner to get their grammatical teeth into.

100 meaty units take you from the basics like the differences between the past simple and the present perfect, through in-depth analysis of stuff like few, little, less, fewer, and rapidly into deeper, darker territory such as gradable and non-gradable adjectives, and two- and three-word verbs: word order.

The units are split into the following sections:

 - Tenses
 - The future
 - Modals and semi-modals
 - Linking verbs, passives, questions
 - Verb complementation: what follows verbs
 - Reporting
 - Nouns
 - Articles, determiners and quantifiers
 - Relative clauses and other types of clause
 - Pronouns, substitution and leaving words out
 - Adjectives and adverbs
 - Adverbial clauses and conjunctions
 - Prepositions
 - Organising information

As you can imagine we're not talking red Murphy (the elementary member of the series) here. This is serious stuff and many a lay English teacher would break into a cold sweat if asked to explain some of these concepts off the bat, I suspect...

The blurb reminds us that this third edition is now 'in full colour', which in reality means a coloured picture, photo or diagram every two units or so. I'm a big fan of images and colour as a bona fide aid to learning so that's pleasing to see, even if each image necessarily tends to illustrate a single sentence from any given unit.

Once the 100 units are done the book is far from over. The 'study planner' is effectively a 12-page test allowing learners to see which areas they need to brush up on most. Answers are provided.

There's a glossary and also an 18-page 'grammar reminder' reference section if you want your rules and regulations in a more condensed format, with a lot of cross-referencing to keep you busy.

Then there are 11 pages of additional exercises as well as the CD-ROM but we'll get to that in a moment. Cambridge tell us that the book is ideal preparation for IELTS, as well as the Advanced and Proficiency general English examinations.

The CD-ROM took a little while but installed itself on my computer without any hiccups and opened to a straightforward, crisp and clean welcome screen.

Included are 200 practice exercises, organised into the same units as the book, and customised tests allowing learners to target specific language areas. There are also audio recordings of all the main exercises, something which adds considerably to the richness of the package.

As well as attractive screens, they've slotted in a little pic for each exercise and the whole thing is a fairly pleasant experience.

So to sum up, this is a great package, perhaps the package for the serious student of English grammar at the higher levels, and particularly those studying for exams where such esoteric knowledge is liable to be tested. It's certainly the most comprehensive volume of this sort and level I've seen so far.

Well done to Cambridge for continuing to update what was already a leading volume and making it more and more user-friendly, as they say. Power to your grammar!


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Advanced Grammar in Use" (Cambridge University Press)
© 2013 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Friday, 18 January 2013

Book Review: "Punctuation..?" (User Design)

User Design 2012
ISBN 9780957071223
Sample blurb: "Punctuation..? explains the functions and correct uses of 21 of the most used punctuation marks. It is humorous, fully illustrated using real life scenarios and is for a wide age range (young to ageing) and intelligence (emerging to expert).
This book also makes an ideal gift, birthday present or special occasion gesture."

Ingenuous, somewhat endearing line drawings combined with simple and straightforward punctuation rules and examples make Punctuation..?, from User Design, a bit of a one-off.

I must admit I didn't even know there were 21 punctuation marks, much less how to use some of the more obscure ones such as the Pilcrow (so that's what it's called), the Guillemets (so that's what they're called - despite living in France) and the Interpunct (so that's what... etc.). See the contents page below if you're not sure what I'm talking about either.

The book is aimed at a general audience and seems to be gunning for the Eats, Shoots and Leaves (by Lynne Truss) category of fun-but-frightfully-useful-if-this-is-your-thing literary self-help volumes.

Curiously, for a self-proclaimed humorous book (see blurb) there isn't any in the actual explanations or examples, which are dry enough to have been lifted directly from a scholarly grammar tome, but there's no denying their clarity and indeed brevity, err, efficacy.

In the end it's a pleasant little book, certainly original in its design, and if you are looking for some crystal clear explanations, especially on things like the dreaded apostrophe, which gets six pages, or the subtleties between dashes and hyphens, commas, colons and semi-colons, you could do worse than to check out Punctuation..?.

