B1 Book Club

Updated on 20th July 2017 to include A Fruitcake Special.

Today’s post is all about ideas for book clubs at B1 level. I’m a huge fan of reading, so the idea of getting my English students involved in a book club really excites me. I’ve been running these book clubs for 7 months now so I thought I’d share some of the books and questions I’ve been using so you can set up your own book club.

The benefits of a book club and get your students involved in reading are numerous and I’ve talked about them more here. Needless to say, over the past 7 months, I’ve seen huge improvements in test scores in the majority of the book club members who attend.

The book club which I run is divided into levels. I think this is a great way for each student to work at or just above the level that they’re at, meaning they don’t end up feeling like it’s all too much.

In the B1 book club, the first book we read was A Puzzle For Logan by Richard MacAndrew, which is a level 3 Cambridge English reader. We read it over the course of 3 months so that everyone would have time to read it and think about the questions. Each book club session was 1 hour long, allowing everyone time to speak.

Here are the questions I came up with for each month:

Month 1 (having read chapters 1 to 3)

  1. . In chapter 1, why did the police tell the newspapers and radio about the crime?
  2. What is the link between Ronnie and Morag?
  3. Chapter 2 talks about Ronnie and Craig’s past. Why did they become criminals?
  4. Why is it difficult to be a police woman?
  5. What does Jimmy Brown mean when he says “it’s the pigs”? Who is he talking about?
  6. What does “main man” mean
  7. How did Jimmy get the evening newspaper?

Month 2 (having read chapters 4 to 7)

  1. . Did Jean have the correct attitude with her brother?
  2. What do you think is the relationship between Bags Baxter and Craig?
  3. How important are scientists in criminal investigations?
  4. What’s your impression of Robert Baxter?
  5. The title of Chapter 7 is ‘A Good Reason To Kill’. Do you think there is ever a good reason to kill someone?
  6. Do you believe Ronnie? Is he innocent?

Month 3 (having read from chapter 8 to the end)

  1. In chapter 8, why does Jimmy feel the police will treat him badly?
  2. In chapter 8, who was in the car with Morag?
  3. Why can’t Logan use what Angus said?
  4. Who was the killer?
  5. What did you like and dislike about the book?

It was a really great book to start with as it had a bit of everything, meaning no one was bored or turned off by the book itself. You could, of course, read the book in one sitting and do all the questions together in 1 month, but as it was my first attempt at this book club, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on anyone.

From Month 4 to Month 7 we read another Cambridge graded reader A Fruitcake Special & Other Short Stories (Level 4). The students actually found this book much more engaging as they were able to read an entire story for a book club meeting rather than just part of it. I think this really helped to keep the students engaged and coming back.

So, if you’re thinking about using this book in your book club, here are the questions I posed to students:

Month 4:

Story: A Fruit Cake Special

  1. What does the title ‘A Fruitcake Special’ refer to?
  2. What were the consequences of the fruitcake special?
  3. What is the relationship like between Anna and Aunt Mimi?
  4. What do you think of Mr Amos’ girlfriend?
  5. Is it a good thing that Anna could not buy any more cake?
  6. What do you think of the ending?

Month 5:

Story: The Real Aunt Molly

  1. What does the title ‘The Real Aunt Molly’ refer to?
  2. Why couldn’t Aunt Molly go to school when she was a child?
  3. What do you think about Maxwell Marvel?
  4. Would you allow another person to make decisions for you?
  5. What are the consequences of Aunty Molly being hypnotised?
  6. What would you do?

Month 6:

Story: Brains

  1. Who is Max? Why is he used in the experiment?
  2. What’s your impression of Mr Dimitri?
  3. Why must Gina stop her work, according to Mr Dimitri?
  4. What do you think of Mr Dimitri’s offer?
  5. Why does Mr Dimitri think Gina’s idea is dangerous? Do you agree?

Month 7:

2 Stories: The Book of Thoughts & Finders Keepers

Questions for The Book of Thoughts:

  1. What’s your impression of Chester?
  2. Why do Chester’s colleagues feel jealous of him?
  3. Why was Chester excited about substituting his manager in a meeting?
  4. What are the consequences of Chester having the book?
  5. Would you like to have this kind of book?
  6. Do you think Chester asked Dorothy to go out with him?

