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The New Michigan ECPE Speaking Test
by Michael Reid
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The candidates have to take it in turns presenting the information about their two options after having read through the notes on their sheet. Apparently, two to three minutes are allocated for this preliminary reading, which is more than enough time if the notes are as brief as the samples. However, it will pay for students to practise thinking a little about the notes before describing the options. In the case of Robert Barton, for instance, it pays to know that he is qualified to teach science before mentioning that he has been working as an English teacher. The student who has made a mental note of this will then be in a position to put together a longer and more interesting sentence beginning, perhaps, with the word "Although". It might be helpful for students in this regard to know that there is no rule saying they have to deal with the points in the order given in the notes.

It is interesting that this stage is said to involve "summarizing", which for most people usually involves reducing a longer text to a shorter one. But with only six brief points for each of the two options and with nearly two minutes to fill, there seems to be little call for summarizing. There is certainly no hint that there may be points that it would be better not to mention. Consequently, instead of summarizing, students will have to expand the notes into a well-formed description and do so without repeating too much of the input.

Another issue here is the question of whether it is acceptable for students to include expressions of opinion in their presentations. One can imagine Angelos describing Robert Barton in the following way.

Angelos: The second candidate for the science post is Robert Barton. Now, he's got 20 years' teaching experience, which makes him a much more experienced teacher than Jessica Peters, but he's been teaching English all these years, which I guess pretty much rules him out. Well, it does say here that he's qualified to teach science, but if that's so, it seems weird that he's been teaching English all these years. That doesn't look so good.

Presumably students are not supposed to mix fact and opinion in this way, although there is no explicit instruction to this effect. Assuming that students are supposed to refrain from expressing opinions at this stage, it may be worthwhile having at least one exercise in class distinguishing between facts and opinions as a prelude to discussing and practising stage two.

Another feature of this stage that will require practice is note taking. The guidelines allow students to take notes while their partner is presenting her options. These notes will be useful in stage three, in which the students have to discuss each other's options without being able to see each other's information sheets. Preparing for this will require not only practising taking notes but also presenting the points for the options in such a way that the other student can take notes.

During this process the student taking notes might miss a point and want to ask the other person to repeat it or to explain what they mean. Presumably this will be perfectly acceptable.

As well as presenting their two options each student has to "make a recommendation to their partner of the best option from the two options presented by their partner." There is no specific instruction about how this is to be done, but it would seem sensible for Angelos to present his two options and end by asking his partner: "So which of those do you prefer, Nafsica?" allowing Nafsica to express her preference before presenting her two options.

Now the odd thing about these preferences is that they are promptly ignored. They don't move the conversation on in the way that would normally be expected. The point is simply to give Angelos an added reason to pay attention to Nafsica and vice versa. The preferences that matter for the following stages are those that the candidates have with regard to their own two options, not those of their partner. Hence the instruction that each candidate must also quietly think about which of their own two options they prefer.

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