Resource Review: OCR Chinese - Textbook and Workbook (Asset Languages Breakthrough)

Tags: Review

To view sample pages of the book go HERE 

Resource Title: OCR Chinese: Textbook & Workbook (Book 1)

Author:  Chinese: Textbook & Workbook

Cost (RRP):  £15.99 – textbook, £7.99 – workbook, £4.99 – answerbook (for workbook)

Available from:

UK:  Dragons in Europe

Reviewer: Theresa Munford

Description:  OCR Chinese Textbook 1  is for students wanting to start learning the fundamental basics of Mandarin Chinese.  This book was written for Asset Languages Breakthrough Level in an accessible and enjoyable way to help students in their first steps to learning about Chinese language and Culture. The textbook, which includes an audio CD, is also accompanied by a workbook, the content of which is fully aligned to each of the six units.    The workbook tests the students’ understanding in terms of pinyin, tones and Chinese characters.  The authors have written this book according to the specifications of OCR Breakthrough level from the perspective of a young adult. Each of the six units introduces a key topic of Chinese language at Breakthrough Level. Related elements of Chinese culture are also taught in the units to give students a broader understanding of the topic as a whole. The listening exercises coupled with the CD helps students enhance their speaking and listening skills in Chinese, teaching them Chinese that is both practical and appropriate for many situations.

The books are endorsed by OCR.

Author’s comments (Marcus Reoch):  Please note that this is Book 1 of a 2 books – Book 2’s material (Units 7-12) is currently being assessed by OCR.  Aside from the importance of getting recognition from a well-known exam board, it was also crucial for us to provide the UK’s Chinese teaching community with an easy to use, realistic and attractive set of materials that would help pre-GCSE students of Mandarin Chinese.

Both the authors teach at primary and secondary level and they are strong believers in providing the the younger age groups with a basic introduction to both Chinese language and culture. This will inevitably lend itself very positively to increasing the future numbers wanting to take GCSE – an examination which is key for employment and future recognition.  At the moment, the GCSE uptake numbers are very low (2,500-3000 compared with many times that number for French/Spanish) and it is therefore key that there a continuous set of quality teaching resources available for children and teachers from primary up to the beginning of GCSE. 

The content of the Asset Languages Breakthrough curriculum is perfect for 11-15 year olds/pre-GCSE students who are keen on learning the basics. We believe that Textbook and workbook 1 fill an important gap in the marketplace for the following reasons:

Colourful, western-styling which represent an accessible template for students of all ages aligned to what students are like to want to know and need to know i.e. not swamped with Chinese characters. This is not a weakness, more a structure strategy by the authors to demystify the characters and to let students know that ‘Chinese characters are not so difficult as they might have originally thought’. This would mean that when they start Book 2, they will be prepared for them and it means that we can up the quantity quite considerably.

A clever system of introducing pinyin and characters together but slowly phasing the pinyin out as they move through the units of the textbook. This system is also present in the workbook.

The range will be supported by an online log-in area for teachers which will contain:

-A cut-down, teaching-focused digital version of the textbook in powerpoint format with lots of useful features to illustrate important learning points. 

- Fully printable pdf version of the workbook

- Jiao An for teachers plus Dragons in Europe teaching notes and advice.

- The answer book and listening transcripts in pdf printable version.

Reviewer Profile:  Theresa Munford is the Head of Mandarin at The Ashcombe School, a Language College in Dorking.  She teaches Mandarin in innovative ways to Primary and Secondary students up to GCSE level.  Asset Languages Breakthrough is used at the school.

Things I liked about the resource:   Throughout the book, the authors write clear, detailed instructions and explanations in English to guide the students.  The tone is friendly and non-patronising and this is also reflected in the audio CD.  My Year 7s found this instantly appealing. From a teacher’s point of view, it makes the book useful for differentiation -- in a classroom situation the more able students can press ahead with tasks independently, using the bite-sized ‘language notes‘ to support their learning.  In the same way,  as each chapter concludes with a few pages of cultural information with clear and enticing photos, there’s plenty of scope for extension work to challenge the students and avoid the dreaded cry of  ‘What shall I do next, Miss?’.

