Visual Grammar A2 Student’s Book reviewed by Jon Clayden of the BEBC Review Panel


Visual Grammar Elementary A2                            

Title:  Visual Grammar Elementary A2 Student’s Book

Author: Jim Scrivener

Publisher:  Richmond

Reviewed by: Jon Clayden, Academic Director, Eurocentres London               Date of Review:28th August 2014

      © Copyright BEBC REVIEW PANEL 2014 – this review may be reproduced but only with this acknowledgement

Criterion Grade: 5/4/3/2/1 Comments (5 being the highest grade and 1 the lowest)
Originality         5 As the title makes clear, Visual Grammar tries to define itself as different from other grammar books in the way that it presents grammar points. The concept is that adding various images will help learners to grasp the meaning of the language points more easily – in addition to the visuals making the pages more appealing and the lessons more engaging. As the introduction on page 8 ambitiously states “ Grammar practice doesn’t have to be boring!”

The book is organised into 99 short units each based on a ‘can do’ statement such as ‘Say what is not true’ or ‘Talk about work I have finished’. This provides manageable chunks for elementary learners to deal with and avoids overloading them with too many concepts to cope with at once. For example unit 88 focuses on just one use of ‘Will’, which is described as:

I can ‘say what I decided to do’ (e.g. I’ll clean the floor, I’ll tell him).

Other functions of will are dealt with in other units. This seems to be a sensible approach particularly as the book is aimed at elementary learners where simplicity and clarity is key to avoid confusion.

There are some practice exercises which get learners to personalize the language called ‘About you’ or to look for answers online ‘Internet quiz’. These are added to the standard gap-fills and matching tasks (and so on) to make lessons more varied and also try to provide the (marketing-friendly) idea of ‘real-life’ contexts where learners can use the language meaningfully.

Practicality         3 Visual Grammar A2 is designed to be used with a class or for self-study but I think many of the units would really need a teacher to support a learner (unless a student was already familiar with the grammar points and using the book to review their knowledge). An example is unit 18, which presents ‘can for ability and possibility’. Here the visual presentation has an image of a signpost with one sign saying ‘can’ with a tick and another sign saying ‘can’t’ with a cross. The signs point to example sentences such as ‘I can’t act’ and ‘I can see you!’ I wonder if an elementary student doing self-study would be able to understand the meaning if they didn’t already know what ‘can’ meant, whereas in a class a teacher can further establish the context and ask concept-checking questions.

Some of the visuals chosen do not always communicate the meaning of the language clearly and unambiguously. On page 10 for example the meaning of ‘huge’ is presented with a small picture of a gorilla’s head in one exercise and ‘huge’ is also used to label an egg (I guess an ostrich egg) which we see next to a ‘big’ egg, a ‘small’ egg and a ‘broken’ egg. Again in a lesson with a teacher this wouldn’t be a problem but for a self-study student without a dictionary this may lead to a student incorrectly understanding the meaning of a word. Perhaps thinking that ‘huge’ meant something other than very big.

Another example of where pictures do not necessarily help students grasp the meaning is on page 20 where there is a picture of a teacher (Mr Spark) and the caption ‘He’s our teacher’. Would it be possible for a self-study student who didn’t already know what ‘our’ meant to understand the meaning from this context?

Presentation         4 Generally I think the way the grammar points are presented is very effective and would be appreciated by teachers particularly with low-level multi-lingual classes where translation is not an option and trying to get meaning across isn’t straightforward. Unit 33 successfully uses images of people sending text messages to demonstrate how we use the present progressive for communicating what someone is doing right now. Obviously some grammar points are more visual than others.

The use of photos, pictures, diagrams and colour gives the book a lively feel rather than the gap-fill-heavy look of a traditional grammar book but for learners who need more extra practice there are exercises available free online on the Richmond Learning Platform. Each grammar point has two or three simple online exercises (gap-fill, matching and putting words in the correct order etc.)

Overall rating       4
What outstanding strengths/ weaknesses do you feel this title possesses?

Strengths

  • Emphasis on meaning and use of the grammar rather than form
  • Short units focussed on one function simplified for A2 learners
  • Engaging visuals that clarify the meaning of the grammar points
  • Variety of practice activities (including extra activities online)

Weaknesses

  • Some units may not be suitable for self-study as more context is needed to go with the visuals for some students to fully grasp the meaning of the grammar point being presented.
  • Some of the vocabulary used in the presentations may be challenging for elementary learners and therefore make the grammar point harder to understand (for an example look at p48 and the use of ‘awful’ in first picture)
On which courses do you envisage being able to use this material?

Suitable as supplementary material on elementary and pre-intermediate courses with adult or younger learners.

Other comments

Teachers can assign students exercises online using the Richmond Learning Platform and also create grammar tests. There is a Teacher’s Digital Book that can be used on an IWB that has animated versions of the grammar presentations. (Publication date tbc.)

  © Copyright BEBC REVIEW PANEL 2014 – this review may be reproduced but only with this acknowledgement

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