Category archive

Teaching

Teachers helping teachers: Find and share classroom tips, research, experiences, and stories.

Enhance your English Lessons with Fancy Visuals – Here’s how to Make Your Own Infographics

in Teaching

Infographics are a timely way to spice up your English lessons and intrigue your students. What’s more, they are easy and fun to create! Clare Catchpole explains how to make your own infographics and how to turn the process into a creative online class project.

As a teacher and materials writer, I’m always looking for ways to make my materials as engaging as possible, and the design tool Canva has become my best friend. Gone are the frustrations of trying to format dreary Word documents. Canva is far more intuitive to use and you can quickly put together colourful, personalised and professional looking documents, such as presentation slides, CVs, and (of course) infographics.

Sharing new skills with my students

Once I realised how simple it was to use Canva, I immediately saw the potential to utilise it in an online class project. For students, it allows them to be more creative visually with their work, and highlights the importance of presentation in getting a message across.

Why Infographics?

Infographics are a colourful and engaging way of presenting data. Background colours, graphics and a huge choice of fonts bring texts alive and make them easier to read.

Class time is precious, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that fiddling around with formatting just takes up too much time and distracts from the actual writing task. However, making it a collaborative group project means that all the decision making will be done in English. The process is just as important as the final product.

Moreover, skills in editing and presenting information are going to come in so useful for your students in future projects at school, at home and at work. In my experience, students feel a real sense of pride and achievement in creating something that looks professional.

The Project: “Make Your Own Infographic”

I devised the project for intermediate and above level students. It’s ideally suited to online teaching, but also could be used in a classroom where students have access to computers and the internet.

The objectives of the project:

• Learning basic design skills for presenting information
• Learning how to edit text from a video
• Building skills in collaboration
• Practicing the language of negotiation and decision making

The inspiration for this project came from a lesson I created on the topic of Skateboarding. It’s based on a short TED-Ed animated video and I used this to create my first infographic:

infographic skateboarding

The process of making notes from the video narration and editing it into text suitable for the infographic was interesting, and it’s a good challenge for students to try. It requires listening for the overall gist to pick out the main points, then either transcribing or paraphrasing sentences.

If you’d like to use the project with your class this this lesson could be used as a model for making an infographic using a video as the source of information.

Finding engaging content: TED-Ed Brief Histories videos

TED-Ed have made a number of animated “Brief History of…” videos available on YouTube. This will be the source of information that students will use to create their infographics. The topics are varied and quite fun. I have compiled them into a playlist:

TED-Ed Brief Histories Playlist

Each video is about five minutes long and the animation will not only help students to understand the content, but it can also inspire them when searching for appropriate images for their infographics. TED-Ed is a reliable and trusted source providing well-researched and fact-checked information.

Now over to you: A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Infographic

Before you download the Project resource pack (more on that later), first of all you definitely should try creating an infographic for yourself. Unless you know the students have all had experience editing with Canva, it will be necessary for you to demonstrate each stage of the project using screenshare.

Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think if you follow the steps below.

1. Subscribing and Setting Up a Canva Account

Once you’re on the Canva website, click on log in, if you’re already subscribed or if not select sign in. To subscribe to Canva.com you only need to have an email address and you can use the free version.

Canva home screen

Once you’ve signed in you’ll see the home page which give various options for different documents you might want to make. Select “Infographic”.

2. Using Templates

You should see this screen with a blank infographic. On the left hand side of the screen is a panel of tools. At the top you’ll find the “template” tool. Click this and a panel of different templates will appear.

canva infographic templatesThere is a search tool where you can put in keywords for the topic you are going to write about. Once you’ve entered some keywords lots of different templates will appear.

You can then choose a template that you think will work well for your project. This will save a lot of work if you just want to create something from scratch. Once you have selected a template you can start to work on it.

3. Setting up your Infographic Project

setting up infographic

A) The tool panel includes all the formatting tools you need:

• Templates – to search different template versions for your project
• Elements – for graphics/icons (with “Canva Pro” paid version you get a much bigger choice)
• Uploads – for images/video/audio you wish to upload from your device
• Text – creates headings, subheading, box of text
• Photos – from Canva’s own selection again, there’s a bigger choice with “Canva Pro”
• Background – select colours/patterns/shapes for the background
• Embed – you can embed videos and posts direct from YouTube, Facebook, Google Maps etc.

