Diana England


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  • This session is basically an overview of issues specifically relevant to teenagers sitting formal speaking exams – things that coursebooks, albeit written for this age, don’t necessarily highlight.
  • We’ll take a look at each of the four parts of the Speaking paper, and then an overview of general advice relevant for all parts of the exam.
  • Students are usually and understandably nervous – remember they may also not have met their partner before, and they are still unfamiliar with the idea of having two examiners listening to them. And at this stage, nerves, coupled with their lack of self-confidence can result in the following:
  • Our job is to try to help them feel as confident as possible when they go into the exam room, by providing the following kind of help on a regular basis in our lessons:
  • In Part two, the two candidates work together ....
    However, this task can be problematic for teenagers ...
    They may not interact consistently, but each delivers a monologue, not necessarily showing they are listening to each other. They are therefore not necessarily “initiating and responding appropriately, or maintaining and developing the interaction towards an outcome.”
  • The effect of this is that they do not use the 2-3 minutes profitably, that they quickly run out of anything to say. In doing so, they do not show the range and extent of appropriate vocabulary, structure, discourse features or pronunciation that they may be capable of.
    At the level of B1, they need to be able to show they fully or partially agree or disagree, or think an idea is relevant or can add further support to an idea.
    This latter point can mean they get fixated on a particular word or expression, causing a breakdown in communication, and they may feel the way out is to say the word in their own language.
  • So make sure your instructions include ‘taking turns’, ‘talking about each picture in turn’, ‘really listening to each other’ and constantly agreeing / disagreeing / adding a further point / including your partner in the task. Also, make sure they realise it’s OK not to agree and that they may eventually not be able to come to a consensus.
    Ensure they understand the importance of paraphrasing or circumlocution – using synonyms or different words to express an idea in case you don’t know or have forgotten the word you want.
  • Look at this snippet of a video of me teaching this strategy to my B1 students. Here my students are reviewing and extending their understanding of vocabulary related to objects in the home, and I’m using this as an opportunity to focus on the strategy of circumlocution and paraphrasing – a strategy I expect them to incorporate whenever they have problems with vocabulary.
  • They may not just use isolated words or things that come into their mind relevant to the picture. There’s no sense of development of the description. This is caused in part because they perhaps don’t understand exactly WHAT is being assessed ie not just knowledge of relevant words, but how those words are connected together, using appropriate structures and discourse makers and expressions in a logical fashion to make for a cohesive and coherent description...
  • ... as this example shows. To help, you can give them a poor example to compare against a much better example ...
  • ... like this...
  • ... using this type of assessment criteria. Note that I’ve deliberately put vocabulary and grammar below organisational features, since this is something many teenagers will not be familiar with and it helps them see that effective speaking isn’t just about good grammar and vocabulary.
  • Encourage them to learn a finite list of questions which they can mentally refer to every time they describe a photo. Notice the staging to the questions is deliberately moving from the specific and concrete to more speculative and personal reactions.
  • It’s also useful to get students to use their ability to paraphrase and use circumlocution in this part of the test, embedded in these types of sentence frames. So it’s worth drilling these prior to them describing photos to remind them of the need to resort to this type of language if necessary.
  • The last part of the exam can sometimes look and feel very contrived and stilted to teenagers, in part because they don’t have any visual stimulus to take the attention off them. Here, they have to rely completely on themselves and each other for content. As a result, the folowing problems can occur ...
  • So here are some strategies to help with this potentially gruelling task: Ask a question – listen to what their partner says – respond with interest – let your partner add to what you have said – listen to your partner’s question etc. As you start or come to the end of a topic in your coursebook, get students to brainstorm questions on paper (perhaps at least 4) that they could ask others. Use this as an opportunity to peer correct, and repair students, encouraging them to ask each other at least six questions within a specified time limit. Set aside time to conduct a speaking task where one of the main overt aims is for students to show great interest and ask their partner’s opinion on a question; it doesn’t matter if they make any language or other pronunciation mistakes – they should get some practice in stretching their voice range to sound REALLY interested in both responding and in asking for opinions.
  • And finally, some general ideas for helping students deal with the big day. This handout is available in a Word document for you to use and abuse.
  • As is this exercise. This handout is quite long and can be worked through in a complete lesson or different tasks can be done as part of various lessons.
  • And some ideas to help students go into the exam with some confidence.
  • A joke for your students to appreciate just before their exam! Thank you!
  • Diana England

    1. 1. Helping Teenagers Prepare for PET for Schools Speaking Paper Diana England Torres Vedras Portugal
    2. 2. Overview of Session Look at each part of the speaking paper: task type and format, students’ problems, useful strategies; Non-verbal confidence-building strategies.
    3. 3. Part One (2 – 3 minutes) • Task Type and Format: individual candidates interact with the interlocutor – answering personal information questions • Student Problems: - misspelling their surname - offering limited answers and not expanding - not asking for clarification if they didn’t hear or misunderstood the question
    4. 4. Part One • Useful Strategies: - regular practice in spelling their surname eg as a warmer; - regular practice of simple personal questions eg questions on slips of paper which they work through in pairs; - make one of your check instruction questions: “Are you going to say the minimum or the maximum? Why is this important?”
