Managing a large group of students for the paired speaking paper of the Cambridge English First Certificate for Schools demands for the teacher to be an excellent organizer as well a good manager of group dynamics and presentation techniques. These skills should be put at the service of raising students’ awareness of the requirements of the test, improving their accuracy, fostering their fluency, and giving every one of them the chance to practise. In order to achieve this, I divide the work into sequenced phases, each of which leads to building their speaking competence.
The first phase aims at making students aware of the dynamics of the speaking paper. In order to let them discover the communicative strategies that have to be used in each one of its parts, I consider that L1 is an invaluable tool: without the constraints of using the second language, it is easier to grasp what is expected from them when they are asked, for instance, to compare, disagree or take turns. In order to put this into practice in the target language, the teacher then makes students analyze recorded interactions provided by the textbook.
The second phase involves going deeper into the focus of evaluation in each part of the paper. Here the teacher makes students analyze the descriptors of each band for the assessment criteria used in the Speaking Test by ESOL examiners. This helps future candidates gain further insights into the requirements of the test. Then they listen to the recorded material again and evaluate the speakers’ performance using the criteria previously analyzed.
Now students are ready to come into the third phase, in which everyone in the group has the chance to speak. The class is divided into groups of four students, and they take turns to play the roles of candidates and examiners. While one member of latter pair will be the interlocutor, the other one will play the role of assessor, so he is expected to take down comments and control timing. As for the candidates, they interact with each other and with the examiner – depending on the part of the test – in order to perform the task.
The final phase aims at improving the students’ accuracy and communicative strategies. Here the examiners report on their peers’ performance; the teacher, who will have moved around the groups while they were working, will also make their own contribution. The discussion will be used as input to improve accuracy and interactive skills.
As I said before, to prepare students for the oral paper of an international examination in a large class is a daunting challenge for EFL teachers. It is imperative to be knowledgeable, creative and organized at the same time. But if it is carefully planned and well implemented, it is a highly rewarding experience.