You need to know that it's slim though - Amazon call it a pamphlet - and at £10 new (although check Amazon, hint, hint) a little steep considering...


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Punctuation..?" (User Design)
© 2013 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Book Review: "Cambridge Learner's Dictionary" Fourth Edition (Cambridge)

Cambridge Learner's Dictionary
Fourth Edition
Cambridge University Press 2012
ISBN 9781107660151
Sample blurb: "The ideal dictionary for intermediate learners of English.
NEW! English Vocabulary Profile levels: all words and phrases at CEFR levels A1 to B2 are shown with a level indicator, helping you to decide which words to learn first.
NEW! A section on common learner errors at particular CEFR levels helps you to avoid common mistakes in exams."

This is how I look at paper dictionaries these days: I love them but. But what? But I don't use them as much as I used to.

Now, I don't have one of the de rigueur CD-ROMs running on my computer all the time, but then again I'm not a serious language learner, in which case I might. No, my criterion for using a paper dictionary is very simple: is it within arm's length? If it is I'll probably reach for that reassuring and highly reliable resource (neologisms notwithstanding, oh dear...).

If, however, I have to bend down to get it, or, heaven forbid, actually leave my seat, I'll probably use Google. As often as not I get the information I'm needing by typing the word itself into the search engine, followed by 'definition'. Sometimes I don't even have to go that far before the confirmation (spelling / meaning) pops up in the automatic suggestions.

What future, then, for the erstwhile essential but laterly humbled paper dictionary, and learner dictionaries in particular? Cambridge evidently believe there is one, or enough of one not to abandon one of their stalwart product lines just yet. But for how long?

Macmillan don't. The last Macmillan paper dictionaries have just recently rolled off the presses and, as from now, or next year at least, shall be a thing of the past.

Which is a shame, coz they were nice. Nice and red. But apparently not read enough for Macmillan to continue with them. Now the other major dictionary publishers are wondering whether they should follow suit I imagine. Only they know how much money they're making (or losing) on them or how much of a flagship product it is and how important it is to have a paper dictionary in their catalogue but I can't imagine, I mean it's unimaginable to think, isn't it, that one day there might not be a Cambridge or an Oxford paper dictionary out there.

The reason I'm going on at such length about this is for one thing because I was kind of asked to, and secondly, you know the learner dictionaries by now, surely. And I've reviewed enough of them to know that there's not much I could say which would surprise you so this will be a rather different review; a non-review, if you like, or a few random thoughts about the entire future of paper dictionaries themselves, if you prefer.

Personally, and this is not an informed opinion, I think there 'should' be a future for paper dictionaries at least for a few years to come. Not everyone has electronic devices surgically inserted into every orifice, and even those who do don't always want to use them all the time (surely). A paper dictionary is a reassuring, standard issue item of literary competence and I don't think any serious student or scholar or thinking person should be without one. I'm not of the youngest generation, however (at 47) and may not be totally in touch with reality any more.

Perhaps a sort of half-way house for the big publishers would be to go the route of selling electronic dictionaries a bit like calculators. Maybe they do already. So, instead of buying a huge heavy brick-sized tome, you buy a palm-sized, feather-weight digital device, for the same price or less, which cost the same amount or a fraction to produce in Taiwan or somewhere and everyone's happy (except the UK printers, that is).

Well, I could waffle on about this all day, but in the end progress will out and Macmillan have shown that the inexorable drift to purely digital has already started, as if we needed any more evidence.

When I worked with the British Council, I think it was, we had piles of dictionaries which teachers would borrow for certain lexically-based lessons or activities. These days I can hardly imagine a serious language learner without their own dictionary of some sort and given the already impressive weight of French kids' satchels (where I'm based), the lighter their dictionary the better. Which means digital.

Should I do a mini-review of the fourth edition of the Cambridge Learner's Dictionary nevertheless? No. I'll just say that it's great, as to be expected. Clear, pleasant and easy to use, with some 'goodies' sections such as the very useful top ten lists of words which are often confused, misused or misspelt at various CEFR levels. I've included plenty of pictures in this article for you to get the idea if you didn't have one already.

