Thursday, 15 November 2012

Book Review: "Headway Elementary Fourth Edition" by Liz & John Soars

Elementary Student's Book (4th Edition)
Liz and John Soars
Oxford University Press 2011
ISBN 9780194769129

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "The world's most trusted English course... A perfectly-balanced syllabus with extensive resources at all levels: In-depth treatment of grammar; Integrated skills throughout; Full student and teacher support in print, online, and on disc."

Some things never change. Or not a lot. And if they did we’d be totally thrown. Headway is one of these things. It’s even rather difficult to know why they bother bringing out new editions, so similar are the contents, just the way we like them.

OK, there are changes, and I’m not even going to pretend that I’m familiar or going to make myself familiar with the differences between the third and brand new fourth edition of the Elementary Student’s Book I’m contemplating as I type. There’s very little point.

Either you already know what Headway’s about or you simply need to know that it’s something of a gold standard by which all other ELT course books can be judged.

It’s no longer innovative or ground-breaking, it’s simply… Headway, familiar, reliable, warm and cuddly old Headway just the way we like it. Or not.

Headway is utterly safe and innocuous and is still an Oxford University Press best seller. Its play-safe formula of straightforward explanations and exercises is still striking the right chords today, it would seem, as all those years ago when it first appeared, in a large number of teaching situations.

Granted, it’s now totally inappropriate in an equally large number of contexts, particularly those where English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has taken hold, but that’s fine. Everyone knows when and where Headway will probably work well and where it won’t.

Restless teachers try edgier titles; those who like to play safe stick with what they know best. It’ll always be like this and that’s why Headway still has its role to play, with its heavy focus on the four skills, on grammar and vocabulary and functional language in the most familiar and predictable way possible. It's the Murphy of course books.

Of course, the bit at the back has been updated, with a sizeable writing section amongst all the usual suspects dealing with grammar, pairwork and the quaintly titled ‘Tapescripts’.

Talking of which, there’s an ‘iTutor’ DVD-ROM (but no tape in sight) at the back of the book which is probably the most interesting aspect of the new course for those of us who know it well.

I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised by this. Not only did it open immediately, which is more than can be said for some publishers' offerings which need you to install all sorts of esoteric elements, but it was incredibly easy to use.

You can surf by chapter or by skill, and there are exercises, readings, listenings and video, and a good old everyday English section to boot. This offering seems to be pitched just about right - plenty of things to do, including grammar reference activities, word lists and printable instructions and progress sheets, but not an overwhelming number or level of complexity - it's very easy to get the hang of things and simple and fun to work your way through the units and exercises.

Significantly, however, the student's DVD-ROM doesn’t include the Student’s Book recordings which precludes it somewhat from the increasingly popular self-study market approach. Something for the fifth edition, perhaps.

I haven’t used Headway for ages, but if I had to start a new course with this book tomorrow it would be like slipping on a comfortable old pair of slippers, with just a hint of a toe starting to poke through but nothing to worry about for now. The DVD makes up for any short-comings, which there aren't really, given what I've already said above. See you at the fifth edition!


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: "Headway Elememtary Fourth Edition"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

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