January 1999 — Volume 3, Number 4
The Advanced Grammar Book (2nd ed.)
Jocelyn M. Steer and Karen A. Carlisi (1998)
Boston: Heinle & Heinle
Pp. xviii + 426
ISBN 0-8384-4715-5 (paper)
The Advanced Grammar Book Workbook (2nd ed.)
Jocelyn M. Steer and Dawn Schmid (1998)
Boston: Heinle & Heinle
Pp. iv + 155
ISBN 0-8384-4717-1 (paper)
The Advanced Grammar Book Instructor’s Manual (2nd ed.)
Deborah Gordon (1998)
Boston: Heinle & Heinle
Pp. iv + 140
ISBN 0-8384-8099-3 (paper)
It is perhaps noexaggeration to say that all teachers of English as a Second Language have witnessed a veritable parade of grammar books cross their desks over the years. These books range from the merely bland to the mildly boring (for the teacher and the student), to the flashy, and sometimes even to the new-age “touchy-feely” (“How do you feel about learning this point in grammar?”). Those grammar books that are designed for students of linguistics often lose second-language students in their forests of tree diagrams and technical explanations. A medium ground needs to be found: an effective grammar book that, first and foremost, demystifies the sticky points of English grammar for the second-language student, all the while presenting the material in a lively and relevant format. The Advanced Grammar Book, despite its too-obvious and less-than-inspired title, has found that comfortable and effective middle ground.
The book, designed for “the high level ESL student who has a solid foundation in the fundamentals of English grammar” (p. xiv), includes grammatical analysis in a form that the students can easily understand, as well as a great variety of both written and spoken exercises. Learners’ various strategies are implicitly acknowledged; there are readings, charts, drills, discussion questions, guided speaking and writing exercises–in short, an abundance of material to suit the tastes and the needs of most teachers and students.
The book also relies on theme-based units “to capture the interest of the student and provide a ‘hook’ for the grammatical structure [-1-] being practiced” (p. xiv). As expected, the themes deal predominantly with American culture, although some (health and fitness, for example) might be considered “neutral.” Those of us who do not teach in a U.S. environment would sometimes prefer to find themes which do not always assume that the student is a newcomer to the United States. Indeed, north of the 49th parallel, there are many ESL students who do not intend to make the United States their ultimate destination. This said, however, the theme-based approach greatly enhances the “enjoyment factor” of the textbook, and often makes for lively discussions in class.
Finally, although the book is not intended to prepare students to write the TOEFL, the authors have indicated throughout those exercises that may be of assistance to any students who are preparing to write this test.
There is almost too much grammar in The Advanced Grammar Book ! It would be hard to cover it all in a one-semester (45-hour) course, such as we teach here at the Universit de Montral. In its fifteen chapters, the grammar points presented include nouns (count, non- count, mass, abstract), expressions of quantity, verb tenses (over three chapters), sentence grammar (phrases and noun, adjective and adverb clauses), articles, active and passive voice, modals, conditionals, gerunds and infinitives, and comparatives. If a teacher were to use the workbook and do only a part of the suggested communicative exercises, each chapter could easily fill six hours of class time. Those teachers who are planning a full-year course might want to consider this textbook for use over more than one semester. In a one-semester course, ten or eleven of the chapters could easily be done (if not all the exercises). The book is also organized in such a manner that students could do at least part of the learning on their own, outside of class time (the chapter on nouns, for example).
The chapters open with a reading (including a number of poems), photographs, and discussion questions dealing with the theme. Cultural notes and vocabulary follow. A focus on grammar section allows the students to activate their prior knowledge of grammar structures before going on to actual analysis in later exercises. Grammatical patterns are presented in the form of easy-to-follow charts, with the forms well explained and examples copiously illustrated. Written drills complete the presentation.
Difficult grammar points (e.g. comparing simple versus progressive tenses) are highlighted in special charts, with both oral and written drills. Special notes throughout the text draw the students’ [-2-] attention to specific uses of particular grammar forms, such as the progressive for a tone of complaint (“Someone’s been eating my chocolate!”, p. 68). Throughout the text, there are also many different types of written activities, some based on in-class oral exercises. Recognition exercises, paired activities, and error analyses are among the many other forms of classwork and homework suggested by this book. Sprinkled throughout the text, popular comic strips (Peanuts, Dennis the Menace) add a welcome note of levity to the subject of grammar, which most students are decidedly not eager to tackle.
As an example, Chapter 11 deals with passives. The chapter, entitled “The Spirit of America,” opens with discussion questions on the “American dream” and a preview that includes an excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Grammar focus exercises ask the students to recognize the passives in the text, and to compare their effectiveness with that of the active forms.
The objectives of this chapter, like those of the others, are clearly stated on the opening page, so that students can frame their learning in terms of what they already know and what they are preparing to learn. The students learn to form the passive voice by means of oral and written drills, as well as more extended written activities. Special charts indicate those verbs that cannot be used in the passive, and passive modals, infinitives and gerunds (simple and perfect forms) are also introduced. The chapter discusses participial adjectives, special problems with the passive (incorrect form or use of passive, or incorrect inclusion or omission of agent, for example) and “be” versus “get.” Composition topics prompt students to draft their writing using passive forms, as in “What human rights should be respected in any country? Give specific examples of how these rights can be upheld and how they are being disregarded” (p. 282). In short, this chapter, like the others, is extremely complete, while still being accessible to the students.
Overall, The Advanced Grammar Book is an excellent choice for a full-year upper-intermediate or advanced level class. The teacher’s manual contains ample teaching strategies, the answer keys to both the students’ book and the comprehensive workbook, and tests for every chapter. However, the book is marred by a number of typographical errors, some that are minimal (such as a misnumbered page in the index, or consecutive exercises with the same number), others that are glaring (the word authentic is misspelled in almost every heading in which it appears). Another drawback is the sheer size and breadth of the text. Split editions might be more useful for classes of one semester (fifteen weeks), in which the teacher would be able to cover most of the material. It would also be helpful if the students had answers to some of the exercises, so [-3-] that the teacher could concentrate on other activities besides correcting grammar in class.
Université de Montréal
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