In the end, much as I hate to contemplate it, I think the sheer volume of stuff we will be expected to get through as time goes on, and the omnipotence and omnipresence of the computer in one form or another will render the good old paper dictionary redundant sooner rather than later.

Already you can have applications running which allow you to click on, or even just say a word and get instant definitions, synonyms and such like, so why should you even go to the effort of stretching out your arm when a finger will do? For a bit of sport perhaps?

Until then, though, books like the Cambridge Learner's Dictionary will carry on the tradition until market forces and technological advances allow us to simply cock an eyebrow at a word an have an instant definition there and then. It'll be a sad day for some but there's nothing like progress, and you can't stop it even if you try.

As a footnote, and to be fair to Cambridge in case you think I've painted them as some sort of ELT dinosaur, nothing could be further from the truth.

I don't think I'm giving away any secrets in telling you that not only are the Cambridge dictionaries, including this Cambridge Learner's Dictionary, available for free on-line, but you can even add their word definition boxes to your browser's tool bar or your website for virtually instantaneous enlightenment. And this has been available for years now.

In a way the definition of a word has become the equivalent of a simple phone call. It no longer earns the company any money but is used to sell more expensive services off its back.

How long before we see digital ELT books from publishers with built-in dictionaries as a de facto standard in the same way as internet service providers pretty much 'throw in' telephonic communication as an afterthought these days? I'll wait for the message from a publisher telling me they do it already...


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Cambridge Leaner's Dictionary" (Cambridge University Press)
© 2013 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Monday, 17 December 2012

Book Review: "Classroom Management Techniques" by Jim Scrivener (Cambridge)

Classroom Management Techniques
Jim Scrivener
Cambridge University Press 2012
ISBN 9780521741859
Sample blurb: "Classroom management is about creating the right conditions for effective learning - whichever method you use, whatever your classroom is like and whoever your students are.
Classroom Management Techniques offers a huge range of down-to-earth, practical techniques that will help you make the most of your teaching space and get your students working in more focused ways."

Jim Scrivener was one of my early ELT heroes thanks to his wonderful Learning Teaching manual published back in those days by Heinemann. I was still using it a couple of years ago on a TEFL Certificate course I was running here in Paris. This included some of his ideas on classroom management which he has now devoted an entire book to in the revered Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series.

Just for a change, let's organise this review by bullet points from the back cover and see what it's all about...

1) A complete and essential activity-based guide to ELT classroom mamagement.

Complete would be right; we're talking 300 pages of material, divided into logical sections as follows: The classroom; The teacher; The learners; Key teacher interventions; Facilitating interaction; Establishing and maintaining appropriate behaviour; Lessons. The Facilitating interaction chapter is further divided into Whole-class work, Pairs and groups, and The world, meaning interaction outside the classroom.

2) Includes techniques that are clearly presented and easy to implement, requiring minimal preparation.

Classroom Management Techniques claims it will 'inspire you to try out fresh ideas, from the basic to the more experimental' but it will only achieve this aim if the ideas are simple to  put into practice and not couched in countless layers of impenetrable theory.

In this respect, the book seems to deliver with probably well over 50% of the pages consisting of grey 'Technique' boxes. Most of these boxes go straight to the point.

The Building rapport box, for example, offers eight instant principles such as be welcoming, encouraging and being approachable, treating each learner as an individual, and avoiding sarcasm, with a descriptive paragraph to accompany each point. The Effective eliciting box has nine points. The Giving instructions to lower-level classes box has 16. The Making your class more learner-centred techniques box has 21.

3) Analyses the classroom from three perspectives: the classroom, the teacher and the learners.

I remember back in the days of my language school in Greece creating some top ten lists of what makes an ideal lesson, teacher, student, classroom, language school and so on, and the first three sections remind me of this.

The classroom aspect looks at different classroom layouts and seating arrangements, which can be the difference in itself between a static, boring lesson and a lively interactive one. Also covered is teacher moving-around techniques and the sitting or standing question. Other issues are also treated like teaching in limited space and sharing classrooms, as well as the atmosphere of the class itself, with the emphasis being on  making it as friendly and inducive to learning as posssible - no bare walls or curling student work from years ago, if you please!

