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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Preparing children for Young Learners Exams

Those of you who who work with Young Learners will probably have heard of the Cambridge Young Learner Exams. These exams are for children aged 7 to 13 and are available at three different levels. The benefits of children doing these exams are not so clear to me, as I generally believe that assessment should not be exam-based, but I'm sure the marketing people at Cambridge will have plenty of reasons why your young learners should sit these exams. In any case, they are becoming more and more popular, and you will probably have to help prepare your learners so that they are ready to do the exam.

The original idea of these exams I believe, was to introduce the concept and format of Cambridge exams to younger learners, so that they would be better prepared for KET, PET or FCE at a later stage. The exams were introduced to teachers as being suitable for children from as little as one year's English experience and that no extra preparation was required. If you have looked at these exams, you will see that they include quite an unusual vocabulary list, with some Americanisms (French Fries, eraser), unusual fruits that the children may not have even tasted (kiwi, mango), and some of the grammatical structures are quite challenging for a child who has only been learning the language for a year or two.

In recent years, Cambridge have realised that a general English course for children may not be enough to get them through the exams and have been publishing materials to specifically help with the preparation of them, and they have even brought out a new course specifically for the Young Learners Exams. I am actually using such a course with my seven to nine year olds, and I must admit, it is quite a nice course to use.

I would like to suggest some activities that can help with the preparation for these exams, including vocabulary tasks, grammar practice activities and ideas of how to improve students' reading, listening and speaking skills for the exams.

Firstly, lets look at the different levels. The first is called Starters, and is suitable for children of around seven to nine years with one or two years of English. Quite a lot of vocabulary is required, at least in a passive sense, and the ablility to read English is essential. As for all the exams, there is a reading and writing component, a listening paper and an oral interview. The second level is called Movers and requires a level quite a bit higher than Starters. It corresponds to level A1 in the Common European Framework. Understanding of the past simple tense is necessary, as is that of some modal verbs and comparatives and superlatives. The final level is called Flyers and is equivalent to KET (A2). This is a challenging exam and in my school we don't usually prepare our learners for it, as they are usually about 13 years old when they get to this level and find it too babyish for them. Instead, we start them on a two year PET course.

For this reason, I shall be focussing on activities for Starters and Movers. However, you could probably adapt them to Flyers, if you wish. Any worksheets will be posted on my Resources page (see link above).

Reading and Writing
There are five parts to this exam at Starters (S) level and six at Movers (M). The activities are very easy at the start and progress to become quite challenging in the later parts. In the first part the children have a set of pictures and a list of definitions which they decide are correct or incorrect (S) or names and definitions to match (M).
One activity you can do with your learners to practise this is Pelmanism.

Pelmanism
You can make your own cards with a set of pictures and definitions or see my Resources section for examples or to download. Learners can work in pairs or small groups with a set of cards between them. They spread out the cards face down in two separate areas, one for the pictures and one for the definitions.  Each turn they pick up one picture and one definition. If they match, they keep the cards. If not, they return the cards to their original position. The game continues until all the cards have been used or whenever you think the children are getting bored. The winner is the person with the most cards at the end of the game.

Another part of the Starters exam is based on spelling. Learners should have plenty of practice of ordering jumbled letters (anagrams) of common words e.g classroom objects, food, transport and other words that appear in the thematic vocabulary list (see http://www.cambridgeesol.org/assets/pdf/resources/teacher/yle_hb.pdf) You can do this by writing anagrams on the board for them to copy and rearrange, or give them words cut up into letters which they should place in order. They can also make their own anagrams for other students.

They will also need practice of singular and plural forms of nouns for part 4 (S). In this part candidates are given a short gapped text but they are given the missing words. They have to decide which word fits in each gap, but should be aware of the artcile a/an before singluar nouns and no article before plural or uncountable nouns. They should have practice in completing simple sentences with missing words. You can make cards or worksheets to practise this. There are examples on my Resources page.

Generally, you can practise most parts of the exam as a whole class activity if you have access to large pictures, big books or flip charts where you can ask all types of questions, either orally or written, about the pictures.

Listening
Tasks in the Starters and Movers Listening exams are mostly based on matching, notetaking and carrying out instructions. Learners will need to be able to recognise the names of the letters of the alphabet, numbers, colours and days of the week (M).

