Skip to main content

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond movie, ate a pizza, drank coke and returned home by bus. As long as they have plenty to say and answer the questions they will score well. If they can do it accurately and with greater complexity they will score even better.

This is not an argument for sole use of memorisation, of course, but if your pupils have built up a degree of proficiency over four or five years, they can supplement this with pre-learned, rehearsed language. The combination of the two is very effective. And by the way, never feel guilty about getting classes to practise rote learning of this type - in other subjects memorisation is used effectively to produce results, so why not in languages? We should reward hard work and learning.

With this in mind, I'd like to suggest one technique for effective last-minute preparation for the conversation (and photo card) sections of the test.

Let's suppose you have prepared sets of questions for each theme, a selection of which you are likely to use in the test. In the weeks running up to the test in April or May you can devote time to modelling answers and practising them in pairs. (Pairs is more efficient than groups.) It can work like this: display a question on the board, give your modelled answer to to it, perhaps with written support if the class needs it, then give students a few minutes to practise their paragraph length answers. With weaker classes at Foundation Tier sentence length answers may be sufficient. Then ask the class if they had any particular problems or if there were things they wanted to say but couldn't. Give some feedback. Then move to the next question. The complexity of your modelling will depend on the class and you can urge your stronger students to go beyond your model. If the atmosphere in your class is suitable you could get a small number of strong pupils to speak back their paragraphs. Generally, though, at this age, you should treat that practice with caution.

This process build in variety and a change of perspective to the lesson, breaking it up into shortish chunks. You could even play a recorded example of a good response from the pupil in another class or A-level student - again, this adds a touch of variety. You can reinforce the same questions in subsequent lessons - we know how important recycling and spaced practice is so think about coming back to it a week later.

As this process advanced the hope is that each student will build up their repertoire. You can intersperse your lessons with quick references to the mark scheme to remind pupils precisely what they need to do to get the highest scores. Say to them; "Imagine you are the examiner; how would you grade this?" You might even get pairs to play examiner and candidate.

Now, it's important to add that, in addition to helping students get ready for the speaking test, this process also build up a repertoire of paragraphs which can be re-used in the Writing exam, an equally hard challenge, harder for many. Always stress that students should "use what they know" and not worry about telling the truth. (You might find this morally questionable, but I would respond that it may be more morally questionable not to provide your students with every means to do their best!) My line was "use what you know, not what you don't know". Say it often!

I hope some of you will find this suggestion useful. Feel free to leave any comments with other ideas.

Comments

  1. Excellent advice. I don't know why pupils try to say things they can't! Like the idea of a repertoire, sounds a bit like the idea of dance moves/dance routines here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdtKreCNMVj5zg29n6oPb4g

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Vincent. Thanks for commenting. Yes, I saw your dance moves. Nice idea.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

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…

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…

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.

Attitudes16





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 dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
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. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…