Today we will take a look at “Topic Talk” written by David Martin and published by EFL Press. I came across this book in a slightly unusual way in that I did not purchase it myself. It was actually left at my school by a teacher I had hired over 9 years ago. I have hundreds of different textbooks in my school and there are many that I have never even opened. After sitting on the shelf for some time I finally picked it up and leafed through it. At the time I was looking for some new class warm-up ideas. I found that a lot of the more major textbooks warm-ups weren’t producing the conversations that I wanted from my students. But before we get into that let’s go over some the basics of this book.
The outline of the book is very simple. There are 30 chapters. Each chapter is two pages. Each chapter has 13 questions related to a different basic topic. Each question also has some example answers written below it. All of the questions are conversational questions that you can use in normal everyday conversations. That’s basically it. There are some mp3 recordings that you can download for free from their website. There are also some optional activities and a teacher’s guide that can be downloaded from the website which I’ll talk about a little later. This textbook was written with the Japanese market in mind as in the back of the book there are basic translations of the questions and key vocabulary.
Student Age Range: from 15 and up
Author: David Martin
Publisher: EFL Press
There’s no doubting that this is a very simple book. But I found a way to use it that really helped my students and my classes. I never use this book as a main textbook for any of my classes but what I did was use each chapter as mini-free discussion activity. I had an upper beginner class that was very shy and it was very difficult to get them to have conversations with each other about any subject. I found this textbook to be a sort of “training wheels” for my lower level students to get some practice in having conversations. The students could use the questions that were written down in front of them to help move the conversation along. I would separate the class into teams of two. Then I would give them a copy of one of the chapters. I would tell the students that they can read the questions from the sheet as long as they look the other student in the eye when they ask the questions. Then the other student has to answer as best they can. The students switch turns until they’ve gone through all of the questions. As the students got used to doing this with each successive class I would increase the complexity and the rules of this activity. I would tell them that they can ask one question from the printed page and then they have to listen to the other student’s answer and ask a related question or two that continue the conversation. So the first question they can read off the page and the second question they have to create themselves. After every few lessons I would change the rules a little bit. In the end it was a great help. If you go to the website you can download some mp3 files and a teacher’s guide. The mp3 recordings could be used for some listening exercises or an example of how to use the questions in a conversation.
This is a very simple book and if used properly a very good tool for any teacher. That being said I think it is too limited to be used as a “main” textbook. There aren’t any example conversations, grammar lessons, vocabulary quizzes, listening quizzes or any kind of writing or reading activities. This isn’t really a bad thing because I don’t think the authors intended for it to replace a more complete textbook. I think that they probably found themselves in a similar situation that I did and figured it was a good idea to create a textbook that targets speaking ability for mid to high beginning level students. The mp3 recordings are generally good but not really used or mentioned in the main textbook.
While not as flexible as other textbooks its simplicity makes it a very useful tool for lower level students. In many ways I found this textbook to be much better as a warm-up or speaking activity than many of the more well-known textbooks. I would recommend this textbook to any teacher and I use it quite often in my own classes.