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Book Review: Discussions Volume 1

Discussions Volume 1 by Adrian Wallwork and Liz Hoeppner.

In the late 90’s, Cambridge University Press (CUP) released two books titled Discussions A-Z (Intermediate and Advanced) that were highly original and creative.  They contained a wide assortment of photocopiable lessons focusing on topics beyond food, shopping and other common themes in ESL coursebooks.  The books also featured cassette tapes (remember cassettes?), which often contained challenging listening exercises to accompany the lessons.  Although the Advanced level book was too challenging for the university students I taught at the time, I used the Intermediate level book with the students to encourage discussion.  The books are still available from CUP, but with a CD instead of a cassette.

Now in the 21st century, the author of the original Discussions books, Adrian Wallwork, is publishing several new books for promoting discussion.  I recently read over one of the first titles, Discussions Volume 1, written by Adrian Wallwork and Liz Hoeppner.

Similar to the original books, the lessons cover topics from A to Z, or in this book, Animals to Zones.  Each letter (A to Z) is assigned a topic, and four related lessons.  For example, the first unit is Animals, and contains the lessons “A1: Animal facts”, “A2: Animal rights”, “A3: The Laws of the Jungle?” and “A4: Pooh-poohed”.  Some lessons cover familiar topics, such as hobbies and jobs, while others cover more unusual subjects, such as robots, Generation X, and urban myths.

I was impressed by the range of topics covered in these lessons.  Many serious issues appear, including vegetarianism, elections, ethics, petty crime, animal rights, and women’s roles.  The book also features several lessons on some very up-to-date issues, such as The X Factor (TV show), tech addiction, e-commerce and e-piracy. 

Other lessons are challenging, with quizzes on geography, old and new technologies, and vegetables and meat.  In addition, Wallwork and Hoeppner created some lessons in Discussions Volume 1 that relate to the learner on a more personal level.  One example is “J3: Judging yourself”, where learners rate how good they are at things such as making cakes, expressing their anger, telling lies and preparing for the worst.  Another example is “Y1: Bucket list”, which requires learners to choose things to do in their lives in the next few years.

I currently teach at a university for nursing and health sciences, so the four lessons under Health: Your attitudes to health, Test your health knowledge, Ethics, and Syndromes), and the four under University: An alternative education system, How to write an email to your professor, Top ten difficulties, and University challenge would probably appeal the most to my students.

“The only slight criticism I have of this book is that I might have benefited from use of audio and visuals”

The authors have included a Teachers Guide, which offers useful tips for choosing lessons, preparation, and conducting discussions.  There is also a FREE Teacher’s Book for all books in this series, which is available on the website at  The teachers book goes into more detail about using the Discussions books, along with guidance for tricky situations, such as teaching groups with different nationalities, and students who do not want to do pair work and group work.  In addition, Wallwork includes a list of useful phrases for students in discussions.

Discussions Volume 1 has a student guide also, which addresses how to prepare for a discussion, the “ping-pong technique”, focusing on fluency, and asking questions.

The only slight criticism I have of this book is that I might have benefited from use of audio and visuals, both of which made the original Discussions books even more interesting.  However, considering that this new title is a self-published book, I can imagine that it might make the book a lot more expensive to produce to have added those extra features.

If you are curious about this series of books, I would encourage you to visit the accompanying website, where you can find information about ordering this book.  The website also has sample pages, and a list of upcoming titles in the series.

This book is highly recommended for teachers of intermediate and advanced classes, particularly those who want to use stimulating and challenging topics in class.  It is also recommended for teachers who enjoyed teaching with the earlier Discussions  A-Z books. 

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