B) Save your infographic under a new name before you start

All the changes you make will automatically be saved, but you must give the project a name so you can easily find it again!

C) Click on the Share button

To share the project with other people, you’ll need to add their email address. This is also where you can download the final document in different formats or share it to social media.

D) It’s possible to zoom in and out of the document using this tool

So it’s easy to see the full document or work in detail on one section at a time.

4. Infographic Guidelines

You can play around with the overall design, using different background colours, fonts and graphics. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow:

Now you’ve had a go yourself, do you feel ready to share this new tool with your students?

If so, you can download this Online Creative Collaboration Project: “Make your Own Infographic” from the Express Yourself in English website.

This resource pack includes:

• A 4 x 60 minute Lesson Project + Homework (Complete lesson plan)
• Handouts include:
◦ Infographic student guide for the project
◦ Guidelines for how to make infographics
◦ “Ground Rules on Collaboration” infographic (and template version for class use)
• Language for Collaboration: Decision Making, Suggesting & Choosing – vocabulary sheet and exercises
• Final Reflections handout for the end of the project

You can download the complete resource pack as a zip file here.

Alternatively, check out Clare’s follow-up article, where she shares the complete resources plus more in-depth information on how to set up a collaborative online class project.

***

duolingo Logo

How an Owl Builds a Nest – What Duolingo Teaches Us about Scaffolding

in Teaching

There was a storm last night and it damaged your roof. You can’t reach the roof yourself, but there’s a giant who lives down the road. He can reach up and do the repair work for you. Sounds good, right?

Actually, it sounds pretty unlikely. What’s more likely is that nobody you know will be able to reach the roof to help you. Instead, you’ll need to call a builder. They will construct a series of platforms linked by ladders that will carry them up high enough to fix the problem.

We call that structure scaffolding.

What is Scaffolding in ELT?

In life, we often have a task to do, only to find ourselves unable to complete that task without some kind of help. The task is probably not impossible – it’s just subjectively unachievable.

Consider your students. You have asked them to do a task, and some of them (the giants in our story) get right down to it and are finished in minutes. But there will be other students who aren’t sure what they need to do, or how to do it. They need help. They need scaffolding.

But what, in ELT, is scaffolding? A good place to start is with Scott Thornbury. In his A-Z, Thornbury makes the point that scaffolding “has become such a buzz term that it’s starting to lose all significance.” He’s probably right, but if we get in a bit closer we can see that there is still value to the term.

Let’s break the idea of scaffolding into two kinds. 

The first is what we might call macro scaffolding, which is what Thornbury discusses in most detail. We can think of this as the kind of help we need to offer our students so that they can finish the lesson with a productive task that they could not have managed at the start of that lesson. Scaffolding in that case is synonymous with good lesson planning.

In this article, I want to look at the second kind. This is micro scaffolding, the kind of help that our students need to accomplish smaller tasks. For examples of micro scaffolding I’m going to turn to Duolingo.

What is Duolingo?

Duolingo is a language learning app. It’s been around for about a decade and has millions of users around the world. It’s a self-study platform, which might make it seem an unlikely source of inspiration for micro scaffolding. However, the programmers at Duolingo know what they are doing. For each of the examples of scaffolding I’m going to show you now, I think there is a way for us to offer something similar in our own lessons.

One: Lexical Scaffolding

Duolingo relies on the grammar translation method. Cue eye-rolling in all teachers who subscribe to the communicative approach… except, for low level learners, there do seem to be advantages to Duolingo’s approach. At the very least, it works for me.

In a typical lesson on Duolingo you will be supplied with a series of sentences to translate. In theory, this is simple enough. But what can you do when you forget what a particular word is?

That’s when Duolingo offers scaffolding to help you. You can hover the mouse over the troublesome word, and a translation will present itself.

