Long Live Exam Prep! Part 2
In part one I outlined some of the problems students and teachers alike have with EFL exam preparation. As promised, here are some speaking activities that aim to help build and develop the sub-skills needed for the Cambridge English: First (FCE) speaking part 3 collaborative task.
Activity A- agreeing and disagreeing
- Ask your students what they want to talk about, tell them they can choose any topic they like, and board the topics they suggest. You’ll probably end up with something like this:
music, food, films, sport, fashion, travel
- Ask students in pairs to quickly give each other an opinion on each of the topics, saying for example who their favourite actor/football team/singer is and why. This gets them thinking about the topics and ‘scaffolds’ the main activity. As they’re talking, monitor and give support.
- Cut up and distribute the following expressions so that they have one each. You can add your own to this collection as you think of them.
|You’ve got a point.||I’m not so sure|
|I’m with you there.||No way!|
|I see where you’re coming from.||I can’t agree, I’m afraid.|
|You might be right there||Actually, I’m not convinced.|
Ask students when these expressions would be used (to agree and disagree). Elicit which ones are which and help anyone who isn’t sure. If you make multiple sets, you could have them sort the expressions into two categories. Drill them as necessary for intonation and word stress. I use finger clicking to highlight the stress patterns.
- Now they stand up, mingle and find a partner. You shout out one of the topics. They give their opinion on the topic in pairs, agreeing or disagreeing with one another regardless of their real opinion, using the expression on the card. Monitor and collect examples of accurate and inaccurate learner language, but don’t interrupt the activity.
- After a few minutes, stop the discussion and ask them to exchange cards so they have a different expression. Then tell them to find a new partner. Call out a different topic and repeat. Keep going until they start to lose momentum.
- Deal with any language issues that came up and give some positive feedback too.
Activity B- contrasting (to be used after activity A)
Repeat the above activity, only this time student B has to add another contrasting piece of information after the agree/disagree phrase using ‘Having said that.…’ . For example:
Student A- I’d say that fashion is a waste of time.
Student B- You’ve got a point. Having said that, I do appreciate good quality.
Remember to drill the stress: ‘Having SAID that…’.
Why (I think!) it works
- Meeting the Exam Criteria
To achieve B2 in this marking category a speaker must be able to use ‘a range of cohesive devices’ (multiple authors, 82:2015). Using the contrasting expression ‘Having said that…’ helps achieve this. It also gives them a useful tool to weigh different arguments and produce long developed answers.
Being able to agree and disagree in a variety of ways would come under ‘initiates and responds appropriately’ (ibid.). While activity B helps them to ‘maintain and develop the interaction and negotiate towards an outcome’ (ibid.).
- Repetition without being boring
Students get to talk about different topics and use different expressions, but are learning/developing/practising the same skill(s). The repeated use of only one linking expression means that it is more likely to be remembered. How many times have we expected our students to memorise endless lists of linkers? Very rarely are they able to reproduce this vocabulary in spontaneous speech.
- Personalisation and focus on the learner
Learners get to choose the subjects that they’re interested in instead of being forced into an unnatural discussion about an imposed topic. Using a mingle activity means this discussion takes on the characteristics of an informal chat with one of their peers, rather than formally practising (yawn!) for an exam.
- Focused on specific skills
The performance load is limited and therefore more realistic, giving the students a higher chance of success, resulting in (we hope) a higher level of motivation.
- Similarity to L1
I chose having said that because my students were all Italian and their language has a similar parallel equivalent (detto questo- literally said this). As a result, I found that after this short activity the students were immediately (yes, immediately!) able to use the expression spontaneously in both written and spoken production. Success! It certainly seems like a monolingual group benefits if you adapt the target language as necessary.
Would this approach work with your students?
How could you adapt it for your teaching situation?
In part three I’ll suggest some writing activities for Cambridge English:First (FCE) and Preliminary (PET).
Multiple authors (2015). Cambridge English First:Handbook for Teachers. Cambridge:UCLES