Here are a couple of activities which practise giving and carrying out instructions, prepositions of place. These are good practise for parts 1 and 4 of Starters, and parts 1 and 5 of Movers.

Draw It!
Give students a blank piece of paper and show them how to place it in a landscape postion by drawing a rectangle on the board. Draw a few basic objects e.g a tree, a house, a car (S) or stick people doing various activities such as carrying a book, climbing a tree, eating a sandwich etc (M). Students copy these pictures. Then give instructions such as the following:
Draw a ball next to the tree. Colour it orange. Can you see the house? Draw a cloud behind the house. Now draw a cat in front of the house and colour it black.
or
Can you see the girl eating a sandwich? Her name is Sally. And look at Peter, he's climbing a tree. John is the boy who is carrying a book and wearing a blue t-shirt. Colour his t-shirt.
Now, on another piece of paper the children do their own drawings. They then give instructions to their partner who draws and colours as instructed.

NB You will need to make sure the children know the names used in the exams and whether they are boys' or girls' names. These names are included in the vocabulary lists in the Handbook.

Lego Building
 This activity includes giving and carrying out instructions, prepositions, colours and sizes. Give each student a selection of Lego bricks. Each child makes a sculpture with their bricks. They then have to give instructions to their partner so that they can make the same sculpture without actually seeing it. You should revise statements such as Can you repeat it please? and  I don't understand so that the children can ask for clarification.

Silly Words
To practise spelling, make a list of silly words. These are invented words - you can give them a meaning if you like but make sure the learners know they are not real words!. It can be fun to invent animals e.g. SQUANT, PREATER, JUMSLE etc. Spell the words to the class and get them to write the word and then draw what they imagine they look like. Then, the children invent their own silly words and spell them to each other in pairs, groups or to the whole class.

Speaking
For Starters, the speaking test also includes carrying out instructions such as pointing to objects and placing objects in certain places. It also includes some basic personal questions about likes and dislikes, hobbies, family and school.

The House
This activity is to practise giving and understanding instructions. Give students a picture of a house with different rooms and some pictures of furniture. They colour and cut out the furniture (if you prefer you can give them magazines or catalogues from which to cut out the pieces of furniture). Then write the following dialogue on the board:

A) Can you see the lamp?
B) Yes I can.
A) Put the lamp in the bathroom next to the bath.
B) Sorry?
A) Put the lamp in the bathroom mext to the bath.
B) OK.

The learners use the dialogue to tell each other where to place each object in their house.

Vocabulary and Structures
There are some specific vocabulary and structures that you may wish to practise with your learners in preparation for the exam. Really, this will depend on your students and their weaker areas. However here is an activity that you can do with any vocabulary.

Tricky Words
Write a song or chant that includes some of the words your learners find it hard to learn (abstract nouns, determiners, quantifiers, adverbs etc) for example:

I like sweets! Sweets! Sweets!
Some are here
Some are there
A lot of sweets
and chocolate too!
Yummy Yummy
Let's chant again.

Here I have taken some of the words my students have problems with and after learning the chant, the children were able to guess the meaning of these words. We did actions to help understanding. You can call the chant a rap if the children are a bit older. I have a class of nine and ten year olds who I soemtimes get to create their own raps. You could give them a set of tricky words that they have to incorporate into their own raps or songs.

Find the Answer
I find it quite hard to get students to remember the different WH- question words and so they need lots of practice in this. This activity can help:
Print and cut out the questions and answers from the Resource section, or create your own. This activity is a mingle activity. Depending on the number of students, each child has a Q/A or Q&A. The objective is to find the answer to their question. They must mingle, asking their question to different students in order to find the answer. They must not show their question to anybody. When they find their answer, they take it and sit down.

Resources: http://sothisisenglishresources.blogspot.com/

   

2 comments:

  1. I've never taught for the exams, but the Puzzle Time books (Delta Publishing) are great for all my kids classses and designed for these exams, so I highly recommend them to you. There are also some new materials out from CUP that I could get you in exchange for a review! As well or instead, I'd be very interested in a piece on the pluses and minuses of exams for young learners existing as a guest piece on my blog

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  2. Thank you very much for this entry. I am teaching in Greece and CYL exams become increasingly important here. So I needed to come up with some useful activities to prepare my students for them. I will use some of your very good ideas. Thank you again and wish you a nice day ! :)

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