 

A picture of a DuoLingo exercise. Beneath the German word 'Wetter', a pop-up shows the English translation 'weather'.

This is the best kind of micro scaffolding. It is unobtrusive, helpful, and builds both confidence and ability.

How do we adapt this to our own teaching? Forgetting individual words – even if only temporarily – is one of the key issues faced by students in our lessons. The solution is surprisingly basic: allow them to ask for help.

Basic, yes, but the idea is less simple than I’ve made it sound. Many students will feel embarrassed about asking for help with a single word. Some will have had lessons in an environment – probably at school – where it was either not possible to ask for this kind of help, or requests for help were stigmatised.

In our lessons, we should do two things. 

First, remove the stigma. Always be ready to help, even with the language we spent the last four lessons looking at. Learning isn’t easy, and takes time. The teacher’s impatience is not going to speed things up. 

Second, provide the language around the request: “I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten what … means” could be posted on the wall along with other common classroom language items.

Two: Adjusting the Challenge

Sticking with that same kind of exercise, there’s another subtle piece of scaffolding that Duolingo offers that I think we can adapt for our own teaching.

Here’s the task:

A Duolingo exercise, asking the user to input text by typing. At the bottom is a button with the words 'Use Word Bank'

I haven’t studied German on Duolingo for quite some time. This review activity is going to be too hard for me. I’m sure the words I need are on the tip of my tongue but faced with this blank text box I just can’t bring them to the surface.

Fortunately, I can use the option at the bottom of the screen to switch the task.

The same Duolingo task as before, but now instead of typing, the user is presented with a selection of words to click on.

Ah, it’s all coming back to me! Now I can attempt the task – it has become achievable, though it still presents at least a modicum of challenge.

This kind of micro scaffolding is perfectly suited to online self-study platforms like Duolingo – so what can we do in our own lessons?

There are a lot of resource generators out there. I use the Missing Word template on Wordwall, an affordable platform for online teachers, because it lets me make tasks that are scaffolded in a similar way to Duolingo’s.

Here’s the result:

A Wordwall exercise, with a similar input mechanism as the second Duolingo exercise above - the user must select the correct word to fill in a blank in a sentence.

Our students can then work through the exercise at their own pace, and perhaps afterwards they will share the screen to show off their answers. I like to ask my students to explain each answer. This takes the translation methodology of Duolingo and moves it towards the more communicative end of the spectrum.

Three: Empowering Listening

Most of us approach listening tasks in the way we were taught – listen for gist, then listen again for detail. This might seem like a strange system. In the real world, we listen once – if we ask for a repeat, it will likely sound very different. The classroom is not the real world – it is worth remembering that. If a student needs to hear something more than once or twice, why can’t they? [For examples of English in the real world, check out our interview with the Easy English team! – Ed.]

Duolingo lets its students listen as often as they like. They offer a much more scaffolded approach to listening, as you can see in this next image.

Another Duolingo exercise, this time with the words 'Tap what you here', a selection of words to choose from, and two big buttons - one showing a loudspeaker, and a smaller, similar picture showing a talking tortoise. A talktoise, perhaps.

Notice the controls. The first allows you to listen to the sentence again. The student is not penalised for listening as many times as they need. If you can do the task on the first listen, that’s great. But it won’t always happen. Sometimes you need to listen twice. When I was studying Spanish, I sometimes needed to listen four or five times to be sure I had the right answer.

That’s not all, though. Notice the second control, which looks like a shouting turtle. This control slows the recording down. This can be a crucial piece of scaffolding, because there are times when the learner will not know if they’ve heard one word or two. Slowing it down makes all the difference.

We can offer the same kind of support to our students, especially if we teach online. Since there are two kinds of support here, there are two things we can do – but we only need to do one thing to make them both happen.

When we attempt listening tasks with our lower level learners, we ought to give them control of playback. We can do this by sharing the file with them, depending on copyright limitations. Or we can record ourselves making new listening texts, and upload the files to YouTube. 

Why YouTube? Two reasons: firstly, we don’t have to worry about emailing the file to our students, as we can just send them the link. And secondly, YouTube has playback speed controls built into the system, which means that our students can decide how quickly or slowly they wish to proceed through the text. This gives them Duolingo’s turtle option.

