Skip to main content

A-level summarising tasks

One of the new aspects of A-level assessment from 2017 and 2018 is the inclusion, at both AS and A-level, of summary tasks. On each Listening, Reading, Writing paper (Paper 1) there will be two summary tasks, one of a listening source, one of a written text. At AS-level the source texts are of around 150-200 words, at A-level a little longer. With AQA the length of the summary, written in target language, is around 75 words at AS-level and 90 words at A-level. You need to check specifications for any variations. The inclusion of summary comes from the DfE/Ofqual and is common to all exam boards.

I welcome this change. Summary is one of those multi-skill assessment tasks which marry well with what I would consider good classroom practice. Once you have worked on a listening or reading text with a class, exploiting in various ways (e.g. pre-reading/listening tasks, reading aloud, oral interactions including question-answer, correcting false sentences, aural gap-fill, information gaps and so on), morphological and syntactic activities with a focus on form - a natural and more challenging extension in the sequence is to ask students to pull together their knowledge to write a summary of the original source.

A good assessment should ideally reflect classroom practice and this task does so.

Teachers will, of course, have to help students develop their technique. This can be modelled orally, scaffolded with bullet points (as will be the case in A-level exam papers) and practised for homework or within a time limit in class. Students will need to learn to identify key points, not to transcribe large chunks, but also not to feel that every item of language needs paraphrasing. They will need to be concise. They will also need to be familiar with the mark schemes which give points for communicating key points and for using varied, accurate language. Teachers could even use these mark schemes when assessing their students work in the run-up to examinations.

What I also like about the task, apart from its 'multi-modal' aspect, is that students are being assessed on their comprehension and skill with language, not, as with language essays, on their ability to write a coherent essay. The latter is no doubt a useful skill and one which is developed elsewhere in the specifications, but with summary students do not need to be concerned with introductions, conclusions, essay cohesion and so on. Nor do they have to produce their own ideas, which can hold back some quite competent linguists.

In sum, whilst the new specifications contains a much shorter list of topics, which may come as a relief, the classroom emphasis may change somewhat towards summary, as well as translation and the study of film and literature. For many teachers this change will be a subtle one if you have already been doing these things.


Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.


An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

Learning strategies (3)

This is the third in the mini-series of blogs about learning strategies. So far, we have looked at some (rather scant) research evidence for the effectiveness of strategies. Bear in mind that a lack of research evidence does not mean strategies do not work; if there is any consensus, it is that they are probably useful and probably best used when integrated into a normal teaching sequence. We then looked at a classification of different types of strategies.

In this blog Gianfanco and I look at how you might integrate strategies into your teaching. There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff! You may do a good deal of this type of thing already, but you may also be new to the concepts and applications of learning strategies.

Let's look at how you might use strategies, particularly with regard to the teaching of listening and reading. Remember: this is just about how you help students to use strategies to become better listeners and readers.

How to teach strategies 

The research …