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Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 32 Number 1 Winter 2015

Oxford Grammar for Schools 1
Martin Moore

Oxford University Press (2013)
Student book: ISBN 978-0-19-455907-2
144 pages
Teacher’s book: ISBN 978-0-19-455914-0
72 pages

This book is designed to teach students all the grammar they will need to successfully complete the Cambridge Young Learners Starters assessment. The 25 units include possessive adjectives, present tenses, conjunctions, prepositions, and so on. Regular ‘revision’ chapters test students’ progress at regular intervals and are composed of exercises involving the four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) that will appear in the Cambridge exams. Many of these revision pages are preceded by ‘mini-revision’ exercises which again reinforce the acquisition of grammar items. At the end of the book is a revision section which tests a selection of all the items presented.

Each chapter starts with an ‘I can’ statement, familiar to any who follow the Council of Europe Framework of References for languages, it also provides a ready-made lesson objective, useful for both teachers and students to refer back to for revision purposes. The grammar item is then presented through examples, explanations, and tables, in a way similar to many adult grammar reference books on the market.

The grammar is then practised in a variety of exercises including gap filling, completing tables, and describing images. Each chapter includes a listening activity, work on pronunciation, and a more personalized writing activity such as ‘write a holiday blog like the one mentioned’. Stars at the side of the various exercises indicate their difficulty and each chapter includes a game or two as well as speaking activities. Each chapter ends with a self-evaluation table where students are encouraged to rate their progress in the various activities covered in the chapter – exercises that are useful for those students who take the time to reflect on their learning. However, some of my students, especially in this age range (around 7-year-olds) tend to whizz through them as if they were a speed trial!

The students’ book is accompanied by a DVD-Rom which can be used at home or on an interactive whiteboard and includes extra games and exercises. My students particularly enjoyed using it on the smartboard at school, although I suspect that only a minority in the class used it for home study.

The teacher’s book includes the audioscript along with a page of test exercises for each chapter as well regular review tests on a mix of grammar items.

Oxford Grammar for Schools 3
Rachel Godfrey
Oxford University Press (2013)
Student book: ISBN 978-0-19-455909-6
160 pages
Teacher’s book: ISBN 978-0-19-455916-4
72 pages

This set follows a similar layout with 28 chapters and is aimed at students taking the Cambridge Flyers exam.

Oxford Grammar for Schools 5
Rachel Godfrey
Oxford University Press (2014)
Student book: ISBN 978-0-19-455911-9
192 pages
Teacher’s book: ISBN 978-0-19-455918-8
78 pages

This set is designed for those taking the Cambridge PET for schools and is 30 units long.

The whole series is easy to use and especially for the lower levels I find it fills the gap in grammar presentation that is lacking in many coursebooks, which glide over grammar. While I agree that teaching young learners should be about learning to produce phrases and is most effective when it is vocabulary-based, the fact remains that for the Cambridge evaluations the students are expected to be familiar with a variety of grammatical structures. The Oxford school series is a young learner-friendly method to do just this. It successfully manages the difficult balance between fun and games on the one hand and grammar teaching on the other.

We used the series to dip into, with more exercises for those who needed them. As the introduction mentions, these books can be used with any coursebook, but not as a substitute. In my opinion, they are too grammar-based (which is their objective after all) to be used alone. Perhaps this explains the relative simplicity of the teacher’s books. Many others include teaching tips or alternative activities and these are lacking in this series.

The books are aimed at primary-aged students and for this reason the fifth book, aimed at those taking PET for schools, was not suitable for some of my older students who are presently at this level. Young learners in general, but especially teens and pre-teens, are very conscious of being treated like ‘children’ and don’t appreciate anything that could be seen as ‘babyish’. Some of the articles were still effective for this age group, however, many of the students did not appreciate the cartoon drawings of characters.

On the whole, however, I found this a very useful series that fills a gap in my students’ learning and I will encourage my school to complete the series with numbers 2 and 4.

Rachael Harris