User's guide to the spoken word

7th June 1996 at 01:00
TALKING WITH CONFIDENCE By Molly Travers Cambridge University Press Pounds 12.95

Don't be put off by the fact that this book originated in Australia. It is far more wide-ranging than the average guide to key stage 3 and 4 Speaking and Listening. Molly Travers writes for a school audience, but the goal is to become a complete performer, not just a competent performer for assessment. Whether in the end there is any difference is a moot point. But the developmental aspect in Travers's book is entirely situational, from individual comportment and performance (after a telling student introduction about being a listener first) to the techniques of a formal speech. The evidence suggests the first audience was one wishing for competence for its own sake, not regular assessment goals. The first two paragraphs of the teacher's introduction hint at something we here have lost.

The tone, too, is different from the usual British guide. The student is addressed directly throughout as an interested equal. There seems no assumption that the teacher has to be the mediator. The whole production suggests that Australian teachers of English are a good deal less harassed than their British counterparts.

The book's three parts are familiar enough: Talking and Listening, Conversation, Formal Speaking. To take the first as an example: the first activity comes after a delightful passage on eye contact, the second after one on facial expressions. The activities get the reader practising expressions and, later on, different tones. Are not actors being produced rather than natural speakers? Not so: Travers's aim is to uncover the natural speaker in everybody. The same detail infuses the sections on conversation and formal speaking - and the scope of the activities is very wide. The book is, in effect, a complete manual on talking and listening.

So who's it for? Well, don't bin all your activities for assessment. It is perhaps too detailed for regular classroom use and no pages have that welcome motto "photocopiable sheet". But do have a single copy, as a mine of ideas, extra activities, excellent advice for the less experienced on sorting out small groups and integrating the less articulate into them. And when key stage 4 is over, keep it. It has currency beyond school, a publication worth buying for its own sake.

* Groups of young people will devise, rehearse and perform a show in a week at Powerhouse theatre workshops run by Bowen West Theatre, De Montfort University, Bedford. Workshops one and two, on July 22-27 and July 29-August 3, are for 11 to 15-year-olds and workshop three, for adults over 16, will be on August 12-17. Fee: Pounds 50. Details: Angela Ayres, tel: 01234 219333.

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