Long Live Exam Prep! Part minus 2 B: The Carousel Quiz

 

In Part Minus 2 A (this is getting silly-I’m so sorry!), I explained the first half of a first lesson to use with exam prep classes (or indeed any class over B1). Now comes the nitty gritty focus-on-the-exam bit. To do this I use a multi-skill activity that I call a carousel quiz. You do need some materials for this, but fortunately they are freely available. Here’s the link to the Cambridge English : First Handbook for teachers, which is all you’ll need for this FCE activity. We had a set of them at our school. Cambridge used to send free copies out, but I’m not sure if they do that anymore. You could have the students download it or view it on their mobile phones. Alternatively you could print it out before the lesson.

(There are similar resources for IELTS, PET, CAE and CPE)

The steps:

  1. Ask the students to brainstorm what they know about the exam. Generally this is very little. Accept everything they say and get it up on the board. Guide them with some questions like: How long is it? How many papers are there? How many pieces of writing do you need to produce? What do you do in the speaking test?
  2. Refer them to page 2 of the handbook: ‘Content and Overview’. Give them 5 minutes to scan for the correct information. Elicit what they got right and what they got wrong.
  3. Now tell them to concentrate on one part of the exam per group. So ideally you’ll have 4 groups and they take one paper each (splitting up Reading and Use of English). Tell them to refer to the relevant part of the handbook to read about their section of the exam in more detail.
  4. Explain that they’re going to make a quiz about their section for the other students. You can give them some question stems to guide them like: ‘What do you have to do in….’, or ‘What are they testing in…….’, or ‘How long is……’. Give them a fixed number of questions depending on how much time you’ve got. Monitor and help as needed.
  5. When they have their questions and are ready to go, ask one or two of the students to stand up in each group. Tell them to move clockwise around the room, taking their copy of the questions about their section, and sit at the next table. You should have two students from group A with group B, two students of group B with group C and so on. They ask each other their questions, awarding points for right answers and deducting them for wrong answers. They’re allowed to refer to the handbook. Then the same students stand up and move around again. This is repeated until they’ve spoken to everybody and they wind up back at their own table.

Rationale:

  • It’s student centred! Why spend the evening before making a quiz yourself when you’re the one who’s proficient in English? Let them work on the language.
  • They get a clear idea of what’s expected of them in the exam. Often this doesn’t happen until the exam date is looming, by which time it’s too late. Giving them this information in the first lesson allows then to prioritise and organise their study.

But it’s not perfect….

  • It can get a bit long, and the pace can drop as a result, so have something a bit lively up your sleeve for the last 15 minutes.
  • I’m not sure whether all the vocabulary is actually that useful. There’s a lot of teaching jargon that can be confusing.

Give it a spin and tell me what you think!

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Long Live Exam Prep- Part Minus Two A: The First Lesson

As I explained in Part Minus One the first day of an exam prep class can be the stuff of TEFL nightmares. So here’s a suggestion for how to avoid unnecessary stress.

Before the lesson

Get there early. Move the furniture around. Groups of 3/4 desks together is usually best. Stick a post-it note on each desk with a marker pen for them to write their first name when they come in. Write your first name on the board (if appropriate- I know in some countries it wouldn’t be), and ‘Please try to speak in English’.

Starting the lesson

Introduce yourself (just your name) and ask the students in their groups to guess where you’re from, what you do in your free time, if you’re married/have children/have brothers and sisters, what languages you speak, etc etc. You then elicit their ideas and write them up on the board. This is what my FCE students came up with the other day (my IWB wasn’t working!).DSC_0007

I have to say that the life they invented for me was much more interesting than my real life! And they made me 5 years younger 🙂

You then tell them how many things they got right, but not which ones. In this case there were only three. Ask them to decide in pairs which ones they think are right and highlight these (I outlined them in blue in the picture). Then tell them how many they got right (green in the picture).

Now they write some questions to ask you to find out more information, but give them some restrictions in terms of grammatical forms so as to push them a bit. My students were B2, so I asked them to use:

  1. present perfect
  2. 2nd conditional
  3. a future form
  4. their choice

They came up with:

  1. Why have you chosen to teach at this school?
  2. If you could live in any country in the world, where would you go?
  3. What will you be doing in 5 years time?

