I’ve taught B1 and B2 Cambridge exam classes for about 5 years; mainly teenagers going for either PET or FCE. I thought I should share some of the things I’ve learned about teaching exam classes. 😊

In this post you will find:

  • tricks that worked well for my students
  • web tools you and your students can use
  • links to blogs with useful info
  • downloadable templates such as self/peer assessment tools

Teaching speaking

1.Extended/long turn (part 2)

B1 students describe one colour photograph, talking for about 1 minute. They also need to make speculations about what they see.

B2 students need to compare and contrast two photos. They have to speak for 1 minute without interruption. Remind them what language they need to use for this task. They also need to answer a short question from the examiner about their partner’s photographs.

You can provide a table with useful language in advance, or give post-task feedback ; or a mix of the two.

Depending on students’ ability, give them some preparation time, but gradually reduce it.

2. The collaborative task (part 3)

I divide students in groups of 3. Two of them will do the task and the third person will be assigned some responsibilities, e.g. be the timekeeper, note taker and maybe give feedback on students’ performance at the end of the task. If students talk too much without involving their partner, the mediator can prompt them to wrap up and ask their partner for their opinion. They can also use a checklist and tick what they heard. I’ve created one here; if you like it, feel free to download and share.

Mediating helps students focus on the assessment criteria, eg time management, appropriate length of turns, how to interact properly and communicate ideas clearly. Based on observation, after mediating once, students are more in control when they are performing the speaking task. I stole this idea from Riccardo Chiappini and Ethan Mansur’s talks about mediation.

3. Discussion (part 4)

To train students for this part, I write some questions about topics we’ve covered in previous lessons and either use an online spinner or a board game to practise in a fun, relaxed way. They either spin the wheel or roll the dice, land on a square and pick up a card. They have to answer the question and give extended answers; I usually encourage cross-classroom interaction, tell students to jump in and ask questions. I don’t interrupt but give delayed feedback on language at the end of the activity.

This is another fantastic website for speaking practice. It’s quite easy to use and includes a timer, so students can practise at home, too.

Teaching listening

I draw like a 4-year old, I know!

I use the same routine for all the parts.

I generally try to encourage use of both top-down and bottom up strategies.

1.I start by asking students to predict the content and brainstorm language they might encounter.

2. They listen once for global meaning.

3. Then, they read the questions and see if they can answer any of them.

4. They listen again for detail and answer the questions.

5. I give them the transcript and ask them to listen again and underline the parts that were difficult to understand. I ask them what the problem was: unknown word/chunk, connected speech, knowing the written but not the spoken form? If you have John Field’s book, you can use his feedback sheet on page 93, table 5.3.

6. I respond to emergent needs using appropriate activities.

If you want to read more about teaching listening /decoding you can read my post here and download my listening Delta Module 2 LSA and lesson plan

Reading and use of English

  1. The multiple choice cloze (B1, part5 and B2, part1) is about collocational competence. To raise awareness of lexical chunks, I often use an edited version of this brilliant collocations scavenger hunt by Ken Lackman. After reading texts for gist and detail, I ask students to record collocations, both (lexical and grammatical), idioms and chunks .Ideally, both teachers and students can save these lists and recycle the language often.

2. Another useful technique is to provide a list of key chunks from texts students read in class and ask them to retell the text, using these collocations, idioms etc. (Dellar and Walkley, 2016).

3. Open cloze. (B1, part 6 and B2, part2) You can turn all your digital texts to a cloze using this tool. Read Anthony’s post for more details. Students can use blog posts/articles that interest them from the internet and create their own cloze texts for homework.

4. Word formation. (B2, part3) Check out amazing activity ideas here. I absolutely love Stephanie Valerio’s bingo, read it here.

5. Key word transformation. (B2, part4) If you use the delayed feedback technique, you can ask students to upgrade their sentences like this:

Teacher: I heard someone say: I won’t invite her to the party. She will never come. How else can you say that? Use point and two more words to fill the gap.

point

There _______  in inviting her to the party. She will never come.

5. Gapped text (B1, part 4 and B2, Part 6). To help students understand the organisation of a text(Nuttall, 2010):

  1. Give students the text but omit one paragraph. Project it or write it separately. Students decide where it fits.

2. Give students the text. Remove the topic sentences. Either supply them separately and ask students to match them, or ask them to write their own topic sentences.

3. Give them the text with all paragraphs in the wrong order and ask students to reorder them.

6. Underline clues in a text and ask students to work out in pairs what they are referring to.

subject pronouns: he, she

object pronouns: him, us

substitution: one, ones

sequencers: after that, the next day

markers that indicate concession: although, however

7. To train students to make inferences, here are a few more useful tips from Nuttall (2010).

a. In every reading lesson, show students sentences in which some facts are implicit, i.e not explicitly stated. Give them a set of facts and ask them to tick the ones implied by the text.

b. In every reading lesson, select words that can be understood from the co-text/context. Ask students to use contextual clues to infer their meaning. Be careful though, as not all words are inferable, so make sure you read the text first yourself before you select the words.

8. Reading comprehension/critical reading (B1, parts 1,2,3 and B2, parts 5 and 7). Matt Bury has written a great article on Reciprocal Reading: Process-oriented reading instruction . Put students in groups of 4. Each member has a specific role: predictor, questioner, clarifier, summariser. They can take turns so that everyone practises these 4 skills and when they feel more confident, they can move from group to individual reading, co-ordinating all 4 skills at once.

Writing

  1. Whatever the task, I always remind my students the importance of planning before they start writing. First, I tell them to make a mind map or a list and brainstorm ideas. Then, expand it by writing down words, chunks and linkers they can come up with. Think of how they will organize their ideas into paragraphs. I usually put students in pairs and they do the task together for the first couple of times. When they become more confident, they work individually. You can use google docs for collaborative writing in online classes.

2. I encourage self and peer assessment. You can download my B2 essay checklist and of course, feel free to edit it and add specific items you want your students to use.

That’s all..for now! If you’re teaching exam classes, you definitely have something to share, so feel free to leave a comment!

By the way, this is my 50th post 😍😍.

References

An ELT Notebook: An ELT Glossary : Top-down processing

An ELT Notebook: An ELT Glossary : Bottom-up Processing

An ELT Notebook: An ELT Glossary : Lexical Chunks

Collocations Scavenger Hunt | EFL Magazine

Dellar, H. and Walkley, A., 2016. Teaching lexically. Stuttgart: Delta Publishing.

Delta Module 2, LSA2 – Listening – The TEFL Zone (wordpress.com)

Describe a photo or picture | LearnEnglish Teens – British Council

Picture Description: Speculating | Blog de Cristina (cristinacabal.com)

FCE Speaking Test Part 2 Useful Phrases — FCE Exam Tips

5 word formation games for FCE and CAE students (lessonplansdigger.com)

Field, J. (2010). Listening in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Nuttall, C. and Alderson, J., 2010. Teaching reading skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Macmillan.

Reciprocal Reading: Process-oriented reading instruction – Matt Bury (matbury.com)

SPEAK UP | Cool English

The simplest way to create open cloze Cambridge style tasks – Level Up your Teaching

Word Formation Bingo – Freeed.com