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!

Video lesson – catch it if you can – connected speech

Last year I attended a really good CPD session given by a colleague on using video clips in the classroom, I’ve never been a fan of using whole films in class, as I have always seen it as a cop out, but the focus on using short clips or parts of films really struck a chord with me and so I started thinking about how I could use them not just to stimulate interest in a topic or for comprehension questions but how it could be used for pronunciation practice.  So, this lesson focuses on connected speech and listening skills using video. It uses a clip from Catch me if you can, which you may have been able to guess from the title.

  • Time: 30-60mins
  • Level: High Int +
  • Aim: To raise awareness of how spoken English sounds
  • Sub aim: To highlight stressed and unstressed words

This mini lesson can work in a couple of contexts:

  • as a follow on to indirect questions practice
  • as an extension from FCE Result p58-59 (reading on cons and tricks)

Materials:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiXTwfipyqk
  2. Worksheet

Procedure:

1. Listening: Students watch and listen to get a general idea of what is happening.  Some of the students have probably seen the film and they can help those who haven’t, explaining the context and the situation.

2, Vocab building (optional): Encourage students to think about how they would describe the two characters and their behaviour. Board interesting vocab and push students to use more interesting words to describe them, e.g. calm, stressed, hesitant, looks annoyed.

3. Listening (Test): Tell students they are going to watch a very small clip of the film and you want them to copy down the words (dictation/dictagloss if they are familiar with the terms).

Play the recording from 43 seconds where Leo says: “Do you mind taking that gun out of my face please, really, it makes me nervous.” When you have played it once, ask them to compare together, then you can play it again to help them if you want, or use the worksheet with the option to cut the words up to reconstruct the sentence if you want to scaffold the task a little.

(Teach) Students may have had problems hearing the “do you mind” so focus on this and explain the way it is pronounced and drill /ʤə mɪnd/ or /ʤuː mɪnd/ whichever you yourself normally use, personally I am the former and think that is what is on the recording.

(Test) Play students a different clip of the film at 1.35 – 1.58 and ask them to listen for the two polite questions that are used in the clip you show.  Ask them to check with partners and then listen again if necessary.  Hopefully this time they were able to pick up the question forms, so this time highlight what happens to ‘mind if I’ – /maɪnɪfaɪ/ and drill this.

4. Practice: 1.Give the students the block of text and ask them to record themselves saying it.  Then ask them to highlight which words are stressed, ask them to predict and then play it to check and you can either use the board to show them or use the answers provided here. Ask them to think about what happens to words like ‘and’, ‘a’ – if they know the schwa they should be able to see this, if not, here is a good moment to introduce it.

Also ask them to focus on what happens to groups of words like ‘look at’, ‘would have been’ and ‘got to’.  Show them the clip again and ask them to identify the sounds and how they join together and which sounds are used. See below.

look at – /lʊkət/, would have been – /wʊdəbɪn/, got to – /gɒtə/ 2. Now ask them to say the text in pairs using the correct stress and also trying to join the words together where they are in the recording.

3. Ask the students to think about the adjectives they used earlier and think about how this might influence the way they speak. Ask the students to try to do the text again, taking both the stress and the emotions into account.

4. Ask them to stand up and do it, so that they can really get into it.

5. Ask them to do it without the script, tell them to adlib if they forget parts 6. Ask them to sit down and to record it again.

5. Reflection: Ask the students to listen to both recordings and in pairs discuss how they differ.  Ask them which was better and why.  Also explain that knowing the pronunciation is really useful for their listening, as if they don’t know what to hear, how will they hear it?

Many of the ideas for this lesson stem from sessions given by Gillian Lazar and Martin Parrott, so thanks to them!