Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘exams’

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.

Quizlet

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

Teaching exams reading list (Delta)

I’ve been asked many times for my reading list on teaching exams, which was my Delta Module 3 speciality, so I’ve decided to create a post for ease of reference! For that part of the Delta, you have to create a 20-hour course based on research into course principles, your speciality and what your students need. These are the books I used for my assignment on IELTS reading and writing, but there are caveats. I used these books, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily endorse or recommend them – they just happened to be what was available to me at the time! I am sure that there are many others which could be added. Some of the books were recommended by the Distance Delta tutors.

I’m afraid I can’t send you copies of my assignment, but I hope that this reading list will help you if that’s your speciality. Good luck!

Teaching Reading Skills by Christine Nuttall

[All links are affiliate links, so if you buy the book through the link I’ll make a few pennies.]

Alderson, J. C. 2005 ‘The testing of reading’; in Nuttall, C. 2005 Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language (3rd Edition) (2nd edition) Macmillan: Oxford [link to 3rd edition]

Brown, H. D. 2003 Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom Practices Longman: New York

Burgess, S. and Head, K. 2005 How to Teach for Exams Pearson Longman: Harlow

Graves, K. (ed.) 1996 Teachers as Course Developers Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Graves, K. 2000 Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers Heinle & Heinle: Boston

Gronlund, N. E. 1998 Assessment of Student Achievement, 6th edition Allyn & Bacon: Boston [link to 8th edition]

Harmer, J. 2007 The Practice of English Language Teaching Pearson Longman: Harlow [link to 5th edition]

Harris, M. and McCann, P. 1994 Assessment Macmillan: Oxford

Hedge, T. 2000 Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom Oxford University Press: Oxford

Hughes, A. 2003 Testing for Language Teachers, 2nd edition Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

IELTS.org, undated ‘IELTS | Researchers – Band descriptors, reporting and interpretation’http://www.ielts.org/researchers/score_processing_and_reporting.aspx, accessed 20 January 2013

May, P. 1996 Exam Classes Oxford University Press: Oxford

Murphy, D. April 2000 ‘Key concepts in ELT: Evaluation’; in ELT Journal, Volume 54/2 April 2000, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Nuttall, C. 2005 Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language (3rd Edition) (2nd edition) Macmillan: Oxford [link to 3rd edition]

Prodromou, L. 1995 ‘The backwash effect: from testing to teaching’; in ELT Journal, Volume 49/1 January 1995, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Puchta, H. November 2005 ‘Making the most of multiple intelligences’; in English Teaching Professional, Issue 41 November 2005

Richards, J. 2001 Curriculum Development in Language Teaching Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Thornbury, S. 2006 A – Z of ELT: English Language Teaching Macmillan: Oxford

UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate) 2002 Cambridge IELTS 3 Student’s Book with Answers: Examination Papers from the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (IELTS Practice Tests) (IELTS Practice Tests) Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Woodward, T. 2001 Planning Lessons and Courses Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

My first ever sketch-notes

On Monday, I was lucky enough to cross paths with Katherine Bilsborough, one of my fellow TeachingEnglish Associates. She was in Palma (where I’m working this month) doing a seminar on behalf of OUP. The other presenter was Jessica Toro, who I know from going to IH Director of Studies conferences. It’s a small world!

Their sessions were very useful, and since I didn’t have wifi access, I decided to take my cue from Christina Rebuffet-Broadus and have a go at my first ever sketch-notes. Looking at Christina’s notes now, I probably tried to pack a bit too much into mine, but I’m quite pleased with them for a first attempt. You’ll notice the notes from Jessica’s talk are a lot more adventurous as I got more confident 🙂 Let me know if you want text explanations of anything I put on there.

Katherine’s talk was about how to make the most of your coursebook, particularly if you’re working with primary-age children.

My first ever sketchnotes - from Katherine Bilsborough's talk

Jessica told us how to help students get ready for young learner exams.

Sketchnotes from Jessica Toro's talk

Both sessions had lots of activities in them which makes me a tiny bit more confident about offering advice to teachers about young learner classes next year!

Thanks for inviting me Katherine 🙂

Reading for exams

This presentation was part of the Tip-Top local conference in Sevastopol which took place on May 10th, 2014. There’s a video from the conference, with photos from my presentation from about 1:00-1:30.

I shared activities to help students prepare for the KET, PET and FCE reading exams. If you have other activities you like using, why not share them in the comments?

There is a recorded version of the presentation here:

Here is the handout with all of the reading texts referred to during the presentation:

They were taken from the official Cambridge handbooks for Key (KET), Preliminary (PET) and First (FCE), which are all free to download from the Cambridge ESOL site.

The listening book mentioned on the third slide is ‘Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action‘ by Larry Vandergrift and Christine Goh.

The signs used for KET and PET were taken from ELTpics, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license. ELTpics is a collection of over 18,000 images (as I write this) shared by teachers and other education professionals from all over the world. They are arranged into categories, for example ‘Signs‘, ‘Rooms and Furniture‘ and ‘Every Picture Tells a Story‘. The photos used in the presentation were taken by Scott Thornbury, Victoria Boobyer, Mike Harrison, @silpico, Adam Simpson, and me!

The extra links I shared at the end of the presentation were:

  • Cambridge English‘ on facebook;
  • Hive of Activities: a blog by Emma Gore-Lloyd, where she shares activities she’s found useful in her class, particularly for FCE, CAE and CPE;
  • my diigo list of exam-related bookmarks, which I constantly add to. You can narrow it down by clicking ‘+’ next to any of the sub-categories on the left. For example, clicking ‘+’ next to ‘FCE’ will show you only my FCE links.

