5 ways to shine at your speaking test

5 ways to shine at your speaking test

There’s always one part of testing English that you hate. Some hate writing, others listening (aye, that would be me), but somehow it’s speaking that seems to cause lots of worries. To tell you the truth, I haven’t had problems with speaking ever since I came up with some simple steps. I can’t claim you’ll excel at speaking tests after following my ideas, but I do encourage you to give them a go – maybe they’ll work out for you just as they did for me!

1 Be a star!

Do you often do such boring tasks like housework? Doing the dishes may be an opportunity to play some kind of make-believe, and I don’t want you to become Anne of the Green Gables (unless you feel like it), but to imagine you’re a celebrity. Famous, gorgeous, popular and very much in demand for any interviewer possible. Now, controversial as it may be, celebrities are being asked about opinions on just too many things, starting with the weather, through world conflicts, ending with relationship advice – and here you are, being asked about as many various things as only you can think of. Be the Vacuuming Beyoncé, or Ronaldo, driving alone in his car – and talk to imaginary interviewer

(…) of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.

2 Make your vocabulary shiny

You might already know that I’m a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and so I revel in the rich and sophisticated vocabulary you will find in his writings. When I was studying English Philology, I decided to learn some of the expressions by heart, so that I could get bonus points for impressive vocabulary. To be honest, it was hilarious, when a simple task of describing a car ride became in my version nothing less than a start of the Apocalypse, full of, naturally, blasphemous and amorphous shapes harbingering the Elder Gods. You get the gist, right? Obviously, I don’t recommend using such a specific area of lexis during your exams, but pick something you are absolutely sure you’ll be able to put in every single topic.

Like Great Cthulhu, obviously.

3 Role-play a little bit

I am deeply convinced that if anything, Role-Playing Games are the best source of fun-related speaking exercises. If you want to go full RPG, you might want to read my articles related to this matter, but to be honest – all you need to do is pick up a role of a more or less real person (you might be Harry Potter, or James Bond, or Elizabeth Bennet etc.) and act out for a while – the idea is quite similar to the one where you pretend to be a celebrity, but here you may ask a friend to impersonate another person just to have funny little chats “in roles” – all you need to do is to find someone to be a Watson to your Sherlock.

4 Think of a magic word

Have you ever tried to say bubbles angrily? You probably can’t, it’s just such a funny lovely word that makes you smile. Similarly with kitten, puppy – any other ideas? For me it’s catkin, don’t know why it’s just a word that makes me smile. Why do you need this? Because you should remember this word right before your exam (write it on your wrist if you might forget it). Whenever you start stressing out, imagine yourself in front of the examiners introducing yourself as “Hi, my name is Monika and my favourite word is catkin”.

Only, maybe don’t do this in real life exam…

5 Smile

It was proved that if you smile, your brain relaxes (you’ve probably heard of the famous pencil-in-mouth experiment where people faking smiles were indeed more relaxed… only this experiment was replicated 2 years ago and the results weren’t so optimistic). Apparently, fake smiles don’t work, you really need to feel it – so even if you feel terribly nervous, fake it till you make it! As an examiner, I’ll tell you, smiling people seem more confident, more pleasant and generally are easier to test.

Now, a bonus piece of advice comes from my Phonetics lecturer:

Have a shot (just one, mind!)

Of course, only if you are of age. And if you’ve had a decent breakfast. And if you have some chewing gum so that you won’t be too obvious. Seriously, while alcohol isn’t good for your voice in the long run (unless you want to have that hoarse sexy voice of Janice Joplin), it does switch off your feeling of stress and loosens up your muscles as well as vocal cords which makes speaking physically easier (it’s like in a real life, easier to chat in a foreign language after you’ve had a pint). It’s a somewhat risky method, mind, so I won’t encourage you to try it out before a real test – maybe record yourself speaking, then have a shot and continue to check how your fluency increases and your coherence… well, you might imagine.

Enjoy your experiments!

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Self-assessment: how I introduced it in the classroom and survived

You're the best dad ever!

Some time ago I had a really nice chat with my almost-workmate Anna about self-assessment and challenges it may create. I talked about it from the perspective of my language school, she – from the viewpoint of a teacher in a public school. Our aims were the same, to introduce and implement self-assessment in our classes. Our environments, however, couldn’t have been more different.

Working in a private language school – let alone being a DoS with one – has encouraged me to try various approaches and methods in teaching. Dogme? – sure thing (you wouldn’t believe, though, the amount of lesson prep before a Dogme-style class). TBL? – great idea. Flipped classroom? – always! Station rotation? – awesome! I am absolutely aware, though, that educational system represented by public schools would never let me experiment, as in the system I would only be expected to deliver what’s in the curriculum.

I know. I left the system after two years in a primary school. Still keep in touch with “my” kids, though, bless their wicked little hearts.

Harris and McCann (Assessment Macmillan Heinemann, 1994) observe that students are often passive and expect teachers to tell them if they have done well or badly. This may be an issue when it comes to most Polish teenagers I know. That is why I decided to implement self-assessment throughout the whole IELTS preparatory course, so that both the students and I would be able to follow progress constantly. Moreover, the ability of self-assessing (valuable not only in language learning) should be a broad educational objective at secondary level – and the teens I teach think of studying abroad.

