Set texts – go on, set a text!

So, CPE is the last one standing, the set texts having been taken away from the FCE and CAE exams as no one answered the questions on them.  Well, some of my students did, and even if they didn’t, reading the set text gave us the chance to practice lots of other skills as well as the obvious benefits of students reading.

When I first started teaching I encouraged my students to read and the first advanced class I taught we read a book together, I have also used audiobooks in class for extended listening practice.  To be honest, some of those were not so successful, but I think that was a failing with me as a teacher, I just wasn’t experienced enough to get the most out of the materials.  Last term I taught CPE, and we read Howards End by Forster and as well as note taking, building character profiles, discussing themes etc. we also did a variety of other things.

I’ve put ideas for some of them below, give them a go, they give the reading much more focus.

  • Turning a page of it into a part 1, 2, 3 Use of English, classic but reliable fall back and a chance to get the tip ex out! Or, if you are very smart try to copy and paste from a digital version.  With my last CAE class last year, I wrote summaries of the chapters and then made them into different parts of the paper.
  • Getting students to create their own reading parts of the exam, for example giving them a section and getting them to write multiple choice questions for it.
  • Cutting up the text and seeing if they can put it back into order using logical sequencing (you have to check that you can do this yourself).  Practices reading part 2
  • Showing the film of the book (if there is one) and getting the students to review it.  With the film there are obviously lots of opportunity to work on pronunciation as you already have a model to work from.
  • Summary writing of sections of the text will help them write concisely and learn how to paraphrase. Summary writing is also a necessary skill for CPEs.
  • Encourage students to make a set text dictionary, especially useful if they can list page numbers and example sentences, to help build vocab.
  • Do a Grammar hunt in a particular piece of text, students search for Conditionals, participle clauses, passives etc to build grammar awareness.
  • Vocabulary from the context, students match synonyms, practises scanning as well as building their vocabularies.
  • Rewriting some of it into a different register, for example if you have a book with rather formal text it can be fun to get them working in pairs to rewrite it in an informal way.
  • Using the direct speech for students to practice intonation and word and sentence stress, get them to record themselves, practice it, get them to think about changes in meaning depending on where the stress is and to think how it should be said, it is also really good to get students to think about where phrases should end and where they should breathe, for many, this is a real challenge and encouraging them to think about it can really help, especially if you do a little of this often.  Recording again after working at it gives students the opportunity to really see progress and who doesn’t like that?

Many students don’t want to read, so short stories or any form of text can be used for a lot of these activities, but I do think that for many students the satisfaction of reading a story and understanding it, along with the practice that they have put in by reading it can make a real difference to their confidence as well as level.

Just always remember to stress why it will be useful for them and what skills you are practising!

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