Kyle and I have just returned, full of inspiration, from the excellent ETAS Conference (English Teachers Association) in Switzerland. Compared to our last gig at IATEFL, we both agreed that the smaller venue was much friendlier and we felt totally relaxed and very welcome. So thank you ETAS!
We were lucky enough to do a workshop demonstrating our ideas for teaching exam prep, some of which we have written about previously here on the blog. I thought it would be a good idea to summarise the activities for anyone who wasn’t able to attend, and also to share the slides from the presentation (here: Long live exam prep!)
For the purposes of the workshop we took the Cambridge English: First (CEFR B2) as an example for how our activities can be linked to the sub-skills and language points required for success in the exam. However, the activities can easily be adapted and graded for pretty much any mainstream EFL exam.
The ‘Dynamite’ philosophy is that exam oriented teaching should be…
- Scaffolded: individual skills or language points required for exam success are first practised in isolation
- Learner focused not book focused
Activity 1- First lesson- FCE Speaking part 1
The activity aims to generate questions similar to those in FCE part 1, and also doubles as a get-to-know you activity in the first lesson with a new class.
Students guess information about the teacher, which gets boarded whether it’s right or not. Then students are asked to write questions for the teacher to find out if the information is true or false. In order to make this more challenging they are asked to use specific structures such as a hypothetical conditional, or the present perfect. The students ask the teacher their questions, and then use them in a mingle activity with each other. See here for a more detailed description.
Activity 2- Photos- FCE Speaking part 2
Students find a photo on their phones of their friends doing something interesting or funny. In pairs they look at each other’s pictures and find the similarities and differences.
Using personal photos means that students are more likely to be engaged and motivated, and can focus their attention on the comparative aspect of the task rather than falling into the trap of simply describing the pictures.
Activity 3- Agreeing and disagreeing- FCE Speaking parts 3 and 4
Students come up with some topics they’d like to talk about, such as music or sport. They work in pairs and give an opinion on each of the topics, giving a reason for their opinion. These cards with exponents for agreeing and disagreeing are then distributed:
Students mingle, giving their opinion on each topic and agreeing or disagreeing with their partner by reading the expression on the card. They then swap cards and change partners and repeat.
Activity 4- Expressing concession- FCE parts 3 and 4
Students repeat the activity above, but extend their answers, using the expression ‘having said that‘ . For example:
SA- I think Prince was the best musician own the world because his music is sexy and raw.
SB- You’ve got a point. Having said that, I didn’t like Purple Rain much.
In this way the exam task is scaffolded step by step: first the students generate ideas, then they learn and use target expressions for agreeing and disagreeing (thus, we hope, avoiding the dreaded “I agree”). Once they are comfortable with this (it may take a few lessons), difficulty can be added by asking them to extend their answers by adding contrasting information.
For a more detailed description of these activities see here.
Activity 5- Bus stop conversation- FCE parts 3 and 4
The bus stop conversation can be used to practice pretty much any structure you want your students to practice. To make them focus on the target language you can use cards (as above) or write the information they need to include in their conversation on the board. For a more detailed description of this activity see here.
Activity 6- Gimme Five- FCE part 3
If you’ve talked about any topic in class you can swiftly and easily turn it into a FCE part 3 speaking task. Just tell your students “Gimme 5!” That is, 5 items related to the topic. Then board them and pose a question about them. If you’ve just read an article on e.g. why New Year’s Resolutions seldom work (an old post-New Year favourite of Kyle’s) just ask them for 5 reasons why they don’t and board the question “Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions usually work?” Once this becomes routine students will be better at thinking of input and questions. And you can use it to input the kind of conversational language discussed above. You could run this routine for months before you tell the students it’s actually “on the test”.
For more opinions on exam-prep, see also: this article in HLT Mag by Alex Case, Professor Costas Gabrielatos’s critique of exam-oriented teaching in Greece, and Marisa Constantinides’s discussion in ELT Chat.
Thanks again to everyone at ETAS for giving us the opportunity to share our ideas. It was wonderful to meet you all!