Questions for Finder’s Keepers:

  1. What does the title refer to?
  2. Why does Harry feel he can steal things?
  3. What are the consequences of the whistle?
  4. Why was the old priest afraid of Lou Foo?

Side note: Though some of the questions seem quite superficial, many opened up much wider debates around gender, professional behaviour, scientific advances and so on.

Feedback

As Month 7 coincided with the end of the school year and the end of the first year of this initiative, I asked the students for feedback on the book club meetings. From their point of view, the second book (of short stories) was much better than the first one and they loved being able to both read outside of the language school and get lots of speaking practice in the sessions. Regarding negative points, they made it clear they’d much prefer to read short stories rather than longer ones split up over a couple of months. Their only other criticism was that once a month was not often enough (much to my surprise) and that come the next academic year, they want to have at least 2 sessions per month.

Conclusions

Overall, from a teaching perspective, the difference in reading skills when these students came to do their exams was noticeably different to their peers who had not done any extra reading outside of class. Also, their debating and turn-taking skills increased gradually over the year due to having to listening and respond to other people’s opinions within the sessions. And on a book-lover note, I really enjoyed hosting these sessions and getting my students excited about books.

Los Errores Gramaticales Más Frecuentes a nivel C1 en inglés

El otro día descubrí un artículo maravilloso escrito por Penny MacDonald en la Complutense Journal of English Studies titulado ‘”We all make mistakes!”. Analysing an Error-coded Corpus of Spanish University Students’ Written English’.

Como profesores, y desde luego como profesores de exámenes de Cambridge, siempre buscamos una manera de ayudar a nuestros alumnos a superar las dificultades que se les presenta su idioma materno. MacDonald examinó redacciones en inglés hechas por alumnos españoles a nivel universitario, entre los niveles CEFR A2 a C2, y encontró que al nivel de C1 el error gramatical más frecuente fue el mal uso de preposiciones y de artículos.

Por supuesto, en este artículo solo examinó redacciones, sin embargo también creo que sería lo mismo para la parte oral.

Por lo menos en lo que se refiere a los libros de texto, las preposiciones, en particular, parece ser un tema que se trata muy poco a este nivel, ya que se supone que los alumnos tienen ya una idea clara de éstas. Es evidente, según el artículo, que esto no es así y que hay que practicar más tanto las preposiciones como los artículos. Pero con el muy poco tiempo que tenemos en clase, ¿cómo podemos ayudar a nuestros alumnos a mejorar en estas áreas?

Estudiar por si mismos, por supuesto! Creo firmemente en no solo enseñar al alumnado de forma tradicional sino también hacer que piensen para si mismos y que se den cuenta de que después del nivel B1, tienen que ser disciplinados y participar en estudiar por si mismos, porque si no, el curso se les hará muy pesado.

Voy a probar algunas actividades en mis clases durante las siguientes semanas para tratar estas debilidades gramaticales con mis alumnos de C1 y os diré cómo va la cosa. Echad un vistazo al artículo de Penny MacDonald para descubrir más errores gramaticales a todos los niveles CEFR.

Biggest Grammar Mistakes in native Spanish C1 learners

The other day I came across a wonderful article written by Penny MacDonald in the Complutense Journal of English Studies entitled ‘”We all make mistakes!”. Analysing an Error-coded Corpus of Spanish University Students’ Written English’.

As teachers, and especially as Cambridge exam preparation teachers, we’re always looking for ways to help our students overcome the difficulties presented to them by their L1 language. MacDonald examined Spanish students’ writing pieces at the university level, at CEFR levels A2 to C2, and found that particularly at C1 level the most common grammar error was misuse of prepositions and overuse of articles.

Obviously, this article only looked at writing pieces, however I believe the same would probably hold true for spoken assessment, too.