The teacher unit offers lots of useful stuff such as being natural, listening attentatively, using your voice and facial expression as a weapon a powerful communication device, as well, of course, as the actual language you use. The first teaching practice sessions on any teacher training course are often eye-wateringly teacher-talk centred, and things like speed of delivery, complexity of language and random umms, errs and muttered asides are also dealt with in this section.

The learners unit covers learning students' names, mixed level classes, large classes, individuals and developing an overall learner-centred approach.

4) Presents a ground-breaking analysis of 14 kinds of teacher intervention, allowing you to really examine the way you communicate with learners.

This section, the Key teacher interventions chapter, looks at a lot of the ways we interact with our classes, and gives us techniques to understand them better and utilise them more effectively.

Topics go from the straightforward giving of instructions and telling the students things, through being supportive, eliciting, encouraging and praising, to the more subtle ideas of permitting emotion, being deliberately 'unhelpful', and 'vanishing'.

Whether it's questioning, checking learning and understanding, asserting authority or being catalytic (all section headings), the useful techniques are falling over themselves to be used and this section alone would probably be worth the asking price to any new teacher or one wishing to refresh their teacher intervention repertoire. 

5) Shows you how to facilitate interaction in your lessons and get everyone talking.

Ahh, getting everyone talking (when you want them too); the holy grail of the communicative classroom...

The fifth unit deals with this in detail, looking at reducing unnecessary teacher blah-blah, getting students to listen to each other, the hand raising issue, pair and group work techniques, getting quiet students to participate and simply encouraging students to actually use English in their enthusiastic exchanges.

An interesting 'Interaction beyond the classroom walls' section offers a dozen 'techniques' (obviously) for getting students to use their English outside formal classroom time and strictures, such as doing surveys, arranging English trips and setting up links with English-speaking schools in the good old penpal exchange tradition but this time web-based.

6) Deals with critical teaching issues such as mixed level classes, difficult physical conditions and discipline.

The sixth unit is also worth its weight in gold, especially for teachers in potentially tricky group-teaching situations.

The first part looks at nipping negative behaviour in the bud by 'Setting the stage for positive behaviour', which is something I can only condone.

The following two parts look at small disruptions and serious discipline issues and I have to reiterate what I say in the conclusion that the depth of experience and wisdom makes for extremely enriching reading in this section.

7) Delivers real solutions for real classroom  problems.

Whether or not this alludes to the seventh section doesn't really matter. It works both ways. Gems like the following are of the sort only an experienced, sensitive, and above all honest and realistic teacher could come out with:

Technique: Don't draw attention to what didn't happen
It's not usually a great idea to say to students, 'I was going to do something really interesting next, but I'm sorry we have run out of time'. It leaves everyone feeling that their teacher can't plan very well and that something important has been missed. If you run out of time, keep it upbeat, and let students focus on the things they have done which they enjoyed.

Throughout the book the feeling has been that the ideas and 'techniques' have been drawn from real-life situations and hold all the more authority and value for it.

One final example is the engrossing discussion on 'learners styles', including multiple intelligences, sensory preferences and the rest. The author documents them faithfully whilst suggesting with his tongue firmly in his cheek that we should take them with a pinch of salt and carry on giving the varied and enriching, all-student-encompassing classes we've always done (haven't we?).

To sum up, Classroom Management Techniques goes well beyond its remit as a simple 'keeping the class happy' manual. The depth of experience and sagacity virtually drips from its pages, in the most positive sense, all in the spirit of promoting learning in the most practical way possible.

This is one of those teachers handbooks which really deserves as wide an audience as possible. It's excellent. And in an admittedly archaic Star Trek reference, It's teaching Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it, not as we know it...


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Classroom Management Techniques" (Cambridge University Press)
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Book Review: "Oxford English Grammar Course" by Michael Swan & Catherine Walter

Oxford English Grammar Course
Michael Swan & Catherine Walter
Oxford University Press 2011
ISBN 9780194420822
Sample blurb: "Learn and practise the grammar you need to speak and write in English: short grammar explanations are easy to remember. Colour makes the grammar clear; clear simple examples show how the grammar works; texts, articles, quotations and poems use the grammar; hundreds of exercises practise the grammar; internet exercises and grammar-and-vocabulary work; tests in the book and online."

