by Penny Ur
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
|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.
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'.
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.
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