At least in the case of course books, prepositions, in particular, seem to be somewhat looked over and rushed through as it’s presumed that students have a firm grasp on them by that point. In contrast, this article clearly affirms the idea that this area must be practised more. As should articles. But with time being a scarce resource, how can we help students practice these areas?

Self-study, of course! I’m a big believer in not only teaching kids in the traditional sense but also getting them to think for themselves and realise that after B1 level, they must be disciplined and participate in self-study, otherwise the course is going to be particularly hard for them.

I’ll be trying out a few activities in my classes over the next few weeks to reinforce these grammar points with my C1 students and I’ll report back on how we got on! Don’t forget to check out Penny MacDonald’s article to find out what other grammar mistakes are most commonly made at each CEFR level.

Cambios en los exámenes de Young Learners de Cambridge English

Si eres profesor de los exámenes Cambridge, seguramente sabes que los exámenes de Young Learner (Starters, Movers and Flyers) van a cambiar a partir de enero de 2018. Para obtener más información, asistí a un seminario online organizado por Cambridge Language Assessment y Cambridge University Press.

Fue muy informativo y pensé que para algunos de vosotros un resumen sería útil.

¿Por qué van a cambiar?

Cambridge Language Assessment quiere actualizar los exámenes para que sigan siendo relevantes (la última revisión fue en 2007), incorporar nuevas estrategias de aprendizaje y hacer que los exámenes de  Young Learners tengan más similitudes con los demás exámenes Cambridge.

¿Cuáles serán los cambios?

En general:

  • Examen de speaking – El rango de nota ahora será de 0 a 5, en vez del actual 0 a 3, para poder dar información más detallada sobre el nivel real del alumno.

Starters:

  • Examen de listening – Habrá una nueva parte 1 que será muy parecida a las partes 1 de Movers y Flyers donde el alumno tiene que identificar una persona en una imagen.
  • Examen de reading & writing –  La parte 1 ahora incluirá los sustantivos plurales además de singulares y la parte 4 será un texto parcialmente basado en hechos reales.
  • Examen de speaking – Se les preguntará a los alumnos su nombre. La parte 1 ahora será una mezcla de las antiguos partes 1 y 2. Además, habrá una nueva pregunta “Tell me about this box”. Cambridge ha dicho que se espera y se acepta respuestas de una sola palabra y que si los alumnos tienen dificultades, el examinador les hará más preguntas para ayudarles.

Movers:

  • Examen de listening – No habrá el elemento de dibujar en la parte 5 y la parte 3 será más parecida a la parte 3 del examen de Flyers.
  • Examen de reading & writing – Habrá menos preguntas en total. La parte 2 actual ya no estará. Se cambia también el orden de los ejercicios para que vayan del más fácil al más difícil. Habrá una nueva parte 6 donde el alumno tendrá que hacer y responder preguntas además de escribir frases.

Flyers:

  • Examen de reading & writing – Habrá un nuevo ejercicio de writing al final del examen donde el alumno tendrá que escribir una postal o un correo electrónico corto.

¿Qué recursos hay?

Pronto tendremos nuevos exámenes de muestra (sample tests) además de las listas de vocabulario. Nos darán carteles para el aula y nuevas actividades a partir de abril, seguidos por nuevos vídeos de speaking en agosto.

También habrá más seminarios online y presenciales para los profesores desde febrero de 2017 hasta mayo de 2017. Si eres profesor de exámenes Cambridge en España, puedes encontrar una lista de seminarios aquí.

Cambridge Webinar: Changes to Young Learner Exams

If you’re a Cambridge Exam teacher, you probably know that the Young Learner (Starters, Movers and Flyers) exams are changing as of January 2018. To find out more, last Thursday I attended an online webinar run by Cambridge Language Assessment and Cambridge University Press.

It was very informative and I thought some of you may find a summary helpful of what the changes will be.

Why are things changing?

Cambridge Language Assessment want to update the exams in order to keep the relevant (they were last reviewed in 2007), to incorporate new learning approaches and to better align the Young Learner exams with the other suite of Cambridge exams.

What changes will there be?

