Use of English Tasks Strategies
Developing Strategies for Use of English Tasks
The ZNO Use of English task can be a difficult one for students for many reasons. In class, each grammar point is often taught separately, however, in Use of English tasks, the grammar is all integrated together.
In addition, Use of English texts can be quite long – it is usually a story or a description of something – and students can easily get lost as they read the text while they have to look at the options at the same time. Furthermore, the options are often quite similar to each other; they are either words that have similar meanings, all the options may begin with the same first two letters, the options may all be prepositions and so on.
As teachers, our job in class is to continually upgrade and develop students’ vocabulary and grammar as the years go on. As well as this, we need not only to provide them with exam tasks, but students would greatly benefit from receiving strategies, tips and clues on how to approach Use of English tasks, and during the year, teachers can work on this with their students.
How to treat Use of English tasks in class
1. Treat the Use of English task as a text
In class, train students to notice the title of the task. Ask them to read the title, and then to predict what they think the text will be about. Another possibility is to get them to predict 10 words that they think will be in the text. This draws their attention to the title, and also gives them a reason to read the text.
Pictures can help to predict – they make the task more visible. However, if you don’t have pictures, the teacher can simply write 5 or 6 key content words from the text on the board. The prediction task for the students is to guess how these words are linked together to form one situation. Then, they read the text to check whether or not they predicted correctly.
2. Set general and detailed reading tasks
We have time to do this in class. The reason is that if students have a good understanding of what the text is about, there is a better chance that they can correctly decide the answers to the exam task. Therefore, we can ask students to read to check their predictions. Teachers can also quickly prepare some true or false sentences about the text. Another option is to ask general comprehension questions to the whole class verbally. The aim here is for students to know the content of the text, which helps them to do the Use of English task.
3. Don’t look at the options yet
The options can take the students’ attention away from the text. If a student is looking at the text and the options at the same time, they can get a bit lost and confused. We can advise students to cover the options and try to work out the answer based on what they read. This focuses their full attention on the text and gets them to read what is written before and after the gap. There is a greater chance that they will notice clues or time phrases, such as ‘yet, while, already’, and so on. Then when they look at the options, they will have a good idea of what they are looking for.
4. Look at the options
We said above that the options are confusing and can distract students from the text. However, when they have worked out what they think is missing (as we described above) they can look at the options. That way, they will be looking at the options with something more specific in mind, and they will perhaps be less confused by the similarity of the options.
5. Re-read the text
If there is time, students should be strongly encouraged to re-read their text to check it. A way of encouraging this in class can be to ask students to read the text that their partner has written, or simply to check their answers with their partner’s answers.
6. Check the answers
As a way of further drawing students attention to the areas which come up in Use of English tasks, it is often useful to ask them to identify the grammar areas that were tested. For example, after checking the answer to each question, ask them what grammar point it was. This will get them into the habit of doing so automatically themselves.
If the task is based on vocabulary, it is useful to draw students’ attention to dependent prepositions, collocations and phrasal verbs. They need to know that these areas are tested in the vocabulary section.
Conclusion: Classroom Practice vs Exam Day
Remember, the strategies and approach described above are for classroom use. In class, we have more time than students do on the day of the exam. Therefore, we can use this time to train our students in ways of approaching Use of English tasks. With plenty of training, it is thought that students will naturally be more equipped to pay more attention to things like context, clue words and so on.
Ten Classroom tips
- Draw students’ attention to the title of the text.
- Use prediction strategies.
- Create a habit of reading the text quickly at first.
- Pay attention to context.
- Predict the missing information without looking at the options.
- Train students to read around the gap.
- Pay attention to clues in the text (eg. while, yet, etc)
- Check your predicted answer with the options.
- Re-read the text with your answers. Does the text make sense?
- In class, combine isolated and integrated grammar practice.