Here are the slides from the ‘Boosting learner vocabulary for Cambridge exams’ workshop I gave at Oxford Tefl, Barcelona yesterday. Thank you to all of you that attended, there was a great turn out.
I recently read an interesting article about listening: “Listening for needles in haystacks: How lecturers introduce key terms” (Martinez R, Adophs S, Carteer R, ELT Journal, vol.67, issue 3 (2013) pp. 313.323). As a teacher and trainer for the Cambridge exams, I meet teachers and learners alike that comment regarding the complexity of the listening part of the exams, and they ask for strategies to help them develop stronger listening skills to produce better outcomes in the exam. While I clearly suggest high exposure to audio texts in the form the plethora of free podcasts and radio programmes available on the internet, I became aware of the fact that what exam candidates need are strategies to identify where the answers are in the audio script and how to recognise them.
Here are a few ideas that I have tried recently that I have found work for specific parts of the Cambridge First, Cambridge Advanced, and Cambridge Proficiency exams.
Listening Exam Parts 1 & 3 (Cambridge First, Cambridge Advanced, Cambridge Proficiency)
All the options offered in the multiple-choice question are often mentioned in the audio text and can often distract candidates from selecting the correct answer. Identifying conjunctions like ‘but’ will help learners notice when the information is being contrasted and the right answer is being given. The same exercise can be done with ‘because’ and ‘besides’.
To practice this in class, you could play practice tests to learners and get them to stand up when they hear ‘but’, and sit down when they hear it again. This highlights the importance of conjunctions and becoming aware of their use in the audio texts enables learners to pick out the correct information. You could also record your own audio texts, ask students to record their own, or play short audio extracts to practice this and introduce a fun kinaesthetic activity into the classroom.
Listening Exam Parts 2 & 4 (Cambridge First, Cambridge Advanced, Cambridge Proficiency)
Often the content of the listening extracts are contain topics or lexis that candidates are unfamiliar with, so a good way of helping learners with this is to take questions from the exam and use them as class discussion points.
Give learners the question and allow them time to think about language that they may hear or that could be used in a discussion about the topic, they can also look up new lexis they would like to use therefore broadening their lexical range. Allow them a limited time to discuss the topic and practice the lexis. This is an effective way of using an integrated skills approach to listening where learners focus on lexis in the listening questions by using a speaking activity. In the same way, the listening questions from Part 1 can be used as starting points for classroom speaking and extending learning and identify question type patterns. For example:
Why is he/she talking to…
Who is he/she talking to..
What is he/she doing?
How does he/she feel?
Another useful strategy to share with learners is that the verbs used in the listening extract will often indicate the tense. For example ‘warn about…’ is used for something in the future. This could help learners with the correct selection of an answer if it contains answers that refer to the past.
This week I have been talking about the best strategies for developing turn-taking skills for the Cambridge exams. It has been an interesting insight on many levels, but specifically into how other teaching professionals deal with the challenges of a mismatch of pairs when candidates have different levels of proficiency. Differentiation is a very common issue in the classroom and not one that I feel is given enough consideration. While we can do our best to mix students when carrying out different activities, what I have really realised is that the students that are less proficient really need extra support and scaffolding to help them progress so changing their partner in class regularly isn’t necessarily going to solve this problem.
I often suggest to both teachers and learners that voice recordings using mobile phone dictaphone apps can be a very quick and easy solution to confidence building. By making short recordings on the dictaphones, and listening to themselves, learners are able to become familiar with how their voice sounds and feel less inhibited to speak. I then suggest that by playing back short recordings several times, it is possible to identify weaknesses in pronunciation, and the features of connected speech but also whether the task requirements of the exam task have been met. Part 3 of the FCE, CAE and CPE is designed to evaluate candidate turn-taking skills by assessing a two-way conversation between them. Candidates are assessed on their ability to maintain a conversation, suggest ideas, and respond accordingly to the other candidates’ ideas. All of this needs to be achieved in a time limit of 2 minutes, in addition to fulfilling the requirements of lexical resource and a varied grammatical range. By timing and recording their practise runs, students are able to refine and focus their answers in order to meet the task requirements.
The final stage of part 3 in the speaking test is a decision-making question where the candidates need to reach a decision regarding the discussion just taken place during the previous stage. A common error for candidates is to choose the most ‘important, urgent, greatest effect etc’ during the first stage, which often results in them repeating themselves during the second stage. To avoid this I encourage learners to only answer the question in the diagram for the first stage and nothing more. I have found this to be the best strategy to avoid the aforementioned. Again, timing and recording themselves has proven to be invaluable especially considering the 1-minute time limit given.