Annette Capel & Wendy Sharp
Cambridge University Press 2012 (3rd Ed.) / 2014 (4th Ed.)
As the Cambridge English: First exam is changing from January 2015, this review is one of a series of coursebooks designed to prepare learners for the exam. Reviews are also available for:
The book I looked at was the 3rd Edition, which is based around the 2008 exam specifications and NOT the revised 2015 specifications, however the links on the page are to the 4th edition, which does contain the revised specifications. I’m assuming that there aren’t significant changes to content or approach – but will revise and update this review when I finally get to see the new edition!
This title seems aimed at the adult / young adult section of the B2 market, the themes and questions aimed at the students look like they require a bit more life experience than the average teenager possesses. It looks eminently teachable though – three very neatly self contained double page spreads per unit that I think parcel up into lessons quite effectively. With 24 units, this makes about 72 lessons in the book or about 90 hours of material (obviously depending on your lesson length, you may need to drop some bits or add a few more bits in!)
I only had access to the student’s book and the workbook, though there is also a teacher’s book with a teacher resources CD ROM available (not sure what those resources are…); and something called a Presentation Plus DVDROM, which appears to contain a digital version of the book that allows you to manipulate the content in a variety of interesting ways. Sounds expensive though…
Skills are predictably exam focused and within the units the receptive skills are largely practice based. Some of the task set up may help build skills but the impression is that rote practice is enough for the exam. Each unit invariably contains a small speaking section, which may or may not be exam focused and a receptive skills task. Writing is only dealt with in the “writing folders”, which alternate with the “exam folders” to provide specific exam segment development and strategy guides.
There is quite extensive language input – at least one double page spread per unit is dedicated to grammatical input and practice and I think the fact that they are laid out across two pages (mostly) helps make the input sizeable enough to form the key component of a lesson and consequently a lot more teachable than in some books. There is a nod to guided discovery approaches in that learners are often asked to consider the evidence and figure out the rule (or choose from some rule possibilities), but for the most part the language input is rule based instruction, application and practice.
The double page spread system makes the book very easy on the eye and very accessible – despite the fact that there’s often quite a lot of content on the page, it doesn’t feel overwhelming and from a teacher’s perspective it looks easy to figure out where to start and stop. The graphics are fairly standard – the typically bright, colourful and inoffensive coursebook fare. The smaller unit size means there are more of them in the book, 24 in total, which I think would probably add to a learner’s sense of perceived progress as they motor through, and which also allows for a bit more variety in the range of topics. It is an adult focused book though, so teenagers may have some issues in responding to discussion questions that assume more experience than they have.
9/10. I really like the way this book is organised and I think it gives exam learners exactly what they need to prepare effectively for the exam – with the caveat that this preparation takes place over an extensive 100 hour course! I think the structure makes it relatively easy to teach with and the clear focus that each section of each unit has makes it easy to decide where the focus of each lesson lies. The exam folders and writing folders, when used effectively (and I think some adaptation is needed here), should give the learners a very thorough overview of what is required of them and what they need to do to be successful.
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