Open Mind (B1+) Review

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 Title: Open Mind

 Level: B1 +, Intermediate

 Authors: Mickey Rogers, Joanne Taylore-Knowles and Steve Taylore Knowles

 Published by: Macmillan

What they say on the cover:

“Open Mind is a ground-breaking six level general English course for adults which targets their language needs and provides them with the professional, academic and personal skills they need for success in the 21st century.”

Open Mind at a glance:

At first glance, Open Mind seems just a little ‘younger’ than both Navigate and Life. Some of this is down to the layout and illustrations (a bright n’ busy photo montage opens each unit) but the content also seems aimed at older teenage learners with reading texts on school-leaving proms, Brat camps and the challenges of leaving home.

The contents page is divided into four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) plus pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and life skills (Life skills foci include self and society, study and learning and work and career). Units are a fairly lengthy twelve pages. The book starts with a Grammar review, which set the stage for a fairly strong grammar focus throughout.

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Appeal to (this) teacher

There’s a light-hearted feel to this course book which I think would go down well in a general English class or summer school. Unit openers include cartoon strips, newspaper headlines and pop quizzes: all of which I can see working nicely in these afore mentioned teaching contexts.

The humorous touch is particularly evident in a unit on the rather well-worn theme of jobs. Learners begin by matching the pictures of unusual jobs to their titles and descriptions. (Do you know what a snake milker does?* I didn’t. )  Learners then read adverts for unusual jobs, role play a workplace conversation, read about a job swap and listen to a (rather amusing) unsuccessful job interview before comparing this with a good job interview. It all feels fresh and fun, which is an achievement for such an elderly ELT topic.

It’s not all jolly japes though – there is, for example, a unit called “Taking Care of Business” which includes some useful input on business start-ups – a topic which is becoming increasingly relevant to the world of work today.

Appeal to (my) learners:

In yet another crushing blow for those who rail against claims of course book homogenity my learners thought this looked “the same” as both Navigate and Life (although to be fair, it soon transpired that they meant “similar”). One learner said  it appealed to her less than the other two books, although she wasn’t sure why.

Focus on skills:

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There appears to be a rather traditional approach to reading throughout. Despite widely documented SLA research findings that learners of English need to learn more lexis before they can begin to ‘skim’ and ‘scan’ text, this course teaches “reading for the main idea” and “speed reading” in four out of twelve units.

Some of the reading texts are interesting and could definitely yield further discussion. The first text, for example, explores the dreaded “intermediate plateau” learners of this level are likely to experience. Texts about language learning are always likely to appeal to learners of English in my experience.

Other reading texts (and I believe I touched on this my review of Life) use a lot of words to say very little. So we have an article entitled “Is Doing Sport Good for the mind?” (Spoiler alert: yes, it is!) and “Is Gossip Good?” (Ditto).

The listening texts are more appealing. There is a good variety of text types here. Some of them seemed a little long at first glance, but the learners are given plenty to do and are often required to listen to the longer recordings in stages. A greater emphasis on bottom up processing skills would have made these sections even stronger.

The speaking skill is well supported in this course. Activities include well-written model dialogues. Every second unit focuses on a communication strategy such as asking for clarification or politely insisting. Alternate units contain speaking workshops with functional language such as agreeing and disagreeing.

Although I am a fan of creative writing activities in the classroom, I expect course books to offer greater input on real life writing situations. In Open Mind we have tasks such as writing a story, writing a diary and writing descriptions. In fact with the exception of “writing a persuasive email” I found all of the writing tasks a little far removed from the kind of writing my learners actually need to do. Some of the writing tasks did not seem to offer much in the way of support: for example, I can imagine many learners struggling to come up with ideas when faced with the direction to “write a short one paragraph news article”. A couple of newspaper headlines would have worked well as stimuli here.

Having said that,  the course provides good model texts and language/structuring support.  Self assessment boxes “How are you doing?” in the writing workshops are a useful  feature.

Focus on lexis and grammar:

 The grammar sections are clearly laid out. They provide context for the grammar (often in the form of a conversation) followed by analysis of function and form.

In the section on reported speech I was interested to see that no mention was made of the word “like” as a reporting structure. As this structure is now ubiquitous in British and American English,   I think it should be addressed (or at least acknowledged) in course books.

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The vocabulary presented is relevant, and follow-up activities allow learners the opportunity to personalise the new lexis. However, it would have been good to see more collocations and chunks rather than single words.

Opportunities for localisation and personalisation:

The topics included are universal enough to provide ample opportunities for personalisation. Learners are encouraged to talk about childhood memories, discuss dilemmas and speak about their ideal jobs. Units on business and employment lend themselves well to looking at local job opportunities, while a task in the entertainment section asks learners to review a live event they have seen recently.

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Springboardability:

The unit ‘Taking Care of  Business’ inspired project ideas as I flicked through its pages. The Life Skills section at the end of the unit asks learners to develop and present a business idea to the rest of the class. This seemed like a good opportunity to spend time on developing presentation skills. Perhaps learners could watch some successful business pitches (sourced from The Dragon’s Den) and decide what makes a convincing business pitch. Or maybe learners could interview successful entrepreneurs.

The communicative strategies sections in the speaking section could easily be expanded upon. Learners could go on to create their own role plays based on experiences they have had, using the strategies they have learned to achieve positive outcomes.

Conclusion

Open Mind is an appealing course book which I think learners and teachers will enjoy using together.  It falls a little short on teaching reading and writing (in my opinion) and is stronger on speaking and listening.  You can download a sample unit here if you want to see for yourself.

Phew. Having reviewed three books in the space of a couple of weeks I may now be suffering from course book fatigue. Time to mull over my thoughts on this exercise before returning in a few days with my last words on the subject. Then I’ll shut up about it and talk about something different. Promise.

*Extracts venom from snakes

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