I’d like to thank David Dodgson, Hada Litim, Maria Theologidou, Olga Stolbova and Damian Williams for their help in putting together this presentation.

Teaching essay writing

Today I presented a seminar with ideas about teaching essay writing, with a particular focus on FCE and IELTS exam tasks. It’s part of the monthly seminar series at International House Sevastopol.

The slides from the presentation and all of the resources can be found below. You can download everything from slideshare, for which you will need to create a free account. The links in the presentation are clickable. You’ll find full details of all of the activities in the notes which accompany each slide, which you’ll be able to see when you download the presentation.

Three different types of IELTS essay question (adapted from DC IELTS):

IELTS questions to classify by type (adapted from DC IELTS):

Potato talks from Thinking in the EFL Class by Tessa Woodward (published by Heibling Languages – affiliate link)

FCE essay to put in order (via Pavla Milerski):

Essay structure (via Pavla Milerski):

Students

Photo from ELTpics by @yearinthelifeof, under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license

I’d like to thank Olga Stolbova from IH Sevastopol and Pavla Milerski from IH Brno for helping me to put the seminar together.

The next one in the series will take place on February 22nd 2014, on the theme of teaching stress patterns in pronunciation. Olga will present it. If you’re in the area, we’d love to see you there!

Revising numbers and letters

I did this activity in an IELTS class this morning as a fun way to practise listening part 1, where you have to write information down including numbers and letters. These could be product codes, reference numbers and other combinations of numbers and letters.

You could also use it with lower level students to practise the alphabet or vocabulary you’ve studied recently.

Dictate a place name, interspersed with letters and numbers. This was my example (be careful with ‘o’ and zero):

w1o3lv4e79r12h6amp8t10on

Students should write it down as just a series of letters and numbers. Tell them it’s a place which they have to find by underlining the letters. The answer here is ‘Wolverhampton’, the town where I grew up.

They then think of a place name and add some numbers to it to dictate to a partner. They could also choose some vocabulary from a recent class, names of people, or reverse it by having a date with letters interspersed in it.

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.

General

www.flo-joe.com/fce/

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.

http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/fce/index.html

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.

http://www.fceexam.com/

http://firstcertificate.wordpress.com/

http://www.fcepass.com

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

http://tefltastic.wordpress.com/worksheets/exams/cambridge-exams/fce/

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

Vocabulary

http://quizlet.com/group/114523/

http://quizlet.com/subject/fce/

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)

Grammar

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 http://flickr.com/eltpics by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @yearinthelifeof, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

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

http://www.cristinacabal.com/?p=8947

Review

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/fce-advice-how-to-write-review.html

Article

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/fce-tips-how-to-write-article.html

Report

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/written-by-languages-international.html

Story

http://languagesint.blogspot.com/2010/05/12-top-fce-story-tips.html

Essay

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

http://www.ihbristol.com/learn-online/exercise-esol.php

Lots of Use of English exercises.

http://www.imparareinglese.co.uk/esercizi_inglese.htm

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

http://practiseenglish.blogspot.com/2009/03/fce-key-word-transformation-practice-3.html

72 key word transformation sentences, but no key.

http://www.autoenglish.org/FCEUse/FCEUsePart4.htm

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.

http://quizlet.com/8782322/fce-sentence-transformations-1-20-flash-cards/

http://quizlet.com/8782817/fce-sentence-transformations-21-40-flash-cards/

http://quizlet.com/8782986/fce-sentence-transformations-41-60-flash-cards/

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

http://www.usingenglish.com/files/pdf/cambridge-first-certificate-fce-use-of-english-part-4-sentence-transformation-hangman.pdf

http://www.usingenglish.com/files/pdf/cambridge-first-certificate-fce-making-use-of-english-part-four-questions.pdf

http://www.usingenglish.com/files/pdf/cambridge-first-certificate-fce-use-of-english-part-four-sentence-transformation-tasks.pdf

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

http://www.britishcouncil.org/professionals-exams-fce-speaking-intro.htm
Speaking practice from the British Council.

http://www.splendid-speaking.com/exams/fce_speaking.html
Tips and example questions to help students prepare for the Speaking Paper (Paper 5)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=LxCoEdFUcBw
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.

http://www.usingenglish.com/articles/how-to-teach-cambridge-first-certificate-fce-speaking-part-two.html
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 http://www.usingenglish.com. 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].

Update

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.

Flo-Joe

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

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.

Writing

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).

Conclusion

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.

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 Speaking (Paper 5) Part 1

I’ve just started teaching a Cambridge FCE group, so expect to see a lot of posts about my lessons over the next few months (they take their exam at the end of November). Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the ideas I’ve been using and get some in return 🙂

For the first session I decided to focus on FCE Speaking Part 1. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, there are four parts to an FCE Speaking exam, the first of which is an interview where the interlocutor speaks to each candidate in turn. The questions are general ‘getting to know you’ ones, along with some which are little more in-depth. They are designed to ease the candidate into the exam.

We started off by brainstorming topics you might talk about when you meet someone for the first time. The students came up with:

Speaking Part 1 topicsI then divided the topics up into groups and gave the students some pieces of scrap paper. Each piece of paper was for one topic. Working in small groups, they brainstormed as many questions as they could for each area and wrote them on the paper.

We then passed the questions around the room for other students to correct and add to.

Once the questions were as good as they could be, the students took one set of questions each and mingled to find out the answers.

As homework, they typed the questions into this Google Document, which I had started with ‘personal information’ questions. I also added the bonus topic of ‘your house’. My job for this evening is to correct them!

Feel free to use the questions with your groups, or add to them if you think of any more.

Enjoy!

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