Vol. 4. No. 1 R-13 July 1999
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Solo, Duo, Trio: Puzzles and Games for Building English Language Skills

Richard Yorkey (1997)
Brattleboro, VT: Pro Lingua Associates
Pages x + 166
ISBN 0-86647-091-3 (paper)
US $23.00

[Editor's Note: TESL-EJ notes with sorrow the passing of Richard Yorkey. He was professor emeritus of St. Michael's College at the time of his death in November, 1998. His connection with St. Michael's goes back 25 years, and before that he had taught at the TESOL Centre at Concordia University in Montreal, and at the American University of Beirut. Professor Yorkey continued designing the innovative and teacher-friendly materials that were his hallmark until shortly before his death. When the author of this review heard about Yorkey's death, he commented, "I had the idea he was a fairly young man who, by nature of producing such books as Solo, Duo, Trio, was not only still obviously extremely keen on ELT but still bursting with energy." He was.]


Busy language teachers will fully understand the author's desire to prepare the material on which this book is based. In order to give fair attention to the individuals in his classes who needed it, Yorkey found it worthwhile to keep others who had completed the lesson's work occupied with language puzzles.

Content, Uses and Users

The material in Solo, Duo, Trio is written for harried teachers who often need to resort to time fillers or easily reproduced exercises that focus clearly on one topic. This book contains a total of 128 puzzles, including eighteen different types. Each puzzle may be photocopied and distributed to individual learners, pairs, small groups, or whole classes. Permission to duplicate tasks is granted by the publisher on the condition that they be used for learners working with a teacher or tutor in a classroom or resource centre. All pages in Solo, Duo, Trio are easily detached for ease of duplicating. Learners using this book can work on the same puzzle simultaneously, or students can work independently according to their own ability and speed. Learners working solo will be able to take their time, reflect and experiment with being self-reliant; duos and trios sharing the same puzzle will be able to work cooperatively, discuss meaning, and have fun playing together with the language. Using such puzzles and games helps establish a relaxed classroom atmosphere in which barriers to learning are lowered so learners are free to learn. The author indicates in the table of contents the level of learner ability that each activity is written for. Complete answers to all activities are provided at the end of each section.

Reading Activities

The reading activities in Solo, Duo, Trio are different from material normally seen in similar reading resource books. This book requires students to search for meaning by intelligent guessing. For example, when only the top half of words in a short [-1-] paragraph is provided, learners have to work out what it would say if the bottom half were also provided. Other reading tasks at sentence level and beyond are found in the Jumbled Stories section, which requires learners to correctly re-order mixed-up parts of short dialogues. The jumbled stories are quite brief, usually consisting of eight or nine short sentences, and are more suited to learners working individually rather than those in groups. All activities of this type are for intermediate level learners.

Using Top Half Reading activities for the first time, teachers will probably be surprised at how much learners enjoy completing such tasks and how well they can perform given only limited amounts of information. Of the nine tasks in this section, three are at elementary level, four at intermediate and two at advanced. Teachers could usefully make such tasks far more difficult by either reducing the size of fonts or providing only the bottom half of words instead of the top.

In the What are you Reading? section, learners have to identify and label, according to options provided, brief samples of text that have been taken from a variety of genres. Learners will be familiar with genres such as dictionaries, telephone directories and encyclopaedias. A useful extension activity is to ask the class what they found within the text sample that helps to differentiate it from other genres. Very often the answer to this question is related to text layout rather than lexical content. Activities in this section require very close reading and are written for learners at the intermediate level and beyond.

Proverb Activities

Solo, Duo, Trio also contains three vastly different and extremely motivating types of puzzles relating to many of the most common proverbs in English. In the activities in the Matching Proverbs section, all of which are for learners at elementary to intermediate level, matching the first part of a proverb with its ending is all that is required. Examples include An apple a day . . . , If something's worth doing . . . , and Don't count your chickens . . . . Although proverbs such as these and A miss is as good as mile are clearly understood by native users of English, for second language learners they are far more problematic. Asking groups to explain the proverbial meaning as well as the literal meaning is a useful starting point for a lively, whole-class discussion.

In the two other task types dealing with proverbs, Hidden Wisdom and Double Crostic Puzzles, learners have to answer a variety of questions before inserting the correct letters contained in each answer into boxes. With these letters they have to construct whole proverbs such as Never look a gift horse in the mouth. The nine activities in the Hidden Wisdom section are for learners at [-2-] elementary, intermediate and advanced levels; those in the Double Crostic section are at intermediate and advanced levels. Both types of activity are fairly challenging and initially the teacher may need to explain the correct procedure using simple examples.

Word Level Activities

Activities that require learners to focus on words include five anagram stories, word searches containing between 25 and 35 words, and choosing the odd one out among groups of five words (e.g., nose, eye, mouth, ear, foot). Of these, word searches are clearly the most popular and tended to keep my classes busy for up to twenty minutes when working individually. Although some of these tasks deal with isolated but related groups of words (e.g., money and banking in the word searches), others involve discovering individual words based on the surrounding context and co-text of paragraphs (e.g., the text about a trip to the theatre on page 1). After discovering the odd word among the group of five, teachers could easily extend this to ask the group why foot is the correct answer to the example given above.

Riddles, Puzzles and Jokes

The 17 pages of riddles and jokes are written for learners at all three levels and are progressively more challenging. They work in a way similar to the double crostic activities described above. The difference is that the solution, instead of being a proverb, is the correct answer to a riddle such as "What can you have after someone has taken it?" (a photograph), or "Why didn't the skeleton have good time at the dance?" (because she had no body to dance with).

The author of Solo, Duo, Trio has put together an entertaining, stimulating and highly useful resource book, filled with brief vocabulary and reading activities that can be easily extended. From his generally original ideas, teachers will very easily be able to design their own tasks based on the lexical content of any course they may be teaching.

Wayne Trotman
Özel Çakabey Lisesi, Izmir, Turkey

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