In general:

  • Speaking exam grade bands will now be from 0 to 5, instead of the current 0 to 3, in order to provide more detailed feedback to students and teachers.

Starters:

  • Listening exam – There will be a new part 1 which closely replicates listening part 1 in the Movers and Flyers exams, where the child will have to identify a person in an image.
  • Reading & Writing exam –  Part 1 will now include plural nouns as well as singular ones and part 4 will be a semi-factual text rather than a riddle
  • Speaking exam – Students will now be asked their name. Also, part 1 is going to be an amalgamation of parts 1 and 2. There will also be a new question “Tell me about this box”. Though they have stated that one word answers are expected and acceptable and that should a student struggle, additional questions will be asked by the examiner to help them.

Movers:

  • Listening exam – In part 5 there will be no drawing element anymore and part 3 will be a reflection of part 3 in Flyer’s exams
  • Reading & Writing exam – There will be fewer questions. The present part 2 will no longer be included. The task order has changed so that they will now run from the easiest to the hardest. There is a new part 6 writing task where the student will be asked to ask and answer questions as well as write sentences.

Flyers:

  • Reading & Writing exam – There will be a new writing element at the end of the exam where students will be expected to write a short postcard or email in order to give them ample practice before moving onto the KEY level.

What resources are available to me?

There are new sample tests coming soon in addition to word lists picture books. Classroom posters and activities will be available as of April, with new speaking videos to follow come August.

There will also be more webinars and seminars for teachers running from February 2017 to May 2017. If you’re a Cambridge teacher in Spain, you can find a list of seminars here.

Calling all FCE and CAE teachers – new resource!

I’ve had a problem for the past couple of weeks. One of my FCE classes has been impossible to motivate. They’ve been tired and fed up and totally unable to concentrate. Not only were they not interested in what they had to learn in the course book but also the class felt like it lasted all day instead of it’s hour and a half slot.

After searching and searching and trying new and different tactics to shake them up a bit and get them involved, I finally found a fantastic resource which has helped create some good atmosphere in this class while at the same continuously practicing for the FCE exam.

I stumbled across Gosia’s Lesson Plans Digger blog a few weeks ago and have been implementing her gamified Word Formation exercises with these kids and it is slowly but surely getting them more engaged with the tasks at hand and making them more confident especially in this area.

We’ve especially enjoyed the word formation card game where all you need is some pieces of paper and a couple of die. As a teacher, I can’t tell you how great it was to see them leaving with a smile and actually laughing in class again. I think we’ve got our rhythm back!

Gosia’s blog is really fantastic and she has lots of great ideas for CAE as well as FCE and I can’t wait to try them out in class.

English Book Club – improve your reading skills and so much more

Not to state the obvious, but if you’re going to reach a high level in any language, you have to read. But reading not only helps you for the reading parts of an exam, but it can also help in many other areas such as:

  • Grammar retention
  • Vocabulary retention
  • Fluidity (if you read outloud)
  • Pronunciation

Personally, I’m a huge advocate of reading. I love reading and try to do so as much as possible. Hence why I set up the English Book Club in my current school. I’ve found it’s a great to boost student’s confidence in reading, of course, and also in speaking and listening. As the students have to read the passage before the group meeting and then comment on it during the one-hour session, they lose that fear of speaking and they improve their listening skills by actively taking part in a debate. It’s fantastic to see everyone improving week on week.

If you want to improve your reading skills but there’s no book club near you, try picking up a book. But how do you choose? Well, there are 2 main elements to bear in mind when choosing a book in a foreign language. Firstly, it should be suitable to your level. Cambridge have created a fantastic series of graded books so you can choose exactly the right level for you. And secondly, it should be a story that interests you, otherwise you’re not going to enjoy the book very much.

Moreover, once you have the book, make sure you read little and often. It’s much better to continuously improve your skills than to try and cram it all into one day. Another tip, which helps a lot of my students, is to read outloud. Yes, it will take you longer to read, but through reading the words and saying them outloud, you can increase your fluidity, improve your pronunciation and practice grammar patterns you may not otherwise use.

I hope those tips are helpful! Happy reading!