Jason Ryan Teacher EFL/ESL Book Review #1: Games For Language Learning, 3rd Edition

I am slowly getting my new website, www.jasonryanteacher.com, and blog up and running again. Today, I published my first EFL/ESL book review,

Jason Ryan Teacher EFL/ESL Book Review #1: Games For Language Learning, 3rd Edition

There are now 20 posts, for example this one, about every day life life in South Korea pictures, and more are on the way.

Please go check it out.


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Peterborough – Ecology Park, Ducks

Saw these 3 ducks while walking around yesterday morning . . . I think this shot turned out pretty well using a Sigma 120-400mm telephoto lens without a tripod from about 50 feet or so.

I braced myself on the railing of a walk across bridge and the optical stabilizer and a high ISO and shutter speed on top of AI did the trick.

This little pond had some nice lily pads but the sun wasn’t high enough up in the sky to give them some light . . . might get a chance to shoot them some other time.

I imagine that I’ll be taking more pics in Ecology Park (and the Ecology Garden inside it) as it’s close to where I’m staying this summer.

I really want to go back to the garden with my Canon 100mm macro and a tripod! Maybe this weekend . . .


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6 years of EFL/ESL listening test recordings . . . first time waiting 90 minutes and still not ready to go.

6 years of EFL/ESL listening test recordings . . . first time waiting 90 minutes and still not ready to go.

This is why I wrote up my post called,

EFL/ESL University Listening Test Design, Writing, Editing, and Recording – Do’s and Don’ts

From now on I think I might send the link to this post to all future supervisors who run recording sessions I work on . . .

The bugger is that my supervisor this morning had no idea that the techs has set up a new soundboard that they weren’t trained on yet–I felt bad for her cause she was pretty embarassed at the whole situation.  Add to this that the user manual was in ENGLISH, lol, and the situation for the techs went downhill fast.

Upon establishing with each other that neither tech knew how to use it they then decided to set up the old soundboard . . . which seemed to take an insanely long time.

And then the techs discovered that something was wrong with the recording program on the computer . . . and they couldn’t get the microphones to connect the signal to the program . . . or at least that’s what I think was happening . . .

After sitting and waiting for an hour Julianne and I said we’d wait a little longer but with no end in sight to the problems we said we’d come back another time when they were actually ready for us to do the recording . . .

And then the techs came back from wherever they’d disappeared to with a laptop computer with the same recording program to try and see if they could connect the equipment to the laptop and use it instead . . . no joy.

Julianne and I go back today at 2pm to try again . . .

Hopefully everything is ready!!!


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2009 Teach English in English In-service Program, South Korea II

This is a photo of me teaching in South Korea during a 6 month Teach English in English intensive training program. This national program is taught in several training centers and national universities of education all over Korea. The goal is to improve public school English teachers’ English language skills and help them begin teaching English in English in a CLT (communicative language teaching) and TBL (task-based learning) manner.

I chose to draw on my background (I used to do work as a clown, ahem, lol) and teach the elementary English teachers how to make balloon animals. One of my own major teacher training principles is to try and provide teacher trainees with skills and ideas that are APPLICABLE after they leave the training program and return to their home schools and classrooms.


In terms of language learning, the trainees practiced process language in a listening/speaking communicative manner when they had to teach their peers how to make a balloon animal. This was also a task-based activity with a specific outcome: successfully making the desired animal balloon.

A ‘hidden goal’ in this lesson was having the trainees practice giving instructions in English step by step in simple and easy to understand English; I also wanted them to gain confidence in their abilities to give instructions in English for activities and games as they would need to do these things in teaching demonstration tests for the program itself, and later upon returning to their public school classrooms when principals and vice-principals would ask them to do demonstration classes for their colleagues after returning from completing the 6 month training program.

Anyways, there was a lot of laughing, shrieking, moaning, and exclamations of delight in English during the course of this class.

Definitely one of my favorite memories from Korea.


