Peter Travis, Splendid Learning, UK
Travis, P. (2011). Overview of “Splendid Speaking” website. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 2 (1), 39-42.
It is natural for adult learners preparing for upper-intermediate and advanced speaking examinations like the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE), the Business English Certificate (BEC) or International English Language Teaching System (IELTS) to feel daunted by the Speaking examination. Having their spoken English assessed ‘live’ in a high stakes situation can be quite stressful. To perform at their best in the exam learners need to be able to contribute fully to the various task formats within their spoken exam.
Students preparing for these exams need to have regular practice in responding fully to questions, working cooperatively with a partner, and generally taking the opportunity to showcase their use of English. In our experience there was little in the way of freely-available structured materials for advanced speaking skills online. We decided we would like to help learners preparing for their respective exams as well as general upper intermediate to advanced students wishing to develop their speaking skills. We launched splendid-speaking.com in 2006.
Splendid Speaking Format/Structure
Splendid Speaking is a website aimed at upper-intermediate to advanced level learners with a particular emphasis on ELT exam candidates. The website contains a variety of freely available materials including:
- ‘Splendid Speaking Podcasts’: recordings of advanced EFL students carrying out exam-style speaking tasks,
- a daily ‘Splendid Expressions’ quiz to learn colloquial expressions,
- EFL Speaking exam guides
- our “Get Speaking” task sheets (the material we are focussing on in this review),
“Get Speaking” Task Sheets
The Get Speaking task sheets are designed to be used both by teachers to support their speaking classes and also by self-study learners to help them enhance their oral skills, their vocabulary range and to develop speaking strategies for their English Speaking exam. There are 26 task sheets in total and we make one of them available each week as a free download. The 26 task sheets include topics such as the world of music, language learning, community issues and winning the lottery.
The Get Speaking task sheets have been designed to be as simple and as compact as possible to enable all activities to be presented in one A4 sheet. Each task sheet comes with two tasks, an exam style presentation or long turn and either a discussion or role play. The sheets are broken down into 5 sections:
1. The main speaking task which consists of a short presentation, discussion topic or interview task
2. This is followed by help with planning of the task with a focus on using a particular strategy, For example, using an anecdote to start a presentation, or using open-ended questions in a discussion. Some other strategies include:
- practising active listening in discussions and role plays
- responding fully to questions
- thinking on your feet when making spontaneous talks
- signposting talks
- working towards reaching an agreement.
3. There is then a more open-ended secondary task on a similar topic.
4. Each sheet contains a list of useful topic vocabulary that relates to the speaking topics and either a list of functional language or popular ‘sayings’ or ‘proverbs’ to be used in either the long turn or the discussion/role play.
5. Finally there is a reference to the accompanying sample podcast. These audio recordings consist of a student or pair of students carrying out one of the tasks. The focus of the podcasts is two-fold: firstly, to help the participating students improve their confidence through structured speaking tasks, and, secondly, to demystify the examination for other students who can download and listen to the recorded speaking tasks. The podcasts have three components:
- an introduction to the skill and context
- the interview itself
- and feedback on the speaker’s performance.
The beauty of the Splendid Speaking podcasts is that listeners are supported with transcripts and listening tasks, which can be helpful to teachers and learners alike. Consequently, self-study students using these recordings in conjunction with the Get Speaking task sheets will have further guidance before attempting these tasks themselves.
Recommendations for Learners and Teachers
For self-study learners using the sheets as well as teachers, we recommend the following steps:
1) Download and listen to the featured recording regularly. Students are alerted to the latest recording through the website and through our weekly newsletter which visitors to the website can sign up to.
2) Follow us on Facebook. To help overcome the difficulties posed by the remote relationship self-study learners have with each other we have created several Facebook pages for upper-intermediate and advanced learners. More information can be found here:
3) Use Get Speaking task sheet with online Facebook partners.
4) Assess your speaking skills using the downloadable Grade Sheet
or help other learners by providing constructive feedback based on the Grade Sheet.
5) Students can also follow our Twitter feed which includes the use of colloquial expressions in most Tweets. http://www.splendid-speaking.com/learn/english_phrases.html
Teachers can of course use the task sheets as a supplement to their existing speaking materials or use them as a single source.
Further information about the Get Speaking task sheets and the Splendid Speaking podcasts can be found on the teacher’s area of Splendid Speaking: