Tips for Teaching Speaking

This is the Secondary Title

by | Aug 10, 2019 | Speaking, Tips

Speaking for some candidates is the scary part of exams, and that is probably because there they are dealing with an examiner rather than just a computer or a paper test, and that provokes fear. Let’s see what we, teachers of those classes, can do to help them overcome this fear.

Before we start to prepare our students to deal with exam questions, we have to tell them all about the exam. They need to know how the test is designed, how it is conducted and what is assessed in it. Then we can address each and every part separately and solve the big problem one fraction at a time.

The tested skills and sub-skills in a speaking exam include:

  • Fluency and coherence (discourse management)
    It is the ability to express ideas and opinions in more than just one utterance in comprehensible uninterrupted speech. This is usually tested in presentations, narrations, descriptions, instructions, explanations and predictions. These are tasks in which only one candidate is involved and the communication is one-way (from speaker to listener).

 

  • Turn-taking, initiating, and responding (interactive communication)
    As we will later read in this lesson, in some speaking exams there are two or more candidates in a single session. There communication involves at least two speakers (it is two-way), therefore, candidates need to know when to speak, how long to go on for, and how to pass the conversation to the next speaker. Candidates need to be able to start a conversation by asking questions, making suggestions and so on. They should also be able to respond to what the other candidate says. The ability to produce minimal responses (Mm, Really?, I see, Oh no! etc.) is also assessed by the examiner.

 

  • Grammar and vocabulary
    Both range and accuracy of grammar and vocabulary used when the candidate is speaking is assessed and scored by the examiner.

  • Pronunciation
    This includes the correct pronunciation of individual sounds as well as stress, rhythm, and intonation.
    Tests are basically divided into two major categories: One-to-one testing (where only one candidate is interviewed by one examiner), and paired testing (where two examiners are present and two candidates enter the exam room together).

The following task types are commonly used by exam boards:

  • Interview
    Question and answer tasks that revolve around general personal information and everyday topics. In some exams, prompts are prepared and given to candidates to ask other test takers.

  • Presentation
    These are tasks where candidates have to speak at length (1 to 3 minutes) on a given topic. This topic is introduced either by a visual or a verbal prompt.

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  • Negotiation
    During negotiation tasks candidates discuss a certain situation to reach a decision. Other forms include making suggestions, discussing alternatives, finding differences, putting items in order, and/or speculating about a situation.

  • Discussion
    These tasks usually come at the end of the speaking exam, and are normally about the topics previously used in the same session.

We tried to explore dark corners of the speaking test together with our learners. It’s time to give them some tips to prepare them for the exam:

  • Because of time limits, the examiner may interrupt the candidate if they speak for too long. It does not mean they are not happy or satisfied with what the candidate has said.

  • Some exam boards provide a handbook in which a list of expected topics used in different tasks of the exam is printed. Make sure you read and use it before the actual test.

  •  In paired testing there is an interlocutor and an assessor. The latter is usually sitting quietly in the room, monitoring all the candidates and carefully assessing their speaking abilities. Make sure you simulate the exam session during the preparation course to minimize stress.

  • Some exam boards record or video tape the exam session. Creating a similar environment during preparation period guides test takers towards better performance in the real test.

  • Do not be alarmed by the examiner taking notes. It is not only your mistakes they are jotting down. They take notes for better and more objective assessment.

  • Test takers need to understand that in most exams the examiner is not looking for one correct answer. They are assessing your speaking abilities, therefore, you are not required to tell the truth and nothing but the truth!

  • No matter what, do not memorize a set of questions and answers, because the exact question asked by the examiner cannot be predicted, and the examiner quickly recognizes a memorized answer.

  • Practice using body language and minimal responses. They are as important as making sentences.

  • Do not forget to work on question making as well as answering questions.

  • Learn to listen while others talk. It can be as important as speaking in the exam session.

 

About the Author

About the Author

CEO and Co-founder of Juice Academy

Mehdi Safavi is a Cambridge certified English teacher (CELTA Grade A), IDP-trained IELTS expert, Sussex Downs College TESOL and British Council staff member with 17+ years of teaching & teacher training experience. More about him →

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