Navigate (B1) review

Title: Navigate

Level: B1 + (Intermediate)

Authors: Rachael Roberts, Heather Buchanan and Emma Pathare

Published by: Oxford University Press

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Navigate: your direct route to English success?

Note:

First up, I’d like to say that I only have a copy of the course book and not the Teacher’s Book so I am afraid I am unable to comment on the photocopiable resources and teaching suggestions which this book  offers.

Navigate at a glance:

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Pages quite busy with text and, overall, relatively small images (apart from Lesson 9.2 where a lovely lesson on describing paintings contains good-sized prints of well-known works of art).  Depending on your point of view, this may be a pro or a con. Personally, I don’t have a problem with plenty of text on a page.

The contents page shows the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and skills foci at a glance. Pronunciation appears to be a particular strength of Navigate, and sections on word stress in longer words, changing stress and sentence stress when speculating stand out as being particularly useful and (dare I say it?) innovative.

Each page contains a dual focus: for example the first double page spread focuses on Grammar and Reading and the next on Vocabulary and Speaking. The course’s twelve units contain five double paged spread lessons, followed by a single spread video lesson and review lesson at the end of each (more on the review section later).

Appeal to (this) teacher

With Catherine Walter as series advisor and well –known ELT blogger Rachael Roberts as one of the three course book writers, I felt l was in pretty good hands with this course book. The Navigate series is based on the Oxford 3000, so this should mean that learners are being introduced to the most relevant vocabulary.

The content seems interesting; with unusual takes on familiar topics. Intriguing lesson titles such as “I should never have clicked ‘send’!” inspired some of my own lesson ideas before I’d even read the material on the page. Unit 9 (Appearances) contains a reading task about the Dove advertisement “Real Beauty Sketches”. The real beauty of this, of course, is that is based on a real –life story: a quick Google search takes you to the advertisement (and spoofs thereof) which you can show to your learners to bring the lesson to life.

Appeal to (my) learners:

The content is sufficiently up-to-the-minute and varied enough to interest my multi-lingual class of adult ESOL learners (which contains male and female learners ranging in age from early twenties through to mid fifties and hailing from Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Thailand, Portugal and Colombia.

As many of my learners have the “spiky profiles” usual for ESOL learners, the fact that reading texts are short will probably appeal.

FOCUS ON SKILLS

 

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Reading texts are round about the right length for my learners; neither too long nor too short. Instead of presenting scanning and skimming skills (which have proved to be of questionable use to language learners) the reading sections focus instead on helping learners to decode what they are reading with “unlock the code” boxes providing information on how to, for example, recognize complex noun phrases. I’m sure I’m not the only teacher to welcome this emphasis on bottom up processing.

This useful “unlock the code” also features in Listening sections. I think listening texts can generally be a good place to inject a little humour and light heartiness and I must admit to finding some of the long radio interviews slightly hard going and a little dry. In some cases, there didn’t seem to be quite enough for learner to do during these listening activities, and I felt that many of the texts were simply too long for the second listen which the rubric demanded.

I found some of the Speaking sections of lessons I trialled with my class (admittedly I have only trialled Unit One and the first lesson in Unit 2) did not generate much of a conversational buzz. However, this may be due to the interests of my learners rather than the questions themselves.

Finally, as a Writing enthusiast I felt there could be more space given to teaching writing. I was a little disappointed by an activity on Twitter in Unit 1 which presented tweets written in textese. At this level, I think learners could have coped with a more challenging lesson on writing tweets.

Focus on grammar and lexis:

As in many course books I have taught from, there is a strong focus on verb and tense. The amount of grammar presented on the page is kept to a minimum, with further explanation and exercises handily located at the back of the book.

While a certain amount of space is given to teaching phrases and chunks, I think there could have been even more focus on collocation. There is plenty of built-in recycling and I particularly like the review section in this book. Rather than being presented as a straight “test”, partner work, pronunciation and discussion are built-in to engaging activities.

Opportunities for localisation and personalisation:

Throughout the course, many of the topics lend themselves to localisation and personalisation. My class used the “asking for and giving opinions” language in speaking and writing 1.4 to speed debate a number of local and national issues. We used the friendship lesson in 1.1 to describe special friends (using a list of prompt questions). It’s equally easy to see how topics such as Life skills and Ambition will be easily personalised and adapted to suit the individual needs and interests of learners.

