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Hi!

Hi to everyone out there!

This is my site where I discuss, share ideas and write about English as a Foreign Language.

At the moment, the menu on the right of the page links to help for students with general English and exam English, as well as teaching resources and tips for teachers. I add things fairly regularly – at least once or twice a week. Take a look and feel free to comment, download, peruse and enjoy!

I hope to get to know people, students or teachers and hear about teaching and learning experiences from as many people as possible.

Above all, I hope you enjoy the site!

SimonSimon Richardson

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Preparing for an EFL Interview

It’s nearly the end of an incredibly busy summer. Summer schools are a number of things – enjoyable, full of energy, manic, full-throttle, but above all, extremely hard work. In peak week this year, I was overseeing a summer school of 9 classes and 130 students in conjunction with an adult school of 17 classes and 208 students across three buildings. So, 26 teachers made it through the interview stage to join the team and me for up to 7 weeks of mayhem. Now it’s fair to say that, with such a large organisation, staffing is difficult and certain concessions have to be made simply to ensure that we have enough staff. Employing a teacher on a short-term contract for a summer school is far less about selecting the technical cream of the crop, so to speak, than it is about making sure that said teacher is likely to be able to cope with the craziness and go in to class every day, smiling and enthusiastic. Because of this, I’ll start generically and then divide parts of this post in to two sections: Summer school and… let’s call it “Normal” school, because summer school is many things, but it certainly isn’t normal! I’m not going to name any names or even years – in nearly three years as a Director of Studies, I’ve worked out that I’ve employed over 100 teachers, conducted over 200 interviews, and unfortunately sacked three people. Suffice to say, I’ve seen some things in applications and interviews. Not all were good…

Applications

Application forms are a real pain. Mostly, they require you to copy information from your CV in a slightly different way. They are a complete waste of time, but seem to be a staple HR requirement. What they do do though is weed out people who are just clicking around and applying for every job under the sun. The assumption is that if you spent an hour on the application form, then you are genuinely interested. This is completely negated if you do a half-arsed job! Fill it in!

CVs

I have witnessed CVs get worse and worse. I’m not sure if the UK secondary education has stopped providing guidance or if the guidance they are providing is just simply bad, but writing a sensible CV is so easy!

  • No photos unless specifically requested. They encourage negative judgement. If you are asked for a photo, make sure you are dressed sensibly – work clothes, with a neutral background, perhaps some study materials visible. Certainly not like one CV I received – pint in hand!
  • You could start with a few sentences that sum you up, but I advise against it – it almost always sounds cheesy and false. Certainly don’t do what one candidate did, and annotate your “key skills” with stickmen!
  • Start with personal details – Name, address, phone number, email address, LinkedIn. NOT Facebook, Snapchat or Tinder (yes, really!) Also, make sure your email address isn’t absurd and / or childish.
  • Education and Qualifications is the next section – A-levels and above only, most recent first! Nobody cares about your class exams from year 8!
  • Time for the work experience section – dates (from / to), company name and a bullet-pointed list of key responsibilities. No waffle, no long paragraphs and no meaningless jargon. Here’s an example (this wouldn’t be in a table on your CV – it’s just so you can see it clearly here:
Date – Date, Teacher of English, Company Name
·         Teaching General English (A1-C1) and IELTS classes to mono- and multi-lingual classes of 8-15 students
·         Designing assessment materials for General English
·         Invigilating IELTS mock exams
·         Using (name of system) online student maintenance system
·         Mentoring new starters
·         Attended CPD sessions on Task-Based Learning, Flipped Classrooms and CLIL

 

That’s it! Turning up every day, planning your lessons and wearing a shirt are NOT key responsibilities!

  • Other skills – Microsoft Office, playing instruments, typing speed, sports etc. Keep these sensible and short!
  • “References available on request” – make sure you have contacted these referees and they are willing to provide you with references. You won’t be able to start at a new job until references have been received. Remember, one must be your current employer. Try and choose referees in the field, and your father is not a referee!

Finally, remember that this is a job for an English teacher. If your CV contains typos or spelling mistakes, it will go in the bin. Check your work. Also, keep it to two pages – 2.5 at most. I once received an 8-page CV. It went straight in the bin.

The Interview

You’ve made it to interview. You’ve either got a good CV / application, or the school in question is utterly desperate because it forecasted for 100 fewer students than are turning up in three weeks’ time! Either way, you must treat an interview with respect and do some proper preparation even if this job is only for the summer.

Interview – Summer Schools

A large part of a summer school interview is going to be based around pastoral care / supervision of under-18s. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Young learners need supervising inside the classroom and out. Supervision ratios are typically 1 adult to 15 students under the age of 16
  • There are certain topics you will have to avoid in class – think about this
  • Groups of young learners will usually have afternoon activities – sports, projects, trips. Showing interest in getting involved will win you brownie points
  • Young learner classes are different from adult classes. Juniors are there temporarily, and for a fun holiday. You will need to use lots of games with shorter, more interactive / physical activities and minimal grammar input. Have examples of these
  • Young learners need discipline – be prepared to answer questions about how to deal with bad behaviour. Generally, a class contract is a good thing to establish, with clear boundaries and rules in place BUT never shout at them!
  • You may be asked about professional boundaries. Think about the importance of maintaining the role of a teacher, and having a policy of not being alone with individual students, especially if you are a male teacher
  • Think about the challenges associated with teaching students of different ages. You might have classes with 13 and 16 year-olds together.

Interview – “Normal” schools

The feel of a year-round school is different, as a proportion of the students will be studying for a longer period of time. Some may be sponsored and have progression requirements imposed upon them. As a result of this, they may be stressed. There will be other students who are only coming for short periods of time, and the needs of both these sets of students will need to be carefully managed and monitored inside the classroom.

