Monitoring speaking | TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC

In this article from the British Council, Barney Griffiths examines some of the problems with monitoring speaking activities in class, and offers some suggestions for improving how we go about this.

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/monitoring-speaking

For more tips on speaking, see the following links:

Tips for speaking tests (I)

Tips for speaking tests (II)

Speaking activities

Getting them speaking!

Tips for Speaking Tests (II)

In the first post in this series, we looked at structuring contributions in the speaking test, giving full, developed answers. In the second post, we are going to look at the language we use in the speaking exam.

In all levels of Cambridge exam, from YLE Starters up to Proficiency, there is, logically, a specific mark for pronunciation. When we talk about this aspect of language, there is a tendency to focus on accent, and specifically whether the candidate is capable of reproducing a particular native speaker accent. However, the examiner is not measuring the non-native candidate against a native-speaker norm. The emphasis is instead on reproducing the individual sounds, intonation and stress patterns of English in a way which does not impede comprehension. While higher levels of exam require the candidate to be ‘intelligible’, lower levels, such as KET or PET allow for a fairly intrusive L1 accent which may make comprehension more difficult at times.

The above video, from the Cambridge English TV channel on You Tube, focuses on word stress, and how a change in stress may mark a change in meaning, and so impede understanding if not reproduced accurately. This word stress can be realised in any accent, native or non-native. Similarly, sentence stress is not dependent on accent. English is traditionally a stress-timed language, as opposed to a syllable-timed language like, for example, Spanish. This means that a successful candidate should be able to place the stress on the correct syllables within an utterance, and at higher levels (CAE or CPE particularly) the candidate should be able to use stress to suplement the meaning of the utterance.

Another important aspect which can be reproduced accurately whatever the accent of the candidate is intonation. A successful candidate should be able to use rising and falling tones within the utterance in order to indicate the internal structure of the utterance, usually rising at the end of each element of a list, for example, or at breaks in an utterance usually represented graphically by a comma, then falling at the end of an utterance, represented graphically by a full stop.This can actually have more effect on understanding at times than accuracy in individual sounds. Several years ago, I examined a PET candidate who reproduced individual sounds acurately, but whose intonation was so wrong that he was almost impossible to understand.

Clearly examiners must also focus on the accurate reproduction of individual sounds. However, different accents imply different versions of individual sounds. Here too, the important thing is to be understood with relative ease, avoiding as far as possible L1 intrusions. It doesn’t matter if the student pronounces ‘Tomato’ as in British English or in American English, but if they say ‘city’ as ‘thity’ (a typical Spanish error, since in Spain, the ‘ci’ and ‘ce’ are pronounced ‘thi’ and ‘the’), that impedes understanding, and so is marked down.

Tips for Speaking Tests (I)

As the main external exam season starts, I thought this would be a good time to write a series of posts giving tips for how to approach the speaking exams in particular. To kick off, here is a new video from Cambridge English TV with some useful ideas about answering questions in the speaking tests.

Clearly, you cannot be marked on language which you do not produce, so you should aim to answer questions fully. However, sometimes the question seems to be asking for a simple answer – an apparently closed question with no interrogative pronoun. In this case, the temptation is to give the simple answer, but these questions are provided with a possible back-up question in the examiner’s script – ‘Why?’, so if the candidate does not elaborate sufficiently in their answer, they can be prompted to do so. It causes a better impression if the candidate does not wait to be asked why, but explains and elaborates their answer from the beginning. It shows they are more willing to speak, and gives a more natural feel to the conversation.

English: Speech balloons. Question and Answer....

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a great temptation to prepare answers beforehand, particularly for the questions in Part 1 of the test which everyone is asked (‘Where are you from?’  ‘Where do yo live?’ or ‘What do yo like about living there?’, for example). However, it is usually quite obvious to the examiner that an answer is prepared, and it will possibly be cut short. Teachers should be particularly wary of relying on prepared answers for their students. In one examining session last year, I examined eight or ten candidates from the same class, one after another. When asked ‘What do you like about living here in Madrid?’ every one of them spoke of the fantastic public transport system which the city has. Clearly, this quickly became irritating and received no credit.

Variations on dictations

finger on it

This week I am working on dictations with my different groups, and I thought I would share a couple of ways I have found to make them a bit more interesting, both for the students and for myself.

 

Dictogloss

 

With my more advanced groups, I am using a dictogloss, rather than a traditional dictation. The teacher divides the group in half, and sets one half some work to do outside the classroom. This week I had them preparing a presentation on a famous person. Meanwhile, the teacher does the dictogloss with the other half of the group. This exercise consists in reading a text to the students three times at normal reading speed. During the first two readings, the students listen, and after each reading they are given time to write what they remember. During the third reading they are allowed to write, so that they can check and complete their texts. After this they should be given some time in pairs or groups of three to check their work with each other. This usually leads to some interesting discussions on grammar and structure as they access what they know in order to reconstruct the text.