The book and the accompanying workbook are brimful of exercises including whole class, paired and individual work.  There is lots of variety in these, for example simple pinyin writing exercises, reading comprehension tasks, flashcard making activities, group speaking games and listening exercises linked to the accompanying CD.

I particularly liked the ‘speedy tone’ activities which use pictures rather than pinyin and encourage the pupils to race through different sequences of pictures representing different tones of the same syllable.  This is so much more stimulating than the very dry pinyin tables in some books and can be easily transferred to the smart board using the  accompanying digital version to make fun whole-class activities.

The workbook is an extremely useful homework resource and would save an immense amount of teacher-time in setting appropriate homework.   The exercises are clearly linked to the learning in each chapter and are very varied.

The textbook’s stress on listening and speaking reflects the priorities in OCR Asset exams.  Breakthrough level speaking and listening are a higher level in terms of vocabulary and grammar structures than reading and writing.   There are plenty of exercises that help consolidate students’ knowledge and understanding of tones and pinyin.  In fact, it is perfectly possible to use the book exclusively with pinyin and simply leave out the reading and writing exercises if your aim is that the students only do listening and speaking Asset tests.

The book’s gently-gently approach to reading and writing means that students can begin to acquire characters without getting bogged down in them.   By the end of the book, they would confidently write 48.  That may not sound many, but they only need to read and write about 120 for Breakthrough, so it gives them a firm foundation.  Besides, there are lots of interesting nuggets of information about the development and structure of Chinese characters to whet their appetites to learn more. 

Character reading tasks gradually phase out the pinyin so the students start to wean themselves off romanization.  Hopefully in Book 2 there will be even less pinyin in these tasks -- there’s nothing more annoying as a teacher than having to ‘tipex’ out pinyin.

The accompanying CD has lots of different speakers which makes it more interesting and also prepares students to get used to a variety of voices.

What could have been improved:  I think it’s a pity all the answers to the text book are in the Glossary.  In my experience, pupils soon catch on to that and go for the easy path.  If you want to encourage self-assessment or peer assessment then why not simply have a printable sheet of answers to be distributed after the task is completed.  Fortunately, the workbook doesn’t include answers. 

I don’t find the layout and graphics very appealing, there’s a cut-and-paste look to some of the cartoons that detracts from the content.

Why and how did I use this resource?  I’ve trialled this book a little with my year 7s.  As mentioned above, they particularly liked the clear explanations.  We used Unit 4, ‘My things’ and found that there was plenty to keep them all involved and on task.  There was a good balance of activities.

Because the units are clearly theme-based (greetings, about me, my family, my things, shopping and ‘where is it’?), I found it really easy to dip into for Chinese club teaching.

Why may others use this resource?  This book could be successfully used with 11-15 year olds as the first part of an Asset Breakthrough course.  Book 2, which is due out soon, would definitely also be needed to get them to the appropriate level.  It depends, of course, on teaching hours and student ability whether you want your students to do Breakthrough in one or in two years.  If you opted for this book as a one-year text book, it would give them a very solid foundation with plenty of opportunity to do interesting work on cultural topics as well.  Also, because it is topic-based you could supplement each topic by adding more vocabulary and sentence patterns.

If you opted for a one-year Breakthrough course, you would need both Book 1 and Book 2 -  some schools may flinch at having to buy two text books for one year, let alone the accompanying workbooks.

Where teachers are not necessarily aiming at Asset exams and need to devise their own curriculum the very clear ‘can do’ statements would give them a good structure on which to base their learning aims and assessment criteria.

Conclusions / other comments:  This textbook fits well with Western language-teaching methods, and used in combination with Book 2, should provide a very solid foundation for students undertaking Asset Breakthrough Mandarin.

 To view sample pages of the book go HERE