IELTS PRE-READING AND PRE-LISTENING STRATEGIES By Richard Gresswell The classroom activities this month focus on developing strategies that IELTS students will find useful in attempting the various reading and listening tasks. I’ve referred to the activities as pre-reading and pre-listening as their aim is to help train students in ways of approaching different question types before actually reading or listening to the texts. In particular the activities raise awareness of the value of prediction and grammar in recording accurate answers. The following activities were demonstrated and discussed recently in a series of “IELTS clinics” in Brighton, Eastbourne and Bournemouth. Many of the participants gave interesting and useful suggestions from their own classroom experience. Activities What is the keyword? Comparing headings Spot the difference Form Filling Using Layout Completing Notes/Summaries What is the Keyword? I believe many students find the true/false/doesn’t say and yes/no/not given questions in the IELTS academic reading module particularly difficult, especially the difference between “no” and “not given”. Many teachers attending the recent IELTS clinics shared this feeling. One approach to help students focus on the task is to get the students to underline ONE keyword from each statement. It’s often advised to underline keywords in questions but it may not be clear to students what kind of keywords to look out for. I’ve illustrated this below with a list of statements from “t/f/dns” and “y/n/ng” questions in Sam McCarter’s IELTS Testbuilder. Tell the students to select ONE keyword from each of the following: 1. Networking is not a modern idea. 2. People fall into two basic categories. 3. All teachers are cynics.. 4. The first piece of Hesse’s art has little effect on visitors to the gallery. 5.The New Forest has already been made into a National Park. Suggested answers: 1. “not” 2. “two” 3. “all” 4. “little” or perhaps “first” 5. “already” The suggested answers I’ve given may not seem that obvious to the students who would possibly consider keywords such as “Modern” or “New Forest” as more significant. However, the keywords shown have a greater significance in terms of the meaning of the whole statement and illustrate a number of traps in the test. For instance: 1) “not” makes the statement negative as opposed to possibly being positive in the text. 2) “two” determines a specific number of categories which may differ in the text. 3) “all” determines that every teacher is a cynic and not a proportion of. 4) “little” has a negative connotation as opposed to “a little” another one to watch out for is “few” and “a few” 5) “already” shows that the New Forest was made into a National Park in the past and is not a future proposal i.e. an indication of past, present or future time. These examples hence illustrate the importance of looking out for: negativity, a specific number, the whole or a proportion of, positive and negative connotation and reference to time. Other ones to watch out for include: Modals e.g. words like must, should, have to (varying degrees of obligation or certainty) Adverbs of frequency e.g. sometimes, always Words such as “Most”,” some”, “all” This can be used as a regular activity in class when attempting this question type. The keyword the student selects may not turn out to be the correct one but at least the student is focusing on the task. A useful addition to this activity is to compare what the student perceived to be the keyword before reading the text and what the keyword turned out to be after having read the text. Top Comparing Headings Again the “headings” question turns out to be another of the particularly tricky ones for IELTS students. It’s often the case that students are stuck between a choice of two and may select the wrong answer possibly because of the use of distracters in the text. I try to get the students to focus on the headings by first finding similar headings and then finding the difference between those similar headings. I’ve illustrated this with a headings exercise from IELTS Foundation. Find similar headings from the following: I. Launching a new soft drink product. II. The main benefits of the single market launch. III. Researching cultural differences in the world today. IV. The lack of cultural differences in the world today. V. Examples of launching a product in one market at a time. VI. The emergence of global marketing and its challenges. VII. The world as a single market: a successful case. VIII. Specific cultural differences to consider. IX. Different markets, adapted products. X. Success in the global market – key factors. Suggested answers for examples: III, IV and VIII VII and X I, II and V After the student has found pairs or even triplets of headings get them to focus on specific differences between them. e.g. Even though in the first example they all talk about cultural differences III talks about research, IV discusses a lack of, and VIII considers specific differences. This activity can really help to mentally train students to see the difference between the choices and become more aware of distracters. Spot the Difference This is a strategy for developing pre-listening prediction skills where the student may need to discriminate between pictures, maps, diagrams, graphs etc. in multiple-choice questions. Take a multiple choice question from your practice text exercise e.g. as shown below (question from IELTS Foundation) Photocopy the pictures and give each student a set of the four pictures for the question. Put the students in pairs. One student selects a picture and describes it to the other. The second student listens and selects the picture that their partner was describing. Repeat process for all four pictures taking it in turn. This activity is taking an exam exercise but making it into a fun speaking activity and at the same time mentally training the students to focus on the difference between pictures, maps, graphs etc. As you can see from the examples I have given it would be relatively easy for the pictures of the men but not so easy for the series showing the pictures of the bar and main hall. By doing activities like this you are in fact improving the students’ pre-listening prediction skills. Top Form Filling There are a lot of activities you can do in the classroom in order to improve pre-listening prediction skills. The form below is taken from IELTS Testbuilder. Identification and security check Card number: 6992 1............... 