  • What’s your approach to teaching? You can talk about the communicative classroom, task-based learning, blended learning… have a think and do some research
  • Example lesson structures – you may be asked to bring a lesson plan or you may be asked on the spot to go through stages of a lesson. This kind of question is designed to see that you know how to follow a structure correctly. If it’s a reading lesson, have you gone through prediction / gist / detail stages? Does your lesson finish with a communicative activity? If it’s a systems lesson, have you got a controlled practice stage?
  • If you’re asked to come prepared to do some demo language focus work, PREPARE IT! This summer, I asked for teachers to come prepared to go through Meaning, Pron and Form of 5 items of vocab of their choice on the whiteboard. Some of it was almost embarrassingly bad, or worse, unprepared. If you can’t do the most basic, staple EFL task in an interview, how do you expect a Director of Studies to employ you?! If you spell “messy” with one “s”, you are asking for trouble (again, yes, really!)
  • You will be asked a grammar and / or vocab knowledge question! This shouldn’t come as a surprise! Do some revision! The most common grammar questions centre around the differences between one thing and another, e.g. present perfect and past simple.
  • Don’t waffle – your answers should be concise. On the other hand, one-word answers don’t help an interviewer at all.
  • Look at the school website. All of them tell you what they teach. Don’t ask at the end “So, what classes do you offer?” Instead say “I’ve seen on the website that you offer X… how do you….?” – this makes it obvious that you have done some preparation.
  • Have some intelligent questions ready for the end – don’t ask about salary!

 

Finally, and this applies to both schools, come dressed smartly, shake hands, be polite, DON’T call the interview “mate” and DON’T turn up to the interview late or pissed! Again… yes, really!

 

Simon

 

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Product Writing – A Report (Useful for student feedback!)

Who is this post for?

  • Students looking at writing skills – especially writing a report for FCE / CAE
  • Teachers looking at lesson structures
  • Teachers / Managers looking at effective ways to get honest feedback

Teachers

The thing I love the most about a product writing lesson is that it’s surprisingly multi-level. Because you structure the class around a model text and language from that model, (as long as you grade the model and the target language accurately) you can use this kind of lesson with classes from A1-C2. Students have the support they need because they can see a model, and when they finally produce their own work, they can rely on this model to different degrees depending on confidence and competence. Obviously, student output will vary wildly, but once you are at the written output stage of a product writing class, the pressure is off both the teacher and the student in that the traditional “teaching” part of the class is over, as is the stage at which students openly exhibit what they do and don’t know in front of the whole class.

Sample lesson / structure

Have a look at the material here (from New English File Advanced) Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

  1. Start students off with a discussion in small groups about the positives / negatives of their school, or things they would like to see in their perfect school. You could produce a form for them to make notes in.
  2. Get group feedback
  3. Students read the report on P.80 – ask some comprehension questions and get feedback on the structure / language used (How is it paragraphed? Is the language formal or informal?)
  4. Start looking at the controlled practice activities – P. 80 b, P. 81 c / d. Remember to get some of this language on the board – look sideways at the sentences (What comes after “advisable to” / “strongly recommend”?) – and go through meaning / form / pronunciation.
  5. Organisation stage – students look at how they will structure their report (ordering) – they can do this in a group
  6. Individual writing stage – the output stage. They’re trying to write their own report about the school, using some of the target language.

They can finish this for homework, and then you can either use some of their mistakes for another lesson, or provide feedback in a different way.

Adaptation

You could use this lesson with any level. I would even say that you wouldn’t need to adapt the model text for Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate students; grade the task, not the text. So, perhaps you would only focus on exercises c and d with an Int class (P.80 ex. b might be a bit tricky). For Elem / Pre-Int, you would need to simplify the text a bit, and perhaps your language focus would focus on something like “Ways to give opinions” (I believe / In my opinion / I think) or “Reporting using past simple”. You’d then need to prepare controlled practice activities around the model text, but this wouldn’t be too time-consuming, as a lot of the adaptation would be exactly that: adapting rather than rewriting.

Teachers / Managers

I watched a fairly inexperienced teacher do a great job with this product lesson from New English File the other week – they used P.80 and then c / d from P.81, missing out the brainstorm etc. stages after that, because they would be more applicable to a process writing task instead (see more on product /  process writing structures here http://wp.me/p2RmnE-sj ). The thing that makes this lesson interesting for students, teachers and managers, is that the output stage gives students a chance to reflect privately on what they believe the strengths / weaknesses of their school are. This is perhaps more revealing than focus groups, as students are often reluctant to voice their issues directly to a manager, or in front of other students. The timing of this class supported this theory; we had a focus group the week before and much of what was raised on the written reports from this lesson hadn’t been mentioned! I’ve since arranged for all classes to do this lesson at some point this term, so that we can get some really good feedback to work from.

Students

Have a look at the material in this file. Here are a few things to consider if you’re preparing for Cambridge Exams.

  1. The structure is based on a series of titles
  2. The introduction clearly states the aim of the report
  3. The conclusion is very generalised
  4. There are a lot of examples of the passive being used, as well as language for generalising – eg. “It is generally thought…”
  5. Precision is an important part of the test. Why say “making classes smaller” when you could say “reducing class size”? The words do  / make / get are often used because a student doesn’t know the exact verb that a native would use. When you start to write one of these verbs, think: is there a better word I could use?

Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

As always, if you want to send your attempts to me, I’d be happy to receive them! 🙂

 

Simon

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A look at writing lesson structures

It can be difficult to adjust your mindset from systems to skills in the language classroom. “Traditional” General English and its course books revolve around grammar and vocabulary over skills teaching. Not only this, but the CELTA and other pre-service training programmes provide the opportunity for trainees to run through systems lessons exclusively, meaning that skills teaching is an almost completely un-encountered mystery until a teacher gets extra training, or decides to take on a higher-level qualification. Therefore, when you’re presented with a skills-only class, like an elective or an exam class, it can be difficult to know what to do differently. What I’ve found in my experience, is that this results in teachers doing the dreaded AAA (activity, activity, activity…) lesson structure!

What I’ve done here is outline a few different structures for a writing skills class. This could be IELTS, general English or ESP. The four structures are product, process, process genre (kind of a mixture of the first two) and then a task-based learning lesson structure. Obviously, the first three are specifically for writing classes, but TBL can be used for any skills class. I’ve also put a couple of benefits / drawbacks at the end of each structure. In the next couple of days, I’ll be posting a lesson plan for a product writing, and I’ll follow suit with the others over the coming month. As always, feel free to comment on or query anything.

Here’s the link to the word document:

Writing Lesson Structures

 

Simon

 

 

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Teaching Pronunciation in the Classroom

I’ve attached the powerpoint slides of a CPD I delivered at school this week. I’ll say a few brief things about it.

Firstly, I think it’s a real shame that there is this fear of dealing with pronunciation in depth in the classroom. In my experience, students respond really well. It increases confidence, builds bonds and really develops not just the ability to discriminate between sounds and improve production, but the ability to listen more accurately; the area that I think is most improved upon when we teach pronunciation.

You may find a few terms / suggestions in these slides that you aren’t familiar with. As always, message me or add a comment if you aren’t sure and would like to use some of these ideas in class / deliver this as a CPD in your own school. I hope you find it valuable in some way.

