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How checklists can raise student proficiency

I am grateful to Martin Heeley, a PGCE student at York University for reminding me about how useful checklists can be in improving students' performance on tasks and I shall use an example of his below to demonstrate the point.

Example one: for advanced level conversation practice

When I used to prepare A-level students for their AQA oral examination which included 10 minutes of conversation on the two cultural topics they had been studying, in the run-up to the exam I would pair off students to practise questions I had provided them with. I would periodically change the pairings to keep up interest and provide a slightly different focus. To improve their range of language I would then write up a checklist of expressions they had to include in their conversations. So, let's say they were preparing for a discussion on the films of François Truffaut, I might write up:

Un élément clé de la nouvelle vague...
Ce qui est important, c'est le fait que...
Il va sans dire que...
Les opinions sont partagées sur cette question, mais moi...
En ce qui concerne l'usage de la caméra, on peut dire que...
On ne peut pas sous-estimer l'influence de la vie de Truffaut sur...

I would then say that in the next five minutes, the "candidate" had to incorporate somehow each of those expressions into their conversation. This would become a source of challenge and amusement, focus minds a bit more and gradually the expressions would become handy elements to be used in the future. Individual students would take pleasure in deliberately overusing certain phrases for comic effect. Needless to say, such expressions become handy comfort blankets in the actual exam.

Five minutes later I would alter the list to widen the students' range of expression, perhaps giving my own examples of how the formulae could be used.

Example two: GCSE/intermediate level writing

The principle is just the same as the above, except this time you provide a set of phrases or expressions which students have to incorporate into a written composition. So, let's say students had to describe a journey they had made, you might give them:

Apès être parti(s) de la maison...
En arrivant à....
Ce qui m'a plu le plus, c'était...
Le pire moment était quand...
On venait de + infinitif.... quand...
Le plus intéressant, c'était le moment où...
Avant de + infinitif

We know what happens when you adopt this approach. Just as in the A-level example, students latch on to these lifebuoys and use them in subsequent work, gradually increasing their repertoire of language.

Example three: Martin Heeley's example (via

This is another writing example at a post beginner/very low intermediate level. I like the fact that this type of checklist makes pupils reflect on what it takes to write interesting and varied language. They do a lot of this type of thing in English lessons and it really helps pupils who are genuinely not sure what to write.

As examination boards move back to linear papers and away from controlled assessment, students will need an armoury of phrases and little techniques to help them write and speak under pressure. Teachers would do well to make good use of checklists.


  1. Thanks for this.

    When mine are preparing for assessment, I make them generate their own checklist based on what I told them after their last assessment:

  2. Thanks for commenting. I have added your blog to my blog roll on


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