The playback speed function can be found by clicking on the cogwheel during playback of the video – look at the screenshot of YouTube below.

A still from a YouTube video showing the author holding a cute toy fox. A menu is open in the YouTube player showing a variety of different playback speeds to choose from, in case you need a slower speed to be sure what the fox says.

You might have noticed that so far in this article, I’ve said nothing about showing the listening transcript to our students as a form of scaffolding. Personally, I wouldn’t count this as an example of scaffolding. The idea, remember, is to make a task more achievable. It isn’t about changing the task, and using the transcript suggests a change of activity from listening to reading. If you use the transcript to highlight how features of pronunciation work, I’m totally on your side. I think it’s a very powerful form of teaching. But it is precisely that – teaching. Not scaffolding.

Four: Picture Perfect

We all know that pictures work well as lead-ins to a reading or listening text.

But the smart use of images also helps to scaffold a task, as it does in this exercise on the Spanish course:

Another Duolingo picture, this time with a gapfill activity. Next to the activity is a small cartoon of two people hiking.

The picture can easily be ignored, but it is there to ground the sentence in a specific context. It makes the selection of the right answer more obvious.

I’ve had whole classes struggle with simple tasks because I had failed to ground the tasks in a context. Without context our brain struggles to find a starting point. So how can we adapt this form of scaffolding without making a lot of work for ourselves?

We can start by drawing simple pictures – as a vocabulary review, a grammar lead-in, or to develop our target lexis.

The picture below probably doesn’t look like much, but it was key to the success of my lesson with a football coach in Italy. We would have survived without the picture, but to discuss the different positions on the football pitch – and to then talk about the movement of those players – it really helped to have a visual to refer to.

A crude sketch of a football pitch, showing player positions and movements. Not to be rude, but it's hardly a Da Vinci.

The benefit of doing this on Zoom is that the image can be edited by both the teacher and the student. It becomes a kind of collaborative scaffolding. The idea was to make the discussion task more achievable for the student. But soon it became more than that – as any good image can.

Conclusion

We’ve looked at four things that Duolingo does so that learners can achieve the tasks that it sets. Each of these examples of micro scaffolding can make our own lessons work just a little bit better, and can help our students to develop their language skills.

Don’t look down on Duolingo. You might fear the owl lurking in your inbox, but we can learn from it. If we do, our students will be grateful, and most importantly – they will keep coming back to us for their lessons.

[And, for more information about learning strategies, check out our article on Listening and Speaking Exam Strategies by Greg Wagstaff. -Ed., again]

Get into the Groove! Motivating Students to Practice English with Rhythm and Rhyme

in Teaching

Rhythm and rhyme is a learning resource that – contrary to popular opinion – is suitable for students of all ages and backgrounds. Find out why it works so well and how to tap into it to get your learners into the groove.

Most of us would agree that piano, basketball, or dance practice involves repeating movements to develop a skill. However, if you ask an English teacher or learner what English practice is, they’re likely to say “It’s using what you’ve learned out in the real world.”

But is that really true?

No one studies dance and expects to dance. Yet, many students study English and expect to communicate.

Communication outside the classroom isn’t practice but rather a demonstration of what a student knows, what they can retrieve from memory. A business meeting at a café or a presentation at a company is the piano recital, the basketball game, or the dance competition. The more you’ve practiced, the better you perform.

What’s the best way to practice then?

Meaningful practice and spaced repetition

Effective English practice is meaningful practice. It’s engaging in an activity that is natural to repeat, such as watching (and re-watching) a short video, reading a poem, rehearsing a script, playing a game, or listening to a song and singing along. Music is particularly suited to meaningful practice.

Rhyme and rhythm organize language into chunks that create predictable patterns. This makes it easier for our brains to encode language in memory. Reading lyrics while listening to music helps us decode sound-spelling relationships and understand reduced and connected speech.

And, of course, when we enjoy a song we play it again. Even better, we usually play it at intervals during the day, weeks, and months. This spaced repetition helps us remember language for longer periods of time.

