Heatwave-themed – B2 Speaking

Summer classes and intensive courses can be improved by switching up the coursebook content and presenting students with some themed speaking tasks. As we are pushing through another week of unbearably high temperatures, I can’t think of anything more topical than the heatwave and climate change.

Intensive courses and exam preparation classes tend to be a bit tedious and repetitive. That’s why every now and then, I prepare themed lessons centred around a hot topic. Cambridge exam preparation coursebooks always contain one specific unit – the environment and extreme weather conditions. Why not spice your usual class and prepare your students to talk about the heatwave and their feelings about climate change?

This no-prep lesson idea is made of the examiner’s speaking notes, based on an official examiner’s guide which can be found in the FCE Sample Paper and a set of pictures available to download and print. You can also find a presentation for all the online lessons, or if you don’t want to print anything out! Scroll until the end of the post to download the files.

Start the class with a bit changed version of Speaking Part 1. Go in a circle and give each student one word to spell out. It’s a great way to introduce any new vocabulary, but also pre-teach some words that may be used during the exam practice. Additionally, it’s always good to refresh the alphabet and make sure that students are comfortable spelling things out – a skill that can be checked in Listening Part 2. The words included in the speaking are heatwave, scorching or drought.

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Proceed by asking students one or two questions about themselves. All the questions are related to weather and heatwave, for example, Which do you prefer, hot or cold weather and why? Remind them that this part of the exam is an ice-breaker, and students will be asked to talk about their personal lives.

Elicit the rules of Speaking Part 2, in which students talk individually for about a minute about two pictures. After that, another candidate answers briefly a question related to Candidate A’s pictures. There are two sets of pictures, in the first one students analyse two contrasting behaviours of people during the hot weather. In the first picture, the people are spending time in the swimming pool, and in the second, a man is relaxing on the sofa with a visible A/C unit. Give one minute to describe the pictures and answer the question posed above – Why have the people decided to do these activities?

In the second set of pictures, another candidate compares and contrasts a picture of a farmer in a field, and a woman in a hot office. Students talk about both pictures and think about different feelings they might be feeling in these situations.

Speaking Part 3 deals with a pair discussion. Read the hypothetical situation in which students imagine going on holiday to a hot country. They have 15 seconds to look at the question and five ideas of staying safe during heatwaves, for example, spending time by the water or staying hydrated. Students have two minutes to discuss the prompts and then one more minute to discuss which idea is the most feasible on holidays and why.

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The last part of the exam deals with opinion-based questions on hot weather and climate change. Allow students to develop their answers and support their reasons by giving personal examples. I always mention one of my favourite strategies in this part of the exam – give a general idea (what everyone believes), give your own opinion on the matter, and support it by giving personal examples.

Finish the class by giving everyone feedback. You can also ask the students to take notes throughout the whole class. Elicit all the positive things the others did and some areas which they should work on. If you have a bit more time and expertise, you can also give a predicted score with a short explanation.

Who said that the exam preparation classes must be boring and repetitive? If you like this type of no-preparation lesson, check out my other themed speaking for B1-C1 levels:

Click the links below to get your copy!

What makes you nostalgic? – B2 Listening Part 3

The other day, I posted a lesson plan based on a short scientific podcast The Healing Power of Nostalgia. I felt immediate motivation when I saw short extracts of speakers talking about what makes them nostalgic. It made me think of a typical FCE Listening Part 3 exam task, in which students listen to five speakers talking about one topic.

If you missed my last post Let’s get nostalgic – B2 guided listening, click the link and give it a listen. I did this class with a pair of adult students who were excited to tell me about their nostalgia triggers and gladly discussed why even the hardest of times seem like happy memories after some time. Science Friday, the website which provided me with this podcast gem, has much more to offer! Once I saw separate extracts of real people talking about their nostalgia triggers, I started thinking about FCE exam preparation classes, particularly Listening Part 3.

You can find the worksheet with the lesson plan and all the answers at the end of this post.

