Skip to main content

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!




- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Comments

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…

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net 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 pixabay.com 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…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

GCSE and IGCSE revision links 2018

It's coming up to that time of year again. In England and Wales. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

Don't forget the GCSE revision material on frenchteacher.net of course! How could you?

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one, Memrise and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices try the Learn French Vocabulary Free. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).

Listening
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/french/ (Foundation/Higher) http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/ (Foundation/Higher)
http://www.audio-lingua.eu/spip.php?rubrique1&lang=fr (Foundation/Higher) http://www.ashcombe.surrey.sch.uk/07-langcoll/MFL-resources/french/fr-video-index.shtml