Teaching Pronunciation

Simon

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 2)

Every year several languages die out. Some people think that this is not important because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

With globalisation comes an almost inevitable joining together of cultures, experiences and languages. One of the consequences of this is that a great many lesser-spoken languages are dying, as they are no longer required in the context of the modern world. This could be either be seen as a positive or a negative, depending on whether a business or a cultural view is taken.

From a business perspective, moving towards a singular international language is not only sensible, but has in fact already begun. International trade and diplomatic relations are just two key areas that are made easier without a language barrier, and English has already positioned itself as the world’s leading language in these areas. The potential for misunderstanding and misrepresentation is dramatically lowered, and this extends to the public in general, with holidays and wider social communication made all the more possible by a singular, shared language.

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language. To lose one’s national tongue could be seen as losing one’s identity. If this happens, it could cause no small amount of resentment, in particular towards nations which speak the chosen international language as their first. This could actually lead to diplomatic issues rather than solutions, which is precisely what globalisation is seeking to reduce.

In conclusion, while I am entirely in favour or closer diplomatic relations between countries, I strongly believe that it is extremely important that traditional values and cultures are upheld. Seeing as I am convinced that language and culture are inseparable, I disagree with the idea that life would be better with fewer languages in the world.

(269 words)

A few points:

  1. You don’t need to start with “nowadays” or something that means the same thing!
  2. I don’t think you should put your opinion in the introduction, unless you know you won’t finish in time. Be neutral, acknowledging both sides to the argument, in the introduction, and then present your view in the conclusion.
  3. Remember, if you are running out of time, you must write a conclusion. A good thing to do is to make your second body paragraph in to a list of bullet points, like this:

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language.

  • Lose language = lose identity
  • Resentment towards some nations
  • Lead to diplomatic issues

Now, write the conclusion and spend some time on it!

You will lose fewer marks for doing this than you will for writing complete body paragraphs without a conclusion!

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 1)

Test 4 Task 1

The line graph outlines energy consumption in the USA from 1980 to the present day, with further projections up until 2030. Use is recorded in quadrillion units and is divided in to six categories, almost all of which display a general increase over time.

For the entirety of the period covered, petrol and oil usage is the highest. In 1980, 35 quadrillion units were used, and this dipped a little initially before rising steadily to a projected peak of 50 quadrillion units by 2030. This rate of increase is matched by that of coal, whose usage climbs from around 16 quadrillion units to just over 30 quadrillion units over the same period of time. This means that, by 2030, it is expected to be the second-most used fuel, whereas in 1980 natural gas usage was higher, at 20 quadrillion units. However, usage of this fuel is expected to remain at 25 quadrillion units from 2015 until 2030.

At the other end of the spectrum, nuclear fuel and solar / wind fuel usage is not predicted to change drastically, with increases from 3 to 8 and 3 to 6 quadrillion units respectively. In slight contrast, usage of hydropower, which was also 3 quadrillion units in 1980, dropped very slightly to approximately 2.5 quadrillion units in 2011, and it is not expected that this level of usage will change in the future.

(205 words)

A few points.

  1. In the introduction, explain what the X and Y axes display – time and quadrillion units.
  2. If there are any trends that are the same, make reference to that – coal / petrol and oil increase at a very similar rate.
  3. Similarly, highlight contrasts. Coal and Natural Gas change places between 1980 and 2030.
  4. Decide how to group your information. Here, I’ve decided to group three high and three low together in paragraphs.
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100 up!

It’s taken a little longer than I thought it would – just under 3 years in fact – but I’ve finally reached 100 posts. I started off not really knowing what would end up on my site, whether it would be a blog, a resource site for teachers, a site for students, an academic site or nothing in particular. I think it’s ended up as a more student-centred site, with a focus on IELTS – 40% of my posts are about IELTS or are model answers. Perhaps this reflects the situation in English language learning in the UK, and student needs. Interestingly, about 40% of students in my current school are IELTS-focussed students, so perhaps I’m subconsciously responding to the needs of my own students – not a bad thing.

I hope I will continue to post more General English / Teacher Training / General Blog posts, because they bring me (at least) a lot of enjoyment. But I fully expect the IELTS section of the site to continue to grow and grow. I also hope that in the next 100 posts I can write a bit more of what my readers want – I’m happy to listen to and write about what my students, ex-students and peers would find useful. As always, you can contact me by clicking the tab at the top of the page, or just by commenting on this or any other thread.

Anyway, I’m really proud that I have kept going and am now averaging well over 1000 views a month. Thank you to everyone for reading, commenting, following, liking and sharing. Long may it continue! 🙂

Simon

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 3, Task 1)

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 2, Task 2)

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Using the future in Writing Task 1

This is a very short tip on using the future in IELTS Writing Task 1. Let’s look at an example chart.

Line Graph Future

This is a typical example of a graph that starts in the past, but ends in the future. This is a bit more tricky than a graph in which all the information is in the past, because you need to change your grammar depending on the section. However, it’s a good opportunity to increase your mark for Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Here’s what we can add in:

Introduction

So, we start with our typical “The graph shows…” section. Something like:

The graph shows financial data, separated in to revenue, charges, borrowings and grants and subsidies, as a monetary figure in millions of dollars. 

So, we have explained the Y axis. we now need to explain the X axis, specifically, that it starts in the past and finishes in the future.

This information runs from 2012 to the present day, and includes a projection for 2016 to 2022.

The word “projection” is a financial word meaning “prediction”. We could also use “estimation”.

Body

So, we could separate our paragraphs in to 1) Past until now and 2) Now in to the future. That would help us divide up the grammar to keep it simple – past in body paragraph 1 and future in body paragraph 2. What are our choices?

  1. will

We can use “will” + infinitive as a simple option. Here’s an example:

From 2016 until 2022, the rates revenue figure will consistently increase from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million.

Fine, but a bit simple, so we can’t use it for the whole paragraph.

2. Is + past participle + to + infinitive

There are a few different participles we could use: estimated, predicted, expected, projected. Example:

After 2015, the rates revenue figure is expected to continue its growth, from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million at the end of the period.

Very nice because it’s simple, you can use the same structure but just change the past participle each time, and it includes a passive.

3. Future perfect (will + have + past participle)

Possibly the highest level way to express the future in IELTS. We need to look at the very end of the graph, so that we imagine that the increase / decrease has already happened. This is exactly what we do for present / past perfect as well. We can do this by using “by”. Look at the example:

The rates revenue figure started increasing in 2014, and, by 2022, it will have reached a peak of just under 2500 million.

An excellent piece of grammar to include – just remember to use “by + end of graph / end of increase or decrease” and then talk about the change that will have happened at that point in the future.

 

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me!

 

Simon

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Prepositions in IELTS Task 1 Writing

OK, let’s take a look at a few prepositions, and a really easy way to remember how to use them.

  1. to / from

In task 1, you will use “to” if you are talking about change. So, if something goes up or down, we use “to”. Look at the example:

The number of people rose to 800,000 in 2011.

So, we use “to” for changes, and we use it to describe the second number – the number at the end of the increase / decrease.

We also use “to” with “from” – like from 400,000 to 800,000 – again, we are talking about the end number. If we want to talk about the start number, we use “from”.

2. by

We use “by” similarly to “to”, so when we talk about change. This time, however, we are thinking about the difference between point A and point B. Here’s another example:

Number of people, 2001 = 55

Number of people, 2005 = 60

The number of people rose by 5 from 2001 to 2005.

So, we also use “by” for changes as well, but to talk about difference.

3. at

We use “at” to talk about numbers that haven’t changed over time. Look at this example:

The number remained steady at 25 for about five years.

So, “at” is used in the opposite situation to “to”.

4. with

We use “with” when we just want to talk about one number, at one time, with no changes. Here’s an example:

The highest number was in the 16-25 age group, with 500,000.

Conclusion

So, here’s the simple way to remember:

to – change, second number
from – change, first number
by – change, difference between first and last

at – no change over time

with – one number, no movement in time

Good luck!

 

Simon

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Is the IELTS exam fair?

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. In a twist of fate though, it’s the most recent post from the brilliant “Secret Teacher” in the Guardian, referring to the stress and pointlessness of the current exam climate in mainstream education that has led me to finally put finger to keyboard (link below). IELTS is the monopoly, THE exam for students wishing to enter our universities. But is it fair? Does it truly live up to its claim that it assesses students’ ability to cope with life at a British university? Do any exams really contribute positively to education?

With the IELTS exam, this is largely a question of time. There have been no significant updates to IELTS in years, and it’s not just the format; most other EFL exams are now available to sit online, which at least more closely mirrors motions that students actually go through in modern universities. IELTS as a paper exam falls down somewhat before you even inspect the content; who handwrites essays? This is a problem in mainstream education as well, but there are arguments for handwriting as a skill with younger students writing in their own language. In EFL, how many students will actually ever use handwriting – especially on an essay level – other than for sticky note reminders on their fridges? Online, yes. Emails for work and to friends, the general language of the Internet, and TYPING essays. But spellchecking and autocorrection is an advanced tool nowadays, with the grammar counterpart not far behind. Surely retaining 25% of marking criteria for grammar and 12.5% for spelling in writing is redundant and provides an unnecessary obstacle to success?

To further compound the problem with the writing paper, task 1 is a ridiculous exercise. Students analyse a graph which looks like it was drawn in the 1980s. No part of this task replicates anything that 99% of these students might actually do at university or in real life. Even the final 1%, the maths / economics students, of which there aren’t many coming in from the typical IELTS countries, wouldn’t realistically analyse a graph in this way, because it in no way requires objective thought, exophoric comparison or real “analysis” anyway.

Adding spelling in as the main criteria for the listening exam on top of this just seems to be deliberately unfair. I know a great many English people can’t spell very well. Does it really matter that much? Is a student going to read back through their lecture notes and penalise themselves for a missing letter, or a misheard minimal pair? Granted, the listening test contains some isolated tasks that replicate real university life, especially the task 4 lecture note-taking, although students were even using their phones to record lectures when I last attended one in 2003. I imagine this is even more common nowadays, and obviously students can replay audio of a lecture again and again if there is any difficulty with comprehension, rather than being told that they “will not hear the recording a second time”.

The reading paper is the worst of the lot. The time pressure is absurd, so much so that students training to take the exam are taught how to AVOID reading, because there isn’t time. They scan, match shapes and numbers and fill in gaps. Not one of the tasks actually requires a critical response, or any in-depth reading, and the third paper is about a technical subject, often from New Scientist, that will in no way match the subject that the student actually wants to study at university. I can honestly say that I can’t find a single redeeming feature about this section of the exam. Why can’t students sit an integrated skills paper, with a reading and summary section, like the ISE exams? Why can’t they answer some critical thinking tasks? The cynical answer to the second part is that it would require IELTS examiners to undergo extra training or retraining in order that they an accurately assess a critical response. Ultimately, I have seen nothing to suggest that Cambridge want to spend a single penny on improvement in any area of the exam, and they are unlikely to as long as they are an accepted monopoly.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out here that the speaking test is quite good. The two-minute presentation and the discussion / opinion-based questions give the students a good work out, although it’s a shame that they don’t adopt an FCE / CAE approach and get two students in at once for a seminar-style discussion. Still, it is a reasonable exam, and the marking emphasis is (correctly) on fluency and ability to communicate rather than being pernickity over minute accuracy.

The danger of exams such as this is that, because they don’t really test ability in realistic situations, teachers then prepare students to pass said exam, rather than upskilling them in real-life tasks. This could be said of secondary school exams as well as IELTS, but this doesn’t make it right. The added external pressures that students receive from governments, workplaces or family, mean that they are also happy to be taught to pass an exam in this way, and they become interested only in this. I can say that I have seen students leave IELTS preparation courses with a lower level of general English ability than they had when they started, but they are happy because they’ve ticked off the entrance criteria for their university of choice. Bearing this in mind, surely IELTS is actually detrimental to a student’s ability to survive at university, and is therefore negatively affecting the skills gaps on university courses that it was put in place to close? And if so, why haven’t universities noticed this?

I imagine that I am writing this in vain, but I am also pretty sure that I’m not the only one having these thoughts. I’d love to hear from more people about their experiences either with EFL or mainstream examinations. I also hope that if this strikes a chord with you, you’ll share it. Maybe someone far more important than I will read it.

 

Simon

Secret Teacher link: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/aug/08/secret-teacher-i-know-my-students-wont-get-the-results-they-deserve

 

 

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Multi-Tasking lessons #1 – Dictogloss

I’ve touched upon the (wonderful) dictogloss before in my post about lesson structures for teachers here http://simonrichardsonenglish.com/2015/06/08/lesson-structures-for-teachers/ , but how is this a multi-skilled lesson, and how does it help prepare students for “real life English”?