    5. 5. Part Two (2 – 3 minutes) • Task Type and Format: simulated situation – candidates discuss various options to try to decide on the best solution to a problem. The interlocutor listens, only intervening if necessary to redirect candidates. • Student Problems: - an ‘unnatural’ and challenging format given their relative lack of life experience. They have difficulty understanding what ‘interaction’ is and how to manage it;
    6. 6. Part Two continued • Student Problems: they may ... - not work through the various options shown in the visual prompts, but decide on a solution immediately; - not acknowledge the contribution of their partner; - grind to a halt when they realise they don’t know how to day something in English, or revert to their own language.
    7. 7. Part Two continued • Useful Strategies: - make sure your students know exactly what to do, how to proceed through the task, and importantly, they know what NOT to do; - insist that your students use paraphrasing rather than “it’s X” (in Portuguese) to explain the meaning of a word
    8. 8. Part Two continued https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U
    9. 9. Part Three (3 minutes) • Task Type and Format: extended turn where each candidate describes one photograph • Student Problems: they may ... - not develop their description in a coherent or logical fashion; - panic because they can see things they don’t know the words for in English; - they don’t use appropriate structures or expressions to help them describe the photograph.
    10. 10. Part Three • Useful Strategies: - get students to critique a poor example: I see a man, a girl standing. Are in the train….. I think. The girl ….wearing a white t-shirt, white shoes, white socks, blue shorts. Maybe China….. the writing here. Many people in train, .. no, is bus I think. The woman wearing white t- shirt, white skirt, glasses. The man here wearing black t-shirt, can’t see more. Is hot.
    11. 11. Part Three continued … and compare it to a more appropriate example: This picture shows a bus full of people. Some of them are sitting down and others are standing up because there are no more seats. It must be hot because most of the people are wearing t-shirts. The people look Chinese or Malaysian, they are definitely Asian. There is also a poster on the wall with Chinese writing on, so, I think they must be Chinese. There is a girl in the picture who looks like she is going to school because she has a school bag. The boy standing next to her also looks like a student although he hasn’t got a school bag; he’s just listening to music. He could be a university student because he looks a bit older.
    12. 12. Part Three continued … using this type of assessment criteria: Compare the two answers and comment on: • the logical development of ideas; • linking words to show the development of ideas; • the vocabulary; • the grammatical structures.
    13. 13. Part Three continued • Useful Strategies: - get your students to learn some basic questions that they should answer in complete sentences every time they describe a photo: a) who can you see? where are they? b) what do the people look like? c) what are they doing? d) what time of year is it? how do you know? e) how do you feel about doing this kind of thing? why?
    14. 14. Part Three continued • Useful Strategies: - help them to develop their ability to paraphrase using these useful sentence frames: “I don’t know what this is in English, but it’s like a...” “I can’t remember the word for this in English, but it’s kind of ...” “This is something you use for ... / to ...”
    15. 15. Part Four (3 minutes) • Task Type and Format: general conversation between the candidates on a topic derived from the theme established in Part Three • Student Problems: they may ... - talk about themselves, but not include their partner, or listen to what their partner has to say; - say the bare minimum because they don’t know how to extend their contribution.
    16. 16. Part Four continued • Useful Strategies: - train students in the routine of ... ?      ? - brainstorm questions that students could ask on a variety of topics : - make sure students know a variety of ways of showing interest and eliciting opinions from their partner
    17. 17. Non-verbal confidence-building strategies • Pre-mock exam preparation - prepare a handout which alerts students to some of the linguistic and non-linguistic issues of the exam Imagine these things happen in the exam. What do you say? a) You don’t understand the examiner’s instructions. b) You can’t think of anything else to say about the photograph. c) You want to include the other candidate in the conversation. d) You don’t know the word in English for something in the photograph.
    18. 18. Non-verbal confidence-building strategies continued ... • Post-mock exam feedback - feedback handout which gets students to reflect on their performance and tries to tackle linguistic and non-linguistic issues arising from their mock exam Learn about the difference between ‘fun’ and ‘funny’. funny = to talk about something or someone that makes you laugh He told a funny joke. She’s a really funny person. fun = to talk about something that is enjoyable or someone that you enjoy being with We had a lot of fun at the beach. My best friend is good fun to be with. Choose the best word to complete the gap: fun, funny or funniest. Be prepared to justify from the rules above. Our day at the beach was really ……………………………. . Don’t laugh; it isn’t very ……………………………. . She’s one of the ……………………………. people I know. The party was great ……………………………. . My sister is a ……………………………. person.
    19. 19. Non-verbal confidence-building strategies continued ... • Going into the exam room: + + + be positive + + + - SMILE at the examiners - have a GREAT OPINION of your English - don’t chew gum - sit so it’s easy to interact with and look at your partner
    20. 20. And finally ... Father: How were the exam questions ? Son: Easy. Father: Then why are you looking so unhappy ? Son: The questions didn't give me any trouble, but the answers did! Thank you!