Billie Jago works as a teacher and teacher trainer. She has 8 years’ experience in ELT, and has taught classes all over the world, in countries such as China, Spain and Italy. More recently, she’s been teaching exams and creating course content. In this article, she looks at teaching engaging exam classes and how to design interesting activities for exam success. If you would like to watch Billie’s Spring Day’s webinar about teaching classes for exam success, you can do so here.
Teachers all over the world know just how challenging it can be to catch their students’ interest and keep them engaged – and it’s true whether you’re teaching online or in a real-world classroom.
Students have different learning motivations; some may be working towards their exam because they want to, and some because they have to, and the repetitiveness of going over exam tasks can often lead to boredom and a lack of interest in the lesson.
So, what can we do to increase students’ motivation and add variation to our classes to maintain interest?
Engage students by adding differentiation to task types
We first need to consider the four main skills and think about how to differentiate the way we deliver exam tasks and the way we have students complete them.
Speaking – A communicative, freer practice activity to encourage peer feedback.
Put students into pairs and assign them as A and B. Set up the classroom so pairs of chairs are facing each other – if you’re teaching online, put students in individual breakaway rooms.
Hand out (or digitally distribute) the first part of a speaking exam, which is often about ‘getting to know you’. Have student A’s act as the examiner, and B’s as the candidate.
Set a visible timer, according to the exam timings, and have students work their way through the questions, simulating a real-life exam. Have ‘the examiners’ think of something their partner does well, and something they think they could improve. You can even distribute the marking scheme and allow them to use this as a basis for their peer feedback. Once time is up, ask student B’s to move to the next ‘examiner’ for the next part of the speaking test. Continue this way, then ask students to switch roles.
Note: If you’re teaching online and your teaching platforms allow it, you can record the conversations and have students review their own performances. Just be sure not to save these videos for privacy reasons.
Listening – A student-centred, online activity to practise listening for detail or summarising.
Ask pairs of students to set up individual online conference call accounts, on Skype or Zoom for example.
Have pairs call each other without the video on, and to tell each other a story or a description of something that has happened, for their partner to listen to. This could be a show they’ve watched, an album they’ve listened to, or a holiday they’ve been on, for example. Ask students to write a summary of what their partner has said, or get them to write specific information (numbers, or correctly spelt words) such as character or song names or stats, for example. Begin the next class by sharing what students heard. Students can record the conversations without video too, for further review and reflection afterwards.
Writing – A story writing group activity to encourage peer learning.
Give each student a piece of paper and have them draw a face at the top of the page. Ask them to give a name to the face, then write five adjectives about their appearance, and five about their personality. You could also have them write five adjectives to describe where the story is set (place).
Give the story’s opening sentence to the class, e.g. It was a cold, dark night and… then ask students to write their character’s name + was, and then have them finish the sentence. Pass the stories round the class for each student to add a sentence each time, using the vocabulary at the top of the page to help them.
Reading – A timed, keyword-based activity to help students with gist.
Distribute a copy of a text to students. Ask them to scan the text to find specific words that you give them, related to the topic. For example, if the text is about the world of work, ask students to find as many jobs or workplace words as they can in the set amount of time. Have students raise their hands or stand up when they have their answers, award points, and have a whole class discussion on where the words are and how they relate to the comprehension questions or the understanding of the text as a whole.
All 4 skills – A dynamic activity to get students moving.
Set up a circuit-style activity with different ‘stations’ around the classroom, for example
- Writing (1 paragraph)
- Use of English (or grammar/vocabulary).
Set a timer for students to attempt one part from this exam paper, then have them move round to the next station. This activity can be used to introduce students to certain exam tasks, or a way to challenge students once they’ve built their confidence in certain areas.
Teaching engaging exam classes with Gold Experience
Courses such as Gold Experience Second Edition also provide ways to promote interactivity in your lessons and allow students to be engaged by teaching real-world skills and topics that are transferable to situations outside of the classroom.
Each unit starts with the learning objectives of each lesson, which allow students to monitor their own progress. Exam tasks are introduced in a graded way, eventually leading up to full exam tasks when students have grown in confidence.
Model answers are provided for both speaking and writing, so both teachers and students can see what is expected of them at their level, and the Pearson English Online Portal offers ample resources such as audio, video and a full assessment package, including two full speaking exam videos.
The Presentation tool allows you to provide something visual for students, whether projected at the front of the class, or as a shared screen online. There is also a timer and a point counter which can be displayed from the Portal’s teaching tools to add dynamism and help add competitive, timed activities to the lesson.
Gold Experience also provides opportunities for teachers to encourage students to work independently, which allows them to develop their creativity and intellectual curiosity, as well as increasing motivation and building their confidence in using and producing language.
By using a variety of resources and offering different ways of doing often repetitive exam tasks, we can increase our students’ interest in the lesson and help them work more independently and passionately towards their end goal of passing their exam.