  1. Lesson Procedure

The class starts, as most do, with a discussion that introduces the topic (“Activate schemata” or “Engage”). The teacher then explains that they are going to read a text, while the students just listen. On the second reading, they can make notes and then try to reconstruct the text using their notes and existing knowledge of grammar, collocation and discourse. They can do this in groups or alone. Once the text has been reconstructed to the limit of the students’ abilities, the teacher can provide a model.

It’s a very simple lesson structure!

2. Variations / Tweaks

Here are a few variations that I’ve used / seen used in classes.

  • Listening for types – students are only allowed to note down specific types of word. These could be nouns, verbs, adjectives, or “grammar words” – this means that they are reconstructing specific areas of language
  • Robot Teacher – the teacher can repeat the text multiple times, but the students dictate speed and repetition by using the instructions “Stop”, “Repeat from X”, “Spell X” and “Repeat Slowly from X” – this weights the exercise more in favour of listening and less in favour of grammar / vocabulary knowledge
  • Lecture – students record the teacher reading the first dictogloss, and then put headphones in and assume control of the recording in order to reconstruct. They can do this alone or in groups. Again, this is more focussed on listening, but is also incorporating skills required to attend and digest lectures – very useful for students intending to study at British universities.

3. Integrated skills / multi-tasking

  • Listening and writing – mainly through note-taking, but if students are reconstructing in groups, they may dictate their own work verbatim to other students. Note-taking as a skill is useful for meetings and lectures, but also directly helps preparation for exam listening (IELTS and FCE, for example).
  • Listening and speaking – if you use the robot teacher variation, students have to be able to give instructions while listening, at the correct point in order to successfully facilitate task completion.
  • Learner Training – if using the “lecture” method

Is this the finest example of a multi-tasking lesson? It’s certainly one of the favourites. I’d like to hear from people who use further variations.

 

Simon

 

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Multi-tasking in a foreign language

Note: Students, if you find this article difficult to understand, read the part about exams!

What is linguistic multi-tasking? When do we encounter it? And how is it tackled in the classroom? In this article, I’ll go through the idea of skills and skills teaching in a bit of detail, and look at the challenges involved as well as the areas in which teachers can aim to develop their students.

Skills

In language teaching, when we talk about “skills”, we are referring to four things: Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing. We can divide these up in to two categories: receptive (from the word “receive”) and productive (from the word “produce”). These words refer to how we are interacting with language. The two receptive skills are reading and listening, because the language comes to our eyes or ears through text or audio, and the two productive skills are speaking and writing, because we produce the language ourselves, either orally or on paper. As language students, we ideally want to improve all four skills to achieve both receptive and productive fluency.

Challenges

When we try to improve a skill, we face a number of problems. The problems could be systematic – this means that with our productive skills, we might struggle with parts of the skill; pronunciation (speaking), spelling (writing) or vocabulary, grammar or discourse (both). These aren’t the only problems though. We might also find it hard to perform the skill itself. Here are some possible problems:

  • Fluency – it’s difficult to speak without stopping regularly.
  • Expression (circumlocution) – I don’t know a word and I can’t explain it
  • Comprehension – there might be too much text / audio, or it might be too fast or advanced in level.
  • Structure / Coherence – it might be difficult to write in paragraphs, or to organise spoken ideas.
  • Recall – It’s difficult to remember what was said / written about, because I’m not very good at taking notes
  • Inference – I find it difficult to use context to guess meanings of difficult words

There are, of course, many others, and teachers should work on helping students acquire the techniques to improve their skills. However, there is another level to this: if each individual skill is difficult, how on earth are we supposed to perform two skills at the same time?!

Multi-tasking

Here are a few examples of times when you need to multi-task.

  1. Conversation – listening (to the other person or people) and speaking (replying, conversing)
  2. Ordering – reading (a menu) and speaking (talking to the waiting staff)
  3. Lectures – listening (to the lecturer) and writing (taking notes)
  4. Research – reading (the material) and writing (again, taking notes)

It’s fair to say that number 1 is the most common, but what links these scenarios? Notice that they all require you to use one receptive and one productive skill at the same time. Generally, we are OK at this in our own language, and can pick this up in a second with correct training and practice. But what happens to our brains when we try to combine two receptive or two productive skills at the same time? Give it a try. Try writing an email while having a conversation. Try reading a book while listening to the radio.

Was that easy? I’m guessing your answer is “no”. It’s pretty simple – if we listen and read at the same time, there is too much information coming to our brains at the same time. Similarly, if we write and speak at the same time, we put pressure on ourselves to produce twice as much language as we usually would in a particular space of time. Granted, some people can do it, but it isn’t a majority, and the percentage of those who can drops significantly in a second or third language.

The Problem with Exams

So, where are these situations in which we are pushed in to combining two receptive or productive skills together? The answer is that, in general, they don’t exist. This is firstly because communication is about direction; we give and receive. If we need to give or receive twice, we just extend the interaction, rather than doing it all at the same time. It’s also about avoidance. We can usually avoid these situations by having a measure of control over our communicative environments (although this often requires classroom training in a second language). Unfortunately, exams take away this control and put us in strange situations, which aren’t always reproduced in real life. I personally think that those parts of exams are therefore not very useful, but whether I like it or not, they exist. Here’s an example which we come across in Cambridge Exams (FCE, CAE, IELTS):

A listening exam with a multiple choice section. The question and the choices account for a lot of text – too much to remember in a short time.

So, in this situation we are being trapped. We don’t have enough time to read and remember all the information in these questions, so we find ourselves reading while listening to the audio. Unsurprisingly, this is difficult!

An Exam Solution

I’ve had a lot of success with focussing students more on note-taking. Not only is this a real-life task (as mentioned before, lectures and meetings both require this), but it helps prevent this situation. Here’s how:

1) Student reads the questions and focusses on their meanings and keywords. They don’t really look at the multiple choice options for more than a couple of seconds (reading).

2) Student listens and takes notes (listening and writing).

3) After the listening, student matches their notes to the multiple choice options (just reading).

At no point is the student completely engaged in reading and listening at the same time. The student can make notes in English or their mother tongue (depending on preference), and they can use shorthand, abbreviations or spider diagrams – all of which can be taught and practised in class.

