Tag Archives: picture description

Step by Step: How I train my students to pass Part 2 (the pictures) of the standardized speaking exams. Part 1.

Alright, alright!

I know this is the third time I’ve posted this week. It seems I’m full of energy after the Christmas break. I really needed that break, didn’t you? Anyway, happy to go back to teaching, but hanging ominously over my head like a black cloud about to burst is the pressing necessity to start training my students to take their standardized speaking exams which will allow them to promote to the C1 (advanced level).

For those of you who are not familiar with the exam, let me explain how it goes. You might find you can apply it to your own classes, even though it’s not exactly the same kind of exam.

There are two tasks in the speaking exam.

  • Part 1: examiner-led conversation. The examiner asks questions about a topic and the students give full answers.
  • Part 2: the monologue, where the students are given a set of pictures (normally two or three).

About Part 2

In this second part, the one this whole post is built upon, the student is offered two or three colour photographs. Normally, the photos are in contrast or represent different options of the same issue.  Also, there is a title or a statement which suggests the topic of the monologue. After some thinking time, normally a couple of minutes, the student is given the opportunity to speak for about 4-5 minutes without interruption.

At this level, students are expected to talk about the topic using a wide range of vocabulary and grammar structures and they will have to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the most important issues related to the topic.

Students face different fears when preparing for the oral exams. Some of them are:

  • Do I know enough specific vocabulary?
  • Will I be able to use a variety of structures or will I stick to the simple subj+verb+complement structure?
  • Now,  the topic is “food”?  3 or 4 minutes talking about food? Seriously?  For heaven’s sake, I cannot even talk for one minute, let alone three or four!

Vocabulary and ideas. Keywords here.

How I train my students. Topic: Food

This is how I help them step by step. Bear in mind this is the first post of a series of posts dedicated to training students to pass the oral exam. As students gain confidence, guidance will be less necessary and some of these steps will be either unnecessary or done by students as part of their learning process.


1. Brainstorming vocabulary. Learning progresses through prior knowledge, so tapping into students’ prior knowledge is an essential part of learning.

On the board, we brainstorm the vocabulary they already know. This is an important step because it helps students reinforce and bring to life the vocabulary studied in previous courses.

Then, I ask them some very simple questions where they can activate this vocabulary: What’s your favourite food? What is the most expensive restaurant that you have ever been to? What did you eat there?


2.Acquiring new vocabulary. We work on new vocabulary using a number of written and oral exercises. (Any good course book provides enough vocabulary input, at least to get started). It’s important to emphasize here the importance of learning words in chunks. Surely, you can teach the word “ obesity” on its own, but there some other words you really want to teach in collocations like, for example, “eating disorders” or to “be obsessed with”. Also important, essential I should say, is pronunciation.


3.  Getting Ideas. Reading and Speaking. More often than not students find it hard to think on their feet. They find it difficult to come up with ideas that will fill in the 3 or 4 minutes allowed for this part.

You might disagree with me here, but I always tell them that oral exams are like the rest of the exams they might take. They need to prepare. They need to study.

Lack of preparation might result in something I’ve seen very often when assessing oral exams; students might talk for one minute and then, suddenly, stop. Now, you might wait patiently for them to come up with something else but the truth is that very often, when prompted to continue, they just repeat the same ideas they have already used. Why? most of the times due to lack of preparation. They mistakenly think that they don’t need to study for oral exams. They do.

So, listen up dear students! You need to study for oral exams.

 

Reading about different issues related to the topic not only reinforces the vocabulary they have learnt and gives them a chance to see it used in context but also gives them ideas of what they can talk about when doing the real task.

I normally use short extracts from The Pais in EnglishHere’s my choice of extracts for the topic of food. This how we do it:

  • We read the extracts in class or set the reading task as homework.
  • We underline relevant vocabulary.
  • Students discuss the questions in pairs, followed by class discussion.

 


4. The pictures. I am lucky to have a computer and an overhead projector in my class, so I normally display a collage with two or three related pictures on the board. You can see the ones I have used for this topic here and here.

Together we read the title and brainstorm ideas to fill in these 3 or 4 minutes. This step should be easy now as we have previously discussed some ideas in the previous task. Some ideas could be:

Together, we brainstorm vocabulary

  • Pesticides
  • Label
  • To be obsessed with
  • Bulimia
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Carbs
  • …etc

  1. Tips.
  • Look at the pictures and the title if there is one. It will hint at what you need to talk about.
  • If you are given some thinking time, use it.
  • Remember that you are not asked to describe in detail what you can see in the pictures. You are asked to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the topic.
  • Focus on three or four ideas and develop them as much as you can without repeating yourself. Start with a short introduction about the topic, talk about the first idea, develop it; start with the second idea and repeat procedure.
  • Don’t forget to use specific vocabulary and a variety of structures.
  • Essential: practise a lot and record yourself taking the exam.