I thought that the best way of introducing this topic would be by playing sounds, which should induce group nostalgia. Depending on the age and nationalities, you should choose the sounds accordingly, as some of them may not make any sense. The best way of finding out what triggers nostalgia in a particular age group is by searching Nostalgic Sounds + year on the Internet. In my worksheet, I decided to include sounds that I’m familiar with. Listen to the sounds below. Are you familiar with any of them? How do they make you feel? Are there any other sounds that make you feel nostalgic? Why?

Sound 1
Sound 2
Sound 3
Sound 4
Sound 5
Sound 6

If this is the first time doing FCE Listening Part 3, you may want to explain what this task is about and what you need to do to get a good score. You can either refer them to the Cambridge English website or remind them that this listening consists of about 30 seconds long five themed monologues. Students select five correct options from a list of eight possible answers. There is one point available for each correct answer.

This part of the lesson is based on the short extracts of people talking about things that make them nostalgic (found under the summary of the podcast The Healing Power of Nostalgia). Present a typical Listening Part 3 exam task. The students will listen to two speakers talking about things that make them nostalgic (one related to the sound and the other to collectable toys). It’s only a practice round, so students are presented with only five options instead of eight. Read the text and underline any key information. Say that underlining keywords will help them focus on the most important information and avoid any distractors.

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Proceed by listening to Speaker 1 and reading the transcript simultaneously. Identify two distractors and the correct answer. Underline phrases that give you information to justify all your choices. This part should be underlined and labelled for a better understanding of the distractors, as seen below.

Now that students know how to tackle this task, play the recording of Speaker 2. Listen to the recording twice, choose the correct answer and justify your choices. If necessary, show the transcript and underline the distractors and the correct option.

If you haven’t explained it before, remind that in this part of the exam there are five speakers and eight possible answers to choose from. Give students about 30 seconds to read the task and all the options while underlining key information. In this part of the lesson, students listen to five speakers talking about different smells and what they remind them of. Listen to each speaker twice. While checking the answers, discuss all the options and any possible distractors that your students identified in this part of the exam.

All the audios and transcripts are available on Science Friday – The Healing Power of Nostalgia.

Speaker 1
Speaker 2
Speaker 3
Speaker 4
Speaker 5

Finish this part of the class by discussing the smells that make your students feel nostalgic. Are there any smells from the listening that your students can relate to in particular?

If you want to throw another part of the exam into the mix, I always love having a final pair/group discussion based on FCE speaking part 3. Divide students into pairs and show them the question they need to discuss How do these senses make us nostalgic? Students look at the list of five senses and have two minutes to discuss any examples from their lives and the things that make them feel this way. Finish by asking students to decide which of these five senses makes people the most nostalgic and why. Monitor this activity and finish by giving general speaking feedback.

Click the file below to download the worksheet, and if you need to add any changes to the worksheet, you can head to Canva and edit the file accordingly!

B2 Use of English Part 3 – Incredible vegetables

I guess spring is in the air, and it makes me more inclined towards healthy food and keeping fit topics. This time we’ll look into different vegetables and their health benefits. This will lead towards the lesson focus and the nemesis of Cambridge exam candidates – Use of English and word formation.

This post and lesson plan is inspired by Stephanie Valerio and her blog post titled B2 Word Formation Sudoku. When I saw it, I knew that I have to find a way to incorporate this incredible idea and spread this game all around. So thank you, Stephanie! I hope that this lesson plan will do your activity some justice.

This lesson is prepared for online/hybrid classes. It contains a lesson plan (with all the answers) and a presentation. Click the files at the end of the post to get your free copies.

Once again, I was going through free Cambridge Sample papers and found a Use of English Part 3 task titled An Incredible Vegetable. You can get your copy of this task with all the answers included from Sample Paper 1 for B2 First.

The first part of the lesson is based on a short YouTube video on the health benefits of certain vegetables titled Foods That Look Like Body Parts Give Clues To Their Health Benefits by ELLICSR Kitchen.

Start the class by showing pictures of foods from the video: walnut, carrot, tomato, olives and Brazilian nut. Students name the vegetables and nuts and match them with body parts that they resemble. Watch the video and check the answers. Discuss if students knew about the health benefits of these foods and if they have tried them before. Check if students remember what they have just watched and ask to write the health benefits of each. Watch again to see the answers and complete the list of health benefits.

