By Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery, China
Exams are coming up around here, and I've decided that the test format for my Oral English classes will be a 10-minute one-on-one conversation between each student and myself. The criteria will be holistic: fluency and intelligibility.
When a student arrives to take the exam, I will present him/her with little slips of paper and on each one will be a topic we have discussed in class this term (shopping, sports, divorce, etc.). The student selects one topic at random, like drawing straws. After a moment's reflection, the student must start the conversation with a question, such as "Do you like shopping?" or "What is your favorite sport?" or something a little more provocative, such as "Can divorce be a good thing?" and be ready for whatever answer I may give to that question.
The conversation must last 10 minutes, but can stray to other topics, if they come up naturally (as in, NOT "Let's talk about sports now," but maybe, "Do you think Michael Jordan likes to go shopping?").
Obviously this is way more touchy-feely than my students are used to. But I think it will be a good measure of their ability to hold a conversation in English, as well as an experience that will give them confidence. I hope they leave the exam thinking, "Wow, I just talked for 10 minutes straight in English with a foreigner! And we understood each other!"
In classes to prepare my students for this kind of test, I'm using a variation of The Wheel (submitted by Rae). Students sit in a double circle, with those facing outward playing the teacher and those facing inward playing a student. I gave each "student" one of the exam topics on a slip of paper. They had 2 minutes to start the conversation with the "teacher" and have the "teacher" respond. Then the "students" handed the topic to the person on their right, and the "teachers" moved to the chair on their left. Thus everyone had a new partner and a new topic. They did the same role-play, except I gave them 3 minutes so they could elaborate a little more. We did several rotations, until they were talking for 10 minutes at a stretch.
If I noticed anyone not talking, I would go over to them and try to jumpstart their conversation. However, there was really a lot of English going on!