6. Homework. Further practice. Collaboratively writing on a Padlet.

This follow-up task has two main aims:

  • to reinforce acquired knowledge and strategies
  • to share ideas. By asking students to write on a  collaborative Padlet, they benefit from each other and see other ideas which might help them improve their own performance.

All the Padlets created for this purpose will then be shared in a single one where students, at a glance, can decide what topic to revise.

In the next post, we will move from writing to speaking on a Padlet.

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Are you a visual teacher? An amazing free resource based on pictures

As of yesterday, I’m almost (not yet though!) done with correcting essays for the year.  I cannot even tell you how happy this makes me. I’ve spent the whole long weekend trying to squeeze in time to correct students’ compositions.

I cooked, I corrected; I washed my hair, I corrected; I watched TV, I corrected.

Now, I am almost finished. And I’m celebrating by writing this post to share with you a website that I love.

What is there in a picture? I don’t know. What I know is how differently my students react and perform when the task has been introduced with a picture.

Imagine this, you need to do a reading text about Alcatraz, the infamous prison.

Option 1. Ok, now, open your books at page 7. We are going to do a reading about Alcatraz.

Option2.  Display a picture of Alcapone’s cell in Alcatraz. Don’ t tell them anything about the picture just yet. Ask the sort of questions that might arise interest to finally disclose that it is the picture of a cell where Alcapone lived in Alcatraz.

I won’t insult your intelligence by asking which option you think will arise interest in the reading test, but the truth is that it takes nothing to introduce the reading with a picture of the prison and it makes a world of difference.

 

I am a very visual teacher and  love working with images to enhance learning. In my humble opinion, images should play an important role in the language classes as they help students retain information and make learning more memorable and effective.

The site I’m sharing with you, Pobble365, is certainly worth a visit if you keen on using pictures in your classes. Pobble365 offers you engaging lessons based on images.

The site offers one interesting picture a day and different activities related to the picture. These activities include:

  1. A story starter: the perfect prompt if you want to do some creative writing with your students.
  2. A sentence challenge: it challenges you to write or say a complex sentence based on the picture. Perfect to improve your grammar skills while rising to the challenge.
  3. Question time: you are offered some questions to help you describe the picture. Excellent to boost your speaking skills.
  4. Sick sentences: in this part, you are offered the opportunity to improve some sentences, which are grammatically correct, but are too simple.

Some extra features:

  • It’s free and you don’ have to register unless you want to.
  • You can download the pdf for the lesson
  • You can also see other pictures with their corresponding resources by clicking on Pick a Day at the top right-hand corner.
  • You can search images with Pobble to find relevant images or videos to the topic you want to discuss. For example, say you want to find images or videos about the weather; you just type the word in the search box and see what Pobble has to offer.
  • Here you can read about  9 ways to use Pobble 365 with your students.

I hope you enjoy using Pobble.

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Oral Exam: Monologue Based on One or More Pictures. Some Tips and Ideas to Get Started

In the intermediate and more advanced exam you will be presented with one, two or more pictures about the same topic but in clear contrast. It’s important to remember that you are not supposed to give a detailed description of everything that is happening in the picture(s). On the contrary, what is important is that you talk about the topic or idea suggested in the picture(s). If you are given  for example 3 minutes to talk, use just one minute of this time to describe in general, using appropriate language and structures; the rest of the time should be dedicated to talking about the topic and giving your opinion.

BEFORE THE EXAM

  • Make a list of the most common topics asked in the exam.
  • Brainstorm vocabulary you can use related to this topic. Mind mapping works perfect here. I use the free site Goconqr.

Mapa Mental creado con GoConqr por Cristina Cabal

  • Practise using sets of pictures in contrast. You can use my own selection here. (Scroll down)
  • If your problem is that you never know what to say, I suggest you have a look at some conversation questions you might be asked about the given topic. It will probably help you get started. Have a look at some common topics with questions here.
  • Listen to other students taking the exam (for example here) or read some examples here (fashion, global warming, jobs, new technologies and food)
  • Time yourself to control the time it takes you to develop your ideas.
  • Record yourself and then listen to the recording and see how you can improve it. You can use the app Soundcloud, which allows you to stop the recording and write comments.

