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Home: Book Review of CNN Student News, Vol. 2

Book Review of CNN Student News, Vol. 2
by Gary Joe Wolff

Authors: Fuyuhiko Sekido, Masato Kogure, Jake Arnold, & Ken Ikeda
Publisher: Asahi Press, Tokyo, 2014,
pp. iii + 87, ¥1,900 (Includes audio CDs)
ISBN: 978-4-255-15545-6

CNN Student News, Vol. 2 is the second in a three-part textbook series and is based on CNN Student News, a 10-minute, commercial-free, daily TV news program that presents current events and issues in a simplified format, targeting middle and high school students. The show airs weekdays throughout the U.S. school year and is supplemented by the program’s website, both of which are accessible for free.

Each of the textbook’s 15 stand-alone, six-page units features a two-minute news story which has been previously broadcast and chosen by the authors to be of interest to young adult Japanese learners of English, complete with video, audio, and an array of discussion, vocabulary, and listening comprehension exercises. The DVD contains only two-minute videos for each unit and is furnished to teachers at no charge.

The main task of each unit is the Transcript Completion section, which consists of a cloze (gap-fill) exercise based on the dialogue from the two-minute news story. Moreover, there are two sets of audio tracks for this section, one being the authentic native speed dialogue from the news story, and the other of the same transcript, but narrated at a slower rate of speed (~0.75x), excellent scaffolding for lower-level students.

The textbook is especially suitable for Japanese university students in view of the increasing populist trend for American TV news to be more visual and varied, narrative-based, and dramatically framed as infotainment.

Also, the recent conversationalization and so-called dumbing down of American TV news discourse has resulted in greater use of anchors and correspondents who are good sources of high-frequency idiomatic language. This has made it far more suitable as a pedagogical tool than other TV news sources and is likely to have beneficial effects for L2 processing (Bell, 2003), for example, by aiding listening comprehension and media literacy.

The infotainment value of the textbook was validated by the informal survey of 1st and 2nd-year non-English majors in my English Communication I classes. They felt that the news stories were of interest, particularly Unit 3 about eco-friendly cardboard bicycles and Units 2 and 9 which are directly related to Japan, one on a famous Japanese chef in Tokyo and the other on the Yokohama Bay Stars baseball team.

The students rated the textbook as having average difficulty, and although they found the exercises to match key vocabulary words with their definitions (written in Japanese) a bit easy, in general they rated the listening exercises slightly difficult.

Although each unit has a variety of tasks including pre-viewing warm-up discussion, vocabulary, and pronunciation, my perception is that a minor shortcoming of the textbook is the somewhat overreliance on teacher-fronted listening (cloze) tasks and true/false questions. Perhaps it might be better to incorporate some additional post-viewing activity like a group discussion, an exercise on American idioms, multiple choice comprehension questions, or a follow-up homework writing assignment.

The teacher’s manual contains no teaching tips, but I found it to be accurate and useful, including answer keys to textbook questions and Japanese translations of the video transcripts. The Preface in both the teacher’s manual and textbook are written in Japanese, which may cause some minor inconvenience to teachers without a strong command of the language.

CNN Student News, Vol. 2 is a refreshing alternative to the typical EFL textbook, as it not only exposes students to authentic materials with real-life relevancy, but also helps them become better global citizens by expanding their knowledge of world events of interest to young people (Hwang, 2005). Additionally, helping students become more media literate by developing the critical thinking skills to understand L2 English news will assist them in more fully participating in the global community (Isozaki, 2014).

The textbook is already being used extensively in Japanese universities, and each unit is designed for use in either one or two classroom sessions. An added benefit of the textbook is that it is supported by fresh new content added daily to the CNN Student News website during the American school year, and is also available as a free podcast on the program’s website and at iTunes. In Japan, the program can also be viewed on NHK’s BS1 satellite TV station, as well as on the NHK website.

As ubiquitous as international news videos are these days, easily accessible from most mobile devices, exploiting this entertainment medium can prove to be the ideal teaching tool for our students. I can wholeheartedly recommend CNN Student News, Vol. 2 as either a core or supplementary textbook.

References

Bell, D. M. (2003). TV news in the EFL/ESL classroom: Criteria for selection. TESL-EJ, 7(3), 1-17.

Hwang, C. C. (2005). Effective EFL education through popular authentic materials. Asian EFL Journal, 7(1), 1-12.

Isozaki, A.H. (2014). Critical media literacy for learner-empowering news media courses. The Language Teacher, 38(5), 6-9.

Author Bio

Gary J. Wolff is a former registered professional transportation engineer who has worked in Japan since 1991 and taught both undergraduate and graduate engineering and science students in his university’s School of Science and Technology for the past 16 years. His interests include the latest technological advances in online student forums, student motivation, computer-assisted language learning (CALL) methods, and fostering global awareness among his students. In his free time, Gary enjoys mountain climbing and has scaled all of the 25 highest mountains in Japan.


[This article was written in Jan. 2015 and appeared in the "Book Reviews" section of the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of The Language Teacher, published by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT).]
 






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