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PTE General: engaging classroom activities to prepare for the spoken test

Speaking tests can be daunting for candidates. In fact, the oral paper is often the section of the exam where students feel the most nervous as they have to talk in front of an interlocutor.

To improve your students’ confidence and chances of success in Pearson Test of English (PTE) General speaking section, we recommend familiarizing them with the test structure and implementing a number of key strategies in your exam preparation.

Note that timings and requirements of each section vary according to the level of the exam. Be sure to study the requirements of the level or levels you are teaching before preparing students for the exam.

See the level guides on the PTE General resources for more detailed information.

1. Prepare for the monologue

Part of the test: Sustained monologue (all levels):

In the first part of the exam, students must give personal information and talk about interests. As levels progress, so does the complexity of this section. Lower level students are expected to speak about more routine subjects, such as home and family, while higher level candidates will be asked to speak on more abstract issues like the environment.

One way to prepare students of all levels for this activity is by using conversation prompts.

Prior to your class, prepare several stacks of related conversational prompts.

For example:

Question stack 1

Where do you live?
Tell me something about where you live.
How many people live there?
Do you have a garden?
What is your favorite room?

Question stack 2

Where do you go to school?
What’s your favorite subject?
Do you have a best friend at school?
What is he or she like?
Who are your teachers?
Do you go to any after school clubs?

Question stack 3

Why did you start to learn English?
What do you find most difficult about learning English?
How is English different to your language?
How do you think English will be useful for you in the future?

Put students in groups of three and give each group three stacks of conversational prompts. Students should take it in turns to be the speaker and the interlocutors.

Two of the students should ask the third student the questions on the card. After about 90 seconds, the students should change roles and use a new stack of cards.

Ensure you adapt the difficulty of the questions to match your students’ level.

As an extension activity, you could ask students to write their own sets of questions.

2. Practice conversations

Part of the test: Discussion (Levels 2 to 6)

For levels 2 and above, candidates will be presented with a topic and must participate in a discussion with the examiner.

During class write: “Talking by telephone is more personal than talking by text message” on the board and ask students their opinions. Get two or three ideas and offer your own opinion, thus generating a model conversation in open class.

Next, mind map discussion topics with students and list them on the board. Make sure to list at least five topics.

For example:

Pollution is one of the biggest threats to the planet today.
Education should be free for everyone.
People spend too much time on smartphones.
Everyone should be able to speak at least three languages.
The internet is the greatest invention that humans have made.

Get students to stand up and mingle. They should find a partner and discuss the first topic. Allow students two minutes. Monitor students as they talk and note errors and good points.

After time is up, tell students to find a new partner and discuss the next topic. This will help students get used to sharing their opinions and making conversation in the allotted time.

As with the previous activity, make sure you adapt the complexity of the discussion topics to match your students’ level.

3. Talk about pictures

Part of the test: Describe a picture (all levels)

For A1 (Foundation), Level 1 and Level 2, the interlocutor presents a picture and candidates must describe what they see. For levels 3 to 5, students must discuss and compare two pictures.

A1 to Level 2

Before class, print out and laminate six images per pair of students in your class. Try to choose images that you think will appeal to your students and that are of concrete things (avoid abstract art or very convoluted scenes). Then split the images into sets of three and put them in envelopes marked A and B.

During the class, put students in A/B pairs and give them some pencils and paper, along with the corresponding envelopes. Students must take it in turns to describe their pictures to their partners (being careful not to reveal the image). The partner should listen carefully and try to draw what is being described.

After 90 seconds, students should stop drawing and compare the drawing and original image. When students have completed all six drawings they can judge who described and drew best.

Make sure to monitor and help students as they work. Feedback to the class afterwards with helpful vocabulary and common errors that you noted.

Levels 3 to 5

While the first activity will also be fun for higher level students, they are required to compare two pictures in their test.

Prior to the class print out about 10 pairs of related images. For example:

Students learning from books and students learning on computers
Children playing with dogs and children playing with cats
A mountain climbing holiday and a bungee jumping adventure
A woman fishing and a scuba diver
Animals in cages at a zoo and animals in the wild
A beach full of rubbish and a landfill site

Stick the pairs of pictures on the walls around the room (leaving lots of space between each pair of images).

During the class, have students stand up and examine the pictures. They must try to discover the relationship between each photo. Allow two minutes for this.

Once all the students have seen all the pictures, tell them to find a partner. They should stand next to a pair of pictures and make a comparison together. Once they have finished, the pairs should find another set of pictures to describe.

Monitor students as they walk around the room and take note of good use of language as well as errors. Afterwards give students feedback in open class.

4. Role-play and decision-making

Part of the test: Role-play (all levels): Candidates are given a role card with instructions and participate in a role-play with the interlocutor. While the subject matter will differ, test takers are often required to solve a problem, consider consequences of a series of actions, or speculate about the future.

The best way to prepare for this part of the test is to have students practice role-playing in pairs in class.

Prior to the class create a range of different role-play cards, following a similar structure to that of the test.

See example:

Sample test PTE General

Put students in pairs and distribute role-playing card to each one. When having students perform role-plays in class, give students a time limit of two minutes per roleplay so that they get used to the exam timing. Monitor students, take a note of any mistakes and good examples of language use and write these on the board for error correction after the activity.

For more information about the speaking test, please see PTE General resources section.

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