In the classroom

It is clear, then, that there is more to teaching skills than perhaps we acknowledge. Yes, it’s all well and good to teach a speaking or a listening lesson, but do we teach them in conjunction with each other as preparation for real-life experiences? I’m not suggesting that this would necessarily work with lower-level learners, but as students approach fluency and competency, they need to be challenged with real-life scenarios. Part of this is recognising and implementing strategies to avoid overload by extending conversations to avoid double-receptive or double-productive situations, or by learning to take notes in exams to minimise a clash of tasks. It is also accepting that receptive and productive skills often run parallel, and then receiving training on how to deal with this fact.

In light of this, I’m going to be publishing some ideas for real-life, “multi-skills” classes. If anyone out there has got any resources / ideas on this, I’d love to see them. In the meantime, watch this space.

 

Simon

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Lesson Structures for teachers

I created this recently, for new teachers at my school. Hopefully this will serve to help newer teachers familiarise themselves with skills teaching, and for more experienced teachers to get a bit of revision!

Note – where the post says “à”, it’s where there was a directional arrow –> to show step by step progression through a class, but it didn’t paste well from the original Word document.

 

Possible Lesson Structures

Systems (Vocabulary, Grammar, Discourse, Pronunciation) Classes

  • PPP

Warmer à “Presentation” (language focus – part elicited, part given)à Practice (controlled) à Production (Freer)

  • I only use this for Elem / Low Pre-Int, because the target language isn’t being drawn out of context – just being presented.

 

  • ESA

Warmer à Engage (effectively, this is where the warmer leads to a slightly extended discussion around a topic, which can then be formalised through text or presentation, so that students gradually start to focus on specific target language) à Study (language focus and controlled practice) à Activate (produce)

  • This is similar to PPP, but with an elongated opening couple of sections. It could also be similar to language from a text, as you could introduce text in the engage stage.
  • You might not have studied this if you did a CELTA – it’s part of the syllabus for the trinity TESOL.

 

  • TTT

Warmer à Test existing knowledge (this could be through a task rather than a formalised “test”) àTeach (language focus, so covering meaning, pronunciation and form) à Test (again, this could be a test or just a productive activity)

  • Obviously, the danger is the students all perform fantastically on the first test stage, rendering the rest of the lesson a bit pointless, so be careful with pitching!
  • The idea is that students perform better in the final stage than in the first stage, due to the language focus. Often, you can add a “meta-cognitive” stage at the end of your lesson. All this means is that you ask them to acknowledge what they’ve learnt, and evaluate their own performance in terms of improvement within the lesson.

 

  • Language From a Text (Inductive)

Warmer à Text / “Language Vehicle” (so there is a reading or listening in some format, with gist / detail comprehension tasks, and the final task is for students to identify and underline specific examples of language in prep for your language focus stage) àLanguage Focus (board the examples they find and do MFP from them) à Practice (controlled) à Produce (freer)

  • This is often the course book approach – don’t make the mistake of seeing a listening / reading and thinking “this is a listening / reading lesson” – if the goal is systematic (vocab, grammar, discourse, pron) then the lesson is a systems lesson. This means not spending too long with the text / language vehicle stage
  • I think that this is by far the most effective way to teach systems, because students view and identify language in context throughout

Skills (Reading, Speaking, Listening, Writing) lessons

For skills lessons, the final part of the lesson (the goal) is for the students to be performing the skill in a more effective way than they were at the start of the lesson, whereas a systems lesson simply helps the students to put new language in to context. So, a skills lesson should end with extended reading, speaking, listening or writing (followed by a feedback stage at the end). With receptive skills (reading / listening), there isn’t a need for a controlled practice stage, and this is often (although not always) the case with productive skills (writing / speaking).

  • Task-Based Approach

Similar to a TTT lesson, but focussing on skills instead of systems.

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Task (practising the skill) à Feedback and language input (either pre-prepared, or from the errors you have noticed) à Task (practising the skill in a similar context – students do it better this time because of the language input)

How does this work with receptive skills?

With skills lessons, you’re trying to help students improve the actual mechanics of the skill. With speaking / writing, this is pretty clear, but with reading / listening, it can be more difficult to understand how students can develop. Here are some ways:

  • Skimming for gist / scanning for detail (reading)
  • Taking notes (listening)
  • Inferring meaning from context (reading / listening)
  • Summarising (reading / listening)
  • Answering specific exam tasks – eg. True / False / Not Given (reading / listening)

This means that the “input” section of a task-based lesson needs to provide students with techniques to help them improve these skills. Generally, this is done by leading the students through the actual process of the skill step by step – in a controlled way. It may be that they are simply getting the mechanics wrong. For example, a lot of students will be scan-reading by reading normally, but quickly, rather than looking up or down / side to side on the page. We can improve this! Here are a couple of lessons that work well.

  1. Reading – inferring meaning from context

Task – Students read a text with some questions focussing directly on the meaning of individual words. Teacher goes through the process of getting answers as per normal and then asks students for their techniques on getting the meaning of these words.

Input – Teacher gets a couple of examples up on the board in context, and gets students to point out linguistic / meaning clues from the context – focussing on tense to help with time concepts, adjectives/  verbs or collocations, and then gives students the chance to do a couple more in isolation, in pairs.

Task – A further reading text with meaning-based questions. I’ve often done this and put made-up words in the text for a bit of fun. Students are now focussing on the mechanics of the task, and should perform better. Ask them at the end! (When students reflect on their learning and perceive their improvement within a class, this is called meta-cognition – it’s very motivating).

  1. Listening – “Dictogloss” (note-taking skills)

Warmer / Activate Schemata à Gist – students listen to a short audio / read text, simply for gist. Notes à Students listen again and take notes, with the objective of a future complete textual reconstruction. They can compare in pairs, and the teacher can do a second repeat. Input à Once the text has been constructed, teacher focusses on note-taking. You could look at structure, organisation, or simply the words that they are noting down (grammar is not necessary, as it can be filled in retrospectively, and students may be unaware of abbreviations, for example) Listening 2 à Students do another dictation / reconstruction, using the skills that have been focussed on.

Productive Skills

With speaking, a task-based approach works very well, but there are a few variations.

  1. A transactional speaking class

This is a class where students are focussing on specific purposes for speaking, in which there are social conventions, “scripts” (things that the English listener would expect to hear) and a definite goal (the successful transaction).