 

The other half of the group is then brought back into the class, and each one is paired with someone who has done the dictogloss. These then dictate the text they received as a dictogloss to their partners (this is done as a normal dictation rather than as a dictogloss). Finally, the teacher collects the resulting dictation, and then projects the original text so that they can check their own answers.

 

In this video, you will see Dave Spencer from Macmillan doing a dictogloss exercise with a group of students.

 

 

Jigsaw dictation

 

With my less-advanced students, I am doing a variation of a running dictation. Before the class, I copy a text of a level which the students will find relatively easy, but I place the sentences in a different order. The disorganized text is pinned on the wall. The class is divided into teams of three or four. One member of each team goes to the text and memorises the first part before going back to his / her team and dictating it to them. The second member of the team then goes to the text and memorises the next part and so on. While the second member of the team is at the text, the first member of the team writes down what s/he has just dictated, so that everyone in the team has a complete text.

 

Once the team has dictated the whole text, they must decide the correct order for the sentences, writing a clean copy of the text. This can be treated as a race, or each team can simply read out their version of the completed text at the end of the class before the teacher projects the original text for them to check their work.

 

Here is a video with other ideas for organising a running dictation.

 

 

For an extension activity for running dictations, particularly for younger students, click here.

 

This week’s speaking activity: Speed dating (Timed pair share)

speeddaten

I thought I would share what I have been doing in my conversation classes this week. It is based on the idea of cooperative learning, and is designed to allow each student an equal amount of time to share their ideas. It also brings to the classroom the idea of speed dating, as proposed by Adam Simpson in his blog, Teach Them English. This is a great activity for the start of the school year, to get students to share personal information. I often also use it after a school holiday or at the end of the school year so that they can talk about their holidays, although it will work for any topic you need to cover in the course where the students need to give their personal vew.

Time:    20 – 30 minutes (longer if you want and the students are enjoying it)

Level:   Pre-intermediate – Advanced

Have the students prepare a topic to talk about for two minutes. They can make notes, but they shouldn’t write any more than key words. Once they have prepared their ideas, place them in pairs. Each student has two minutes to tell their partner about their topic. The partner can help by asking questions or prompting, but cannot begin their turn until the two minutes is over.

speed-dating

Once both students have shared their ideas, change the pairs and repeat the exercise. However, this time each partner answers with the information from their previous partner. In this way they check their comprehension, and also they are not repeating the same information twice, so repeating the exercise is more interesting for them. You can even repeat the exercise a third time, with different pairs, each partner giving the information from their second partner. You should finish the session with each student reporting to the class what they have learnt from their last partner, contrasting this information with the person they are talking about.

For more ideas for speaking activities, click here.

7 Techniques that Will Increase Student Talking Time – Exponentially!

Here is a series of simple, but very useful techniques to increase student speaking time in the classroom.

English: classroom

English: classroom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

http://busyteacher.org/13959-how-to-increase-student-talking-time-7-techniques.html

Picture dictations

Day five of the Five days five posts series, and unfortunately this is just post four. I’m writing this on the train bound for Córdoba, where I am giving a workshop on speaking activities for teenagers at the XIV Jornadas CETA (Córdoba English Teachers Association).

For this post I’m moving away from working with video, and focusing on one of the activities I’m going to use in my workshop this afternoon. In the PET speaking exam, students are given a photograph and asked to describe it. Many candidates simply give a list of things that come in the photograph, but stronger candidates distinguish themselves by organizing their descriptions in a more orderly way. This activity is a simple way of helping them to achieve a more organized way of describing a scene.

I begin this activity by revising prepositions of place and ways of describing position in a picture – at the top, at the bottom, in the top right corner, etc. then we describe a photograph together as a class, to make sure they are using the vocabulary correctly.

Then the students are seated in pairs, back to back. One of them is given a photograph and is asked to describe it to their partner. The partner has to draw the picture as it is being described. The student describing the picture has their back to the other student so that s/he cannot make adjustment to the picture which is being drawn. The other student only has their partner’s words to guide them as they draw. If they are unclear about a detail, they can ask for clarification, and in that way they help their partner to structure a description in a more logical way. Once the description is finished, they compare their pictures with the original photograph. Then they change places and the exercise is repeated.

The pictures can be of anything, so it is a good idea to tie them in with the topic which you are covering in class at the time (a good source of free pictures is www.eltpics.com). If possible, I like to project the photograph on the IWB, which means that everyone is describing the same picture at the same time, as this allows them to compare their drawings not only with the original but also with those of their classmates, and this can be quite motivating. If this is not possible, photographs cut from colour magazines work just as well, and the students can be asked to bring the photos in themselves, which saves on preparation time. A good tip is to keep any photos they bring in in an envelope in class, so that fast finishers can repeat the exercise in future classes.