(You can write a comment on a track through the text box below the waveform that says ‘Write a comment…’ and press your return or enter key to send. The comment will appear at the point on the waveform where you first started typing. Alternatively, you can click any free space in the comment section to leave a comment at that specific point)

  • The day before the exam, revise all the topics and the vocabulary you can use.
  • Half an hour before the exam, don’t speak your mother tongue. Spend the time listening, doing some silent reading or pronunciation exercises in English.

DURING THE EXAM

Before you start speaking:

  • If you are allowed 1 minute to organise your ideas, use that minute. I have often seen candidates not taking this minute and making a mess of the exam just because they didn’t take the time to organise their ideas.
  • Scan the pictures and identify the topic. Sometimes there is a title or a heading that helps you.
  • Try to come up with three ideas about the topic suggested by the pictures. Expand on these ideas.

Taking the exam:

  • Begin by giving an overall idea of what the pictures are about, using a variety of structures, modals to indicate possibility and the useful “look” or “seem”.
  • Talk about the topic. It’s easier if you relate it to yourself, but if you don’t have this experience, talk about a friend’s or just lie. This is an English exam, not a lie detector.

via GIPHY

 

  • Develop your ideas. Try to use linkers to connect your ideas.
  • Don’t give too complicated explanations. I’m sorry to say, you’ll probably make mistakes.
  • Give your opinion. Say which one you prefer and why.

Some expressions you can use:

Remember it’s better if you start by giving a general idea of what the pictures are about.  Don’t start like this:

In the first picture I can see

Start like this:

  • In this worksheet there are two photos. They both show different ways of (shopping).
  • These photos are clearly both connected to the topic of (science)… but in two quite different contexts. In the first one… In contrast, the second picture shows…
  • The photo/picture shows …
  • The first thing that strikes me about this picture is…

 

Remember that you are describing a picture, so you cannot be 100% sure of what is happening. Use language that suggests this:

  •  I think…
  • Maybe / Perhaps…
  • I guess they are…
  •  Modal verbs of deduction: she must / can’t /
  • Modal verbs of possibility: could, may, might
  •  She looks/seems… (tired)/ She looks like … (a teacher). It looks/seems as if (it’s raining)

PRACTICE.

Go to https://www.cristinacabal.com/?page_id=4906  and scroll down to the section SET OF PICTURES FOR PRACTICE and just “practise”. “A  lot!” 🙂

 

Lesson Plan: the 44th and 45th USA Presidents

As I was browsing the Teaching English- British Council facebook page (posts from visitors) I came across a lesson by Sean Banville, the owner of some popular sites like Breakingnewsenglish.com and Famous People lessons.com.

Mr Banville has put together a very timely lesson about Donald Trump and it got me thinking how I could best use it with my students. Fortunately, this prolific writer had also published a lesson about Barack Obama. So, I had everything I needed to tweak his lessons and adjust it to the way I teach. I just needed to ask for his permission, which he kindly gave me.


Level: Upper-Intermediate

Aim: This timely lesson aims at offering students the opportunity to discuss a current event and therefore boost their motivation to learn English. Students will get listening practice, learn new vocabulary and improve their communicative skills.

Materials:

 


STEP 1.Warm up.

Predicting. Write the following words on the board and ask students to guess what the activity is going to be about.

politician, businessman, wealthy, Republican, Democratic, controversial

Speaking

  • Show the picture of Donald Trump and ask students in pairs to share any information they have about the new president of the USA.
  • Slide the juxtapose, (that’s how the sliding picture below is called) and show the image of Barack Obama. Again, ask students to share what they know about the former president of the USA.

 


STEP 2. Listening

Divide the class into As and Bs. Tell As they are going to listen to some information about Barack Obama. Tell Bs  they are going to listen to some information about Donald Trump.

Give student A a photocopy containing Obama’s exercises for Listening Gap Fill and Synonym Match  and give student B a photocopy containing Trump’s exercises for Listening Gap Fill and Synonym Match. (see links above)

Procedure: Play Obama once and ask student A to fill in the gaps with the words they hear. Play Trump once and ask students to do the same. Play each part one or twice more, depending on the level of your students. Correct both exercises, teach any vocabulary they don’t know and drill pronunciation.


STEP 3.Working on Vocabulary

Ask students to do the Synonym Match exercise in their photocopies. Point out that this exercise is very important as they will need to use some of this vocabulary in the next exercise.


