Tag Archives: EAP

Assessment for learning

Recent talks with colleagues working in the public education sector in the UK about SATs (Suite of Assessments), and my own experiences tutoring on pre-sessional courses, have given me a first-hand insight into the exhaustive measures some institutions employ to ‘promote’ learning through continuous formative assessment. The term they have coined is ‘assessment for learning’. Experience has demonstrated to me that the learning gains are limited compared with the time taken to prepare for the testing, the testing process, and of course the marking and feedback sessions.

A typical writing test could include learners being given several extracts from source texts to read and make notes on a week prior to the actual test. On test day, these notes are not permitted into the classroom and a new set of notes is given with a question to analyse. In my humble opinion, while learners will have read the texts and have a deeper understanding than seeing them for the first time, the test is in fact an evaluation of memory where they are desperately digging deep in their brains to retrieve the information about the points they deemed worthy of remembering. The question is analysed in groups, a draft plan is drawn up individually, and finally a 90-minute test is undertaken. Learners are notably exhausted after a testing process, which has essentially been drawn out over an entire week.

As an experiment, I tried an alternative approach where I gave learners 4 short extracts. In pairs each learner read 2 different texts and made notes. The notes were swapped with their partners who used them as a springboard to understand the 2 texts they did not read. Each learner proceeded to read the texts to accompany their partners’ notes to discover if they had identified all the key themes. A group discussion was held, a question was given, and learners wrote a short piece of discourse with a 40-minute time limit, to answer the question referring to the key themes identified previously, and citing as necessary. When the writing was completed, learners exchanged their scripts with a peer, and it was reviewed for content, accuracy of answering the question given, coherence, cohesion, stance, and argumentation. Another group discussion was held, and at this point I also participated with language support and academic guidance. This ‘think tank’ approach appeared to be effective and the feedback I received from the class this was tested with was positive. Including comments such as ”I learnt from my friends so it helped me feel confident to write”, “she was able to notice some additional points I didn’t see”

Listen ear! Ted Talk listening & speaking activity and Presentation & Cambridge Exams practice

Recently I’ve been prompting learners to use the dictaphone function of their smartphones to help them develop their listening and pronunciation. Here are a range of activities that I have found to be particularly effective.

Listen ear! Ted Talk listening & speaking activity

  • Choose any Ted talk from the category 1-6 minutes and watch twice. Take notes of the key points while you are watching.
  • Present the main ideas of your talk to your partner, they must take notes.
  • Your partner will now give a 60 second presentation of the key points from your presentation and record this using their phones.
  • You do the same with their talk.
  • You both listen to the voice recordings/video, and the original Ted Talks.

This activity can help learners develop listening skills in any context. I have used it in Cambridge exam preparation classes and EAP classes.

Presentation & Cambridge Exams (speaking paper) practice

  • Using the dictaphone of their smartphones learners can record part or all of their presentations or part 2 and/or 3 of the Cambridge Exams speaking paper.
  • During playback learners make a list of 2-3 features they liked and disliked about their recording. This could include: pronunciation; intonation; stress; pausing; signposting; voice projection; articulation, hesitation.
  • Students re-record themselves working on the features they identified they wanted to improve. Playback can be individual or in pairs for peer feedback.
  • If a class IM group has been set up, students can send the recording to the teacher for on the spot feedback and pronunciation support.

Pronunciation is one of the aspects of speaking students from both my EAP and Cambridge Exam classes. My students have found this quick turn around and instant feedback strategy extremely beneficial. Here is some feedback:

  • We learn to express our ideas clearly
  • Each recording is easier
  • The recordings make me feel more confident to speak in front of others
  • I realise giving presentations is difficult
  • How to control your time and speed of speaking to a time limit


WeChat, do you?

These past few weeks I’ve been teaching a pre-sessional course at a UK university and have heavily experimented with using the instant messaging app WeChat in class. The predominant L1 is Mandarin, but with Thai and Arabic speakers too, it has been the perfect context for testing. The outcome has been surprisingly positive and a great learning curve for both the students and me.


Here are some activities I trialed:


Free chat WeChat

As a warmer at the beginning of class after a free study period and lunch break, I asked the students to chat about anything they liked. They chose food, the trip they went on at the weekend, and I spurred them on with questions. Admittedly the answers were very short, but it helped them feel comfortable with chatting open class and with the teacher.


Synonym race

This activity worked really well. I selected academic lexis the students had learnt during the course to date, and it was a novel and quick way to refresh the lexis and push the learners for more than one alternative way to say something. On other occasions I have made it a group activity where one phone in a group of four students is used, and a point is awarded for the first answer with an additional point if the synonym is spelt correctly.


Lecture summary and peer correction

I asked the students to consolidate their notes in groups of four, for a lecture they had attended that morning. The task was to compile a 100 word succinct summary of the lecture covering the main points. Once this was uploaded, the groups peer corrected the texts for content, language and grammar mistakes. Each text was read aloud open-class, and peers shouted stop at any point to correct the mistakes. The students enjoyed reading and correcting each other’s work.


Free writing assignment – out of class

I wanted to see if the quality of writing changed if the task was to be completed in students’ own time. I gave the students some questions to introduce them to the topic, then asked them to write a 100 word summary using information from their answers to help them. Some wrote as they would speak in chat style, but others continued to write in a clear and convincing academic style. When I asked the students how they felt about completing a writing task like this, they all agreed they enjoyed it because it gave them the freedom to manage their own time and complete the task when it was convenient for them.


If you try any of the activities above, I’d love to hear about it!