Introduce the Reading and Use of English Part 3 by showing a picture of garlic and naming it. Ask if students enjoy it and what are its possible health benefits. Show an official exam task titled An Incredible Vegetable and read it for gist. Elicit some benefits mentioned in the text, e.g. infection resistance, killing bacteria and viruses, useful for coughs and cold, etc.

If it’s the first time that your students do this type of task, you may want to explain the rules and approach to be successful. Mention that one of the strategies is looking at the gaps and thinking about the type of missing words, e.g. noun (plural/singular?), verb, adjective, adverb, etc. Go over each gap and think of the types of missing words. If you have a strong group, you may want to encourage them to predict the missing words at this stage.

Show the base words in alphabetical order and give students some time to think about their different forms. Once everyone has completed the table to the best of their abilities, go over and write the answers. Make sure to include the words that will be used in the exam task later on! Once everyone has their cheatsheets ready, reveal the base words corresponding to each gap. Give students a maximum of five minutes to complete the task by changing the words to fit the gaps. Check and discuss the answers. This class shouldn’t cause too many problems to your students, as you have done the majority of it together.

Finish the class with a fun word-formation sudoku game created by Stephanie! Divide students into pairs and ask them to complete the sudoku – the first group to solve it correctly wins.

The use of English is a pain, and it’s so hard to turn it into a fun class, but I hope that you enjoyed my idea and will adapt it to your lesson! And what about Stephanie’s sudoku? That brain teaser will help many students memorise the new words and their spelling.

Click the links below to download the files for free.

Halloween-themed B2 speaking

Happy October! As an ESL teacher, you know what that means – themed lesson plans! I’m not a fan of conducting the standard History of Halloween lessons. Instead, I like to have the best of two worlds: exam preparation and Halloween.

Last year I was working with the second year of the B2 Cambridge exam preparation group. They were all great – just a bit stressed out about the upcoming exam. I decided to reduce the stress of the speaking exam and turn it into something a bit more fun – a speaking exam task (all the parts!) related to Halloween. It was one of my best classes. My students were excited to talk and sometimes even wanted to steal each other’s questions because they had so much to say!

This class contains a PowerPoint with all the questions and pictures (in case you either don’t want to print anything out or for all the online teachers out there!). It also has the examiner’s speaking guide (this part includes pictures and the discussion topic, available for printing). All you need to do is to download the files and you are good to go! Keep in mind that if you do this class with teenagers, you may not have enough time to finish it! Since it’s a Halloween-themed lesson, I’m not very strict with time and I just want my students to have fun.

As you can see the class requires absolutely no preparation time. The examiner’s notes were written using the original B2 exam speaking script. If you want to keep this class a bit more educational, you can ask other students to take notes on their colleagues’ mistakes and things that went well. You can also time them and end class with general feedback.

The class starts with Part 1, which is just a little bit different than at the exam. Ask students to spell Halloween related words (they may be shocked that they need to spell, but it’s good to keep them on their toes!) and then some general questions about their likes and dislikes about Halloween.

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I prepared this class for a group of four, so all my students had something else to talk about in Part 2. I’ve prepared four sets of pictures. Each set is supported by the main topic and a follow-up question for the other candidate. Remember to give them 1 minute to talk!

Part 3 is a pair discussion about what makes a successful Halloween costume. You read the imaginary scenario and students discuss what would make their outfits stand out at a party. It is followed by an additional question about which of the Halloween costume qualities would win them an award for the best costume.

In my opinion, Part 4 is always the best one. Ask students about Halloween celebrations, potential dangers, traditions, etc. I remember my students being so excited, willing to answer the questions for the rest of the class. They were so engaged that we didn’t have time for any error corrections! But it’s okay! It was a special class and it created many happy memories for me. I hope you will enjoy this class as much as I did!

Click below to download all the files for free!

