The Reading Matrix
Vol. 2, No.3, September 2002

The Rainmaker's Dog: International Folktales to Build Communicative Skills.
Cynthia Dresser (1998)
Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 0-521-65778-4
Reviewed by Maggie Slowik
University of Notre Dame

The Rainmaker's Dog is a book designed for students and teachers of English internationally. It is specifically designed to fit the needs of high beginning to intermediate learners, to both young adult and adult students. This text uses short folk tales from Africa, Haiti, Australia, and Asia within a whole-language framework to help students improve their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. The Rainmaker's Dog further builds crucial communication skills by using these international folk tales. The intended goal for teachers is to offer a variety of readings and activities that will lead to freedom from old-fashioned teaching methods and highly encourage a tolerant, learner-centered classroom environment that enhances effective learning and risk taking. No ancillary materials accompany The Rainmaker's Dog. Both paperback and hard cover versions are available as well as the instructor's manual. Only the paperback version is reviewed here.

From the outset, The Rainmaker's Dog stands out as a well planned and visually interesting text. Ranging from about 200 to about 2,000 words, the selections are accompanied by pre-reading and post-reading activities. The literature-based reader-response approach and the wide range of group discussions and cooperative learning activities in each chapter are intended to improve communication skills. The page layouts are fairly user- friendly and show originality. The text is well-fed with pictures, maps, and storyboards, all of which are creative hand drawings and not prints.

The Rainmaker's Dog is divided into three parts. Part I: Planning the Journey explains what is implied already by the title: book is a journey in a way that the students learns about several cultures and in another way that they are guided individually on their path to developing English communicative skills.

Part II: The Journey offers six interesting chapters featuring folktales from various geographical regions of the world. Chapters 1 (Central Africa), 2 (West Africa), and 3 (East and Southern Africa) represent different areas of the continent and their ancient cultures. Chapter 4 (Haiti) tells stories about the flow of African slaves. Chapter 5 (Aboriginal Australia) is about the influence that modern life had the continent's roots. Chapter 6 (Asia) reflects different cultures that yet have many characteristics in common.

Each chapter in Part II follows the same pattern. A brief introduction lays out cultural, geographical, and historical information, successfully setting the context for the chapters.

The section on maps and map exercises provide students with the geographical context so they can learn how countries are related to one another. The maps are not authentic prints but rather detailed drawing, which might encourage students to search for more information on their own.

Each tale or story is preceded by pre-reading exercises (Before you Read, to help learners to focus on the ideas in the story before they actually start reading the text. At this point, the students get an idea of the language they will need in order to talk about the story. Another advantage of this section is that it prepares the students not only for the core text but automatically for the post-reading exercises.

Following each story are post-reading exercises, which connect to the story in an engaging way. Since the story types are so different from each other, so are the types of exercises, which can be: small-group discussion, character analysis, jigsaw exercises, information-gap exercises, and classroom activities. The small-group discussions require the use of real-language and aim at students to express themselves on an independent and mature level. In the character analysis exercise, students learn to express feelings and beliefs. The jigsaw exercises are more challenging in a way that they require the students to understand the information they are given, to express it to another student, and finally to initiate the finding a solution. The information-gap activities require students to exchange information in order to come up with a solution and the classroom activities improve performance among the students.

Every chapter in The Rainmaker's Dog concludes with a section entitled comprehensive exercises. The readers are starting to connecting ideas and drawing parallels among the many stories in that particular chapter. The advantage of these exercises is the integration of information the learner undergoes.

The last part of the book, Part III: Journey' s End combines all the stories, characters and skills in the book so that the readers can collect their ideas on the journey they have just taken. In addition, it is meant to make them realize how much knowledge they have gained all the way to this journey's end. The Reference section at the end of the book contains answer keys to some of the activities.

In sum, The Rainmaker's Dog achieves its goal of developing proficiency in the four language skills not only in meaningful but also in very humorous contexts. What is more, learners will not only master their English skills for a setting different from the classroom but they will, in addition, deepen their understanding and appreciation of foreign cultures and develop their own values. The book is very unique in a way that it ignores grammar sections and instead deals with real-life topics and a better understanding of the world. The Rainmaker's Dog is definitely worth the exotic journey!


















Maggie Slowik is a Graduate student in the Department of German and Russian Languages at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. In 2001, she graduated from Jamestown College, ND, with a degree in communications and minors in French, Spanish, and Information Technology. Immediately afterwards, she started her Masters program in German at the University of Notre Dame, where she is teaching beginning German language classes. Currently, she is working on a project on developing authentic multimedia materials for foreign language teaching. After the completion of her M.A., she might pursue a Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition.