Photo: Cambridge ELT Week, Guangzhou, China
Sometimes teachers ask my recommendations on textbooks. NEW INTERCHANGE - I would rate it as #1. I like it so much I became a teacher trainer for Cambridge. Rather than just calling it a coursebook I'd call it a system. There are four levels: 0-3. I like it for 6 reasons:
1. Sound teaching approach and progression with built in revision units to make sure the student learns and doesn't forget.
2. Pre-made photocopiable quizzes every 3 units for additional revision.
3. Colorful, clear uncluttered layout and good illustrations. Some of the pictures look like high level clip-art (which is a little annoying for me) but most of them are great and I recently learned were done by one of Mad Magazine's artists.
4. It has the widest range of optional support material that I have ever seen for a course:
a) Student and classroom audio tapes.
b) The teacher's book includes all the student book pages inside it so you don't have to juggle 2 books when you're teaching. The book also includes additional activity units. There are "unit summaries" for the teacher with a single list of all the vocabulary covered in the unit. (Some vocabulary is taught directly and some is taught indirectly as the student proceeds through the unit.) A list of 20 or so additional activities and games that you can toss into your course if you want.
c) Student Workbook to provide additional practice (or homework) if needed.
d) VCD and short video stories to go along with each unit. There is also a workbook to go along with the VCD and a teacher's book to support the video story teaching units.
e) The book is very easy to use but for teachers who want to improve their skills or who are not familiar with how to use the internationally accepted modern approaches there is a 15-hour teacher training course complete with video (showing real teachers in real classrooms) and workbooks. This is ideal for the Chinese teachers who are unfamiliar with these methods or native English speakers who are new to teaching or some experienced teachers who would like a refresher course.
5. Finally, I like New Interchange 3 for IELTS prep. As a former IELTS examiner and current IELTS instructor (the British Council wouldn't allow me to do both) I have searched the world for 2 years for a good course that would not only teach students English but would feature subject content related to IELTS topics, i.e.: writing, reading, speaking and listening about world social issues or writing a letter to complain or discussing important qualities in a friend. New Interchange 3 is ideal for this purpose and I suspect that if a student passes an New Interchange 3 course they could get Band 6 or 7 on the IELTS test.
6. They are not so expensive. The books were printed in China on high quality paper in full color. They are more expensive than normal coursebooks in China but much cheaper than imported books.
What do I not like about it? As I said some of the illustrations are not as good as they should be. I wish there was a self-study book with the answers for students because I often recommend IELTS students to study and sometimes they can't join a New Interchange class. Also I wish they had some interactive support on the web to help diagnose a student's needs and give additional training for them.
New Interchange doesn't present any brand new experimental methods. It has just taken all the best methods out there and put them inside of two covers. Of course, you can't please all of the people all of the time. But in just a couple years 200,000 New Interchange student books have been sold (the number of pirated books is unknown) to students in China and the number is growing quickly.
If life as a teacher "is a beach" then New Interchange is the ocean. You can get into it as deep as you want and need and feel comfortable with. It's easy for the students and teacher to kick around in the shallow parts as it is a great course simply using the student book, tapes and teacher's book without any special training. But if you and your students want to go for a good swim or even deep diving there is plenty of material which all interacts together and supports each other. Cambridge spent 7 years developing this course and it shows.
And now there is the updated version called "Interchange 3".