February 25

PET Writing Part 3 – A Story

I recently attended a talk on writing, given by Chris Johnson who’s currently based at St. James in Sevilla. He gave some excellent tips on better preparing learners for writing and I decided to use some ideas from his talk in my B1 lesson today.  Here’s the plan:

As most learners are familiar with Little Red Riding Hood, I used that story as a starting point, as Chris did in his talk, and asked the group to work in pairs and tell each other what they could remember from the story. We then briefly analysed the story using Hoey’s SPRE formula:
Situation – the where and when, setting the scene and introducing the main character
Ending (originally this is Evaluation, but I felt for the purpose of this activity it would be better to use Ending)

We discussed how this formula can be useful when writing texts and compared other stories in which it has been used.

Learners then looked at two sample answers from the PET handbook in which the candidates had written stories with the title A Lucky Escape and linked each SPRE stage to the text.    We discussed how the SPRE formula is a good basis for writing a plan before producing a text and talked about what notes the candidates could have made against each stage to help them construct their texts.

The production stage has been set for homework and learners took away some linking devices to further help them organise their texts.


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March 3

One-Board Games

This term is great for professional development, with something happening every month.  In January, there was the TEFL del Sur  Swap Shop, last month was FECEI‘s annual event in Madrid and now I’m getting ready for TESOL-SPAIN‘s annual conference, which this year is being held in Sevilla.

My theme for this workshop is one-board games, as I’m a huge fan of reusing materials and adapting basic things to suit as many different ages, levels and activities as possible.  So my talk demonstrates 10 activities you can do using this board with any age or level – from VYLs to FCE students (and beyond).  Find out more about the activities here and download some of the sample activities from the Activities for your Classroom page.


February 17

“Getting it right in the FCE Speaking Test” – Cathy Myers

And so to the final post  – “But wait!” I hear you say, “There are four parts in the FCE Speaking exam!”  That’s true, but we ran out of time in the session, so there are only three posts, I’m afraid!


The key point that Cathy made about the third part of the exam is that candidates are too quick to answer the second question which means that they don’t demonstrate the language expected.  Candidates should be using language to put forward an opinion, agree, disagree, etc and they often jump to making a final decision.  However, in this part of the exam, candidates don’t need to reach a final decision in order to pass – but they do need to demonstrate the language expected.

So, it is important when preparing students for this part to encourage them to respond and extend.  A bad example of part 3:

A: I think we should buy him a watch because the one he’s got is really old.

B: No, I disagree.  I think we should buy him a CD of his favourite group.

A: That’s a good idea.  Or we could get him a photo album.

B: I don’t think so.  We could get him…

And so on.  In this part, students need to justify both their ideas and responses, making the conversation sound as natural as possible.


Final thoughts…

Remind students to show as much of what they know as possible!

Encourage them to use a wider variety of language (things could be fabulous, rather than good; or essential, rather than important) – careful with your collocations though!

Make sure students are familiar with the exam (great advice from my boss, Dani Jones) – although you don’t know exactly what language will come up in any part of the exam, you DO know exactly what the students need to do in each part so drill them constantly on the format (How many papers?  What are they? What do you have to do in Paper 3, Part 2?  How many questions are there? etc)  I would also let your students know WHY you’re doing this as it can seem a bit patronising and get a bit annoying!

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February 16

“Getting it right in the FCE Speaking Test” – Cathy Myers

For those of you unfamiliar with the FCE Speaking exam, in the second part each candidate is given two photos to compare and contrast and then the examiner asks the other candidate a related question.


Even though students can be shown two photos on any topic, we can prepare them for this part by helping them with their timing and reminding them each time we practise of what to talk about.  They could compare the location, the situation, the people involved, the activities they’re doing, how they might be feeling.  Candidates are expected to speculate a bit (using could, might, probably) and IF they have time left over, they can talk about their own experience/opinion.  The best thing you can do when preparing students for this part is to be strict on time, just as the examiner will be on the day.  When they’ve talked for a minute, stop them.

Another of Cathy’s tips when preparing students is to give them photos which include vocabulary they are unfamiliar with as paraphrasing is a key skill at FCE level.

Finally, train students to be as concise as possible when talking about the pictures – with only a minute to show what you can say, you don’t want to waste half your time saying, “Well, as we can see in the first picture, picture A, which is at the top of the page…whereas in the second picture, I mean picture B, which is below it at the bottom…” (OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get what I mean!)

February 15

“Getting it right in the FCE Speaking Test” – Cathy Myers

The next three posts are based on a talk I saw last weekend at FECEI.  Cathy Myers is an oral examiner for Cambridge and gave a talk on some typical errors which students make.

This first post is about the first part of the exam (surprisingly!).  One of Cathy’s main points here was that this is the student’s opportunity to make a good first impression and as all candidates are asked the same two questions, you can easily prepare your students.


Where are you from?  What do you like about living there?

Remember here that examiners aren’t interested in hearing a memorised spiel on the elevation and population of your town or city.  However, it’s possible that they are examining fifty other students from the same place that day and so don’t want to hear the same information repeated over and over again.  Get students to think about why THEY like the town – some may like the beach because they go there everyday in summer; others may like the shopping centre because it’s a great place to hang out with friends on Saturdays; another may like the fact that it’s a quiet town and that there aren’t many tourists.

Finally for this question, Cathy mentioned that students often reply by saying “I like that (my town is near the beach)”, which sounds very unnatural.


To be honest, the rest of Part One of the exam we practise with our students every lesson – asking them about their hobbies, what they did at the weekend, their family, etc.  But (and this is one thing which annoys me about the FCE exam), remember the questions can jump randomly from one topic to the next and whilst this is a completely unnatural way of holding a conversation, it’s something we should prepare our students for.  So ask them one question, then something else completely unrelated – keep them on their toes!

And, remind your students that they should show what they know, not who they are and it’s OK to lie!  If they are asked what they did at the weekend, it’s much better to say, “I went shopping with my friends to buy a new T-shirt” than to sit there, racking their brains, trying to remember what they did.

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