In the beginning, there was Raymond Murphy and his legendary In Use series of grammar explanation and exercise books. Well, ok, near the beginning. Then came How English Works and a little later the Good Grammar Book from fellow language gurus Michael Swan and Catherine Walter. And now we have the brand new Oxford English Grammar Course, of all things, from the same team. And just when we thought grammar had gone out of fashion forever.

So, so much for the communicative approach; there are some quarters, such as every serious student's book shelf, where a practical grammar book still very much has its place. And let's not be mistaken; the market is still huge, hence the publisher's obvious commitment to the hefty three-level Oxford English Grammar Course.

Now, Michael Swan and Catherine Walter have great senses of humour, and the cartoons they love to collect are again in evidence throughout this volume, along with colourful rule-highlighting and illustrations to liven things up. But that's about as far as the 'fun' aspect of the book goes. Make no mistake about it; underlying it all is the rigour you would expect from such an esteemed publisher and established couple of grammar gurus.

But where exactly does the Oxford English Grammar Course fall in between your standard course book and a straightforward grammar book like Murphy? After all, they do call it a course, so I assume we should treat it as one.

Well, to be honest, and much more so than their highly accessible previous volumes, and despite what I said about the cartoons and colours, this is serious stuff. Heavy grammar practice backing up highly concise and easy to absorb grammar rules. Indeed, the rules are never longer than a line or two before examples and exercises kick in.

When I say 'heavy' grammar practice, I mean lots of it, exercise after exercise, for the motivated student who enjoys learning, at least in part, in this rather regimented and repetitive way. This is a book for those who are taking their studies very seriously indeed and expect their materials to match their commitment.

Of course, it could be used just to dip into to sort out a point which is causing difficulty, or a unit could be photocopied by a teacher to complement whatever is being covered in class but somehow I don't see the Oxford English Grammar Course being used so much in this way. Perhaps pages could be given for homework I suppose. But although I see this more as a self-study book for the serious student, even the authors are not expecting learners to work through it from beginning to end, and of course they are right.

Back to the basics of the book then, and it's split into 22 fairly standard grammar sections, such as perfect tenses or infinitives and -ing forms. Each of these starts with a grammar summary suitable for this particular level and some Revise the basics exercises to consolidate what the students already know and set them up for what's to follow. Then come the units on the grammar points themselves. These are followed by yet more practice and a revision test at the end of the unit. There's an impressive amount of material there, I can tell you. Answers are at the back, as are appendices on usual stuff like irregular verbs, punctuation, contractions, word order and numbers.

Then there's the obligatory CD-ROM. What's on it? Let me see... ahh yes, more exercises. A handful for each of the 22 units. Surprisingly few actually, in comparison to the book itself, but then there are plenty of opportunities to practise your pronunciation by listening and recording your voice and listening back. And that's the whole point of the CD really - it's actually called the Pronunciation for Grammar CD-ROM - and the element which is often missing from traditional grammar courses. The exercises cover listening to identify what you hear, distinguishing between a question and a statement using intonation, strong and weak forms, and back chaining for rhythm (one of my favourite exercises with my own students!).

So hopefully that's given you a flavour for this major publication, and I haven't even seen the basic or advanced levels. Is it better than Murphy? It depends what you prefer. For me Murphy remains the reference and the gold standard in the field, and in terms of straightforwardness and clarity is still second to none. It has all the practice you want, but shoved at the end or into supplementary practice books (but hey, the OEGC also has a web site with even more online exercises to play with...).

The Oxford English Grammar Course is a different, weightier, more complex beast, even attempting to incorporate two different levels into the one book from what I understand. This may impress some but appear unnecessarily complicated to others. In any case, its pedigree is impeccable, the explanations beautifully clear and the exercises legion and very possibly legendary! One for the serious student looking for top-notch tuition, backed up by practice and tons of it. A very imposing new kid on the grammar block.


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Oxford Word Skills"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
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