Situations: In a bank, in a train station, in a restaurant etc…

Areas to focus on: Slang terms they might here, making formal / semi-formal requests, situation-based vocab – these would all form part of the input section. This is almost vocab / grammar input in to a skills class, so there is room for a traditional “systems-style” language focus / controlled practice if necessary

  1. An interactional speaking class

In this kind of class, students are looking at the skill of speaking, as a tool for general interaction. So here, the skills are slightly different. You could look at some of the following:

  • Interruption (how to signal that you would like to interrupt)
  • Agreeing / disagreeing / suggesting etc. (language points)
  • Redundancy (how to use redundant language to improve fluency – “I mean…” “like”, “y’know” etc.
  • Circumlocution (how to explain something when you’ve forgotten a word)
  • Expressing interest (how not to appear bored)

Etc…

 

 

Writing

With writing, there are two good lesson structures that work, especially with academic writing.

  1. Product writing – this is a writing lesson where students focus on a linguistic convention that will aid their writing, so this will include a controlled practice
  2. Process writing – this is where students are focussing on the actual process of writing (brainstorming, drafting, editing etc)

You can have a look at simple stage explanations for these here: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/product-process-writing-a-comparison

What else?

Thinking specifically about reacting and responding to student errors, something to consider is Dogme.

Dogme gets a lot of criticism from people as laziness, but if done and prepared in the right way, students react really well to it, as it is a class that looks at errors made on the spot. Dogme is generally thought of as unplanned teaching, but this isn’t actually the case. It is going in to class with a clear lesson structure, as per normal, but with no language point as yet. The language point will become apparent at the beginning of the class. Here’s how:

  • The start of the lesson is either a general chat, or students pick a topic from a list for discussion
  • As the students are discussing (this works in pairs, with rotations), the teacher monitors and lists errors
  • Errors are boarded, and the teacher does an on-the-spot language focus
  • Controlled practice is either done live (teacher starts writing examples and the students start working on them as soon as they can see a first, completed one), or students repeat task 2 while teacher pops downstairs to copy some language-specific resources
  • Students repeat similar speaking task, focussing on linguistic accuracy. Again, teacher monitors and boards errors.

Another way to incorporate language focus is outlined by Ken Lackman here: https://www.etprofessional.com/cat_a_framework_for_dogme_83068.aspx

Dogme with receptive skills lessons / lessons that use a text

Again, the discussion part of the lesson at the beginning is necessary – this is how Dogme lessons traditionally start. Here though, the teacher starts stage 2 with a live listening (teacher tells a story on topic, with no preparation, and goes through gist, detail and language focus based on what they’ve said), or uses an app such as Zite to download and print a text based on the topic the students have been discussing, which students then do gist / detail tasks on, and then mine for vocab / grammar.

Obviously, these kinds of lessons require confidence and a lot of on-the-spot thinking on behalf of the teacher. They should also be used sparingly – I tend to go for 1 or 2 a week. However, with practice, they can become extremely effective strings to a teacher’s bow.

Demand High

Based on general best practices with regards to classroom management, and taking a lot of its ideas from The Silent Way, Demand High is basically a list of techniques you can use within the classroom to make sure that the level of challenge is kept high for all students. This is particularly useful when dealing with classes with a mix of level (so, most classes!) This includes:

  • Delaying acknowledgement of correct answers
  • Silent teaching
  • Demanding more from all student interactions (this is particularly useful for higher level students – if they offer an answer, was the answer delivered with perfect grammar? Can they repeat an answer another student gave? Can they say it again with better pron / using a synonym / using the past instead of the present?)
  • Student teaching (delegate ICQs / parts of the language focus to students)
  • One to one teaching within a group
  • And many more!

You can learn more about Demand High on the website here: https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/

And read my own research paper on Demand High teaching here:
https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/demand-high-a-delta-experimental-practice-simon-richardson/
As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions / comments! 🙂

 

Simon

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For Teachers – a great speaking activity

Sometimes I wish I could think of more activities where students really got stuck in to a meaty task that required linguistic ability as well as critical thinking. Well, here’s a great one. http://iteslj.org/Lessons/Gibson-PuzzleActivity.html

Originally designed as a job interview task, this lesson requires reading, negotiation, discrimination between important and unimportant information, leadership, organisation, mathematics and a LOT of speaking. This is how I set it up:

1) Do some preparation before the class – typically, students take about an hour to complete it so there isn’t really time for a language focus, setup and a decent amount of feedback in the class itself (in a typical 90 minute class)

2) In the lesson before, I look at language to make suggestions, agree / disagree, negotiate, and also have a revise of conditionals.

3) Prior to the lesson, cut up the bullet point information in to individual strips, so they can be distributed to students randomly. Obviously, the task is more difficult the bigger the class is – I find it’s most effective with 8-10 students, but works well with anywhere between 5 and 14.

3) In the setup, I explain that I will be silent during the task (but I usually provide head nods and facial expressions), and that they should use the board to make their own glossary and put up basic informative notes. They aren’t allowed to show each other the strips of paper that they have, but they can read them out loud (so there’s plenty of listening practice too). I also tell them that some of the information will be there to distract them (you can draw parallels with the IELTS exam here if you have exam students)

4) Now the task begins. I read out the introduction and write the translations of the “fake” words on the board, to reinforce the way in which students need to use it. I then hand out the shuffled strips of paper, so that students have a few each. They then start the task. Don’t worry if they are pretty much silent for 5 minutes or more. It’s a confusing beginning, but eventually, someone will write something on the board and it will make sense to another student that has a connected piece of information, and the task will start moving forward. Obviously, if you spot that someone has totally misread something, or that they are wildly on the wrong track, you can give a nudge, at your discretion.

5) When they complete the task, get them to run through the information they needed once more, and then have a look at the language they used – both to do with making suggestions, and any other mistakes. I usually board a “10 of the best mistakes” and then they have to correct them together.

It’s only fair to mention the way in which you get the answer here!

A) You need to know how many working days there are in a week. There are 4, because one of them is a day of rest. Therefore, they have a maximum of 8 days to complete the task within the two week limit.

B) You need to know how many people are working on the structure – in effect, there are 7, because each team consists of 8 people, but one does no work because of religious ceremonies. Also, only one team is working at any one time.

C) You need to know how many hours in a day they work. The answer is 9, because there are 11 working hours in a day and they get 2 hours’ break.

D) You need to know how many stones the structure consists of. As the structure is a solid cube, you multiply the length, depth and width to get 52,022. The information also says that the stones are 1X1, so that’s 52,022 stones.

E) You need to know the output of the workers – it’s 108 stones per person per hour.

So, 7 people lay 108 stones each in an hour – that’s 756 stones, and then in a 9-hour day, 6804 stones. The structure has 52,022, so they take 7.6457 days to build it. In other words, they finish on the fourth day of the second week, which is called Ee’da’ne!

