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Archive for the ‘FCE’ Category

IH Bydgoszcz and IH Toruń Cambridge Day 2017

Each year IH Bydgoszcz holds a Cambridge Day to give ideas to teachers in the local area to help them teach Main Suite exams. Recently, our sister school, IH Toruń, has become an exam centre too, so to celebrate, we held events in both cities this year. My session was designed to share some (perhaps) less well-known online resources which can be used by teachers who are preparing students for both exams. These are the sites which I shared:

Cambridge Phrasal Verbs apps

Amusing cartoons and a matching game designed to help students remember 100 phrasal verbs. As far as I know they’re a different hundred in each!

The Phrasal Verbs Machine (cartoons in a historic style)

Phrasalstein (cartoons with a comedy horror inflection)

Alex Case

A one-man activity-writing/worksheet-producing machine, and everything I’ve tried so far has been good quality!

Key word sentence transformations advice and activities (including TEFL Reversi, which you can try by printing this Quizlet set: click ‘more’>’print’>’small’ and ‘double-sided printing’ and you’ll get cards you just need to cut up

All of Alex’s FCE worksheets

My blog

A collection of FCE resources for students and teachers which I recommend, including among other things a link to FCE: The Musical!, a 60-minute webinar by Andy Scott with lots more ideas of ways to make exam preparation interesting.

Various FCE activities I’ve shared on my blog, many of which could be adapted to other exams.

Richer Speaking cover

Richer Speaking is my ebook, which includes a section with activities for extending speaking, aimed at encouraging students to produce longer stretches of language. This is especially useful for the picture tasks in Cambridge exams.

A Hive of Activities

Emma Gore-Lloyd has a range of Cambridge exam activities on her blog.  One of my favourites uses pictures as a prompt to remember pairs of sentence transformations.


One of my all-time favourite resources, which is great for vocabulary learning in general, and which can be exploited for Use of English practice too.

How to use Quizlet, including links to classes/groups organised by CEFR level.

FCE/Upper Intermediate sets

CAE/Advanced sets

A good set to play Quizlet Live with is ‘Making your writing more interesting

Linking words of contrast (FCE Use of English and Writing)

Here is a worksheet I put together to help my students with some of the linking words of contrast which commonly come up in FCE Use of English part 1, and which they can use in their writing. The first page has rules for using but, however, nevertheless, although, even though, despite and in spite of. I know it’s not exhaustive, but it’s hopefully a good start!

(You can download the worksheet by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)

Answers: 1b 2c 3a 4c 5d 6d 7b 8a

Do you have any other suggestions for helping students to understand the differences between these words?

Related links

Useful FCE Websites

Useful FCE websites

Here are all of the useful websites I can find to help students preparing for the Cambridge First Certificate exam. Please let me know if there are any broken links, or if you find something you think I should add.


Great website, full of tips, especially for Reading, Use of English and Writing. I’d definitely recommend students look at the word bank every day, and that teachers try to make use of those words in their classes to motivate students to use it! There is also a bank of writing showcasing all of the different text types, including teacher feedback.

The official Cambridge FCE website, with information about the length of the papers and the task types, as well as some free materials to download.

Three sites aimed at students. All include information, tips and exercises covering all parts of the exam.

Alex Case’s excellent collection of FCE worksheets.

FCE Result (affiliate link – I will earn money from Amazon if you buy anything after clicking this link), the OUP coursebook, has online exercises for each unit of the book. (via Anna Yermolenko)

And finally, these are the activities tagged ‘FCE’ on my own blog, including ones for speaking and use of English.

Practice exams

Two sets of Reading, Writing and Use of English practise exercises

A free practice test, not including speaking


Two places to find online flashcards to play games with on the Quizlet website, to download onto smartphones or to print off and use in class. If you’ve never used Quizlet, here’s my guide.

Oxford Word Skills Intermediate and Advanced (affiliate links) can also help you to build your vocabulary, and they have online exercises too. (via Anna Yermolenko)


Oxford Practice Grammar Intermediate and Advanced (affiliate links) have a test you can use to assess your level, along with practice exercises online. (via Anna Yermolenko)

Photo taken from by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

Photo taken from by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

The rest of the links are organised by paper. The links above also include some information for each paper, and there doesn’t seem to be anything specific for Paper 1: Reading that isn’t just a practice test.

Paper 2: Writing

General guidelines for the whole exam and for each part of the writing, including useful language

Flo-joe writing class, including a task every week, writing makeovers, and exercises on proofreading

First Certificate Writing is full of examples and tips, plus information about common mistakes.

A seminar for teachers from the IATEFL Birmingham 2016 conference, with Anette Capel sharing tips to help you prepare students for First.

