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Ways to help your students in the run-up to A-level orals

Once again in late April the orals season will be upon you and this will be the first year of the new A-level specification with its stimulus card conversation (AQA) and Individual Research Project (IRP) presentation and discussion. I have presented 10 courses for AQA, part of which have been devoted to orals, so I thought I would share some ideas of my own and others I have picked up from the many A-level teachers I have met.

1. Stimulus cards (AQA)

Train up students in using their 5 minute preparation time by using practice cards or just very short paragraphs in class. Get students working alone or in pairs for 5 minutes, producing bullet points for their answers, then modelling answers to questions on the board. Students could record your model answers on their phones.

Play “Just a minute” in small groups to encourage fluency, keeping the focus on knowledge of the TL country (AO4). Again could record these games.

In pairs play the game in which one person has to make a point about a sub-theme, the other makes a different point and so on, until one person cannot say anything new. Students enjoy this and pick up new ideas along the way.

During pair work practice stop students after five minutes, write up about 10 expressions and structures you’d like students to use for the following five minutes. Five minutes later do the same again, reusing some of your original expressions, but adding some new ones.And so on. This encourages students to recycle complex language, making it part of their personal repertoire (AO3). The “speed dating” format works well in this context.

Display pictures which invite discussion on a sub-theme. Either allow a few minutes’ note-taking or ask for instant reactions. Ask follow-up questions of the type they might get in the assessment. (Remember that follow-up questions follow each bulletted question.)

Do paraphrase tasks on very short texts to help students maximise their AO2 and AO3 marks on the first bullet point question. This also helps them develop their skill in the summary questions on Paper 1 (LRW).

Along similar lines provide ideas expressed very simply and ask students to reword them using more complex language, e.g. replacing a simple verb loke “montrer” with others (illustrer, mettre en lumière, indiquer, mettre en évidence). (AO3)

Train up students to use the phrase “par exemple” or equivalents, e,g. “en guise d’exemple”.Encourage them to keep using these to extend answers and provide more information. (AO4)

Train up students in anticipating what follow-up questions there may be. Use practice cards for this. I have made a a further set of 10 on frenchteacher. Brainstorm these in class.

Ensure students have a portfolio of knowledge points they can call upon. These may be in the form of useful facts and figures. I have made one of these for frenchteacher which I know some teachers and students are finding very useful.

When practising in class if you detect that conversations are becoming too unfocused on the TL country, nip this quickly in the bud, stressing how vital it is to maximise AO4 marks. Inevitably some candidates will be somewhat inventive with facts and figures in the heat of the moment! This is not a big deal.


2. IRP

Because timing is crucial the two minute presentation make sure students rehearse, record and time it. Examiners will not mark beyond the two minutes. The danger of rote learning is that presentations end up sounding gabbled and incoherent. Advise students not to speak too fast, but to combine an overview of their topic, some factual information and possible leads for the examiner or teacher-examiner to follow up. This part is only assessed in AO4 for 5 marks, but takes skilled preparation. A rapid-fire series of facts won’t do - a broader understanding and command of the topic needs to be shown.

Teach generic language all students can use but which is not specific to an individual’s presentation and discussion, e.g. “I chose this topic because...”; “What surprised me most was...”; “According to an article I found... it seems that...”. You cannot provide specific language or feedback to students of course.

Suggest students use a text-to-speech app or site if they wish to hear their presentation or discussion pronounced well.

Train up students in using intonation effectively to help them make their points more coherent. This may be particularly useful for the two minute presentation. Intonation can be easily practised by some reading aloud practice of short paragraphs. If you lack expertise in this, recall that the default pattern is a rising pitch and slight extra stress at the end of sense group (interestingly not dissimilar to that common young person’s rising intonation in English). Sentence ends have a falling intonation.

Use the exemplar material on the exam board sites to model good practice, and perhaps less good practice. Get students to grade it with the mark scheme.

In groups of three have two students play examiner and candidate while the third assesses with the mark scheme. Don’t forget that no one can provide specific language feedback. This may be frustrating, but you have to stick to the rules. If you have an assistant they could play a role as long as they are clear about what they can and cannot do.


To conclude, teachers are often concerned by the rules for preparing the IRP and are well aware that they are open to abuse. It’s all too easy for students to get outside help so you can never be certain the IRP was entirely the student’s own work. This is the nature of this type of assessment. It’s valid and desirable (and an Ofqual requirement) but by its nature cannot be 100% reliable. All you can do, if you are certain there has been malpractice, is report it to the awarding body. The problem is then theirs and the student’s, not yours.

Running orals is a stressful business for all concerned. Try to trust yourself to listen carefully to your candidates and respond to them, not just work through a list of prepared questions. Orals at this level are often over too quickly and can be very enjoyable. Good luck!




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