In this article, Adrian Tennant takes a look at some of the exams materials available on onestopenglish outside of the main 'Exams' section and suggests how they could be used in your teaching.
As I write this, we have the daughter of a friend staying with us. Having studied English at school for eight years, she now finds herself in the position of needing English for her future career. Her knowledge of grammar is excellent, but it simply isn't matched in areas such as vocabulary, reading, listening and speaking. Now, the exams she will have to take require her to be accurate and have a good command of grammar, but they also go much further in testing her understanding of the language. Unfortunately, this is going to be quite a challenge for her.
I feel that this is probably a situation faced by many learners and that in order to prepare students for exams, and hopefully for the situations they will encounter in their future lives, they need to be exposed to as much language as possible. In this article, I will take a look at some of the materials available for elementary to intermediate level students and suggest how they could be used to help learners improve their chances in exams.
Many students enjoy watching or listening to soap-opera-style programmes in their own language, so why not in English? A well-designed soap opera can include many examples of the kinds of interaction that take place in speaking exams such as personal information, talking about likes and dislikes, talking about the weather and so on. For low-level students, The Road Less Travelled is the perfect way to help them with their listening skills as well as looking at particular language areas that might arise.
The Live from ... series offers lots of examples of authentic listening that will help students improve their overall listening skills. Again, quite a few of these lessons are suitable for elementary and pre-intermediate students and will not only increase the students’ confidence when they discover that they can understand what they are listening to, but will also be fun.
Combining listening and reading
It is also important for students to read as much as possible. Graded readers are a good way to get students interested. On onestopenglish there is a good selection of readers that have been turned into audio plays, giving the students the option to read or listen to the story and try a number of exercises connected to each chapter of the book.
When students say they don't like reading, they often mean that they haven't found a book they are interested in, or the books they have tried have been far too difficult for them to cope with. Northanger Abbey and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are a couple of podcast readers that might just be what your elementary or pre-intermediate students are looking for.
Reading is obviously an important skill for exam students, not just because many exams contain a reading section, but also because texts are full of vocabulary and a rich source of grammar. Texts that weren’t specifically written with teaching in mind provide realistic examples of language in context. A good place to start on onestopenglish is the News Lessons section, which uses articles from the Guardian newspaper. Not only is a wide variety of topics covered, but the weekly lessons come in three levels – pre-intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced – and there is a monthly elementary-level lesson.
A free news lesson is published every month while there is a new lesson available for subscribers every week so you will always have new topics to choose from. As they are updated regularly, the news lessons are always relevant and of interest to your students.
An area that almost all students need to develop if they are planning on taking an exam is vocabulary. I mentioned that reading is an important part of this, but, as students need to try and study as much vocabulary as possible; using dedicated vocabulary worksheets and lessons is also a good idea. The theme-based lessons in the vocabulary section are an excellent resource for this. Lessons are clearly marked with the level they are appropriate for and there are quite a few designed for lower-level learners. Clothes, shopping and TV are just a few of the excellent lessons I have used in the past.
Nowadays, many exams have a speaking component. Often, these speaking parts revolve around short discussions or questions on familiar topics such as hobbies, family and school or work. This is one reason why the vocabulary lessons mentioned in the previous paragraph are so useful. However, it's no use learning vocabulary unless students actually try to use it.
In the Speaking skills area, there are lots of useful ideas that you might want to try out with your classes. For example, if you'd like to get your elementary students used to speaking exams, why not try a lesson that focuses on asking and answering simple questions or get them talking about jobs. One of the discussion ideas in Lesson Share extras is one minute, any topic (any time)– a fantastic idea for extended speaking to help develop your students’ abilities.
Another area that students often need extended practice with is writing. In many exams, students are expected to write different types of letters as well as longer essays. There is no need to only take writing tasks from exam papers, especially as in most cases students need some support before they start writing.
Rather than giving your students a task – i.e. You bought a new TV at a shop last week. You went home and found it didn't work. Write a letter of complaint to the store manager. You letter should be 120–150 words– it is better to lead them through a series of tasks that shows them how to write a letter.
In the Skills section, there is a lesson on writing a letter of complaint, which is suitable for intermediate students, and in the Lesson Share section, there is a whole series of worksheets dedicated to formal letter writing.
As in exams students are often marked not only on accuracy, but also on the range of vocabulary they use, another helpful idea taken from the Lesson Share section is one on extending the use of adjectives.
There are a lot of teaching tips and support for teachers who are teaching exam classes. For example, there's a useful article on assessing speaking in the Skills section. In the Exams section you will also find a complete section called Assessment Matters packed full of useful tips and ideas.
So, as you can see, there is an abundance of material that you can use for teaching exam classes. Just sticking to the section that is labelled 'Exams' is fine, but to make the most of onestopenglish you need to hunt around a bit and remember, new resources are constantly being added to every section.
Assessment matters: Designing your own tests
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Assessment matters: Exams extra (elementary to intermediate)