Teaching students how to organise extended writing, with templates for essays and reports

Informal email






Tips on how to write essays of opinion or argumentative essays, including useful language

A sheet based on an opinion essay about sport

An exercise to practise the structure of an essay by putting missing phrases into an essay about computers

Essay writing checklist

Two fun interactive tools for planning essays, via British Council Las Rozas

Paper 3: Use of English

Lots of Use of English exercises.

Use of English exercises (under the ‘Intermediate’ heading)

72 key word transformation sentences, but no key.

This link will take you to Use of English part 4 Key Word Transformation information and exercises. At the top of the page you can also find links to Reading and the other Use of English sections.

Key word transformations on quizlet. Students can play games to help them practise the forms.

Key word transformations activities from Alex Case (plus tips for the teacher to show you how to deal with them in the classroom)

Paper 4: Listening

Listening practice from the British Council

Tips for teaching every section of the listening paper

Paper 5: Speaking
Speaking practice from the British Council.
Tips and example questions to help students prepare for the Speaking Paper (Paper 5)
A video showing two students doing part 1 of the Speaking paper. Once you have watched the video, click on the links to the right to take you to the next section. All four sections are available.
A very comprehensive guide to language students need for FCE speaking part two (comparing pictures), in order of priority, along with ideas on how to teach it.

In the classroom

Andy Scott presented a webinar entitled ‘FCE: the musical’ for the International House Live Online Workshops. It was an hour of useful and fun activities to prepare students for the exam.

A Hive of Activities has a range of great FCE activities, covering various papers, with more being added all the time.

Alex Case has many very useful activities for FCE on This example is a selection of activities for speaking part 3 phrases: presentation, practice and games. There is also a key word guessing game for speaking 2.

Nicola Prentis has written Teach First Certificate, a beginners guide for teachers showing how to approach the exam, available on Amazon as a paperback or ebook [affiliate links].


Here is another directory of links from teflgeek.

An amazing video of tips for FCE students from students at IH Santa Clara.

When I teach FCE again…

From September to December I taught an intensive Cambridge First Certificate (FCE) course, ready for the exam on December 10th. I had all 11 students for 15 hours a week, and 6 of them had an extra 10 hours. We didn’t use a coursebook, though I drew lots of activities from books like Complete First Certificate, FCE Result and First Certificate Expert.

Throughout the course I adapted the way I was teaching, and I have lots of ideas for how I might change it if I taught it again. I thought these might be useful for other teachers preparing students for the FCE exam, so I’ll share them with you here.


Far and away the most useful thing I did with the students was introduce them to the flo-joe website, which is specifically designed for students preparing for Cambridge exams. I told the group about the site right at the beginning of the course, but they virtually never used it until I started going through the word bank with them every day, which took about 20 minutes. I showed them the page (we were lucky enough to have an IWB, but you could print it or just write it on the board). They had one piece of paper/page in their notebook each for:

  • phrasal verbs
    Here they wrote the verb, a definition and an example sentence which I elicited from the students.
  • word formation
    The page was divided into four columns: noun/verb/adjective/adverb. As well as the four forms given on the flo-joe page, we added as many other forms as the students/I could think of.
  • collocations
    This included an example sentence, again elicited from the students.

We did this as a whole class activity and I wrote everything on the whiteboard for them to copy. On each page of notes, I encouraged students to highlight the phrasal verb, the key word for word formation, and anything which surprised them in the collocation (for example, a preposition which they didn’t expect).

Here is an excellent example of the notes taken by one of the students. She also added to her list from other Use of English exercises.

Maria’s notebook (pdf document – click to open)

Some of the students also took advantage of other sections of the site, such as practice tests and the writing class.

In the future, I would work with the flo-joe word bank from day one of the course, and I would also show students how to add to their list from U of E exercises done in class. Finally, I would build in a lot more revision of the words. We did some towards the end of the course, but this was not enough.

As one of my students said:

I think it is one of the best website we can use to improve our English.


Quizlet is designed to help students learn vocabulary in a fun way. It is very easy to create flashcards and share them with the students, and they can create their own if they want to. I set up a private group on the site for my class, which I have now made public so any FCE students can join it. Once students join, they can choose to receive an email notification every time a set of flashcards is added to the group.

By the end of the course we had 50 sets, some covering specific lexical groups, while others contained random vocabulary from the lessons that week. I encouraged students to access quizlet outside class, and printed flashcards directly from the site if students requested them. We also occasionally played games on it in sessions.

Quizlet screenshot

In future courses, I would create more clear lexical sets, covering as many areas as possible that could come up in the exam. I would also revise the vocabulary more often in class, as only a few of the students used the site as much as I thought they would. It would also probably be a good idea to have more smaller sets, as some of them put students off by their size.

