Your students can do speaking for exams (even) better

When preparing our students for a speaking part of any exam, we typically provide them with some models, words and phrases, pictures, listening tasks and preparatory reading before moving to a speaking task rather than jumping in at the deep end with the speaking task unprepared for that. We tend to use loads of various techniques like activating schemata, brainstorming, scaffolding, working in pairs and groups and peer correction. Every point here is necessary and each of them makes the way to the following speaking task easier and gives support and background knowledge as well as vocabulary.

The standard rough plan of working on a speaking task looks like that: 

  1. teacher gives the task;
  2. students do the task;
  3. teacher gets feedback from students;
  4. teacher gives feedback to students.

At the last stage mentioned above, our students find out about how successful they are in speaking – we tell them what they have done well and what they need to work on in the future. However, practically every student dreams of full understanding of their own success during the task. The question is how can we, teachers, teach a student to gauge their success while doing the speaking task? How can we teach them to evaluate and analyse themselves? That is what we are going to concentrate on in this article.

So that students understand their performance results, their teacher should give them the right kind of feedback. Here are some principles of effective feedback stated by David Nicol from the University of Glasgow and Debra Macfarlane-Dick from Quality Assurance Agency:

Effective feedback:

  1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards); 
  2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning; 
  3. delivers high-quality information to students about their learning; 
  4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning; 
  5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem; 
  6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance; 
  7. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching. 

The principles in bold seem to be the most crucial ones. They imply that a student should know what a good way to perform the task is, what their position on this way to success is at the moment, how the desired result can be reached through a series of lessons and also it should give food for discussing ways of achieving that success.

Having all these in mind and looking back at our typical model, we can see that in some of our lessons, if not all, we may lack these principles due to shortage of time, for example. We can modify our lessons and incorporate those principles in the following way.

Step 1. Providing a model

A good example of a task performance could be provided by a teacher in the following way:

  • the teacher gives a successful example of doing the task;
  • the teacher gives a less successful example of doing the task;
  • the teacher asks students to compare and choose which model was more successful and why.

A model from a textbook or a video is also possible.

Step 2. Criteria

While deciding which model is more appropriate, create a list of success criteria that your students come up with in a Google doc (if you work online) or on your board. Make a list of things which are better in a successful model answer. Then you could give them the list of criteria from official sources for this exam and compare with their ideas. It is highly likely that these lists will be quite similar, but as your students have come to theirs on their own, they definitely will remember them better. You can also add there some vocabulary, collocations, linking devices and other useful expressions.

Step 3. The task itself

The next step could be giving a speaking task to your students with a time limit. On having performed the task, they would use the success criteria you have come up together to evaluate their answer and analyse it in terms of what could be improved. Afterwards, their performance could be discussed as a whole class.

Step 4. Planning future work

At this point, the students can understand what their place on the way to success is. So it gives you and them that food we have mentioned above – the understanding of how they need to work further and how you can help them with that. Having those criteria and models can give them a path not only to improve their performance in terms of getting rid of their mistakes but also by showing them some vocabulary, grammar or other points they can improve to level their answers up. 

This is a simple lifehack to incorporate in your lessons, which can also work in the same way for preparing for writing tasks. It does not require any time-consuming preparations and is easy to use though can help your students a lot. We hope it will make your exam preparation more effective. To find out more about teaching speaking, take our course.

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