By Matthew Hauca (Jinai University)
The selection of a four-skills textbook for a general English course is no easy task. There are many textbooks and countless supplemental materials to choose from. A textbook that is flexible in its design and syllabus, includes an ample amount of material and is easily adaptable across a range of student levels is most ideal.
I chose the Breakthrough Plus series for these exact reasons. Breakthrough Plus has a straightforward design with content that meets the needs of a multi-level classroom. The layout of the series is simple in its presentation, yet robust in its material and resources for both learners and instructors.
The Teacher’s Resource Book provides instructors with a comprehensive layout of each unit plus there are optional activities and ideas for each section. The answers for each exercise are provided and instructors are given notes on language and culture specific to each unit. Among the other features are feeder questions for warm-up activities, extra support to aid students requiring more help and advice for fast finishers. Additionally, there are pronunciation and grammar exercises for each unit. The units are divided into seven sections with each section focusing on a particular skill set. The vocabulary and grammar is recycled amongst the seven sections, which gives the learner multiple exposures to the core content of each unit.
1 – Warm-up
Conversational ability has become increasingly important for today’s learners. Breakthrough Plus addresses this by providing numerous opportunities for both structured and free conversations in each unit. The Warm-up allows the instructor, if necessary, to modify the level of language right from the very beginning of the unit to ensure the students start smoothly. The questions and statements in the Warm-up section can be simplified if the students are struggling. Conversely, the content can be altered to provide students more of a challenge and offer them a chance to engage in a deeper discussion.
2 – Conversation
Realistic dialogue is provided for the students to practice. The conversations are long enough to avoid being perceived by the students as canned or stilted, yet the conversations are not so lengthy that they prove too daunting for lower level students. The suitable length of the conversations permit instructors to ask questions that go beyond simple cut and paste answers. Instructors are, of course, able to check for basic comprehension, but they are also able to ask more open-ended and thought provoking questions, too.
3 – Vocabulary
The main words and phrases for the unit are introduced. The vocabulary is presented in context, allowing the learners to get a feel for how the new vocabulary is used. Students are given common word pairings and collocations. They are then given activities to help them develop their own sentences and conversations.
4 – Exchange
Students are given four opportunities to practice the newly encountered vocabulary in which the form and usage of the vocabulary is varied, but controlled. These examples give the students a realistic view of how the new material can be used in common everyday conversations. Learners also get the opportunity to see the language in a semi-structured form. This allows for more advanced students to experiment on their own. For lower-level students they will not feel much anxiety as the vocabulary for each conversation is provided for them. Additionally, the instructor, too, may wish to modify the vocabulary used in the exercises accommodate learners of differing levels. An additional Communication activity is provided in the form an information gap exercise. This allows the students further practice and segues nicely into the next section.
5 – Language in action
This section tests the students’ competency to use the language in a more fluid and meaning focused exercise. What is helpful about this section is that example sentences are provided for students to follow while at the same time students have a lot of other possibilities to choose to talk about. Higher level students are not provided with all the options present in the exercise and the lower level students have reliable high frequency examples with which they can get started and successfully complete the exercises.
6 – Listening
The dialogues are realistic and challenging. It is a pleasure to see more resources being put into providing listening material with better quality and authenticity. Learners are always provided with at least two exercises within the listening section. The listening exercises focus on real life issues, so extending the activity into a self referential exercise for students is very easy to do.
7 – Speaking
The activities summarize the content of each unit into a motivating speaking exercise. Students begin by providing information about themselves or their own personal preferences. What typically follows is a pair or group comparison of each student’s information or preferences. Review using these activities and exercises is easy as there is always a chart, survey or some other information that is completed each time. Students can quickly go back and practice the material again.
This is the section I find most useful for multi-level classes. Students that finish early do not have to sit idly waiting for others to finish. In the classroom, students can do the vocabulary, reading and writing exercises. Students can also do the listening exercise either on their own or the instructor can save it for review practice.
Students and instructors have access to the Digibook, which is an online version of the Student Book. Students can use the Digibook to practice all of the listening activities from the Class CD. There are 120 extra practice activities for students to do for review or extra help. Videos and video worksheets are provided for each unit. Instructors have access to unit tests, progress tests for every 3 units and an end of the course test. All of the answer keys for tests, extra resources, practice activities and videos are provided, too. There is also an online Markbook to keep track of each student’s progress. This is all managed from one account. Setup of the account is quick and easy to do even for the most novice computer user.
A Quality Product
The Breakthrough Plus series provides an extensive amount of content per unit, ample online content and comprehensive unit videos and quizzes. The instructor has a great degree of flexibility with the added benefit of not having to worry about running out of material for her or his quicker or higher level students. The learner, too, has a lot material that she or he can practice independently either in or out of the classroom. Lots of content, a flexible syllabus for multi-level students and plenty of support for the instructor with supplementary exercises and an easy to follow teacher’s resource book. These are the reasons why I chose the Breakthrough Plus series for my classroom.