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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July 2

Key phrases for speaking exams

Well, this has probably come a little late as it seems the main bulk of exams are finished now, but no doubt there’ll be some schools (including ours) doing B1 and B2 preparation courses over the summer.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Cambridge PET and First Certificate exams, in each of the speaking parts there is an interactive task during which candidates must look at a series of photos and discuss with a partner the best option.  The topic could be a present for a friend, methods of travelling around during a gap year, after-school activities on offer – a variety of topics, but the key language used will be much the same.  Phrases like:

That’s a great idea, because…

I disagree, because…

That’s true, but…

What do you think?

To give my students some extra practice and encourage/remind them to use all these interactive tools, I made a “photo frame” to put on top of the pictures so that the task is surrounded by useful phrases.

May 11


TEFL del Sur met again on Saturday and so I picked up some great ideas to spice up this last term.  One of them, from Ray, was based on the TV show Wipeout which was popular in the UK when I was younger.  You have a table of sixteen words, four of which are “incorrect”.  In Ray’s version which we played on Saturday, we had to pick out which phrases weren’t “Wiganese” – which was a tough challenge for most of us!

I played the game last night with my FCE class, practising word formation as in the Use of English paper, part 3.  Students are in teams and have to choose the correct words; once they find one they can choose to either play or pass to the next team.  Teams win 10 points per word and can play until they pick an incorrect word, at which point they lose everything they’ve won until then.  I was a bit worried that the words I’d given my students would be too easy, but there were a few which they were unsure about!

WipeoutYou could also use it to practise lexical groups such as phrasal verbs, though it’s sometimes hard to come up with a combination of verb and particle which isn’t a phrasal verb!  If you want to play a similar game on an interactive whiteboard, try using Triptico‘s Find Ten game.

April 8

Running Race for PETs

This post is inspired by a request from Kirsten about what to do in a PET tutorial this afternoon. I did this activity with my PET class the other day and it went down a treat.

Take a copy of the Reading paper, part 2 (Matching).  Cut up the eight texts and stick them around the room.  Copy one set of questions for each pair of students and colour-code each (so you know which pair each set of questions belongs to), then cut them into strips.  Explain to Student A that you are going to give him a question which he must read to his partner, then Student B must find the correct text which matches the question.  Student B tells A the answer, which he writes next to the question and Student B brings it to the teacher. If the answer is correct, you give them the next question and they swap roles; if it is incorrect, they must continue looking for the correct answer.

It will also work with FCE Reading, part 3.  A competitive activity which encourages students to read the texts carefully for specific details.

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March 1

Your question for 100€ is…

…how can you create fun “money-making” quizzes for your students?

The answer is by using QuizBreak!, a programme from Michigan State University which allows you to create Jeopardy-style games.  Huge thanks to Steve for the original link to his Irregular Verb game, which I used with a one-to-one student the other day – if he got the question right, he won the money and if he didn’t, I won it (in the end he beat me!).

I’ve created one to play with my FCE group to do a bit of practice of Paper 3 (Use of English).  The beauty of QuizBreak! is that you can have more or less columns depending on how many categories you want – I’ve stuck with 5, to have a column for each of the four parts and one for general “Paper 3” knowledge.  You can also add more teams, or get students to give their team a name.

Give it a go: any age, any level, any vocab or grammar point you like!