1147 8921 Name: Carlos Da Silva Postcode: 2.................. Address: 3................. Date of birth: 4................ Mother's maiden name: 5..................... Ask students what kind of information is required for each gap i.e. 1. a number 2. letters and numbers 3. a number 4. a number 5. a name However the form gives you more information than that e.g. for 1. the number must be a four- digit number (as can be seen from the format even if the students are not familiar with credit cards). In question 3 the number may also have a letter after it. As a useful strategy Sam McCarter suggests that the student mentally forms a question for each gap. e.g. 1. What is the credit card number? 2. What is the postcode? This kind of task may seem relatively easy but bear in mind in order for the students to get their required grade in IELTS it is essential they don’t throw away any marks in an exercise like this. I personally believe that form filling listening exercises can throw up a lot of potential pitfalls for students and that there are a lot of possible classroom activities for dealing with them. Below I’ve listed some of the possible pitfalls and given some suggested activities to help work in this area. Numbers Discrimination of sounds of the letters of the alphabet Address Formats Dates/ Months/ Days of the week Suggested classroom activities Numbers What kind of numbers would you expect to come up in an IELTS listening test? Very likely at some stage: 13 30 14 40 15 50 16 60 17 70 18 80 19 90 ● ● fifteen fifty You could raise awareness of this and practise sound discrimination through: Illustrating stress pattern (e.g. visually as above) Drilling pronunciation Number games such as Bingo (Editor: there are lots of activities for practising numbers in the warmers section.) Letters of the alphabet activity Elicit from the students the first letter of the alphabet – “A” Write on board under column “1” Elicit second letter – “B” Write on board under column “2” Elicit third letter – “C”. Column 1 or 2? Go through whole alphabet letter by letter. Each time you have a new vowel sound place under new column. How many columns will you have by the end of the alphabet? Answer to letters activity 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 /ei/ /i:/ /e/ /ai/ Go* /u:/ /a:/ A B F I 0 Q R H C L Y U J D M W K E N G S P X T Z V * We haven't yet found a solution to rendering IPA symbols in HTML (the language used with this page). Some symbols are not available at all. If your students are not familiar with phonetic transcription you could use a rhyming word e.g. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 sAy trEE bEd mY Go dO cAr A B F I 0 Q R H C L Y U J D M W K E N G S P X T Z V Be careful which rhyming word you choose as students may not pronounce them correctly! Discuss with students problem letters they have when filling in forms or speaking on the telephone. e.g. G/J, I/E, P/B, B/V. Make students aware that it is exactly these kinds of sounds that the students will be tested on in the exam. Address format activity Number of house/flat, Name of Street Town/City Postcode We know this format. Do your students? Familiarise your students with British/Australian address formats. How do other nationalities write addresses? e.g. Spanish, Chinese? Activity - Students dictate their names and addresses to each other. Spell all words. Other possible activities include dictating information from business cards possibly over the phone. Don’t take it for granted that the students are familiar with address formats. It is important that they are familiar in order to enhance prediction skills. Days/Months/Dates Make your students aware of the following: Which days of the week might be mentioned in a listening test? Which months of the year? Dates? Don’t forget capital letters for days and months! Suggested Answers: Days Tuesday/ Thursday (problem even for native speakers) Wednesday (difficult spelling) Saturday / Sunday (consonant sound or could be paraphrased as weekend) Months June/July (consonant sound) March/May (consonant sound) Dates 13th / 30th (number discrimination again) in a couple of weeks (paraphrases of two weeks) in a fortnight Top Using Layout Interpreting the layout of a table or diagram can be particularly important in the listening test and again is a prediction skill. For example look at the listening exercise below taken from IELTS Foundation In such an activity why might question 7 be difficult? Why might question 11 be difficult? Look at the layout of the questions and you will notice that in activity 4 numbers 7 – 9 go from bottom to top. In activity 5 numbers 11 – 14 follow in an anti-clockwise direction. Many nationalities naturally read from left to right and top to bottom. Under the pressure of the test it would be very easy to miss out a question by mistake and lose marks easily because you are looking in the wrong place. When my students have such a question where interpreting the layout is extremely important I get them to physically follow the numbers in order with their pen or finger before listening to the text. With the case of a map or diagram it may be essential to find a starting position as shown in activity 5, a bit like looking at a map when you arrive in a town you haven’t been to before and you want to find tourist information. The first thing you do is look for “YOU ARE HERE” on the map. Completing Notes/Summaries The task shown below involves filling gaps in a summary from a reading text. (From IELTS Testbuilder) Questions 16-22 Complete the summary below of the first four paragraphs of Reading Passage 2. Use one word from the passage for each answer. Please write your answers in boxes 16-22 on your answer sheet. Is it surprising that there is a 16........ of teachers? Schools do not have enough teachers, but what are the reasons for this? To begin with, fewer students are going into 17........ courses after finishing schools. But this is not young people's fault. The 18.......... of teaching has been under constant attack over the last ten years. The government's lack of respect for the profession is 19........... Moreover, administratively, the flow of bureaucracy is 20..........., even pupils in schools have no respect for those who teach them, as a 21......... series of assaults on teachers shows. The growing strain and stress means that, as well as fewer applications for teacher-training courses, teachers who have experience and are 22.......... are also being driven out. Before reading the text get the students to read the summary and decide what grammatical form is needed for each gap and ask them what helped them decide. e.g. 16. a singular noun This kind of activity works well and is a useful prediction skill with some students but only those that have a reasonable knowledge of grammar and are able to apply it. Often though many of my students are not very familiar with grammatical terms regarding “parts of speech” and often find it difficult to work out from sentences the grammatical form needed to fill the spaces in the text. To illustrate some simple grammar I use typical sentences from IELTS writing part 1. e.g. Between 1979 and 1983 unemployment increased dramatically Between 1979 and 1983 there was a dramatic increase in unemployment. Put the words from the above sentences into the table below. Verb Adverb Adjective Noun Preposition e.g. increased This activity helps students who are weak on grammar to learn the different parts of speech i.e. verb, adverb, adjective, noun, etc. You can then use the terminology to help with summary questions. Grammar familiarity is also necessary in some types of listening activities e.g. filling gaps in notes. The example below is taken from IELTS foundation. Read the following gapped sentences and try to predict words needed. Use no more than two words in each case. 1. The_______ help the tutor is able to give is with academic work. 2. There is_________of appointment times on the tutor’s door. 3. In the philosophy department all the tutors have made__________to keep registers. 4. In tutorials, the philosophy lectures will___________________ 5. As regards planning for the tutorial discussion, students should rely primarily on their_____________ 6. Students will be expected to_______________each week for the tutorials. 7. All graded essays and project work_____________towards continuous assessment. The answers for the exercise happened to be as follows: 1. main 2. a list 3. a choice 4. be reviewed 5. lecture notes 6. prepare 7. count However in order for the student to be successful in this task they need to be able to listen to the text and paraphrase it to insert the correct into the text. In the recorded text the actually words used were: 1. mainly 2. are listed 3. have chosen 4. a review 5. notes of lectures 6. preparation 7. counts Therefore the student has not only had to listen but also carry out a grammatical transformation in each case i.e. 1. from adverb to adjective (verb phrase to noun phrase) 2. Passive phrase to using the noun 3. verb as past participle to noun 4. noun to use of future passive 5. notes of lectures to lecture notes ( because of two word limit) 6. noun to verb 7. counts to count (subject-verb agreement) In summary students need to: 1. Predict before listening 2. Listen 3. Transform 4. Record answers. I believe the kind of transformation activity you find in Cambridge ESOL examinations such as First Certificate are useful in helping students practise different kinds of grammatical transformations that are required in such a question. e.g. noun phrase to verb phrase Unemployment rose dramatically There was_______________________ e.g. active to passive The cleaner opened the door The door________________________ At the Bournemouth IELTS clinic one teacher suggested breaking such an activity down into separate stages for training purposes. For instance students firstly practise note taking skills and then practise transforming those notes into a text requiring the need for grammatical transformations. This could be done by giving the students keywords for them to make notes on e.g. What kind of help does the tutor give? How do you make an appointment to see your tutor? Registers? What happens in tutorials? What do students have to do before tutorials? What is continuous assessment? After students have made notes under the headings hand out the gapped sentences to be filled in. I think this is a really useful activity because it makes students realise that there is more to listening than simply listening but also raises awareness of the importance of grammar. In addition it helps the teacher identify problems as you can see whether it is the initial listening the student is having a problem with or carrying out the grammatical transformation. This technique could be used for almost any type of listening exercise in the IELTS paper. i.e. incorporating a note-taking stage using headings before actually carrying out the IELTS task required.