STEP 4. Building a word cloud with students’ suggestions.

Tell students that they will now have to read their part several times as the next step will be retelling their text in as much detail as possible. As they read, ask them to underline any key words that might help them retell their biography.

Open Wordle (it works better on Firefox) and ask students A to help you feed the word cloud with the words they have underlined. Open a new tab and do the same with student B.

Alternatively you can use mine 😉

OBAMA

 

TRUMP


Step 5. Retelling

Pair up student A and student B. Display the word cloud for Obama and ask student A to retell Obama’s biography in as much detail as possible and using the prompts in the cloud. Repeat procedure for student B.


Step 6. Homework

Check out the creative suggestions Sean gives for homework.


Hope you have enjoyed the lesson!

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Revising Simple Past,Used to and Would with some Engaging Activities

This lesson has been designed as a next-day revision activity for B2 (Intermediate +) students.

Aim: to consolidate the use of Past Simple, Used to and Would for past habits and routines.

Level: B2 (Intermediate+)

In this lesson you will find.

  • Grammar and exercises
  • Speaking: Picture discussion in pairs
  • Speaking: an advert from a popular drink comparing past and present
  • Writing: a fun writing game
  • Speaking: bits of your childhood

STEP 1. Grammar.

The use of these three verb forms to express past habits and routines can be a bit confusing for students, so in this class I am aiming at some revision to clarify concepts. Assuming students have already studied formation rules, the focus is now on use.

PDF with exercises here.

STEP 2.Picture description. Speaking.

Display the picture of a family in the past and ask students, in pairs, to discuss the differences they can see and the differences they can guess exist between the family shown in the picture and their own family.  Encourage students to use the targeted grammar.

Get feedback

STEP3. The video. Speaking.

  • Tell students they are going to watch a video. Explain there will be no comprehension questions as there is no dialogue.
  • Ask students to give you a brief description of what they have seen.
  • Explain that the advert is called “Grandpa” and it tries to show that the lifestyle enjoyed by our grandparents — moving more, eating well, taking it easy — can be beneficial.
  • Students will see the video twice more and  their task is to write down any differences they can see between the man today and his grandfather.
  • Once students have completed this task, ask them to work in pairs commenting on the differences they have seen in the video encouraging them,once again,to use the targeted grammar point: the use of simple past, would and used to to talk about past habits and routines.
  • Encourage discussion of the following points
  1. healthy eating
  2. stress
  3. working conditions
  4. means of transport
  5. relationships
  6. habits

STEP 4. Writing game: I have retired

Target language: Used To, Would and Simple Past Tense to describe past habits, states and routines

Preparation: none

Procedure:

Set the context: tell students they have to imagine they are 70 and retired. They are happier in retirement than when they were working but there are some things that they still miss.

Students, in pairs or in threes, choose the job they used to have.

Students will need to produce four sentences using the targeted language, giving clues for the other groups to guess their job.

  • sentences can be positive or negative
  • the first sentence will contain the clue most difficult to guess
  • the last sentence will contain the easiest clue
  • The first sentence will be awarded 4 points and the last one 1 point

Each group will name a spokesperson who will read out the clues. It’s important, at this stage, to ask students to speak up and clearly. Some rules:

  • The spokesperson will read the first sentence and the other groups will raise a hand if they think they know the answer.
  • Only one guess is allowed for each clue
  • If the answer is correct, they will be awarded the four points, if it is not, the second clue will be read for three points.

Example

  • 4 points. I would work with a lot of people
  • 3 points. I worked after “work”, mainly at home.
  • 2 points. I used my voice a lot
  • 1 point. I used to work with children

How many clues did you need to hear??  Yes, the answer is TEACHER

STEP 5. Bits of your childhood. Speaking in small groups.

Ask students to think about their life at the age of 10.

Give students a list of things they might want to talk about.

Ask students to think about what they will say and the language they will need. Allow some minutes for preparation.

  • Where did you use to live?
  • Did your life use to be very different to how it is now?
  • Where did you use to go to school? Do you remember any of your teachers? Did you have any favourite teachers?
  • Did you use to get good marks? Did you have a favourite subject?
  • What did you use to do after school?
  • Where did you use to play? Do you remember who your friends were? Did you have a best friend?
  • Can you remember your favourite game?
  • At lunchtime, did you use to like the food? Did you use to eat with your parents?
  • What was your greatest wish? Can you remember?

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