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
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.