written by Alistair Dickinson
Every year I recommend the
150 or so trainees on my CELTA courses to buy Jeremy
Harmer's 'The Practice of English Language Teaching'
(Longman), a teaching guide pitched at entry level teachers.
And over the years many a teacher has survived not only
these courses but also the first years of teaching with
the help of this book, so I was very interested when
asked to review Harmer's new coursebook 'Just
Right'. I forget the amount of times I have
groaned on opening a newly arrived coursebook to find
the same stale diet presented in a slightly different
format but this time the more I looked at it, the more
I wanted to use it.
To begin at the beginning, the introduction
to the Teacher's Book is where Harmer lays down the
principles behind the course. Here he deals very sensibly
with the different major aspects which make up the general
multi-layered syllabus. Although multi-layered at first
sight, it is quite traditional in the choice of sequencing.
It is, however, refreshing to see a coursebook that
recognises the need for the teacher to pick & choose
material & tasks from a book, rather than expect
them to slavishly work through the book. The principles
behind the book support this & advocate a learner-based
approach to teaching i.e. go with & react to the
student rather than letting the material dictate the
learning route. As Harmer says:
'Using a coursebook
is a skill. It involves looking at the material on the
page & deciding if, when & how to use that material.
It may be, for example, that a particular exercise,
activity or even, in some situations, a whole section
is not quite appropriate for your class. In such circumstances
you may decide to either omit that material or, if you
have something better up your sleeve, replace it with
your own activities.'
The books are packaged very professionally
with heavy covers & glossy pages. The layout of
the Student's Book is attractive & tastefully coloured,
& has a mature air to it which would clearly appeal
to the more adult learner. The different sections on
each page are easy to identify & separated clearly.
I did wonder if there wasn't too much white space but
then at the same time this does provide just that, space;
space to read, space to reflect & space to react.
The crowding, busy effect that some books maintain can
be too busy & tire the student out before they reach
the end of the course.
The choice of texts is interesting although
I feel there could be more reading texts, important
for language development anywhere but particularly for
learners in non-English speaking countries. Perhaps
this is intentional with the accompanying series of
skills books supplementing & making up for this
slight lack - to be reviewed on another occasion. The
receptive skills tasks are clearly stated & seem
to be well thought out.
The language sections, vocabulary, grammar,
functional language & pronunciation, are treated
systematically, guiding students towards discovering
rules through noticing tasks. I particularly liked the
phonology & functional bits, more than you usually
get from a coursebook. In the phonology, I would personally
put more emphasis on tone unit & stress recognition,
although a lot of different aspects are touched on.
There is a Mini-grammar & Audioscript tucked into
the back of the Student's Book. The Workbook, which
comes with its own cd, is designed to consolidate work
covered in the Student's Book.
The Student's Book comes with good quality
cds, with natural sounding speakers. The tracks that
I listened to seemed to be challenging for intermediates
- quite quick delivery, not a bad thing in any way,
but perhaps more suitable for the more experienced teacher
to deal with. Quite a lot of ELT audio material is patronising
in the audio design & delivery but here there is
none of this & they match the tone of the Student's
The Teacher's Book will be appreciated
by teachers in many parts of the world where access
to training is limited & the coursebook tends to
do some of the job filling the gap. This Teacher's Book
has a brief training course at the beginning & then
supplies a detailed procedure for each unit.
Overall, this course consists of a very
solid coursebook, useful Workbook & very helpful
Teacher's Book. A coursebook has to be friendly for
both student & teacher & this is what comes
through with 'Just Right'. There are
far too many uninteresting coursebooks on the market
but here I felt that if I were learning a language,
I would certainly like to use a 'Just Right'.
I hope it gets the exposure it deserves. Highly recommended.