 

Enjoy!

 

Simon

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Learning in Chunks – just a question of lexis?

It is not exactly revolutionary of me to mention the word “chunk” within the subject of ELT. It has been long established that vocabulary needs to be presented less as individual discrete items, but horizontally, so as to include and acknowledge collocation. Words are indeed the key to communicative language, but prepositions, adjective / noun or noun / verb combinations, and high-frequency connections are the glue that holds it together. Without these things, it is impossible to achieve any real level of productive fluency. None of this is in debate.

There is a particular part of this that is starting to interest me, though. It isn’t the fact that we ought to draw attention to collocation, or words “in chunks” though. It’s the implications of “chunking” for a learner. Chunking isn’t, in fact, just a method of expansion, for as it encourages learners to observe vocabulary in groups rather than individually, it also facilitates the breaking down of full, multiple-clause sentences, in to manageable, bite-sized chunks (Michael Lewis, The Lexical Approach). Again, not a new observation. But is the idea of “bite-sized” usable in other skills?

At this point, I’m going to switch to reading tasks, specifically, academic reading. As an IELTS teacher, I watch a lot of struggle. Students are faced with daunting amounts of text, answers hidden amongst technical terms and “distractors”, and a time limit that would have most native speakers struggling. Often, the sheer volume of text is enough to guarantee demotivation, and, ultimately, failure. I’ve looked at techniques, of course. We’ve scanned, skimmed and inferred until blue in the face, but often it just isn’t enough. Perhaps they aren’t up to it yet. Or perhaps they encounter problems because the task, not the text, isn’t “bite-sized”.

Let’s look at a typical task in an IELTS reading exam. True / False / Not Given questions typically present themselves in order in the text, and require the student to scan and skim in a linear fashion, albeit not necessarily having a clue about the percentage of the whole text covered by the task (unless there is a clear, “scannable” keyword). In general, students are presented with about seven questions, and 800 words of text. They then proceed to read question 1, scan the text, find the answer, write the answer, and repeat for question 2 et cetera. Of course, if they can’t find an answer, they don’t really have a point of reference from which to continue moving forward through the text. In other words, it is difficult to establish linear movement, and can result in time-costly rereading and doubling back. In an incredibly time sensitive exam (1 hour, 3 texts, 2400 words, 40 questions), this is not exactly ideal.

Now, let’s say that a student approaches this in a slightly different way. Upon receiving the task, they break the questions, and then the text, in to bite-sized chunks. They draw a line under question four, and look at questions 1-4 as a separate task. They are not only breaking the task down, but they are also immediately acknowledging that they are likely to be looking at less of the text; the first four-sevenths, roughly. Granted, this is still not exact enough to be comforting. The next stage then, is to isolate the text in a more precise way. The student scans for a keyword match in question 1. They aren’t looking necessarily to find the exact answer at this stage, merely to highlight the area of text in which the answer lies. They draw a line indicating where the text relating to questions 1-4 starts. The next part is to do the same again, but instead of doing this for question 2, they do it for question four. Once they have drawn this second line, they have created a text box, in which four answers lie. The text box is considerably smaller, and therefore less daunting, than the original text, and task, as a whole. They then go through the standard question-answering techniques as they are usually taught. This process is then repeated with questions 5-7, again focusing on isolating “answer-heavy” text, and eliminating time-wasting and a general feeling of being overwhelmed by volume.

While early in my research in to the benefits of this, results so far have been good. Not only have 100% of my students responded positively to this concept, which I believe is more than half the battle (for I am a disciple of the affective filter), but success rates in linear tasks have also gone up considerably in over 80% of these students. I am keen to acknowledge that reading methods and techniques are very much individually subjective, and, as a result, it is difficult to say that there is a “right” way. However, if learners feel that they can approach a task with more confidence than before, I am positive that this will directly contribute to an improvement in results alone, as so many learners are beaten before they step on to the pitch, to use a famous sporting analogy.

I’d love to hear from teachers and students who would like to give this a go. My contact details are on this site. Get in touch, and help me answer the following question: “Can we use the idea of chunking as a reading test technique in general English and exam settings?” And, even more interestingly: “Is there a practical use for a technique like this outside of the environment of comprehension-based tasks – could chunking improve reading ability as a whole?”

 

Simon Richardson

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IELTS Reading – Guess work?

Anybody out there who has completed an IELTS reading knows that guessing is sometimes unavoidable. It is true that it is better to write something than nothing, but is there such a thing as an educated guess? I have a suggestion.

Let’s look at True / False / Not Given, or Yes / No / Not Given questions. Now, let’s imagine that you have scanned the text, gone through the questions, found the place where the answer is likely to be, and you still can’t find it.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that they just put “Yes” for everything, or that they randomly guess. I’m going to disagree. I think you should always guess Not Given. Here’s why:

1) If you randomly guess every answer, there is a possibility you will be wrong every time.

2) If you guess the same answer each time, there is a much better chance you will get a minimum of 1 answer correct, as IELTS exams vary the answers between the three options. I have never seen a task in IELTS that doesn’t include at least one answer from each option.

3) Why Not Given? Well, two reasons. Firstly, if you are looking for an answer and you can’t find it, maybe it’s because the answer isn’t there! I think you should trust your ability and have a confident mind. Tell yourself that you didn’t find it because it is Not Given, write it and move on, confidently. Secondly, Not Given answers are a task that is specifically an “IELTS task”. Therefore, the exam papers will always contain at least one answer per task that is “Not Given”.

I think you give yourself a chance of free points this way. Choose Not Given! Be confident!

 

Simon

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A word on IELTS test centres

I don’t know why I haven’t written this before to be honest. Please read this carefully!

It does NOT matter which IELTS centre you take the test at. You will not get a better mark in one centre than another because some centres are “easier”. It is a complete waste of your time and money travelling to a different centre to take the IELTS exam. Stick close to home so that you have more time to get a good night’s sleep and wake up in a familiar place. Please remember these things:

  • The examiners marking you are trained, experienced teachers. They are reassessed every two years and their marking is regularly checked to make sure that they are doing their jobs well.
  • Writing and Speaking tests are double marked so that the final bands are accurate
  • If somebody you know got a good mark at one centre, it’s because they deserved it! It isn’t because they did it at an easy centre.

I hope that this message reaches some people. I know that the IELTS exam is stressful, but the best way is to relax the day before. Extra travelling won’t help.

Good luck!

 

Simon