Skip to main content

Improving A-level summary technique

The new AS and A-level examinations contain a new element we haven't seen before in A-level exams (at least not quite in this form). In paper 1 (Listening, Reading and Writing) there are two summary tasks, one listening and one writing. Each task is worth 12 marks so they require particular attention.

I have blogged before about how I like this task in principle since it encourages good classroom practice (listening and reading input plus manipulation of vocabulary and syntax). It's a good example of the backwash effect from assessment having a good influence on classroom practice.

For students it's a challenge, however, since it demands not just good comprehension and grammar, but sound technique.

Below is part of a document  have posted on frenchteacher. It aims to focus students on the key elements for success and to provide practice in paraphrasing technique.

Two key points to retain:

1.  Students must not go beyond the word limit (90 words at A-level).
2.  Students do not have to change every item of vocabulary. Apart from covering the key content points (7 marks), they need to show frequent changes to the original grammar of the text (5 marks).

Here is the document (extract):

Improving your summary technique

Remember: to get top marks at the A-level listening and reading summary tasks you need to do two things:
  • Cover the required number of content points (AQA 7 marks)
  • Use your own varied and accurate grammar as much as possible (AQA 5     marks)

NB: you do not have to change the wording of everything you hear or read. The 5 marks are for grammar, not new vocabulary. However, altering or adapting vocabulary may allow you to vary your grammar more.

Here are some sentences from an AQA specimen exam paper with ways of summarising them plus commentary. New grammatical elements are in bold.

1.  Il y aura une réduction importante du nombre de salariés.
→ Le nombre d’employés va diminuer considérablement.
(Use of immediate future and adverbial form – ment)

2.  Les salaires vont baisser et la qualité de la production est menacée.
On verra une baisse des salaires et une dégradation de la production.
(Use of future tense and adaptation of verb baisser to noun baisse – this shows knowledge of word morphology)

3. C’est une véritable radio de service public qui offre des programmes que personne  d’autre ne propose.
→ C’est une radio axée sur le service public, diffusant des émissions originales.
(Use of past participle in axée, present participle and adjectives agreement)

4. Radio France, c’est aussi le premier employeur de comédiens en France.
→ C’est la compagnie qui emploie le plus grand nombre d’acteurs.
(Use of relative pronoun qui, present tense of an –yer verb and a superlative)

5. La culture est indispensable au maintien de la solidarité sociale
Pour maintenir la solidarité sociale il faut que la culture soit diffusée.

(Use of pour + infinitive and il faut que + subjunctive + passive + correct agreement on diffusée)

The document on frenchteacher is followed by 12 example sentences to paraphrase together with model answers.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:

Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…