Category Archives: IELTS

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS speaking

The extended monologue

In the second part of the IELTS test, candidates have to speak for 1-2 minutes on a given topic, having been given 1 minute to prepare. (Incidentally, I have mentioned IELTS in the title, because this is perhaps the best known example, but there are other speaking exams (e.g. Cambridge ESOL Skills for Life L1 and L2 ) where candidates have to carry out similar tasks).

Although Part 2 of IELTS is not actually as tough as Part 3, for many candidates, it is the part they dread the most. However, it is also the part where familiarity with the task and plenty of practice can really make a huge difference. As an IELTS examiner, I sometimes examine native speakers applying to emigrate to Australia, and even these perfectly fluent speakers can struggle with Part 2 if unprepared.

In IELTS the candidate is given a number of points to cover. For example:

Describe a leisure activity which you enjoy doing.

You should say:

–          What the activity is and how you do it

–          When and how often you do it

–          What equipment you need

And explain why you enjoy it.

[example from IELTS Foundation Second Edition]

In order to do well in this part of the exam, students need to:

1 Structure their answer well, so that it is coherent and cohesive.

2 Speak fluently, without too many hesitations.

3 Demonstrate accuracy and range in their language.

Live listening is an excellent technique for both modelling the kind of answer the students should be aiming for, and providing a source for language they can use.

What is live listening?

In a nutshell, live listening means listening to the teacher (or another visitor), in a face to face situation, rather than using a pre-prepared recording. The teacher can be a neglected resource in terms of listening, as teachers try to avoid the dreaded ‘teacher talking time’. However, there is a world of difference between the teacher mumbling away to the class instead of giving clear and concise instructions, and using the teacher as a rich resource for listening.

Listening to the teacher speaking at length offers the benefits of:

–          genuine, real-time communication.

–          all the features of natural spoken English (hesitations, false starts, connected speech etc)

–          facial expressions and gestures

–          the opportunity to offer clarifications

Using live listening to prepare for IELTS Part 2

Using set of prompts like those above, the teacher prepares to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic. You might want to spend more than the 1 minute that candidates are allowed, but it’s important that you don’t script what you are going to say.

Talk for 1-2 minutes to the students, and, ideally, record what you say. They listen and make notes on what you said about each prompt. Carry out brief feedback. This should help them see how to structure their talk, using the prompts.

Then play the recording (or repeat the task) and encourage students to write down any useful ‘chunks’ of language that they hear, which they think they could use in a similar task.

The reason that native speakers are able to speak so quickly and fluently is because they have a huge store of chunks of language which they are able to pull out and use; they don’t have to create every word from scratch. So it makes sense to encourage learners to develop their own store of ‘chunks’.

Here is a Vocaroo recording of me using  the prompts above to talk about Qi Gong

http://vocaroo.com/i/s0J4pGleT6oB

And here is the language I might encourage the learners to pick out from this recording:

The leisure activity that I’d like to talk about is_______

It’s a kind of __________

It’s all about + ing

It’s quite similar to_________

The main thing about _____ is (that)____

I don’t often get around to it.

You don’t actually need any equipment at all.

Sometimes I find it difficult to motivate myself.

I always feel better after I’ve done it.

Spend a little bit of time checking that students understand the ‘chunks’ and can pronounce them fluently, then put them in pairs and ask them to carry out the same task themselves, using any of the chunks they find useful.

The beauty of this activity is that it requires minimal preparation, but, repeated on a regular basis, with different prompt cards, it can really help learners to develop their ability to structure a short talk and to use natural sounding ‘chunks’ of language.

8 Comments

Filed under Different ways to use a coursebook, Exploiting authentic recordings and videos, IELTS, Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary

Getting students to notice language in reading texts

To start with, why not try this little awareness test:

How successful were you in noticing? Whatever we are doing, we don’t tend to notice everything- and we can miss some quite important elements!

We tend to notice things which are either frequent or salient. So, when I first went to live in Portual, I quickly noticed the word ‘puxe’, which was written on a lot of doors. It was something I saw frequently. It was also salient, or meaningful for me because the pronunciation is ‘push’..but it means ‘pull’!

Schmidt, who first coined the term ‘noticing’(I think), carried out a study of his own language learning in Brazil (where they use ’empurre’ rather than ‘puxe’ btw). He concluded that he was more likely to actually use language himself when his attention had been drawn to it in some way.

Or as Scott Thornbury puts it:

‘1. Learners must attend to linguistic features of the input that they are exposed to, without which input cannot become ‘intake’.

2. Learners must ‘notice the gap’, i.e. make comparisons between the current state of their developing linguistic system, as realised in their output, and the target language system, available as input.’

(Thornbury 1996)

A reading text is full of language that we can draw students’ attention to in this way, and thus, hopefully, help them in the process of acquiring this language into their ‘store’.

Before we can start to focus on language though, it is important to focus on the actual text as a whole (see previous blog posts), and then we have to consider which aspects of language to focus on or we risk not seeing the wood for the trees (or the monkey for the basketball players).

Activities which help students to ‘notice’ vocabulary

Many texts will have a clear topic, so this is a good place to start (especially if the topic is one which is relevant to students’ needs and interests- and if it isn’t why are you using it? 😉 ). You can simply ask the students to find words and phrases in the text connected with the topic of X, or ask them to categorise the words and phrases they find into subsections of the topic (example here from IELTS Foundation 2nd ed-click to enlarge).

You can help to expand students’ vocabulary by asking them to find synonyms of words you give them, in the text. This is particularly useful for those taking exams, where questions are usually paraphrased.

You can help students to see how texts are put together by asking them to find lexical links and chains in the text (example here from IELTS Foundation 2nd ed-click to enlarge)

Students can also develop their awareness of chunks and collocation by asking them to find chunks of words that go together, or asking them to search the text to find what collocates with a list of words from the text which you have given them.

Activities which help students to notice grammar or discourse

The most obvious task is to ask students to look at the examples of the language focus in the text and use them to complete rules about its use. Or they could try writing their own rules and then comparing them with a grammar reference.

An alternative is to remove those examples (or parts of them) and get students to complete the text, comparing their versions with the original. This is something which works very well for articles and for discourse markers.

Or you could give students another version of the text with deliberate errors, and ask them to find a ccertain numbers of mistakes and correct them- before, again, checking against the original.

Try a dictogloss (read a short section aloud, which contains the language you are focusing on) and ask students to write down as much as they can before reconstructing the text together. This works well for structures which are very frequent, such as reference links or articles.

Having thus drawn the students’ attention to language, I believe that it is important to give them some opportunity to use the language. Opinion varies as to whether practising the language per se helps students to acquire it, but at the very least it is another opportunity to notice it, which does seem to help with acquisition.

5 Comments

Filed under Exploiting authentic reading materials, IELTS, Teaching methodology