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.
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.
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.
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.