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IELTS Speaking Practice: Part 3 – What’s the word?

shutterstock_323995139Louis Rogers is a freelance author and senior academic tutor at the University of Reading. He has worked in a number of countries and taught in various contexts ranging from young learners to Academic English. Louis is co-author of Oxford EAP B1+, Foundation IELTS Masterclass, Proficiency Masterclass and Intermediate and Upper Intermediate Skills for Business Studies. In the third and final installment of his IELTS series, he explores range of vocabulary and lexical resource in the IELTS speaking test. 

What’s the word?

This lesson helps students in any section of the speaking test by focusing on one element of the marking criteria in particular – lexical resource. Some of the key indicators used by markers in this category are the variety of words used, the adequacy and appropriacy of the words used and the ability to circumlocute (get round a vocabulary gap by using other words) with or without noticeable hesitation. Obviously, the first ones are long term goals. For example, it takes students a long time to build up a wide range of lexis and to understand the subtleties of the appropriacy of word choice. However, the last one is something that can be frequently practiced even with a limited range of lexis.

Forgetting a word or not knowing a word is something learners come across from day one, however how they deal with this varies greatly. Under test conditions it can lead, in the worst cases, to students completely freezing and forgetting everything else they wanted to say. Even when it is not so obviously noticeable it can mean that students start to pause and hesitate excessively. Frequently practising how to deal with this situation can build students’ confidence and mean that they do not panic as much in the exam.

The activity here practices this skill and at the same time recycles some of the target lexis of the course. In this case the target lexis comes from the first three units of Foundation IELTS Masterclass. However, simple cards and the same staging can easily be created using any course.

Activity cards

IELTSvocabone

Copy and cut up the cards so that you have one set for every four students in the class. Put students into groups of 4 and divide each group into A and B pairs. Pair A will need to time one minute. In pair B, one of the students takes a card and tries to describe the words on the cards to their partner. They cannot say the words on the cards. The B pair can monitor to check the other pair is not cheating. Their partner must try to guess the words their partner is describing. At the end of one minute they get one point for each word correctly described. The pairs then swap roles so that Pair B is timing and Pair A is describing. You can continue this activity until all the cards have been used or after a fixed time of ten minutes. The fixed time would give each student two turns at describing the words without saying them.

 


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IELTS Speaking Practice Part 1: Grammatical range and Fluency

 

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Louis Rogers is a freelance author and senior academic tutor at the University of Reading.  He has worked in a number of countries and taught in various contexts ranging from young learners to Academic English. Louis is co-author of Oxford EAP B1+, Foundation IELTS Masterclass, Proficiency Masterclass and Intermediate and Upper Intermediate Skills for Business Studies. 

Part 1 of the IELTS speaking test contains numerous topics and questions designed so that students can demonstrate the key skills assessed of Fluency and coherence, Pronunciation, Lexical resource and Grammatical range and accuracy. This article and lesson idea focuses on the key areas of fluency and grammatical range and accuracy.

To gain marks in grammar students need to focus not only on being accurate but also on using a range of structures. Being very accurate, but using only a limited range of structures will not help students to reach a high mark. In part 1 of the test the questions often prompt students to use certain structures. For example, many of the questions prompt students’ likes and dislikes for different points in time:

1 What subject would you like to study?

2 What was your favourite subject at primary school?

3 What do you like about the place where you study?

These questions all naturally elicit the gerund and infinitive form to talk about likes and dislikes. Practising and knowing these forms can help students to use this structure accurately with a range of topics. Working on extending responses from a simple answer of ‘I liked learning about History’ also lends itself to practising one of the key areas judged in the fluency category. It also gives you a chance to work on the grammatical accuracy of students in the extended responses they produce.

Fluency is assessed in a combination of ways. The speed of speech – this does not mean the faster the better but rather encouraging students to focus on speaking at a steady to fast speed with little hesitation and few pauses. The length of answer is also marked in this category – reminding students that this is their chance to show their ability in speaking. Simply answering the questions in one or two words is not enough.  Students need regular practice with a range of topics on extending their answers.

