Write Ahead 1: Skills for Academic Success
Linda Robinson Fellag (2002)
White Plains, NY: Pearson Education
Pp. + 212
Write Ahead 1 targets high beginning to low intermediate ESL "ear" learners who may lack formal training in reading and writing. The main features are the relevant topics for adult immigrants' lives and the amount of activities to improve both grammar and vocabulary while practicing the different steps of the writing process.
There are 7 chapters organized similarly. Chapter 3, on time management, for example, first lists the chapter goals: writing topic sentences, using parts of speech correctly, using present (simple and progressive) and practicing frequency adverbs, prepositions of time and commas properly. The title page also contains the picture of a student running late followed by questions to activate the learners' background knowledge such as "Do you ever have days like this?" "What do you spend most of your time doing?"
The chapter is then divided into two identical parts beginning with a short reading to prepare for and model a writing assignment. Following are vocabulary exercises and a step by step writing tutorial. Indeed learners begin by listing ideas, then read about topic sentences and observe examples before writing their own. A tutorial about support sentences follows, next come writing, revising and editing, paying particular attention to parts of speech, present tense and adverbs. The end of the chapter offers additional practice suggestions and provides a goals checklist. Let's not forget the profusion of "Do It Yourself" exercises corrected at the end of the book.
The main strength lies in the amount of practice. Teachers can easily use the opening questions as well as the issues raised after the reading to generate class discussions, thus integrating listening/speaking. Moreover, the teaching sections are so clearly written that teachers should feel comfortable assigning them as homework together with some of the numerous self-checked exercises. This encourages students to take responsibility for their learning while freeing up valuable class time teachers can use to work on other language, writing or grammar activities which involve peer-reviewing or other forms of interaction.
Educators will enjoy the sequencing of activities which gradually moves learners from observers to actual writers. Another plus are the additional written assignments such as journal writing or personal editing log where students write more freely yet still learn. Teachers will also appreciate the fact that each chapter stands on its own and that the table of content is very clearly organized to facilitate the general overview of the book.
The main weakness is the lack of authenticity of the reading passages. Most of them were obviously written specifically for this textbook which questions their relevance as models and as valid language input. [-1-]
The strengths definitely outweigh the weaknesses. Fellag does a wonderful job at integrating the 5 skills while clearly focusing on the writing process that she presents and teaches very effectively. Moreover, she gives multiple opportunities for students to take responsibility for their learning thus contributing to a more learner-centered approach. Both students and teachers will enjoy using this textbook.
Brigham Young University
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