Last week my A2 Key class finished their exams. I could have just given them their results, but I am a big believer in building on what they have done. I really think that exams can be exploited and many things can be done with the results and learners’ work.
This particular class had issues with the A2 Key email (Reading and Writing Part 6). It is not that they had trouble conveying the meaning they wanted; rather, they had problems with email conventions and some pieces of language. I went through all of their writings and identified the following points to focus on (based on frequency):
- Email conventions: Putting a line between ‘Hi/Dear…’ and then main text and use of comma after certain email expressions (e.g. Dear Jim, or Speak soon,)
- Capitalisation of letters at the start of sentence and with names
- Pronoun drop of ‘It’
- Dropping non-referential ‘There?
- Writing street before the name of the street (e.g. street Jim)
All of these parts of language that I decided to focus on are fairly salient in English, and I am sure that many of them are due to processing constraints as opposed to a lack of knowledge. I also believe that transfer is present here with the dropping of the pronouns and non-referential there – my learners are Spanish and in Spanish these are not that ‘salient’ (e.g. ‘It is’ is es and ‘There is/There are’ is hay).
So what did I do? Well, I went and wrote my own email full of these errors.
When learners came into the classroom, we went through our normal routine and then they were given time to read through this email and tell me if was ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Learners then had to work in pairs to change the errors in the email to something that they felt was more correct. After some time, this was then brought to plenary, and learners had to agree on a version (and board it).
They were able to identify all of the errors really well, although there were some who thought that a colon (:) after the Hi_____ was more appropriate. This is interesting because I have seen that many people do this in Spain. I even read a short style guide on email writing in Spanish and found that this was an accepted norm. This actually showed me another thing that I need to take into consideration when guiding learners through the process of writing emails for an ELF context! You see, even you can learn something from your learners exams 🙂
The email did not take long, as expected. From here I told learners that we would be reflecting on the year. They were given the following questions:
They were told that they could talk about as many as they would like in five minutes. It is important to note here that they were given the choice of which to talk about. Learners really got involved and we ended up going over time, but I was really happy with what they produced and the clarity with which they were able to see what they did well and where they could improve.
After they had finished speaking, I asked them to choose three of the questions and write an email to themselves, including the answers to the these questions. Learners used their mental notes from the discussion as well as the boarded example of the email to write a whole bunch of brilliant emails. It was great to see that learners were able to do this with very little assistance – they pretty much ran the class without me! Another ‘facilitator’ win.
Their homework was to take these emails and send them to themselves using FutureMe. I don’t usually give homework, so I was expecting a negative reaction, but they all seemed really happy to get involved and do it.
Why only language?
You might be thinking why I didn’t learners to look back at the exam task to see if I had answered all the points. That is a good point; however, all my learners (in this class) got all of the points so I didn’t feel it was necessary. If they hadn’t, then I would have.
I hope this short lesson sequence shows you that it is very possible to exploit exams, encourage learner autonomy, and engage learners in reflection quite easily. Yes, it does take a little time to go back through the papers and identify what went wrong – but it is so worth it!
Let me know what other reflective lessons you have all come up with!