Tapestry: Writing 1
Rebecca Oxford (Series Ed.) and Meredith Pike-Baky. (2000).
Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Pp. xiii + 205.
ISBN 083840033-7. (paper)
Tapestry: Writing 2
Rebecca Oxford (Series Ed.), Meredith Pike-Baky and Laurie Blass. (2000).
Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Pp. xiii + 205.
ISBN 083840038-8. (paper)
For the past several years, I have been looking for a writing textbook that actually has a good amount of build-up exercises, activities, supplemental resources and good writing guidance for my high beginning EFL students. Tapestry: Writing 1 & 2 from Heinle & Heinle, which I have been using lately, get very high marks in most of these areas, with only a few shortcomings. In general, these books have many activities that help students build up and practice skills for the actual writing assignment at the end of each unit. In addition, the Tapestry series does a nice job of incorporating study skills and supplemental resources, such as CNN video clips and a website for learners and teachers.
The themes of the units covered in these books are fairly standard for writing textbooks, and include topics such as "Stories of Success", "Spaces That Work", "Never Too Old" in Tapestry: Writing 1, and "I'll never forget. . ." "Personal Heroes", and "How Did You Learn That?" inTapestry: Writing 2.
Tapestry: Writing 1 uses these themed units to present basic grammar points such as past and present tense, countable and uncountable nouns, capital letters, and ends with items such as pronouns, cause and result sentences, and word parts. The writing skills covered in book one include free writing, brainstorming, working through drafts, reading to improve your writing at the beginning stage, and using peer feedback. Tapestry: Writing 2 covers more advanced grammar points, such as past tense, past perfect tense, phrasal verbs, and time clauses. In Tapestry: Writing 2, skills such as narrating, describing people and places, explaining meaning, evaluating and summarizing, and predicting are covered.[-1-]
Each unit starts by setting goals in the areas of study skills, grammar, and writing skills. Following this is an introduction to new vocabulary, a CNN video section, and a study skill section as well. The unit also includes writing activities, grammar instruction, trivia information related to the theme of the unit, and a chart to check learners' achievement.
Next come a substantial writing sample and activities to help students become familiar with basic writing skills, such as adding details and supporting their opinions.
Finally, each unit leads up to a writing assignment that allows learners to demonstrate their ability to use the skills and concepts learned in the unit.
Teaching study skills to help students build basic learning strategies is something that ESL teachers have come to expect from the Tapestry series. These skills are presented in two sections per unit. The Language Learning Strategies section in Tapestry: Writing 1 includes skills such as using visual maps to develop ideas, using a thesaurus, and grouping new vocabulary. The Academic Power Strategies section details more general strategies such as finding the best study environment, using campus resources, and studying with a partner. While these sections are not necessarily closely related to the topic of the unit, they are well done and useful.
Heinle and Heinle even has a website for both teachers and their students who use the textbooks. They have small quizzes that learners can take and then have their scores sent automatically to their teachers via email. This website also has resource books for teachers which can be easily downloaded and printed out after getting the password from a Heinle and Heinle representative.
Another teacher-friendly feature is the checklist for both writers and their peer-reviewers at the end of each unit. Not only do these checklists remind students to review their writing carefully for grammatical and structural points, they also ask if the authors have included targeted skills such as including details and using different adjectives to describe a person.
There are some outstanding aspects of the features in this writing series which make them very teacher- and student-friendly.
First of all, finding writing samples in writing textbooks is nothing surprising. However, I have found writing samples in other textbooks too difficult and intimidating for my high-beginning EFL students, which was, surprisingly, not the case with the samples in this series. The writing samples provided models that my students might actually be able to successfully emulate. This is just one of the things I have come to appreciate about these textbooks.
However, there are a few other points that I really appreciate about these books. For instance, the activities to build up basic writing skills are usually shown in a very simple, step-by-step manner, making it very easy for even basic-level students to understand. Next, although the topic selection is somewhat predictable, the units are made more personal by including many writing samples on the topics by real ESL students at various proficiency levels. Finally, the checklists for writers to check their own writing at the end of each unit seem to have helped my students reflect more on their own writing instead of just turning in their papers automatically because time is up. This feature, coupled with the fact that the writing criteria are made clear throughout the entire unit's writing process, really seems to help students understand better what they need to do and why they receive the grades they do.
As much as I like these textbooks, there are a few weak points. One of the weaknesses of this writing series is that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Although the build-up activities are quite effective, the amount of activities and sample writing can be excessive and repetitive at times. However, in my classes we have overcome this problem by deciding as a class which activities are best suited to the purposes of the class. For example, I have been using the level 2 in both my freshman and sophomore writing classes at a junior college in Japan. The freshman class, being the more motivated of the two classes, shows a great interest in the learning strategies sections, and they take them very seriously in hopes of achieving better academically. The sophomore class, on the other hand, perceives them as just another pop-psychology test. These varying attitudes determine which activities to cover for each class.
Another limitation in this series is that these books do not offer enough actual writing practice. If students can fly through unit after unit in a very short time, they might have an adequate number of opportunities to actually practice writing. However, in my multi-level EFL classes, that usually does not happen. As a result, what happens is that there is a lack of time spent on actual writing since much of the class time is spent on build-up exercises. I deal with this by frequently assigning students journals and short writing assignments. [-2-]
Although this is not a major point, the companion web site could be improved considerably by adding more resources for teachers such as ready-to-print handouts. My colleagues and I also felt that the quizzes they have on their web site are too broad. Each quiz only covers one complete unit, which my classes sometimes take up to 6 sessions to finish. In addition, the quizzes mix both vocabulary and targeted skills. This makes it nearly impossible to use them if the class skips parts of the vocabulary or skills presented in the textbooks.
In general, my students appreciate the Tapestry: Writing books for their clear structure, easy-to-apply vocabulary, and the detailed explanations. I can see very clearly the improvement in my freshman class after finishing the first semester, covering units 1, 2, and 4. They now are able to add a great amount of personal flavour to their writing by following the book's suggestion on how to add details. In other words, they are more careful with the content instead of just focusing on structure and grammar: What is more, they seem to truly enjoy writing.
Even for my very mixed level sophomore students, Tapestry: Writing 2 has been working fairly well. It has various topics they can explore with tons of examples. They can write papers following the very explicit directions so that the final products are usually of acceptable quality. I have also been occasionally surprised at the quality of the writing that the lower level students can achieve with a little help on organization. The better students can also benefit more by doing the sections that the rest of the class skips in each unit.
In conclusion, although there is sometimes an overload of build-up activities in this series, it is certainly better to be able to skip a few activities than to have to create your own handouts to fill gaps in your textbook. Of course, the most important point when choosing a textbook is that it suits your students' needs. That is, it is the right level for the students, has engaging topics, and an easy-to-follow structure. If you are looking for a good textbook for low-intermediate level writers, you could do a lot worse than the Tapestry series. These are some of the best writing textbooks I have used.
Senzoku Gakuen Junior College
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