Springboardability:

Navigate presents really up –to- the- minute topics, which can easily be Googled to reveal a wealth of related materials. This means that there is absolutely no need for lessons to begin and end with what is on the page. You can follow-up stories by finding related content on YouTube or online newspapers.

Some of the topics (such as Advertising) lend themselves to further discussion of images. If you are lucky enough to have a projector, you could choose some further advertisements to discuss (or even better, ask your learners to show you advertisements they find effective). You could so something similar with the lesson on painting. The unit on Entertainment is crying out for some kind of film project/script writing follow-up project.

In a nut- shell

No course book I have ever used perfectly fits my needs and those of my learners. In fact, I am fairly confident that such a book does not exist.

A lot of the criticism from the anti-course book lobby seems to stem from the fact that published course books do not accurately reflect the process of second language acquisition.  I believe this criticism is, to some extent, justified.  I don’t think a book could ever adequately reflect the language learning process, as surely this is different for every individual.

Yes, the topics are pretty light. Think The Guardian/Huffington Post click bait that pops up on your Facebook feed and you’ll have the right idea. No, the book does not contain Philip Larkin poetry or extracts from depressing science fiction plays or opinion pieces from leading Marxist thinkers or any of the other things that would make my own heart sing. But then again, neither do they contain Hello style celeb features or days in the life of HRH Elizabeth II. So some progress here, surely?

For the reasons outlined in my last post I will continue to use course books armed with realistic expectations and a certain amount of energy and creativity (in order to adapt, personalise, localise and springboard from the material as I go along).

Navigate is an attractive, well structured course book with interesting content and some really nice touches (particularly where the teaching of receptive skills and pronunciation are concerned). The publishers guarantee that the course provides ” a direct route to English success”. This claim seems, at best, optimistic (the same would be true of any course book). Having said that, if you are looking for a book to help you steer through the often stormy seas of language learning you could do a lot worse than have Navigate for a compass. I recommend it.

 

In my next post I will be reviewing Life, which is published by Cengage  and written by John Hughes, Helen Stephenson and Paul Dummett.

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3 Responses to Navigate (B1) review

  1. Bartosz Michalowski says:

    I got a sample copy of this course (also B1+ level) at a conference last month, but it was your post that motivated me to have a look at the book. Thanks!

    You mention a lot of good things about the series that I agree with, so here’s just one short comment and a question.

    You’ve observed that “[w]hile a certain amount of space is given to teaching phrases and chunks, I think there could have been even more focus on collocation.” I guess we could (partly) blame the Oxford 3000 for this. As far as I know, the Oxford 3000 is a list of WORDS, not collocations. So, in a way, what you see is what you get. (Though people working for OUP might know more about it — the list itself must be part of a larger project.) You’d need a lot of additional pages to practise all the new words in different collocations/contexts. <—- a good reason why your students need YOU 🙂

    Now my question: you haven't said much about the video lessons. Did your students like them? Did they find them interesting? I haven't watched the clips yet, but the design of the video pages and the video stills in the SB look kind of boring. I don't feel particularly motivated to watch the videos. What about your students?

  2. joco75 says:

    Hi Bartosz,

    Thanks for your comment and I’m glad my post motivated you to check out the book! I will be really interested to hear what you think and how you get on with it (if you decide to give it a try with your learners).

    Your comment about the Oxford 3000 is absolutely right! I have been trying to teach the words along with collocations – this is what I usually try to do in the classroom whether or not the collocations are there in black and white in front of me – it would be nice if the course book provided just a wee bit more support for this. I know page space is limited though…

    You’re also right that I didn’t mention the videos. That’s because I’ve only taught one and a bit units so far and I decided that my learners wouldn’t find Unit 1’s video interesting (they’re really not all that into social media and the first unit of the course had already contained a bit of input on that topic). I didn’t want to comment on a feature I hadn’t used. I think a good few of the videos appear pretty interesting – again, I like the fresh angle taken on some familiar topics – selfies and cybercrime spring to mind.

    I’ll definitely give Unit 2’s video a try – I think my class will be more interested in this topic. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this,
    Genny

    • Bartosz Michalowski says:

      Hi Genny. Thanks for a quick reply!
      I am intrigued now — I’d better look for my old laptop to play the DVD later today!

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