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Discussions That Work cover
Discussions That Work
by Penny Ur

(CUP)
amazon.com   amazon.co.uk

Review written by Thomas Simon

I've been teaching long enough to remember when Discussions That Work was first published over twenty years ago. At the time, we had some picture compositions & some simulations & the 'communicative approach' was in full swing. Books such as 'Functions in English' by Leo Jones had some good info gap activities in the back to provide practice but generally we were left to our own devices to develop speaking activities. It was also a time when the speaking skill was part of the language practice & not really yet given its full role as a skill in its own right like the reading or listening skills.

So you can imagine how we felt when Discussions That Work arrived - a breath of fresh air! And twenty years later it is still an excellent source of speaking activities & a very solid introduction to the skill for the new teacher.

This is from the back of the book cover:

How can you make a discussion really work? What sort of activities produce genuine and enthusiastic exchanges of ideas? How can you prepare such exercises quickly and easily? These are some of the questions that Discussions That Work sets out to answer.

It does. The book is divided into two main sections; General principles (24 pages) & Practical examples (96 pages). Most readers will go straight to the activities but if you are starting out or feel unconfident about developing the speaking skill then the introduction is well worth the read. It is full of practical ideas on what to consider & how to carry out the activities that follow. The main attraction of the book for me is the stimulation of thought & imagination that the activities provide.

' Language use implies thought; and a task involving talking must also involve thinking out.' p13

'Each task consists of a thinking process and its outcome in the form of a tangible result.' p13

Then as before the book is billed as 'Task-centred fluency practice', fitting nicely into the current rage for all things task-based. Ur puts the student at the centre & there is an emphasis on the purpose of the activities - what can they achieve through communicating, as we do in real life.

The second & main part of the book is divided into three areas; brainstorming activities, organising activities & compound activities.

'On the whole, the simpler the task, the more chance it has of success'. p14

This is very true & the activities cited are not complicated & at most require a photocopy. Ur is also very conscious of the demands on busy teachers, suggesting how most efficiently to prepare & set up the activities, & they can easily be modified to fit in with your syllabus or used as one-off activities.

It's a good title for the book & the discussions do work but initially it's a good idea to think of them as 'Discussions that work better the more you do them'. One of my favourite activities is the 'Zoo Game' in the 'Organizing Activities' section. I have done this, & the 'Couples' & 'Dinner Party' activities, several times with different groups & have developed, bit by bit, a procedure for each that works really well.

'Discussions That Work' is an essential buy for the newer teacher, the more experienced teacher that wants a reference of speaking activities & the language school that wants to really help its teachers develop the speaking skill in an imaginative & fun way with their students.

amazon.com   amazon.co.uk

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