What if my learners have no business singing in class?

Can we get business English learners to do more meaningful practice with music? Does it have to be through songs? What if they’re not comfortable singing in class? What if you’re not comfortable singing in class?

If you enjoy working with rhythm and rhyme, you can create simple activities and apply techniques in class that will encourage your business English students to practice outside of class. As a result, they’ll find it easier to remember target language and be more motivated to use it during your lessons. You do not have to work with pop songs or spend time singing songs in class.

Create your own materials with rhythm and rhyme

Here’s a step-by-step guide to create materials that you can use with business English learners (or any type of English learner):

Step 1: Do a needs analysis

What vocabulary, grammar, and functional language do your students most need to learn? Do the materials you’re using address these needs?

Step 2: Create a word bank

Write down collocations, key phrases, and sentences that your students need to retrieve during communicative activities. Organize this language into word banks (according to parts of speech, topics, functions, etc).

Note: Steps 3-5 can be done by you alone or together with your students.

Step 3: Find rhymes

Identify words from your word banks that rhyme, nearly rhyme, or are easy to find rhymes for, e.g.,

  • walk/talk
  • few/do
  • business/what is this

Use an online rhyming dictionary to help you. A good one is rhymezone.com.
Also, consider words with similar syllable stress (e.g., collaboration/organization).

Step 4: Create your own phrases

Create phrases and short sentences that rhyme or nearly rhyme. Mark the syllable stress and sentence stress. For example:

Let’s find a way to finish today.
Or: How long have you been working here? – I’ve been here for three years.

Step 5: Write your own poetry

Try creating rhyming couplets. For example:

Our manager said to finish our project today. – I know! It’s so stressful. We need to find a way.
Or: It’s my first day on the job. How long have you
been here? – I started in 2019 so it’s been three years.

Here are rhyming couplets I created from a word bank of common business English idioms:

Let’s get the ball rolling and get this project off the ground.
We need to get down to business and stop messing around.

We’re not sure of our next move. It’s still up in the air.
Keep your eye on the ball. Stick with it. We’re almost there.

They’ve got a new game plan. I can tell they’re on a mission
to stay ahead of the curve and beat the competition.

Note: Your phrases, sentences, and couplets do not need to form a complete song. They do not have to be sung; they do not require music. They can simply be spoken or chanted, as conversation or poetry.

Step 6: Make a recording

Record yourself (or an advanced student) reading or chanting your rhymes. Share the recording and lyrics with your students. Here’s a sample of a recording with background music.

Lyrics: How about you

Step 7: Create some sparky activities

Create activities your students can do at home to practice, such as a word scramble or gap fill. Encourage them to pause, repeat, and speak/chant whenever it feels natural to do so.
Here’s an example of a word scramble with the business idiom couplets. Students listen and try to put the words in the correct order:

air not sure our next in move. It’s of We’re still up the.

eye your on We’re the. Stick ball with. Keep almost it there.

And here’s another example of a gap fill. Students listen and try to write in the missing words:

They’ve got a new game _____. I can _____ they’re on a _____to stay _____ of the curve and _____ the competition.

Your students might also think of ideas for activities. Some of them may become motivated to write longer chants, poems, or songs about work situations, such as job interviews, meetings, or presentations.

If you want to put your lyrics to music, you can find royalty-free instrumentals here (or you may have a student who wants to create a beat).

Whatever you decide to do with rhythm and rhyme, please keep this in mind:

What you learn with pleasure, you never forget.
The more you practice, the better you get.
The better you get, the further you’ll go.
Relax, repeat, remember and you’ll find your flow.

***

Hey hey! Just before you leave, we have a little challenge for you:

If you found this article inspiring, how about writing some groovy rhyming couplets to share with the world? Just post your best rhymes in the comments section below. Jason and the journal team can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with!

What I Wish I’d Known: 6 Tips for New English Teachers

in Teaching

Starting out as a new teacher of English can be challenging, and it can take you a while to find your feet. Chelsea Wunneberger is sharing six tips she wishes she had been given when she embarked on her ELT journey eight years ago.

