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Cambridge exams: 7 speaking practice twists

CAMBRIDGEEXAMS7SPEAKINGPRACTICETWISTSIn this post, I’m sharing 7 ideas about making Cambridge exams speaking practice more fun and engaging for the students. These ideas work best with learners preparing for Cambridge First and Advanced exams.

All of these speaking practice twists concern Part 2 (individual log turn based on visual prompts)  and Part 3 (two-way conversation between candidates based on a question and visual prompts) of  Cambridge speaking exams. For some activities, you will need exam materials (visuals). I’ve taken mine from Cambridge English Advanced: Practice Tests Plus 2 by Nick Kenny and Jackie Newbrook (Pearson).

Adding various twists to familiar speaking exercises is supposed to break the routine students often fall into while going through countless exam preparation sessions and spice up the traditional exam speaking practice. I’ve tried these ideas mostly with my CAE students, who have already taken their FCE exam and felt extremely bored with speaking activities aimed at improving their exam performance. In 1, 2, and 3, click on the section title to see an example of exam materials.

1. Questions: Missing words

What?

Make copies of speaking materials for Part 2 but erase some keywords from the two questions that accompany each set of visuals. Distribute new worksheets among students and ask them to fill in the gaps with the most appropriate words. Then, students swap their worksheets and proceed with doing the activity in pairs. At the end, reveal the original questions.

Why?

If it’s not your students’ first time practicing for the Part 2 of the exam, they have already seen all kinds of quite predictable exam visuals. Putting your students in charge of preparing exam materials and encouraging them to come up with something original or unusual, makes them more enthusiastic and interested in the activity. The unexpected topic might also prompt them to use or learn new and unexpected vocabulary.

2. Photographs: Visual gaps

What?

Make copies of speaking materials for Part 2 but erase some elements from each photograph, making it more obscure. You might tape over the pictures with masking tape / white paper. Leave the questions that go with the visuals intact. Distribute copies to your students and ask them to proceed with the task: comparing and contrasting the photos and answering the questions.

Why?

An incomplete photo is a fun element of surprise in an otherwise too familiar activity. More creative students might come up with some hilarious ideas while these less imaginative will still manage to complete the task as the questions serve as solid guidelines. This activity is very helpful with making students revise different ways of speculating about the photographs!

3. The graph: Missing words

What?

Make copies of materials for Part 3 but erase some keywords from the graph. Students fill in the gaps with the most appropriate words, swap their worksheets and continue with the new task.

Why?

Same reasons as in #1 apply here: this task engages students in the process of creating it, reinventing the content, and it possibly enables them to produce more unexpected language. On top of that, students simply have fun coming up with new ideas for the graphs and playing with the exam format.

4. Speaking interrupted

What?

This works best with Part 2 of the speaking exam. Distribute one set of exam photos per student. Students sit in a circle. One person starts doing the task as they normally would. You stop them at any given point and signal to the person sitting next to the first speaker to pick up where the other had left off. Stop each student and appoint the next speaker randomly. Works best with smaller groups.

Why?

Students don’t usually pay attention to each other as everybody is focused on their own performance. This fast-paced activity keeps students on their toes, forces them to listen to each other and produce coherent utterances in the same vein with what their predecessors had said.

5. Relay race

What?

Distribute one copy of speaking Part 3 to your students. Students work in groups of 4 or 5. Each group chooses their own baton: a pen, a ball, a rubber, etc. Appoint one student to start the discussion in Part 3. The speaker chooses the moment to give the baton to any given member of the group for them to continue speaking. The most obvious moment would be after asking the other member of the group for their opinion but don’t impose it as a rule. The only rule is for students NOT to monopolize the speaking time and try to control it themselves (the group should be vigilant as well).

Why?

A conversation with one speaking partner is often too boring and static. This makes the activity more dynamic, helps with sharing the speaking time, and keeps students alert, awaiting their turn which might come any minute.

6. Cue cards: linking devices

This activity is suitable for both Part 2 and 3. Prepare a list of linking devices you’d like your students to use in the task / ask them to compile a list themselves. Each word goes on a separate piece of paper, written in big, block letters.

What?

Pairs of students take turns performing the task, with other students listening. You keep the stack of the linking devices cue cards and produce one at a time, prompting the speaking students to use the words they see. If you have a bigger group, you might ask another student to help and  show the cue cards to another pair of speakers.  The person showing cue cards holds them up as long as the person who is supposed to use the word given does it correctly.

Why?

Students often forget what they were taught in terms of making their utterances coherent and communicative. The cue cards idea forces them to correctly employ  the langue they often neglect and promotes self-correction (the cue card won’t go away until the word is used correctly!). Engaging other students in the role of the cue cards holders encourages peer-correction as well.

7. Cue cards: relevant vocabulary

This activity works the same as #6. The only difference: before students start the task, they assemble a list of relevant vocabulary and put it on separate cue cards.

 

I have recently seen this great idea from Mike Astbury and, even though he has used it with PET students, I can easily see it in FCE or CAE classes.

If you teach FCE and CAE students and would like to share your methods of making their speaking practice more engaging, please leave a comment!

 

 

5 Comments

  1. I tried these as soon as the post came out. I combined #3 and #6. So first Ss (a strong CAE group) had to complete diagrams for another pair. Inerestingly, this stage generated a lot of discussion, much more in fact than when they did the task. Next I asked them to discuss the diagrams without and with the cue cards. The whole activity took 60 mins. When I asked them for fb, the Ss said they liked being pushed into using the expressions on the cards, but it had also led them off topic, i.e. the cards could not always be naturally inserted in speech. But they asked we do the activities again:-) Thanks for the ideas!

    • Thanks for letting me know, Kamila! I think balancing the content and the language might be the biggest challenge for a lot of sts (answering the questions vs. staying coherent) and I’v met with similar reactions (“It’s hard to use these linking words and stay on topic!”). I’m glad your students enjoyed the class, though!

  2. Hi Gosia, oh absolutely! By no means was this a criticism of the activity. I simply wanted to let you know how it actually went for everyone instead of my usual “awesome, do you mind if I steal this?” 🙂 BTW, your site’s become my go-to resource whenever I seek inspiration. Thanks so much. Good night! K.

    • That’s exactly the feedback I’m hoping for: real-life stories 🙂 So thanks a lot for that! I’m always curious how these ideas work out for other teachers and classes and it’s amazing to know whenever they do. Take care and keep coming back 🙂

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