Self-assessment needs to be done at regular intervals, so that learners can be given an opportunity to think about what progress they are making and what their problems are. One of the benefits of teaching this particular group of students is that I taught them in the previous years, implementing peer review during tests and encouraging self-assessing activities in forms of questionnaires and regular individual interviews (some of them, especially the final one was conducted with students and their parents).

When it comes to self-assessment, I implemented it mainly during assessing speaking and writing skills, as those areas were crucial according to the needs’ analysis. What’s more, since reading and listening abilities may be practised during regular classes the students participate in their public schools, academic writing and IELTS-oriented speaking may not.

Apart from in-class speaking tasks, the students were asked to record themselves at home and listen to themselves, which is one of the most beneficial exercises before any speaking test – it may come as a surprise, but they actually did it, even sent me recordings with their self-assessment, highly underestimating their skills, which seems a traditional Polish approach to self-assessment. In-class we practised speaking in front of the classroom (incorporating peer review), but both the students and I believe self-assessing part is the most beneficial for further development.

Writing tasks proved to be the most difficult when it comes to implementing self-assessment, however, it also proved to be the most rewarding. In order to make the students reflect on their essays I highlighted the fragments requiring some change and did marking on a separate piece of paper. The students then were given their papers back, corrected the highlighted areas and tried to mark their own compositions – after this I handed out my markings and we compared the versions, which allowed for not only correction and development, but better understanding of the IELTS marking system.

What implementing self-assessment gave me, was something close to all-year long system of formative assessment. The great bonus is that those teens gain the great skill of being able to self-assess their own progress and this is a skill that will be useful in the future, when the memory of the IELTS preparation course is long gone.

I believe a step-by-step approach may help introducing self-assessment even within a framework of public education. Try peer review instead of marking tests, maybe a class contest instead of short tests, let them create their own quizzes, let them assess themselves. The teachers in public schools are expected to teach so that kids pass their tests – but maybe if you try a very slow process of implementing self-assessment, your students will appreciate something new that not only is fun, but also makes them learn even more.

Enjoy!

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 8 – making classes SuperBetter)

Role-Playing Teaching

It’s a really strange feeling, when you read a book in April and you realise you’ve just read your Book of the Year. Also, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t heard of Jane McGonigal before my Prince Consort picked her book during our monthly book hunt and said “You will love it”. He was right, naturally.

If you wonder why I would write a book review in my Role-Playing Teaching series, you need to watch a TED-talk by McGonigal herself who says things that make my little, black, rotten heart swell with happiness:

If the video hasn’t convinced you, you should read McGonigal’s bestseller “SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games”. I’m not a fan of self-help books (I read Faber and Mazlich’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, tried to use it while communicating with my parents and failed miserably – I was 13 by that time and lost faith in such publications), but I cannot describe SuperBetter as a self-help book, and one of the reasons is the emphasis on cooperation and social relations helping us grow.

The book begins with a moving story of Jane’s happy life, misfortune and final success in overcoming obstacles and reaching a happy, yet full of challenges, life. Frankly, so many books written to inspire others follow the similar pattern, so being the Villain I am, I was somewhat sceptical – but what followed the personal story, was a flood of data from various research – and this was something I love (yay, research!). Have you heard of Snow World, a game used in burn centres to alleviate the pain using phenomena called spotlight theory of attention? And that’s just the beginning of the motivating story where you create your own game-like life in which you can assume a role of a superhero to overcome any obstacles.

How do games help in our development?

Playing video games releases as much dopamine as an injection of a drug. Why is it useful apart from sudden exhilaration? Simple – the research show that dopamine “shots” while we play games make us more determined to achieve goals and less frustrated in case of the failure. It was proven that players are more dedicated and resilient, moreover, games help you try out various tactics and approaches without real-life consequences which encourages you to be more daring, open and ready for opportunities. Playing games also help you learn proper prioritising your own goals.

How to wake up a gamer in oneself?

Even if you haven’t played for a good while you can recall the mentality of a gamer – think of your obstacles as challenges or quests, whether it’s a visit to the dentist or becoming an entrepreneur. From the neurological point of view, McGonigal explains, there’s no difference whether you feel “real” excitement or “make-believe” feeling, your brain is ready to go! If you read the book, you will learn how to “power up” positive experiences and build your inner game-world (for example, by giving names to the obstacles – if your goal is getting fit, your main enemy might be a Scheming Local Pizza Place, where they seem to have great deals exactly when you’re hungry and passing by… coincidence? I think not!). You will also learn how to plan your aims realistically and how to avoid procrastination (to which some of us, like yours truly, are really susceptible).

Quests!

Apart from theory, the book includes three quests: the first is for those looking for True Love (which, as all of us fans of The Princess Bride know, is the best thing in the world except for cough drops), the second is for people who want to become ninjas (or at least Mulan), and the third one is created for those who feel their days are too short and want to work on time management.

Why should you read it?

You may sensibly ask: so far so good, but what does it have to do with teaching? Well – everything! With games, you have the perfect tool to make yourself and your students motivated, ready for a challenge (because Dreadful Grammar Drill looks like a perfect name for the obstacle on our quest to Purrfect English!) and, first and foremost, to make all the educational process fun, even within the strict framework of public educational system.

I believe in games and teaching complementing each other to make education fun, so if you’re a member of a facebook group of Polish Teachers of EFL and you’re interested in this topic, you will have an opportunity to attend my workshop on RPG and TEFL as well as take part in a RPG session during Zlot this summer.

I hope to see you there!

Jane McGonigal: SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games

Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-0143109778