In 2014, I started teaching English in Madrid in a secondary school and with no experience. It’s my hope that new teachers will have an easier time adjusting to their new jobs than I did. Here are my top tips for new teachers – the pearls of wisdom I picked up on the way.

1. Sometimes we must be flexible

Some classes will go according to plan, and others will be a disaster. The best way to handle these moments is to adjust your lesson to your students’ needs . If the lesson is too easy, ask supplementary questions or have additional activities to get your students to think deeper. If they are having a tough time, adjust your plans to keep them interested. You can make an activity easier or change/take away parts, so your students enjoy learning English. You don’t always have to follow the plan. As a teacher, you have the (magic) authority to change things to satisfy your students.

2. Always have extra speaking activities on hand

Speaking is key! I am a firm believer in speaking more, so learners can apply the language naturally. For me, speaking can happen at any level – it is about finding speaking devices that meet your students’ needs. Teachers should have copies of tongue twisters, songs, poems, role plays, and practical questions to encourage speaking. These extra tools are fascinating for everyone because they break away from the normal textbook model. There are many ways to use them in class: competitions, karaoke, speaking training, skits and more. These extra activities can be useful when you have a few minutes left. The bottom line is to get your class to speak.

3. Get to know your students

When you know your students by name, they will show more respect and interest towards you. Teachers must give each learner personalised attention, so they feel that they are part of the class. You can ask them about their hobbies and daily life. If you take the time to invest in the relationship with your students, you’ll make them feel more valued as individuals. If you know some facts about them, you can apply these to classes with them. When educators personalise the learning experience, they can leave an impression on students that may last for years.

4. Find some teacher mentors

It is vital for teachers to have mentors because these people will help you get through the hard times. It is smart to reach out to veteran teachers who are qualified, experienced and can act as a support line, lunch buddy or sounding board. They will have lots of tips, ideas and suggestions to share. When you start a new job, try to reach out to coworkers and connect with them. These connections will make your job more enjoyable.

5. Find ways to bring culture into your lessons

Another part of language learning is understanding a different culture. Languages have strong ties to culture, so learning a language opens the door to the culture and customs of a people. When culture is part of the class, students gain knowledge about another country, about how the locals think, and understand deeper roots of the language. With some cultural knowledge, students will be able to communicate better with native speakers of a different language. It will also help them become culturally sensitive to people from different cultural backgrounds.

6. Take care of your mind and body

Always make time to take care of yourself. Sleep. Rest. Eat well. Exercise. You’ve been told these tips a thousand times before, but they really matter during your first year of teaching when the stress hits a high level. Stress will affect your immune system and can make you stay home sick. Start keeping your health at a good level: you can always go for a walk, cook a nice healthy meal or do other grounding activities to promote your wellbeing. If you have a sound mind and body, you will have fewer health issues to worry about. How about getting a good night’s sleep tonight or going for a thirty-minute walk?

Teaching is like driving or riding a bike. Time in the classroom will help you improve. Remember, you are an amazing teacher and you can do this job!

***

Teaching for the Win: Developing – and Not just Practising! – Listening and Speaking Exam Strategies

in Teaching

Why don’t football teams prepare for their big matches by…playing matches? The reason they don’t was the key to the concept of my ELTABB talk on Saturday 12th March. Here’s a brief rundown of the points that we covered.

So, if it’s not playing matches to prepare for matches, what do football teams do instead?

They have training sessions in which skills – for example, volleying – are isolated, worked on and developed. This focus allows that particular skill to be improved more rapidly and effectively than if it were sporadically practised in a match situation. And we should apply the same principle to our exam classes.

Developing vs practising exam strategies

Doing the exam, or part of the exam in our exam classes, is our students’ equivalent of the big game. This is where strategies such as exam sub-skills and techniques are jointly put into practice. The sole focus lies on passing the exam/winning the match.

However, our exam classes should also take on the form of training sessions: where we isolate exam sub-skills and techniques and look explicitly to develop said skills and techniques. That is the explicit purpose of the class, to ensure it progresses more rapidly.

