Upstream vs Life
            vs             
   Express Publishing                              Heinle Cengage Learning

Jean Theuna takes two course books through their paces

We've put an old favourite up against a new contender: 'Upstream' vs 'Life'

Upstream

What works well?

Upstream
is an extremely tightly structured course book.  It's divided into modules by topics
which are then divided into two units of 14 pages each.  The units are further subdivided into
sections colourcoded by teaching focus, e.g. vocabulary is blue and grammar is purple.  The
colours run through the whole book as banner headings on each page so you can easily identify
exactly what the focus of theactivities are.  Vocabulary, reading, grammar and writing all have
their own sections and listening and speaking are grouped together.

The beginning of each unit starts with a summary of all the language points covered in the unit
so that the students know what to expect.  At the end of each module there is a self-assessment
module whichis ideal for homework.  It's impressively thorough, well-organised and easy to pick
up and use.

What could be better? 

Although Upstream is aimed at the General English class, it also lends itself to examination
preparation, especially the Cambridge suite of FCE, CAE and CPE.  As a result of this, most of
the activities and exercises feel like exam tasks.  There are the typical Cambridge exam tasks
such as multiple-choice clozes and key word transformation exercises and most of the tasks
seem to be testing rather than teaching.  All the activities feel quite controlled and not many
of them ask the student to input much creativity.

In addition to the rather intensive activities, the pages are very dense with text and rarely
feature more than a few small pictures.

Who would it suit most?

Rather than trying to fall between two camps, Upstream needs to show its true colours. 
Upstream
works very well as an exam preparation book and this is its forte.  Teachers who
like structure and who find comfort in knowing that the course  book stretches and challenges
their students will love this book.  Students who like to systematically work through a book and
feel a sense of achievement will find that Upstream really does deliver.


Life

What works well?

By partnering with National Geographic magazine, Life ensured that it has the most impressive
pictures and 'real' topics of any course book.  The National Georgraphic touch is visible from the
pretend magazine covers for each unit thatare part of the map of the book to the solid yellow
surround at the beginning of each unit as the book progresses.

Each unit is stuffed full with facts, information and interesting reading texts.  Each double page
has headers and footers to remind the teacher and student about the language focus of the
activities on those pages.  And each unit has a critical thinking focus along with the language
points.

What could be better?

Although many people will find the topics fascinating, some will not and some will grow tired of all
the rather intense 'let's all learn about the world around us' message which flows throughout the
book. Just as people love watching National Geographic or Discovery TV Channels, they might like
to turn over to more light-hearted channels occasionally, such as having a quick laugh with BBC
comedy or indulging in the guilty pleasure of Reality TV once in a while.  In  Life, the facts and
data are motivating, but the whole air of semi-formal or formal language can be off-putting. 
Sometimes the student just wants to giggle at a role-play where they take their toaster back to
a shop because it's faulty!

Who would it suit most?


With its accompanying DVD, Life provides general knowledge as well as language.  It is great for
teachers who are enthusiastic about the topics and are genuinely keen on learning as much about
the students as the students learn from the book.  The type of students who will enjoy this book
are the tpe who enjoy life!

Jean Theuma