First lesson for B2 Cambridge exam preparation

I was always looking for the perfect first class for exam preparation. Right after I finished CELTA, I had the pleasure of teaching B1 and B2 Cambridge intensive summer courses. As I was still on the high from passing CELTA, I analysed and prepared two full Compact books, including language analysis, possible problems (with solutions) and CCQs!

The part that I’m most proud of must be the lesson plan for the very first class. If you’ve ever taught an intensive course, you know that you don’t have that much time to waste, and you need to move quite fast. That’s why I decided to combine an introduction class, mock speaking exam and language level assessment all in one 60-minute class. I couldn’t be happier that post-CELTA Joanna was so organised, as she saved me some time. Especially now, when I have three B2 exam candidates who will definitely from those lesson plans.

This lesson consists of a lesson plan which closely follows the speaking part of the Cambridge Sample Paper 1 for B2 First. Download the sample paper to see the speaking guide, pictures needed for Part 2 and prompts for Part 3! All the other files you can download for free at the end of the post.

As this is an example of the very first lesson, I start it with a short introduction of myself. I like to describe who I am, what I do, my likes and dislikes, and where and who I live with. I try to keep it personal, as I want my students to feel free to talk about their preferences and lives without the feeling of being judged. If I work with groups, I would give them two minutes to think of 3 additional questions for me. These can be about anything that they want to know!

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Then it’s time for my students to say something about themselves. I do it in this way because I want them to mimic my introduction. Even though your students introduce themselves quite often, there is always this moment when their minds go blank, so in this way, they already may have some ideas of what they can say.

Once you finish this part, give each student one or two questions from the downloadable file B2 – Speaking Part 1 and Part 4. Students choose the questions at random without seeing them and write two-sentence answers. They read their answers and the rest of the group guesses their questions. Once everyone is done, you can ask them if they found this task difficult. Hopefully, they will say ‘no’, and that’s when you can reveal that they’ve just completed Speaking Part 1. Trust me that once they realize that this was an actual exam task, it’ll make them feel so much better!

Then move on to Part 2. Students already know that you are following the exam paper, so you don’t need to keep it a secret! Start by showing two pictures found in the sample paper. Divide students into two groups. Each group thinks of as many words as they can to describe the pictures. Share the vocabulary and then you can either discuss it as a group or mix students in pairs (picture 1 and picture 2 student) so they can find similarities and differences. Once this task is completed, go to the second set of pictures of gardens. You can ask students to work in pairs and compare them for 1′.

Part 3 starts by talking about the town you are in. You can ask students a general question What attracts tourists to your town? Students can work in groups and think about different activities and places, or you can do it as a group and present the answers in the form of a mind map. Then show the actual Part 3 task with five prompts around. Check if any of the answers are similar to their ideas. Choose one of the prompts (I normally choose the one about a nightclub) and yet again divide students into two groups – one group discusses the advantages and the other disadvantages of having nightclubs. Then mix one student from the advantages group with one from the disadvantages group so they can present their ideas to each other. And just like that, students should already have an idea about this part of the exam. If you want, you can choose one of the stronger students to present this part with you, or if you have a strong group, you can already ask them to do the task on their own.

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Before you realize it, you are about to finish the class! Finish with a general discussion about opinions aka Part 4. Explain that the theme of Part 4 is always related to Part 3, so during the exam, your students can already start predicting the type of questions that they may be asked! You can either give one question at random or do it as a group discussion.

Remember to take notes on all the positive things you heard during this class and all the things that need to be improved. I would finish this class with some error corrections. You can write the mistakes on the board and give your students a chance to correct themselves. You can also ask them to identify the type of error (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc.). In this way, you also introduce them to different areas of speaking assessment criteria!

And just like that! The class is over! If your classes are a bit longer, or you had some really quick speakers, you can end this class by showing the video of the actual Cambridge speaking exam that uses the exact same paper you just did in this class! If not, you can ask your future exam candidates to watch it as homework.

As I said before, this is my go-to class for all my exam preparation classes and intensive courses, where the time is so precious that I need my students to get into the exam mindset ASAP. You can download the lesson plan and the speaking prompts below!