The activities/lesson here and accompanying game focuses on practising discussing likes and dislikes using the gerund and infinitive and using a good grammatical range to extend responses. The lesson ideally continues from Foundation IELTS Masterclass Unit 1 Speaking; however, it can be used in any IELTS lesson that is practising for part 1.

You can either follow the stages in the lesson plan here or simply add the game to any lesson in which you have taught this grammatical structure.

This article first appeared in the April edition of Teaching Adults newsletter. To find out more about the newsletter and subscribe, click here.


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#EFLproblems – Motivating Intermediate Students

College student smiling holding booksWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Verissimo Toste responds to Ageliki Asteri’s Facebook comment about motivating Intermediate students.

Ageliki wrote:

How can I motivate a teen advanced level student to do better as this level is demanding to achieve a certificate and the students is ok with his intermediate plateau?”

This is probably a situation familiar to many teachers and my first consideration is to question why the student is satisfied with their intermediate level. If a student is in a class at upper-intermediate to advanced level, it is because that student has goals he or she wants to achieve. Tapping into these goals, and into that motivation, will enable teachers to help these students.

Set goals

I would suggest that first we need to make such students aware of what they still need to achieve. This could be in the form of informal quizzes or simple self-awareness. From this awareness, students should be encouraged to set goals for both language and skills development. Depending on the age of the students, I would make the goals short term so that students can feel they are progressing. This should give them confidence to set new goals and work to achieve them.

Focus on using the language

Students may feel they know the language, even about the language, but can they use it to communicate real information about themselves and their world? While expanding their knowledge of language, including revision of what they have already learned, encourage them to use it. It is one thing to be able to understand the present perfect, even to manipulate the different forms, but it is quite another to be able to use it to talk about life experiences and achievements.

Whenever I ask my students to talk about what they feel they have achieved in their lives, even those who are able to communicate this, do so without using the present perfect tense. They are usually surprised when I tell them and make an added effort to use it next time. Writing tasks in which they share their work, or freer speaking activities – like discussions, simulations, or debates – challenge students to use the language they have learned. Encourage students to be both more fluent and more accurate when using the language.

Challenge them to be better

I set up a class library in a class of about 25 Intermediate students with the aim of providing them with more contact with English through extensive reading. I did not test their reading, but often discussed how they were enjoying their books. They seemed very satisfied. I could have left it at that but I knew the readers series I was using was accompanied by a series of quizzes to test reading level. I told my students about this and asked if they wanted to take the quiz to see what their reading level was. They all agreed. I gave them the quiz, but before returning their scores, I asked each to write in their notebooks what mark they would be satisfied with as a percentage.

19 students out of the 25 received marks below what they expected. They were all high marks and, in general, they were very good readers. However, the quizzes showed them they were not really understanding (and enjoying) as much as they could. Equally important, they were not taking advantage of their reading to learn more.

This simple activity was enough for those students to come out of their intermediate complacency and work to improve.

Encourage independent learning

Many times students simply rely on the opinion of the teacher for how well they are doing. Too many times this attitude also includes passing the responsibility to the teacher for the whole class. However, it is important to encourage students to become independent learners.

Develop in your students the capacity to monitor their own language. Did they say what they wanted to say? Or did they avoid certain topics because they didn’t have the language? Encourage them to notice the kinds of mistakes they may be making. Are they mistakes they could correct themselves, but have left it for the teacher to do so?

As I have mentioned before, challenge them to be accurate, as well as fluent. Help them notice the difference between the English they use and the English of more advanced learners. At times, give them work that is well above their level. If students are studying for an exam, give them a mock exam at the beginning of the year. Let them see what they will be working towards in their English classes.

