Review ~ Breakthrough Plus 3A Pre-Intermediate multi-skill text with a strong emphasis on communication.
Breakthrough Plus 3 is an intermediate level, twelve-unit, multi-skills course. It is written by Miles Craven, who was one of the authors of the excellent Q:Skills series of listening and speaking books as well as the previous Breakthrough series. In style it is much like its predecessor Breakthrough. Each unit contains listening, speaking, reading and writing components based around a theme with fairly typical presentation and style. Four pages of each unit are spent on the presentation, form and practice of the unit’s core language point, while the last two “Expansion Pages” review and re-practice what has already been taught. Although it has parts focusing on all different skills, the main strength of this book is its easy to use and implement communicative activities.
Each unit follows the same pattern. Speculation on pictures and warm-up questions introduce the topic. The warm-up questions typically try to personalize the topic in some way by asking about the students’ own experiences or opinions on a topic. These questions provide a lead in to a recorded conversation on the topic, which in turn introduces new grammar and vocabulary for the unit. Brief vocabulary and grammar activities follow this to check comprehension.
The grammar is presented lightly and assumes for the most part that students are already familiar with it. Grammar references and activities are available, but they are kept in the back of the book. This seems to be so that the flow of the conversational nature of the book is not interrupted by too much prescriptive grammar. Instead the focus is on communication rather than form.
All this serves as a good introduction. How much time needs to be spent on it will vary according to class and students. Where the book shines through is in the speaking activities in the middle of each unit. First, there is always a communication activity at the end of the presentation of the vocabulary and grammar. These take the form of information gaps, surveys, quizzes and a couple of role-plays. They are all generally well planned out and very simple for students to follow and understand. Secondly, in the middle of the unit there are typically more survey-type or free talking exercises. These are again easy to use and instantly comprehensible to students without long explanations from the teacher.
There is also extra listening and video at this point that can be accessed on the internet via the “Digibook code” supplied with the book. All this content needs a good internet connection and can be quite fiddly to use. It has some nice extra video worksheets that provide some nice semi-authentic listening practice, but they didn’t pose much of a challenge for the students I tried them with. The Digibook itself can be used to set up online classes and help with testing. It is relatively standard fare and anyone familiar with other online components to textbooks will find it instantly recognizable.
The final two extension pages of each unit always start with a reading. These tend not to be very difficult and certainly don’t seem to match the level the book markets itself as. Having said that, they are generally quite interesting and follow on well from the discussion exercises. They can also provide good background information for the writing tasks the book presents.
All in all, Breakthrough Plus 3 makes for a very decent book for any communication class. The types of activities you need to get a free and easy class discussion going are all here. The listening, reading, writing and grammar is all there, but if you are planning to put any major emphasis on these skills you may want to look elsewhere. Instead, the strength of this book is the multitude of simple but solid speaking activities.