In Class/Homework

We ended up spending a lot of time going over grammar rules in class, and when we weren’t doing that we were normally looking at lexical sets. For the first two months this left very little time for freer practice and exam-type tasks. I think it would benefit students more if they study the grammar and vocabulary at home, then practice it in class.

For vocabulary, the teacher could record the pronunciation of words/phrases/example sentences, to be used in addition to an online dictionary like the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. A recording would give the students all of the vocabulary in one place, and they could put it on an mp3 player/phone to listen to outside class.

It would be better for students to do more exam-type tasks earlier in the course, and spend a lot more time reflecting on them. This might be hard to manage, but is something to experiment with.


Many students’ least favourite part of the exam (if it’s not writing, it’s Use of English!) After I had introduced each text type in class, I gave the students a set of sample texts from First Certificate Expert. Rather than doing it this way, it would have been more effective to look at one text type a week, and give students as many examples as possible from writing banks as they are introduced. This should help students to get a much better idea of the differences between the genres, which was the most difficult thing for them to grasp. It would also give them lots of tasks to do if they want to. Over a twelve-week course, I would expect students to produce two or three pieces of writing every week. This may seem a lot, but they have seven text types to practice, and this would only give them about three attempts at each text type.

Revision, revision, revision

I’ve already said it a couple of times, but it bears repeating. My course didn’t include anywhere near enough revision, as I often felt I was running to keep up! By encouraging students to look at grammar and vocabulary at home, class time could be used for recycling, instead of introducing language. Creating an overall course plan at the beginning would also have helped me to build in time for revision (I only managed to do this about a month after the course began).


I really enjoyed the experience of intensively teaching this FCE group, though it did take over my life somewhat! I learnt a lot, and hope these lessons will be useful to others teaching FCE, regardless of their contexts.

Forms of the infinitive: FCE Key Word Transformations

Here’s a short worksheet I made for my FCE students to practise different forms of the infinitive ready for the Use of English Key Word Transformations.

We worked through it together and talked about the different forms – it does need a little more explanation than is given on the sheet. I used this webpage as inspiration for the sentences. It was one of the only ones I could find explaining more than just the base and perfect forms of the infinitive. If anyone has any other links or online exercises, please let me know.

Feel free to download the sheet and use it with your own students:

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]


Essay writing checklist

I wrote this worksheet based on problems my students have been having with the FCE Writing Part 2 essay-writing task. Feel free to download it, use it with your own students and let me know what I need to change / improve. It fit onto five pages on my computer, but has expanded to six on slideshare. If you adjust the margins once you’ve downloaded, you’ll save a bit of paper! 🙂

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Here are the answers:

Essay writing checklist answers


Key Word Transformations with Modals of Speculation/Deduction

We’ve been studying modals of speculation and deduction in class today. They are very often included in FCE Part 4 (Key Word Transformations). I couldn’t find any examples of this exercise which only tested these modals, so I made my own. If you have a link to a similar exercise, please let me know. Also, please feel free to add your own sentences. I wrote these ones quickly during a break, so was a bit short on inspiration! (I added a few after class using sentences my students gave me as a jumping-off point)

I’m sure he’s not Michael Jackson. He died a few years ago!


He _______________________ because he died a few years ago.

It’s possible that in the sales cameras will be cheap enough for me to afford one.


I __________________________ a camera in the sales if they are cheap enough.

I think Sarah isn’t very ill, because I saw her shopping this morning.


Sarah ____________________ because I saw her shopping this morning.

Perhaps Filip is from the Czech Republic – he speaks Czech very well.


Filip ________________________ the Czech Republic because his Czech is very good.

He is so rich that I am sure he is always happy.


He is so rich that ________________ happy.

He looks so pale that I’m sure he has seen a ghost.


He _________________ ghost because now he looks very pale.

I think Alice worked at a hotel last summer, but I’m not sure.


Alice ________________ at a hotel last summer.

Jana speaks excellent Finnish so I’m sure she’s lived in Finland at some point.


Jana ______________________ Finland at some point because she speaks excellent Finnish.

Adam is so loud now that I’m sure he wasn’t a quiet child!


Adam ____________________ a quiet child because he’s so loud now.

She is so scared of dogs, that maybe a dog bit her when she was little.


She is so scared of dogs that she _____________________ a dog when she was little.

I know he wasn’t in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.


He _______________________ in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.

She was so happy on Monday morning that I’m sure she had a good weekend.


She was so happy on Monday morning that _______________________ a good weekend.

I think Will’s tired because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.


Will ______________________ because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.

She was probably in a hurry because she forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend,


She forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend and that ___________________ she was in a hurry.


