Number one for English language teachers

FCE tips: speaking part 2: describing pictures

Level: Intermediate Type: Teaching notes

Aims to help students compare and contrast different pictures.

Tip 1
In the exam, the examiner will give one of the candidates two pictures. The first thing they will ask the candidate to do is to show the pictures to the other candidate(s). This means that everyone has seen the pictures and it is therefore perfectly acceptable to say 'this picture' and point. More complex language such as 'the top picture' or 'the former/ the latter' is, of course, even better.

Tip 2
The examiner will then give the candidate precise instructions about what they should say about the pictures. The instructions always have two parts, so students should listen very carefully.

Tip 3
If there is anything a student doesn't understand about a question, they should ask the examiner to repeat. If they still don't understand, they should ask again. They should remember that they are being tested on their speaking in this part of the exam, not their listening comprehension. However, one thing they are being scored on is their ability to actually answer the question they are asked.

Tip 4
Asking the examiner to repeat can actually be the perfect opportunity to show off some complex language - e.g. 'I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch the last part', 'If I can just check what you are saying, you'd like me to...', 'I'm not quite sure what (contrast) means', etc.

Tip 5
The examiner almost always asks the students to 'compare and contrast the two pictures'. They will never be asked to simply describe them. Any activities giving oral practice of comparing language (more than, less than, (not) as __________ as, similar to, etc.) and contrasting language (although, whereas, however, etc.) are good practice for this. See lesson plan for examples.

Tip 6
The second part of the question is usually about giving some kind of opinion e.g. 'Compare and contrast the two holidays and say which you would prefer'. Language like 'in my opinion' and 'personally' can be very useful here.

Tip 7
Students should make sure they are talking to the examiner (and the other candidate) rather than to the picture! This can be practised in the classroom by getting students to turn over the picture once they have taken a glance at it, or even getting them to do a task with imaginary pictures.

Tip 8
The examiner will interrupt the student speaking after one minute, even if they are halfway through a sentence. Being interrupted is actually good, as it means they haven't run out of things to say.

Tip 9
As the examiner takes the photos away from the first candidate, they will ask the other candidate a question about those photos. Again, this is probably a question of opinion, e.g. 'Which holiday would most people prefer?’ This only requires a short answer, but is a perfect chance to show they have been listening to what their partner said, with language such as 'As (Juan) said......', or 'I agree entirely with (Lee Yan).'

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