Vol. 1. No. 3 R-3 March 1995
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Begin in English, Volumes I and II

Judith Bailey (1988, 1992)
Studio City, CA: JAG Publications
Pp. 110. ISBN 0-943327-04-0, 0-943327-11-3 (paper)
US $9.95 each.

Note from the Book Review Editor: The following is one of four reviews written by students in a Practicum in ESL course at the University of Idaho. An endnote, written by the instructor, explains the goals of the course and the procedures for writing the reviews.

Both volumes of Begin in English will prove to be helpful and entertaining for beginning reading instruction in ESL classrooms. The texts will best serve ESL students if used as supplements because the comprehension activities, which are repeated for each story, cease to be challenging for students, since they do not increase in difficulty as the text progresses. However, the structure of these readers is logical, the vocabulary used is appropriate, and the stories are outstanding.

Each of these texts contains fourteen short stories for beginning ESL students. Although Bailey is writing for beginners, the stories are still stimulating and thought-provoking to read. In addition, the vocabulary used in both of these volumes is very controlled, without being too simplistic. The author built the vocabulary from Dixson's The 2,000 Most Frequently Used Words in English and the Oxford Picture Dictionary of American English. The books would be appropriate for beginners from any language background, but the author purposely used a number of Spanish cognates in her writing to make the reading transition smoother for the native Spanish-speaking population. The combined twenty-eight stories in the two texts are written in present tense to coincide with the grammar that is normally taught first to beginning ESL students.

The greatest strength of these two texts is the stories themselves. They will appeal to both younger and older ESL students; they are not too simplistic nor too complex. The variety of the stories is also refreshing. They involve people from different cultures and with different abilities, such as "A Useless Old Man" about a wheelchair-bound good Samaritan. There are also plays presented, such as "Mrs. Proctor Goes to the Doctor," and stories that are based on folk tales and legends, such as "MaryJo Gets a Ride Home." Bailey has also included stories that introduce historical facts, such as "Rosa Parks Goes to Jail," "Launching the Apollo 11--the First Journey to the Moon," and "Jackie Robinson Plays Ball." These stories, with the accompanying exercises, will not only reinforce reading comprehension skills, but they will also open the stage for culture and other content lessons in the ESL classroom. [-1-]

Both readers are organized in the same understandable and highly usable fashion. In each volume the first activity students undertake is a short dictionary lesson. Students are introduced to alphabetical order so that when they refer to a dictionary, bilingual or otherwise, they will know how to use this resource. The stories in both texts are short, approximately two pages each, and all are followed by comprehension exercises. These exercises include a review of new vocabulary, multiple choice definition questions, reading comprehension questions that encourage students to refer to the story, discussion questions that have students use pictures to begin small group conversation, and some writing questions about what has been learned from the story. The variety of exercises is challenging and demands understanding; these activities will aid in the process of reading comprehension. The discussion questions particularly open the door for conversation, and these opportunities can only be an advantage. However, due to the repeated use of the same format, students will master it after only a few lessons. A progressive increase in the number of discussion questions at the end of each story would be more appropriate.

Although the reading level of these stories is appropriate for beginning ESL students, more variation in the length of the stories would provide students with more proof of their reading progress. By increasing the length of the stories progressively in the volumes, student reading confidence would undoubtedly increase.

These books do not introduce enough variety or difficulty to be used as primary texts. However, Begin in English can be valuable reading reinforcement for beginning ESL students of any age. The books will appeal to the pedagogical concerns of teachers, and administrators and students will also be pleased with their affordability.

Kristin A. Weidlein
University of Idaho


Hands-on teacher education: Book reviews in the ESL practicum

The goal of the Practicum in English as a Second Language at the University of Idaho is to prepare participants to assume responsibilities in a variety of areas of TESOL. These responsibilities include administration, curriculum and syllabus design, materials and resource development, classroom practice (methods and techniques), and assessment and evaluation. One concrete objective for the course is for participants to be able to make educated recommendations for and actual choices of classroom materials. To this end, during the practicum participants are [-2-] exposed to a variety of textbooks and other ESL resources. Building on discussions of optimal classroom language learning environments, and with a list of possible issues to address, participants are assigned to choose any three texts/resources to evaluate; they then prepare written reviews of these materials. Following examples/ guidelines published by journals in the field, graduate students in the class must then prepare one of the three reviews for publication. The reviews are revised as many times as necessary for clarity, content, and structure. The review intended for publication is then submitted to the appropriate journal; however, the course grade does not depend on whether or not the review is actually accepted for publication.

This activity reinforces for participants in the practicum the value of a broad overview of available resources and the importance of sharing ideas with colleagues. As a result of the assignment's unfamiliarity, participants learn the necessity for organization and planning that is crucial to ESL professionals. The result of this assignment, as seen below, is a diverse set of informative text reviews; they are written in different styles and concern a variety of content. Most importantly, this assignment has given the course participants encouragement to become involved in professional activities and has initiated the growth of their professional identities.

Joy Egbert
University of Idaho


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