Using Topic Based Lessons

I’m currently working a lot with higher-level students and I have to help them prepare for different kinds of tests and external exams. We all know that we need to expose our learners to various authentic texts on different topics. Text-based presentations work well as our learners work on developing receptive skills and can also expand their lexical range. This means that we can use texts as a source of information, so that students deal with them naturally, reading for gist and then trying to understand more detailed information. We also may help ours students notice some good expresions, i.e. clarify some lexical chunks that they may use in productive tasks. Finally, texts can be used as a springboard for production. Students may nick some ideas from others and build confidence before sharing their point of view in front of the whole class.

I’ve decided to share some activities my CPE students had to cope with at a lesson on travel.

I like introducing the topic using a quote, an image or even a combination of those. These pictures were used to prompt my students with some sophisticated vocabulary they are reluctant to use, e.g. the fours corners of the world, fabled, haggle over the price etc.
Then we brainstorm ideas and I supply them with some useful language. In that particular lesson, I actually used a text from the multiple choice task to challenge the learners according to their level and meet the aims of the course.
We sometimes read a text or watch a short video to get an idea of how to express ideas in the topic using more sophisticated tools and, then, hopefully, students will be ready to apply that knowledge in some topic related speaking or writing tasks.

As Jim Scrivener and Andrian Underhill suggest in their ‘Demand High’ approach to teaching, we need to ensure the level of challenge and help to stretch our students’ learning to full potential.

Here is a list of tips for students on improving their speaking score:

Speak with a structure

  • Develop your speech in a structured way by introducing your ideas, generalising and exemplifying them.
  • Don’t just list them, try to elaborate and give evaluative comments.
  • Sum up what you’ve mentioned at the end of each point and your response.

Expand answer

  • Don’t just talk through the points from the rubric.
  • Refer to them from the perspective of the question set, discuss its message, speculate.
  • Develop your point by giving reasons and justifying your point of view.
  • Show a range of language.

Use strategies and broaden the interaction

  • Verbalise difficulties by using useful language for buying time, e.g. “well, let me think” etc.
  • Express an opinion in a way that helps you demonstrate your lexical and grammatical range.
  • Use all your life experience, reading, general knowledge to discuss the task.
  • Listen to partner and respond to their views. Acknowledge their view before adding something of your own.

Those of you who want to try out one of the tasks, look at the first slide and think which interesting lexis you can use to describe the pictures and how they may help you develop ideas in the topic of travel.

To challenge you further, I’m inviting you to add some possible questions we can ask our students to discuss, for example, ‘What makes a good holiday?’. Any ideas?