  • can’t be Michael Jackson
  • might be able to buy
  • can’t be very ill
  • could be from
  • he must always be
  • must have seen a
  • might have worked
  • must have lived in
  • can’t have been
  • must have been bitten by
  • can’t have been
  • she must have had
  • might be tired
  • might have been why

Please feel free to correct my answers if you notice a mistake too!


FCE Speaking Part 3: our version

On Thursday I introduced my students to Speaking Part 3 of the FCE paper. In this section of the exam, two students have about three minutes to discuss a set of 5-7 pictures and answer two questions. The first question involves some kind of scenario where they have to refer to every picture, and the second involves making a decision. The examiners are looking for whether the candidates can have a discussion (interactive communication) rather than monologue, among other things.

We were focussing on holidays all week, so in a similar way to the Present Simple / Present Continuous activity I shared a couple of weeks ago, I asked my students to draw a picture of themselves on holiday.

Since there were 11 students, plus me, we had twelve pictures in total (I’ll leave you to work out which one was mine!) That created two convenient groups, like so:

Speaking part 3The notes at the top show two language points which came up during the discussions. We ended up doing the task four times, using each set of pictures twice. The questions I asked were:

  • Imagine you are taking your family on holiday. What are the benefits of each kind of holiday when travelling with a family? Which is the best place to take a family too?
  • Imagine you are organising a holiday with your friends at the end of your exams. What could you do with your friends on each of these holidays? Which place will you go to?
  • Imagine you are going to have a week’s holiday by yourself. What are the advantages and disadvantages of travelling along to these places? Which is the best place to travel alone?
  • Imagine you are organising your next holiday. Why do people go on these kinds of excursions when on holiday? Which one would you go on as a one-day excursion?

We had done an example of the activity from Complete First Certificate, and I used their excellent speaking guide (at the back of the book) to give the students tips on how to approach the task. The general idea for this lesson was to familiarise the students with the format and to encourage them to converse, rather than monologue. In the end, that wasn’t really a problem as they’re very good at interacting with each other. They definitely improved as they did the task more times, although I think after doing it five times they never wanted to see it again! 🙂

(We used the class timer from the Triptico suite to keep the students in line!)

FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze: creating your own

Last week we looked at the FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze for the first time. I wanted to help the students become aware of the kind of words that are usually missing from the texts in this part of the exam.

We had been looking at housework vocabulary, so I went on the internet and found this article about one woman’s attitude to housework. I chose a section of it and pasted it into a word document, which I printed for the students:

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Using flo-joe’s excellent Spotlight Paper 3 section, the students worked in pairs to highlight each of the things listed below, using a different colour each time. We chose a few examples of each on the board before we started.

  • Pronouns/relative pronouns
  • Articles/quantifiers
  • Modal/auxiliary verbs
  • Conjunctions
  • Prepositions

I also highlighted that there are a few words which don’t fit into these categories, but that this was enough to start us of. It’s important that the students realise that this part of the exam is largely testing grammar, rather than content. You can see all of the words highlighted in the second page of the document above (please feel free to correct me if you think I’ve missed any – I did it quite quickly!)

Finally, they chose 13 of the highlighted words to circle, evenly spaced throughout the text.

At home, I plugged the text into the OUP cloze maker (you need to log in, but it’s free), then created five versions of the cloze task based on the words students had circled. You can see them here:

It only took about 10 minutes to make all of them once I’d worked out how to use the cloze maker! You can also use texts from the FCE Result coursebook to create your own cloze tasks.

I think I got this idea from Phil Warwick, at a conference in either Brno or Bratislava, so thanks to him for inspiring me 🙂

Compare and contrast: two cities

This is my contribution to Brad Patterson‘s Compare and Contrast Photo Challenge.

I chose to share with you pictures of two of my favourite cities. The first is Durham, UK.

DurhamThis view was taken from the railway station, where many people get their first view of the city. This includes Bill Bryson, who became Chancellor of Durham University while I was there, and who I was lucky enough to get my degree from. The weather is fairly typical! It shows the cathedral and castle, which together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Durham Cathedral is my favourite building in the world 🙂

The second is Brno, Czech Republic.

BrnoThis view was from the balcony of the second flat I lived in there. You’ll understand why it was difficult to get any work done, with my desk positioned so that I was looking out onto this! This was an early morning shot, one of probably about 100 shots at various times of day and in various weather conditions which I took while I was living there. If you want to see more about Brno, you can watch a video I made about it here.

My questions for students are:

  • What do you think it’s like living in these two cities?
  • What might be the advantages and disadvantages of living in a city like this?
  • What tourist attractions do you think each city has?

Thanks for setting the challenge Brad!


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