When you’re eliciting the questions you can work on the pronunciation of connected speech and weak forms.

They then ask you the questions and you give your answers. After that, a B1 class would benefit from a spoken recap in pairs. That way you can check they’re following you and give them a little more practice.

Now it’s their turn to ask each other the questions, but they may need to change couple of things (like ‘teach’ in question 1). Give them time to do this, then get them up on their feet mingling and talking.

Use this as a diagnostic activity to see what they’re capable of. Monitor and collect examples of good and inaccurate language. Give some feedback and work on corrections.

After all that ask them: ‘So what does all this have to do with your exam?’

The answer is that they’ve just practised Speaking Part 1 without knowing it. They’ve also got to know their classmates, they’ve got to know you, and you’ve got a better idea of their ability.

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In Part Minus Two B I’ll outline a similar idea to Kyle’s carousel  to provide learner-centred instruction from day one.

Long Live Exam Prep!- Part Minus One: The First Lesson.

 

Whoops! I really should have started at the beginning. So here’s part ‘Minus One’.

The majority of exam classes (at least in Italy) take place in secondary schools. This post is mainly aimed at teachers of these courses, but could be applied to any exam prep class.

Usually Italian kids who have chosen to do PET / FCE / CAE / IELTS stay on at school after their normal lessons for another couple of hours. You often have a 20 hour course to prepare them for PET, 30 hours for FCE or CAE or IELTS. The students tend not to be from the same class or year group. So some of them know each other and some of them don’t. Sometimes they’ve done a test to establish their level before being accepted on the course…sometimes they haven’t.

What can occur as a result is the stuff of TEFL nightmares.

A scenario

  • You get lost driving to the school because your GPS sent you through a field half way up a mountain. You arrive late.
  • You get to the room and there are no students. You realise you’re in the wrong building (nobody told you there were two buildings!) you run to the other building and you’re even more late.
  • You walk into the building and the caretaker doesn’t know who you are or what course you’re talking about.
  • The caretaker speaks to you in the local dialect and you have no idea what she is talking about
  • The students stand up as you walk in and you look at them blankly because you wonder if they’re going somewhere.
  • You have to give out books and collect money and you forget how many books you have and who’s given you the money and this is all eating away at your lesson time.
  • There’s no IWB.
  • There’s no WiFi.
  • There’s no CD player.
  • There’s only a blackboard and there’s no chalk.
  • You have to try to remember the names of 25 kids, and 5 of them are called Marco.
  • Students come and ask you if they can change classes/how much the course/exam is and you really don’t have a clue (or care! you’re desperately trying to get on with the lesson you’ve planned).
  • You realise you can’t do the Reading part 1 you’d spent hours planning because 10 of them forgot to bring the money for the book.
  • Now you’ve got their attention. They’re sitting in front of you in rows. Nobody says anything in English. There’s a deathly silence that’s making you sweat.
  • A kid at the back says something in a dialect that you don’t understand and everyone laughs. You go the colour of a beetroot and yearn for the green pastures of home.
  • A person (you have no idea who it is, they don’t bother to introduce themselves) walks in and starts talking to the class. They all stand up again. You wonder if it’s a fire drill or something.
  • You ask them to ‘work in pairs’ and they look at you blankly.
  • You realise that two of the students you thought were reading are actually asleep.

A conclusion

After living this scenario (or parts of it) for several years I came to the conclusion that to have a successful first lesson in a state school you should:

  • get there really early
  • move the desks
  • use little or no resources.
  • not rely on any technology
  • get them talking immediately
  • establish appropriate classroom behaviour immediately (working in pairs, speaking in English, level of formality between teacher and student)
  • learn their names as soon as possible
  • make it student focused not book focused
  • not let the pace drop for too long (or they will literally fall asleep)

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In Part Minus Two I’ll suggest a handy lesson plan that can be applied to all mainstream exam prep courses B1-C2.