Teaching Language in Context

Small Teaching Language in ContextAuthors: Beverley Derewianka and Pauline Jones
Publisher: Oxford University Press (2016 - first published 2013), 346 pages
RRP: $67.95

Many English teachers, at both primary and secondary level, would be familiar with the work of Beverley Derewianka – perhaps you’ve heard her speak at a conference, or used one of her textbooks when trying to define a language feature or work out how to explain a particularly challenging point of grammar! For this reason, this book caught my attention when I noticed it on the Oxford website. The title of the Preface is ‘A language-based view of learning’ and the explanation makes it clear that this book is intended to cross over various curriculum areas. However, it offers an invaluable resource to all English teachers, both primary and secondary, who need to explicitly teach language in the English classroom. This book will have particular benefit for teachers of VCE English Language who will immediately recognise many of the metalanguage terms and language concepts that they are required to teach in the EL course – modality, clauses, nominalisation, coherence, cohesion, to name a few.

The co-authors have organised this book in two parts: Part 1 is an introduction to some general principles, including the functional model of language and introducing a cycle of teaching and learning for implementing the approach to language adopted in this book; Part 2 goes into more detail, focusing on a range of different genres and associated language features. These range from narratives, recounts, reports, explanations, persuasive texts, and responses. A new chapter 10 has been added to this updated edition which examines language for inquiring, recognising that students are often required to produce texts (inquiries) that have multiple purposes.

What is appealing about this book is the layout which makes it so accessible and easy to navigate. The information in grammar books can often be ‘heavy’ and challenging to digest – not so in this textbook. Different coloured sections and headings within each chapter break the information into easily read chunks of information. Each chapter contains blue ‘Have a go’ and orange ‘In the classroom’ suggestions for practical classroom activities. There are handy margin notes with definitions of key terms. And there are examples of real texts throughout the chapters which continually move the reader from theory to practical, hands-on exploration, discussion and analysis of language in the context of a real text. Each chapter starts with learning objectives, key terms and concepts, and an introductory ‘Think about it’. And each chapter concludes with suggested strategies for teaching and assessment, chapter summary, ideas for further discussion, and resources, including websites. There is an excellent glossary at the back of the book – always handy! But what I find most useful are the two Appendices: Appendix 1 is ‘A Functional Model of Language’ and Appendix 2 is ‘A Map of Language Features in this Book’. These would be particularly helpful for teaching students how to write an analytical commentary in VCE English Language, or an analysis of language and argument in VCE English.

I think this book is an essential resource for all English teachers at both primary and secondary levels and may also be a good resource to consider for senior students, especially those studying VCE English Language.

Reviewed by Josephine Smith, VATE Publications and Communications Officer