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Book review
Just Right Student Book cover

Just Right
by Jeremy Harmer

(Marshall Cavendish

Review 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 Book nicely.

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.

Just Right Student Book cover

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