Long Live Exam Prep! (part 2)

WP_20160205_14_15_21_ProLong 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

  1. 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

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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

Discourse Management

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.

Communicative Achievement

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.

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Would this approach work with your students?

How could you adapt it for your teaching situation?

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In part three I’ll suggest some writing activities for Cambridge English:First (FCE) and Preliminary (PET).

 

References

Multiple authors (2015). Cambridge English First:Handbook for Teachers. Cambridge:UCLES

Retrieved from: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/cambridge-english-first-handbook-2015.pdf

Promoting learner autonomy from day one: individual selection of reading texts in the ELT classroom (Part 1)

I believe that promoting learner autonomy is essential for both success and enjoyment in classroom language learning.

What is learner autonomy in the EFL classroom? In terms of the classes I teach I broadly define it as learners making decisions about what we do during the course.

This simple definition includes the idea that they are part of a class (“we”) gathered for a specific duration, and that decisions can be made both individually and collectively, in relation to classroom activity and out-of-class homework.

One of most straightforward ways to encourage this is giving students choice over the texts and topics we study in class and for homework.

Here is one activity for promoting autonomous choice of texts and topics that I’ve used with upper-intermediate and advanced EFL classes, adults and high school kids (but could conceivably be used in many other contexts).

Autonomy in text choice: day 1 reading homework

The first day of a new course is not only for introductions and getting to know each other, but also for establishing expectations about the rest of the term. If you plan to promote learner autonomy, there’s no better time to start.

At the end of day one of the course, I give the following homework assignment:

For homework, find something interesting to read on the internet. Print it out, read it and bring it. Be prepared to talk about it with your classmates.

That means everybody will come to class with a different reading text. Sounds like a recipe for classroom chaos, right? What do you do with all those texts?

Actually, this is part of a multi-step procedure which I’m going to explain in-depth below (steps 1 and 2) and in the next post (steps 3 and 4).

  • Independent text selection/reading
  • Student interaction/peer sharing
  • Teacher-led discussion and task-analysis
  • Whole class single-text intensive reading (optional)

Just to be clear up-front, this isn’t a warmer, or something you squeeze in between other activities. The in-class portions (Part 2 & 3) could easily run 1½ ― 2 hours. In other words, this is your class.

As you’ll see, this process gives students autonomous choice within the group (perhaps their first in a language class), offers maximum speaking practice (while putting new lexis into use), addresses problems of and offers support for developing learner autonomy and opens new doors to future lessons and the course as a whole.

1. Independent text selection/reading

As stated above, the task asks students to find a text for reading and study, and be prepared to share it with their classmates.

When I assign the homework I emphasize that they’ve got total control over topic, source and text genre (it could be an article, a blog post, a letter to the editor, an advertisement, anything as long as it’s written).

I don’t usually front-load this first homework assignment with extra tasks, but depending on your teaching style or context, you could add the following tweaks to the assignment:

  • Write a 100-word summary
  • Write down, define and write an example sentence for 10 keywords/phrases essential for understanding the text

2. Student interaction/peer sharing (day 2, part 1)

In the next lesson, students share what they’ve read. You could put students in pairs, but the best thing about this situation is that everybody’s got something interesting and different, and I don’t like to limit them to a 1-1 exchange.

It’s also good to remember that at this point you’ve got no idea what they’ve actually brought in. There is no central text, but many different texts, and you’ll want to see and hear about as many as possible.

So instead of pairwork what I like to do instead is have students do a carousel, an activity that I picked up long ago from Scott Thornbury’s invaluable How to Teach Speaking (called “The Poster Carousel” there, on p. 87). Here’s my applied (and modified) version:

The carousel

Have everybody tape their texts to the wall. Half the class stands by their articles, the other half circulates. Students can stop and ask about any articles that look interesting (based on the headlines). They can stay and chat or move on. Then the groups switch. This allows everyone to get to hear from multiple people about different topics, while also giving “presenters” repetition practice as they explain their article to different audiences. Encourage students to ask questions ― it’s a discussion, not a real presentation.

Tweaks and interventions

  • Rehearsal: Before taping up their articles, have everybody take a few minutes to review their text again. If you haven’t asked them to do it as part of the homework, ask them to now write down 10 key words/phrases from the text which will help them explain it from memory. This gives them essential rehearsal time so they don’t simply read from their text on the wall.
  • Constraints: To manage circulation, give students limits, e.g. 15 minutes to hear from 3 presenters (but it doesn’t have to be 5 minutes at each ― encourage them to invest time relative to their interest level).
  • Lexis collection: Students have to collect a set number of key phrases from each presenter.
  • Monitor for language related to explaining, summarizing, asking and answering questions, etc. You can intervene to help students individually, or stop the group mid-task and model/board essential language.

One of the best things about the carrousel activity is that rather than obtrusively looming over (or crouching next to) students as they discuss their texts, you can mingle with them, monitor and note-take much less obtrusively, and have a peek at their articles. And as with any student good activity, your lack of information about article content actually gives you a genuine need to listen and find out more.

But if you’re not used to not having control over the text, don’t panic. Step 4 will give you the opportunity to (optionally) have a more traditional single-text whole-class focus (and give you time to prepare for it).

Wrap-up

When both groups have finished, get into small groups to share which article they found most interesting, and why. Groups can then share their favorites with the class. You can also ask for (and board) 10 useful words or expressions they learned. You (or a delegated secretary) should take note of which topics seemed the most popular, key vocabulary, etc. for future reference.

That’s the end of the activity (but not the end of the class, or the process). In the next post, I’ll describe steps 3 and 4, and how you can use individual text selection and the carousel activity as a springboard to helping students better equip themselves for practicing learner autonomy in the EFL/ESL classroom.