To put this concept into a practical context, think about the Cambridge B1 Preliminary Speaking Part 2 below.

Imagine you get to spend, say, five lessons a year on this part.

Think about it – which five lessons would improve your pupils’ ability to interact with another person more:

Five lessons where students repeatedly do the exam task, or five lessons where the focus was developing turn-taking, backchanneling, interrupting, asking questions and agreement respectively?

I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Practice wins the battle – but is that a good thing?

As a teacher trainer, I have seen many exam classes that just relentlessly ‘practise’ exam strategies: doing exam questions, parts, activities or even whole papers, but don’t see anywhere near as many classes where individual strategies are isolated and developed.

This is what I attribute to slow progress amongst some students: the year-round using and practising, rather than developing of their exam skills.

However, that is not to say that practice shouldn’t happen: it should. It is vital that pupils deal with the exam format they will be confronted with on the big day. However, the balance is currently heavily in favour of practising, instead of being equal.

What exam strategies to develop

A common question that trainers often ask is: ‘But how do I know what strategies to teach?’.

And the good news is that teachers can find them in a variety of ways and places.

Firstly, from exam support material. Most exams will come with an accompanying handbook and marking criteria that will highlight good strategies that are worth developing. For example, all Cambridge exam handbooks give a detailed outline of the exam and the strategies that students should have to do well in any part of an exam.

Here’s an example:

Exam Preparation Strategies for English Teachers

Coursebooks affiliated with an exam or exam board will also provide you with ideas. Open World, to name just one, is a coursebook that supports the Cambridge exam series.

Don’t forget to ask your colleagues for their ideas too and, of course, don’t forget to ask yourself! Your knowledge of the exam can help you decide what your students need in order to succeed.

Know that part of the writing exam involves writing a story? Then, with a little thought, identify the strategies that you can develop to improve your students’ review-writing performance. Using the past perfect and reported speech may be just a couple of ideas worth pursuing in this case.

In context vs not in context

Another theme that we touched upon was the fact that the development of strategies is usually done outside of an exam context.

For example, I demonstrated an activity called ‘Guess Who?’ where students write five clues, each increasing in obviousness, to describe an obscure household item.

Taking it in turns to guess each other’s items, they use functional language to describe unknown objects. This is a skill that could help them with Parts 2 and 3 of the Cambridge PET Speaking exam.

However, while it will aid them in the exam, there is NO mention of the exam during the activity.

But why, you ask?

Real-world contexts are often more inspiring for students, especially teens and young learners. The very mention of the exam is often enough to provoke a chorus of groans amongst your classic teen class and affect the morale amongst the group.

So, keep it a secret… for the time being.

‘For the time being’ is key here because most development activities and lessons should be followed by a period of reflection where the purpose of the lesson is made evident to the students. By making it conscious, students are more likely to then retain and use what they’ve learnt.

Another way of ensuring this is to follow up all development with the opportunity to put it into practice by doing the relevant exam part.

However, development doesn’t always have to be outside of the exam context and in fact, sometimes certain classes or students dislike the fact that there isn’t a clear and immediate relevance to the exam.

It’s just about knowing your students and what they would prefer.

Interactive, practical and participative

The second and third hour of the talk focused on providing practical examples of developing listening and speaking. There were many activities in which participants acted as students before engaging in a discussion on the process and benefits of each activity. There were too many activities demonstrated to detail here but my personal favourites were:

  • Using voice recognition software e.g., Google Translate to test exam pronunciation
  • Concealing options in listening activities during the first listening, allowing students to just listen and avoid confusion caused by looking at the options whilst listening. Students then look at the options, before using the second listening to confirm their answer.
  • Information exchange: where students address a question/situation together, but each with limited information. This means that students develop their active listening skills as they are forced to listen to their partner to complete the task.

The workshop ended with a recap and a final message:

While it’s good advice for all teachers to look to develop skills more, it’s very much a case of doing what’s right for your students and particular setting. Whether that’s more practice, more developing, using the exam as context, or not having any reference to the exam at all: you’re the person who’s best placed to know how to prepare your pupils for match day.

***

1 2 3 7
Go to Top