Invitation to share your ideas

Do you have anything to add on the subject of motivating Intermediate students? We’d love to hear from you! You can respond directly to this blog by leaving a comment below.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks.


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#EFLproblems – Monitoring pair work

Two men talkingWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Stacey Hughes responds to Susanna’s blog comment about monitoring pair work.

Susanna wrote:

I wonder what the best way is to monitor pair work effectively. I use pair work because it helps students get used to speaking; however, I am aware that they may be making a lot of mistakes which I don’t have the opportunity to correct. Not all students are willing or able to correct their partner’s errors. Have you any advice on how to ‘listen in’ to six pairs of speakers?”

Susanna’s question is a common one: we put our students in pairs to discuss a topic, but we can’t monitor what they are saying, so we don’t know if they are making mistakes that we need to correct.

To answer the question, we first need to establish why we ask students to discuss something in pairs to begin with. At the heart of the matter is whether the purpose of the pair work activity is for speaking practice. The majority of the time, the purpose of discussion in pairs is for students to get more practice speaking in English, to build their fluency. In this case we need to ask ourselves: Do I need to correct every problem?

Since pair work discussion is primarily for fluency, not accuracy, the best thing to do is to let the students communicate with each other without the interference of the teacher. This can make some teachers (and students) uncomfortable. They may feel like they aren’t doing their ‘job’ properly if they aren’t correcting or seen to be correcting.

Here are some tips for pair work:

1.Outline the benefits of pair work

Make it clear to the students when they are meant to be practicing their accuracy and when they are meant to be working on fluency. Better yet, make the communication task so engaging that students will want to try to contribute something meaningful to the conversation.

2.Encourage clarification-seeking

Teach students some communication strategies such as asking for clarification (Sorry, did you mean….?; Can you explain….please?) and checking understanding (Do you see what I mean?). These phrases can be posted on the wall for students to refer to during communication activities.

3. Let them talk

Students need to learn to solve communication problems on their own – this is part of the learning speaking process. They also need to learn to do it on their own – to build their confidence in their speaking abilities.

4. Monitor but don’t interfere

One strategy many teachers use is eavesdropping – listen to the conversations and make a note of any important errors or vocabulary issues. Make a note of good use of language, too. At the end of the activity, write the mistakes on the board (without saying who said the sentence!) and get the students to correct. This will be much more memorable to the students than stopping them in mid thought will be, when their focus is on trying to get their message out. By doing it at the end, students can be more focused on correcting the mistake.  Be sure to point out any good language use so that students can also see what they did right!

5. Develop your eavesdropping technique

If you are standing near one pair, listen to another. Do this so that the pair you are nearest doesn’t get nervous and stop talking.

6. Answer student questions quickly, then move away

If a student has a question about how to say something, help him or her out, then move on so that the pair can continue their conversation.

7.Let them know that mistakes are OK

Teach students the importance of trying to say something even if it’s not completely accurate. Some students don’t want to say anything unless it is correct. This may mean they are accurate, but not able to say much at all. Help them understand the importance of getting their message across. Make sure the classroom is a ‘safe’ place to try out language and make mistakes.

8. Ask students to reflect on their own performance

After the activity, ask students to make a note of anything they wanted to say but couldn’t. At this point you can help them create the phrase they needed. Ask students if they noticed when they made a mistake and if they were able to self-correct at any time. This kind of reflection on performance can help students be more self-aware and independent.

Invitation to share your ideas

Do you have anything to add on the subject of monitoring pair work? We’d love to hear from you! You can respond directly to this blog by leaving a comment below.  You can also take part in our live Facebook chat on Thursday 6th March from 12:00 – 13:00 GMT.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Each blog will be followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.


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Teaching Conversation

Two friends having a conversationDr. Jack C Richards is an applied linguist, writer, and teacher trainer. He is the co-author of Speak Now, a four-level speaking course that helps students to communicate with confidence. In this article, he looks at teaching conversational English.

