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15 ways to make EFL exam tasks fun

1. Challenge each other The best way to make students care about answering the questions correctly is to make those questions ones written by their classmates. Writing those questions to challenge the other teams is also a good way of getting students to understand how examiners think and so learn how to look out for […]

1. Challenge each other
The best way to make students care about answering the questions correctly is to make those questions ones written by their classmates. Writing those questions to challenge the other teams is also a good way of getting students to understand how examiners think and so learn how to look out for trick questions.

2. Make it oral
After you have finished a task you can get students to test each other orally on, for example, what the missing words were. As well as being extra practice and revision, this also helps them access a different part of their brain in order to remember the language for the exam better, and adds a bit of noise and interaction to improve the classroom atmosphere. You can also make tasks more challenging and fun by reading out the question rather than letting them read it from the page, e.g. reading out one paragraph heading and getting them to tell you if it matches their text or is one of the extra distractors as quickly as possible. You can also do a pairwork version of that, where one partner has the questions and the other has the text and they have to complete the task without looking at each other’s worksheets.

3. Time limit/ race
This gets the adrenaline rushing and is good practice for the time constraints they will have during the exam.

4. Teams
Putting students in teams means you can get the good class atmosphere of cooperation without needing to spend too much time doing non-exam stuff to produce that feeling.

5. Points and competition
Although points aren’t always necessary to motivate people to work in teams, they can add a little bit of fun.

6. Movement
It can be difficult to justify getting up and moving around in an exam class when they know they will be sitting down in the exam, but it is often vital to improve concentration powers. At the most basic level you can easily justify asking the student who is pretending they are taking a speaking exam to stand up until their examiner partner asks them to come in and sit down. Tasks like adding headings can also be done standing up and putting the headings into envelopes below each text stuck on the walls around the room. Most exam tasks can also be done as running dictations.

7. Cut up stuff
Another way of getting a bit of physical movement is to give texts cut up and get students to sort them into the right order or pair them up. This obviously ties in with paragraph heading matching tasks and putting paragraphs in order, but you can also cut between each text and its questions (of any type) and get students to match the texts and the questions as a quick reading for general understanding task before they try to answer the questions.

8. Real communication/ personalisation
This is the one element of motivation and memory that most non-exam textbooks aim for and most exam classes miss out. Get students to ask each other speaking exam questions they really want to know the answer to or to ead someone’s exam writing and respond orally or in writing to it, e.g. as a reply to an email or a refutation of a viewpoint essay.

9. Memory games
For example, have a cloze text without gaps on the board and erase word by word until students can’t remember all the missing words. Then do the original cloze task.

10. Give them control
For example, let them decide when and how often to rewind the tape.

11. Warmers
Exam classes can be very reluctant to do anything not directly related to the exam, so warmers are usually best justified as being directly related to an exam skill like using body language in the speaking exam or reading quickly. It can also be worth doing them as and when students get tired rather than at the beginning of each class.

12. Video
Any listening comprehension tasks can be adapted for use with a video, for example Mr Bean for TOEIC Listening Part One. You can also use bits of dialogue for language tasks such as error correction, and then watch and listen and check.

13. Songs
Songs can also be used either for listening comprehension (difficult) or language tasks such as open cloze, sentence transformations and error correction.

14. Jokes
Labelling each joke with its name (“Knock knock”, “Doctor jokes”) is quite similar to a matching paragraphs to headings task in IELTS Reading etc. Adding punchlines can also be similar to a CAE add missing clauses Use of English task. Please make sure that students understand and will not be offended though.

15. Quotes
Famous quotes can be used for reading tasks such as matching up sentence halves or identifying what reference words refer to, and language tasks such as open cloze. Quotations might be already familiar to the students, might come up in conversation with native speakers and are generally more amusing and provocative than exam texts. One thing to watch out for is that they are often quite difficult to understand.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet May 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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Teflnet : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Exams : 15 ways to make EFL exam tasks fun