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Reviewer: Alex Warren, Academic Director from British Study Centres, Bournemouth
With most coursebooks now incorporating some kind of DVD lesson into the course and many teachers preferring to use authentic DVD and YouTube clips plus homemade worksheets, standalone DVD material is a rarity in the EFL market nowadays. In releasing Culture View Macmillan is looking to reclaim a hole in the market and by including both sketches and documentaries they manage to achieve this with a certain amount of success.
The effectiveness of Culture View is in part due to the fact that it is not tied to a course and thus can be successfully used as supplementary material for virtually any coursebook, especially considering the topics covered. With lessons on Home, Appearance, Transport, Sport, Food and School on DVD Pack 1 and Media, Music, Language, Literature on DVD Pack 2, it covers pretty much every one of the core topics you would expect to see in a coursebook. It might not be revolutionary, but it plays to the market and its audience well.
With regards its audience the material is aimed very squarely at the teenage market in the first instance. Each of the sketches is based around a group of teenagers in a variety of situations and whether it’s following preparations for a school trip (Language), going to a sports centre (Sport) or in a café (Food) there is enough relevance to the audience for them to make some personal connection. While of course scripted and therefore not especially authentic, the quality of the material is generally good and what you would expect it to be. By no means is it RSC quality acting and while the scripts can be a bit stodgy and the acting occasionally wooden, it’s as good as anything that has gone before. It is, after all, what it is. What the sketches do, though, is provide a good springboard for exploring functional language which is exploited more through the accompanying worksheets (see below).
As well as the sketches each unit has a documentary which actually has greater potential in that they go beyond the teenage market, thus appealing to a wider, young adult audience. More than that though, they provide a real insight into British culture, though some naturally do this better than others. For example, in the Sports documentary the student is given a glimpse into the Englishman’s love affair with football, rugby, cricket, the boat race and the Grand National. Similarly with Media students learn about the BBC and the world of Fleet Street journalism while with Literature they are immersed in the world of Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen. Also of note are the documentaries on Language, which explore the origins and development of the English language, and Music which takes the viewer on a trip from the 1960s and the Beatles and Stones, to the Proms, West End musicals and Glastonbury. In doing this the course lives up to its name and, more importantly, students are engaged and developing their knowledge and skills.
What adds to the strength of the material is the number of activities and worksheets that support the films - each video comes with 6-pages of Before, While and After activities. The worksheets incorporate a mix of quizzes, prediction, vocabulary and matching tasks (Before), comprehension, ordering and observation tasks (While) and discussions, functional language roleplays and research tasks (After). Clearly there’s plenty of variety and plenty to do, making these quite meaty lessons. These are further supported with detailed teacher’s notes as well as copies of the script should teachers wish to further exploit it for roleplays and pronunciation work. With the worksheets, there are two levels for each film - Standard and High - but this is somewhat misleading. In practice, High is doable by Pre-Intermediate (A2/B1) students and Standard by Elementary (A2) students. Indeed the actual language level of the DVDs reflects this, especially the documentaries, with the pace being very deliberate and slow. This is a shame, especially with the documentaries, as there would be enough good content to make them useable for higher levels.
Overall, while Culture View certainly has some admirable features and does its best to reignite the market for standalone video content, it also has its limitations. More of a concern, however, is that while this kind of material was popular in the past, just how useful it is in the 21st century digital media age, where film clips are only a touch of a button away, is a question that remains unanswered.
What outstanding strengths/ weaknesses do you feel this title possesses?
Factual and interesting documentaries
Plenty of materials to support the films
Good range of topics covered
Limited appeal to teenage courses
Only suitable for lower level students
Sketches can be hit or miss
On which courses do you envisage being able to use this material?
With the sketches aimed squarely at teenagers, Culture View is clearly the best suited for teenage and potentially young learner courses. However, the documentaries are more universal and could also be used on young adult courses as supplementary material.