The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 1, April 2001
Making Connections: An Interactive Approach to Academic Reading Kenneth J. Pakenham (1995)
New York: St. Martin's Press
Pp. xiv + 370
Reviewed by Julia Gousseva-Goodwin
University of Arizona
The task of reading, understanding, and analyzing academic texts can be quite challenging for students. Such tasks become even more challenging if the students are reading academic texts in a second language. The goal of Making Connections: An Interactive Approach to Academic Reading by Kenneth J. Pakenham is to prepare high-intermediate to low-advanced ESL students to read academic texts. The book is intended to help ESL students improve the language skills necessary for effective reading, such as knowledge of vocabulary, text structure and organization, and development process-oriented reading strategies.
The book starts with a detailed introduction for the reader which includes information about the intended audience of the book, the approach used in it, overview and organization of the book, as well as general guidelines for use. Pakenham emphasizes that "good comprehension of its (the text's) content and an awareness of what structures and organization is exploited" (p. vi) is not enough to teach effectively. He stresses the importance of awareness of "the strategies we have employed
in the process of making sense of the text" (p. vii).
Making Connections consists of five units and a Vocabulary Study section. Each unit includes six readings that are linked by a common theme. Unit themes include international issues, global environmental issues, insights into American culture, and language. Unit One is devoted to world healthcare issues and includes such topics as ethical questions in health care, AIDS awareness, as well as health care in the industrial and developing worlds. Units Two and Five provide the students with information about US culture and include questions of cultural diversity, immigration, as well as education and family life in the United States. Unit Four discusses ecology, overpopulation, and other environmental issues, whereas Unit Three provides the students with information on language acquisition and variation in language.
Within each unit, five background readings and a pre-reading exercise precede the main article. Intervention activities for all readings are provided in the margins and are intended to help students "activate relevant processing strategies when they are reading" (p. v). Besides, readings are followed by exercises that help the student check their understanding of the main and supporting ideas of the text.
Vocabulary items are introduced within each unit and cross-referenced in the Vocabulary Study section where definitions and examples are provided. Vocabulary exercises within each unit are aimed at engaging the students critical thinking and reading skills, as well as their knowledge of grammatical patterns.
The book uses recurrent organization: vocabulary items, structural and organizational text features, and reading strategies are "(1) introduced in context, (2) explained and practiced intensively, and (3) reintroduced and practiced during the reading process" (p. v).
One concern that I have about this book is that the organizational structure of the book does not lend itself easily to adaptation to various teaching situations and needs. In other words, the readings within each unit, as well as the units themselves are intended for use in the order of appearance and do not function as effectively by themselves.
Making Connections is a very useful textbook for teaching both academic reading and writing. It could also be effectively used for self-study because of the detailed explanations and examples that are provided, as well as due to a large number of practice exercises and reading passages of varying lengths.