Three activities for speaking tests

These activities are designed to provide practice for learners preparing for the IELTS, TOEFL and FCE tests.

Paul Kaye

Although each is focused on a specific sub-skill needed for each test, they can be adapted to provide more general practice. The activities are as follows:

  • In activity 1 learners practise the different functions of Part 3 of the IELTS test
  • In activity 2 learners practise comparing and contrasting things for Part 2 of the FCE test
  • In activity 3 learners practise speaking for short turns in similar conditions to those of the TOEFL test.

Activity 1 - IELTS

This activity focuses on the functions needed for Part 3 of the test. This kind of activity (learners generating questions) also helps raise learner awareness of the task type and demands.

1. Explain to the learners that in Part 3 of the IELTS exam the candidate and examiner have a discussion relating to the subject the candidate has spoken about in Part 2.

2. Introduce these functions and elicit examples of language we might use for each:

a. Compare
b. Describe
c. Evaluate
d. Justify
e. Predict
f. Express preferences
g. Provide analysis

3. Put the learners in pairs or small groups and give them Handout A (see Attachment box below). Ask them to complete the prompts to form questions; the topic on the handout is education but this can be adapted to your context.

4. Regroup the learners in different pairs or small groups and tell them to ask each other the questions. If there are three in a group, one learner can act as an examiner and give feedback.

5. Some things to remind the learners:

a. The answers they give should be longer than in other parts of the test.
b. They should really try to show how good their English is at this stage, as the examiner uses this part of the test to see what their limits are.
c. They should focus on ideas as well as language.
d. You can also encourage learners to use strategic language such as ‘That's an interesting question - can I have a moment to think about it?'

Activity 2 - First Certificate (FCE)

This activity focuses on the functions needed to compare and contrast in part 2 of the test. The interaction pattern is open class and so it can be done as a competition.

1. Before you do this activity make a collection of photographs. You need 12. These can be of almost any subject but should have enough detail to talk about. Pictures of people doing things are a common theme. Separate these pictures into two groups of 6 and number them. You also need some dice.

2. Explain to the learners that in Part 2 of the FCE the interlocutor gives each candidate two photographs and asks them to compare and contrast the two. The candidate needs to speak for one minute.

3. If you haven't practised this before, elicit examples of the kind of language we use to do this, e.g. ‘The first picture shows... but the second...' and ‘The main difference is...'

4. Place the two groups of photos on a table, face up, and ask the learners to look at them. They can discuss them and check vocabulary with you.

5. In turn, each learner throws the dice twice. The dice roll tells them which photos they have to compare and contrast, for example if they roll a 4 and a 1 they have to use photo 4 from the first group and photo 1 from the second.

6. Learners talk about their two pictures; others listen and then give feedback.

7. Ways to make this more challenging (and authentic):

a. Keep the photographs face down, so learners don't get a chance to prepare what they are going to say.
b. Vary the time learners need to speak for, from short turns to 1 minute.
c. Learners speak in pairs, and then alone.

Activity 3 - TOEFL

This is more a way of setting up speaking activities than an activity itself but it is a useful way to recreate the challenging conditions of the TOEFL test. The procedure is as follows:

1. Explain to the learners - or remind them - that in the TOEFL test they are working with a computer, not other people.

2. Elicit ideas about why this is difficult, for example because you can't see the other speaker, or get any feedback on what you are saying.

3. Explain that your speaking activity is going to help learners with this problem.

4. Set up your pair or small group speaking activity in the following way:

a. Put learners into pairs or small groups.
b. Sit them back to back, but close to each other.
c. Give them the speaking task.
d. Ask the unseen partner to listen and then give feedback, but not to interact during the exercise.

Almost all stages of the TOEFL test are suitable for this kind of interaction. For example, you could practise Task 1 of the test by giving learners questions on common topics such as their studies, or do Task 6 by playing an extract to the group and then asking them to give an opinion to their unseen partner.

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