[David Martin. Okegawa, Saitama: EFL Press, 2006. pp. 70. ¥2,400.]
Topic Talk is an ESL/EFL classroom textbook ideally suited for false-beginner to intermediate level students in Asia. The textbook is divided into 30 units representing 30 topics varying from everyday conversational themes to more advanced topics, appropriate for higher-level EFL students who are interested in expressing their opinions on local and global concerns and which may lead to deeper discussion and debate.
The textbook follows a simple format of introducing topics through a listening task in which students respond by circling the appropriate answer to each of the thirteen questions presented in a questionnaire format. Students then form pairs or triads and exchange their answers to each question with the option of asking additional questions. The textbook is in colour and has cartoon illustrations intended to provide a visual aid for each topic and comic relief that has proven to be a positive influence on my students’ motivation. Additionally, the students’ textbook provides a glossary of translated conversations and vocabulary to give easy access to new language and help facilitate instruction. To support each lesson, the Teacher’s Guide (available for download at: www.eflpress.com) includes bilingual lists of key vocabulary, extra vocabulary and questions, as well as pair activities. A CD of all the listening activities is also available for classroom use.
From a pedagogical perspective, Topic Talk primarily gives students an opportunity to practice high frequency WH-questions and to personalize their answers for fluency development. Using the student text without extension activities, a unit may offer approximately 30 minutes of practice. Given that the activities for each unit may not be sufficient for a 50-minute high school lesson, nor a 90-minute university class, Topic Talk may be best viewed as supplementary material for most classes. However, with extension activities, this textbook has the potential for being a viable main textbook supplying sufficient instruction and practice for students to develop their speaking and listening fluency through a number of tasks and techniques (Nation, 2009). In my large first-year university classes, I found whole-class and peer dictations of the Topic Talk questions useful for developing students’ listening skills. After students have compared their dictations with the original text and made the appropriate corrections, they are given the opportunity to write their answers to the questions. To help my students prepare for the guided Topic Talk interviews, I used techniques within the Audio-lingual Method (ALM) (see Mora, 2008) to focus on form and encourage sentence level fluency. Students responded well to the ALM techniques of choral repetition, backchaining, and listening for and practicing distinct stress-timed phonological features including linking constant to vowel, assimilation, reduced consonants, word stress, and intonation. Overall, students found this pedagogical approach supportive and that it encouraged their listening and speaking fluency on a variety of familiar topics.
Most of the units cover themes that require little preparation to have sufficient knowledge of the topic and students are likely to respond to each question with confidence; however, there are opportunities to expand each topic in a manner that would facilitate discussion, and even debate. Examples of topics that may be appropriate for further discussion include: the exploration of a variety of cross-cultural differences relevant to each topic; the role of multimedia in our lives (p. 27); the pros and cons of giving money to NGOs and charities (p. 29); the possibility of marrying someone from a different country (p. 53); or the questioning of the American constitutional right to own firearms (p. 59). The vast number of topics this text presents will surely be sufficient to stimulate both students’ and teachers’ interests.
In summary, as a supplementary textbook, Topic Talk has proved to be highly successful in my large first-year university speaking classes. Within the context of a speaking class, this textbook provides ample opportunity for listening and speaking fluency development. With extension activities and careful lesson planning, Topic Talk can also be used to introduce topics for further conversation, discussion, and debate.
Mora, J. K. (2008). Second-language teaching methods: Principles & procedures. Retrieved from <www.moramodules.com/ALMMethods.htm>.
Nation, I. S. P. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL listening and speaking. New York: Routledge.