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Grammar for Great Writing (C) Student’s Book

Book Review: ETAS Journal Summer 2018

Lida Baker, Robyn Brinks Lockwood, Kristin Donnalley Sherman

National Geographic Learning (2018)

ISBN: 978-1-337-11861-3

232 pages, paperback

The Grammar for Great Writing series of books aims to cover general grammatical points that have been found to challenge students when producing writing tasks across the different English learning levels. C, the third and final in the series, focuses on areas that are of concern to advanced students. It is especially designed as a companion to the Great Writing series by the same publisher.

The authors have conducted research into the needs of EFL and ESL students from different institutions and courses. They have identified the grammatical challenges faced by second language students and put them together in one place. I think that it is important to note that although the authors conducted their own research, they also used material from different resources such as the Academic Word List(http://www.victoria.ac.nz), The Centre for Multilingual Multicultural Studies of the University of Central Florida, and The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. This assures teachers that their students are being exposed to as wide a range of lexis as possible, a definite requirement at Advanced level. 

The book itself is set up to be specifically used by students who have progressed to Advanced level English and will need to use it professionally or academically (for example, universities and technical colleges) in the future. Each unit integrates the grammar with reading exercises (hence introducing more vocabulary). In addition, structures, such as different types of clauses, are summarised along with practical examples, common uses and common errors.  Everything is then practised in several steps. First, the students are presented with review quizzes, then exercises on building longer and more complicated sentences and, finally, exercises on composing and original writing.

I enjoyed the way the book has been designed. It is colourful and illustrated with photographs from National Geographic, making it more appealing than many grammar books. The units can be taught in any order and, in fact, not every unit has to be taught. It is up to the teacher to pick out which units meet the students’ needs and the order in which they should be presented. The tables in each unit, with summaries of common uses of different structures, are helpful for students to work with, even in speaking practice. There are useful appendices at the back of the book, including one on functional language. Teaching material is drawn from sources such as the National Geographic Magazine. These materials cover a wide range of topics, for example weather, environmental concerns, and sports. This allows teachers to integrate units from other coursebooks to focus on specific vocabulary. The book itself is easy to use for the teacher, as well as the students. An online teacher companion site provides the answer key.

However, for new teachers, or those that are inexperienced at teaching advanced level, the book can present a challenge. What areas do you focus on and for which exam? There are certain areas common to both Business and General English students, such as using gerunds and infinitives and writing with sentence variety using connectors and linking phrases. However, for General English students, writing about the past and using the passive voice is very important for completing essay tasks. So, I feel that it is essential that teachers using this book are familiar with the exam requirements of their students and common errors that are encountered by examiners marking certain tasks. 

Another area that would present potential issues to inexperienced teachers is how to put everything together. How do you ensure that students are using the language that they learn effectively in different writing tasks as well as in speaking tasks? At Advanced level, it is an advantage if the student can not only produce good quality written work but can adjust that language and produce it orally. Lastly, teachers need to know that this book uses American English. Therefore, material must be chosen with care along with an explanation, if necessary, on lexis that is not normally used in British English.

For those looking for an uncomplicated accompaniment to their regular text book, Grammar for Great Writing is a very well-recommended option. This is a resource that can be used in conjunction not only with the recommended textbook, but also with other resources, including magazines such as Spotlight. A definite recommendation for open-minded teachers who wish to expose their students to as wide a range of learning opportunities as possible. 

Grace Hutter

The Language Factory St. Gallen