Conversations are longer exchanges that may follow on from small talk and are the more meaningful type of interaction that results from small talk. They are a more serious type of exchange in which what is said and how it is expressed are both important. One of the most important aspects of conversation is managing discourse around topics. Whereas topics are only lightly touched on in small talk, conversation involves a joint interaction around topics and the introduction of new topics that are linked through each speaker’s contributions.

The skills involved include:

  • Initiating a topic in casual and formal conversation
  • Selecting vocabulary appropriate to the topic
  • Giving appropriate feedback responses
  • Providing relevant evaluative comments through back-channeling
  • Taking turns at appropriate points in the conversation
  • Asking for clarification and repetition
  • Using discourse strategies for repairing misunderstanding
  • Using discourse strategies to open and close conversations
  • Using appropriate intonation and stress patterns to express meaning intelligibly

Second language learners need a wide range of topics at their disposal in order to manage conversation as interaction, and developing topic fluency is a priority in my speaking classes. Initially, learners may depend on familiar topics to get by. However, they also need practice in introducing new topics into conversation to move beyond this stage.

Casual conversation between friends or people who know each other well has these characteristics:

  • Topics switch freely
  • Topics are often provoked by what speakers are doing, by objects in their presence or by some association with what has just been said
  • There does not appear to be a clearly defined purpose for the conversation
  • All speakers can introduce topics and no one speaker appears to dominate the conversation
  • Speakers comment on each other’s statements
  • Topics are only elaborated on briefly, after follow-up questions or comments from listeners
  • Comments in response to a topic often include some evaluation
  • Responses can be very short
  • Ellipsis is common
  • The speaker’s co-operation is often shown through speaker support and repetition of each other’s vocabulary
  • Vocabulary typical of informal conversation will be present, such as clichés, vague language and taboo language

Developing topics in conversation is a subtle process that requires skills in topic management.

Personal recounts are very common in conversation and serve to re-tell an event that the speaker was personally involved in. They often involve one person sharing a recent experience followed by the second speaker’s sharing of a similar experience as in this example:

A: Someone nearly ran into the back of my car on the freeway yesterday.
B: No way!
A: Yeah I was going down highway 201 when ….
B: That almost happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I was ….

Students need practice in sharing personal experience and exchanging recounts, as in the example above.

Agenda management and turn-taking are also important features of small talk and conversation. The former refers to the participants’ right to choose the topic and the way the topics are developed, and to choose how long the conversation should continue. This includes strategies for opening, developing and closing conversation and for introducing and changing topics. This process is often jointly managed by the participants, depending on the social relationship between them (e.g. teacher-student; friend-friend; employer-employee).

Turn-taking involves providing opportunities for another person to take a turn in speaking and recognizing when another speaker is seeking to take a turn.

Teaching conversation

Ways of teaching conversation include:

  • Awareness raising activities: students examine examples of conversation, either recorded (audio or video) or transcribed examples, and look for examples of how such things as openings, topic introduction, back channeling, etc. are realized, and for indicators of casual or formal speech.
  • Dialog completion: students are given transcripts of conversations with selected features removed (such as opening, closings, clarification requests) and asked to try to complete them. They then listen to or read the completed dialogs, compare, and then practice.
  • Planning tasks: students are given topics to include in a conversation and asked to write dialogs that include them and that also include personal recounts. They then compare and practice.
  • Improvisations: students are given skeleton dialogs or dialog frames (e.g. containing a sequence of topics or functions they should use in a conversation) and use them to improvise conversations.

Both small talk and conversation have features in common:

  • They require being a good listener: this can be indicated through the use of back channel signals
  • They involve asking questions: conversation develops through the participants asking question and following through on the answers they get with further questions
  • They involve sharing of information: participants are expected to share information they have that is relevant to the topic being discussed

Don’t forget to read Jack’s previous post on Teaching ‘Small Talk’.