Book Reviews

ESL Extras

The Coat & Can You Keep a Secret?

Can you keep a secretClare Harris ( has crafted two interesting and exciting short stories with a twist at the end for adult learners of English as a second language. The stories, both set in Australia, carry along at a fast pace with clear language and basic, perhaps universal, concepts.



The Coat is a story that moves along at break-neck speed with twists and interesting characters, which would appeal to both young and older adults. The Coat tells the story of a young woman who has moved to Melbourne to start her own business leaving her boyfriend in Brisbane. She needs a warm coat because of the cold weather and that coat leads her through questions of love and ethics. The language is at a pre-intermediate level and remains so throughout the book. The grammar is explicit in the text.



Can You Keep a Secret? is a story that would appeal to migrant adults, particularly those with families and jobs. The story centers on George a migrant who is up for a promotion at work but he is asked to keep it secret from his colleagues and family. This moral issue along with George’s concern that his English is not adequate for the job and a birthday party make for a highly entertaining sequence of events with a twist at the end. The language starts at an elementary level and progressively gets more difficult ending up at a pre intermediate level.


The language and the concepts in these two stories encourage the reader to read for meaning and not get bogged down in the language. It is understandable that the author has termed these readers “easy-read” stories and allocated them to the elementary/ pre-intermediate level (CSWE 1,2,3 depending on the level of support provided by the teacher). The readers are available in a ‘library’ version and you can download two chapters (story and activities) from the Book Next Door website: http://www.thebooknextdoor.comthe coat


If you want to focus on the language, the Teacher’s Guide and Workbook contains photocopiable worksheets for each chapter covering various areas such as:

1) Vocabulary (word quizzes, fill in the blanks, opposites, prepositions, collocations, similies, prefixes, Australian expressions);

2) Comprehension (sequencing, True/ False, sentence half matching, multiple choice quizzes);

3) Grammar (tenses, word order)

4) Punctuation (contractions)

Further, these language activities contained in the worksheets encourage the reader to refer back to the story for support. As such, the reader could do the worksheets independently.


These books are clearly designed for varying levels of support- independent, low to high. Depending on the level of the student and the aims of the teacher recommending the books, there are different options:

Independent- Assign the book to students to read for enjoyment.

Low support- Give the students the worksheets to complete and a copy of the audio CD so they can listen and read.

High support- Design lessons around the book and use the Teacher’s Guide and Workbook in its entirety using the worksheets and audio CD. The Guide also contains the story pages of the book that are photocopiable so you can copy them for your students to make notes on- no need to buy a class set of the books. Each pair of chapters in the Guide starts out with a page dedicated to teaching ideas which includes items such as pre-reading questions, vocabulary, prediction, post-reading questions, language notes, and discussion ideas which extend the text and personalise the concepts.


Certainly, one could get picky and say that there are some minor problems with the worksheets (e.g., multiple choice word quiz choices are more complex than the question in some instances). However, the positives of the worksheets outweigh the negatives. For example, the extra language rules for the past tense, similes, collocations, half and half sentences, tables and categorization exercises teach the students excellent learning strategies for analyzing language. Further, the answers are provided.


In summary, if you want to find books for your students that they will read with interest through to the end and go on to read others after, these books are a great choice. With this excellent set of materials, Clare Harris, the author, has certainly achieved her five goals for students, which are 1) reading for enjoyment, 2) fluency and pronunciation development, 3) vocabulary and idiom learning, 4) confidence with narratives and recounts, and 5) achievable comprehension review.


Samantha Vanderford

Independent ESL Consultant


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