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EFL/ESL lecturing vs. CLT/TBL methodologies: Yet another reason for interactive and communicative teaching/learning

I saw this story today (New teaching techniques earn top marks for boosting scores) and while it is about teaching back in Canada (as opposed to in Asia) it is still VERY applicable to EFL/ESL methdology discussions.

In the first year of my teaching career I taught middle school students on Ganghwa Island, South Korea, I constantly searched for ways to teach that helped students learn, have fun–and NOT be bored!  I began to notice that when I shut up and got out of the way in order to let students do an exercise/activity/game that energy levels would explode, motivation levels rise, and actual concrete learning take place . . . wow, lol.

The lessons I learned about teaching while working in middle schools and high schools are also applicable to university EFL/ESL courses and classrooms.  “Lecturing” as a general method of teaching does NOT work in conversation/speaking courses for EFL/ESL language learners (it has its place, but I doubt many instructors video themselves or use a stopwatch to self-monitor how much lecturing (also often known as TTT) they do–try it, I have, and it really pushes you to be more aware of how much TTT (teacher talking time) vs. STT (student talking time) is taking place).  In addition to this, most if not all Korean, Chinese, and Asian (I think that’s a somewhat  safe generalization) L2 students’ learning histories have a high degree of experience with teachers who lecture–and thus we get a majority of language learners with poor to barely adequate fluency and abilities to use English whether it’s on a test or outside the classroom in the real world.

I remember when I was in university thinking that some of my professors really didn’t know much about how to teach–they may be geniuses in their fields, and published internationally in all the top-ranked journals . . . but when it came to teaching us what they knew all too often there was no actual teaching method being used.  I later confirmed this through conversations with PhD teaching assistants, part-time lecturers, and full time tenured professors too.   One of the most shocking pieces of information I picked up was that new PhD teaching assistants get a ‘weekend crash course in how to teach’ and then they’re sent out to begin teaching their own courses.  The assumption being that if a person is ‘smart enough’ to be in the PhD program, or has graduated with a PhD, that they must ‘naturally’ be able to teach . . . nuh-uh.

I think that there has been a desperate need for teacher training for PhD teaching assistants, part-time lecturers/PhDs, and full time tenured professors for a LONG TIME and the article below says the same thing,

“”It’s probably almost certainly been the case that lectures have been equally ineffective for centuries,” Wieman said. “But now we’ve figured out ways to do it better”” (my bold).

The article that has engendered this blog post is, New teaching techniques earn top marks for boosting scores.
Basically, the article is about a study where a university professor “agreed to pit his traditional physics lectures against their new approach in a “learning competition” involving more than 500 first-year engineering students at the University of B.C.The results were dramatic. The students learned more than twice as much in the new “interactive” classes than they did in the lectures by the tenured prof with more than 30 years of experience, according to a report on the experiment to be published in the journal Science on Friday.
I’m really impressed that the “study, which has prompted UBC to completely revamp its giant first-year physics classes, suggests that academics have a lot to learn about effective teaching.

Wieman says it is “high time” to abandon long lectures and PowerPoint presentations in favour of more lively, stimulating interactive classes.

“This is clearly more effective learning, everyone should be doing it,” says Wieman, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics. In 2007 he moved to UBC as physics professor and director of the $12-million Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative” (my bold).

Note the “giant first-year physics classes” size of class.  The reason I point this out is that some/many EFL/ESL teachers often complain or feel that large class sizes make using CLT/TBL methods harder to do in an EFL/ESL environment.  I think this is only true if classroom rules and procedures are not clearly established in the following places: a) in the instructor’s mind, b) in students’ minds, c) in PRACTICE, d) consistently in practice from class to class.

Anyways, back to the article . . . amazingly many of the professors at UBC now want in on the new teaching methods . . .

“”The telling moment for me this year was when we had far more professors asking for help to transform courses than there were people and resources to help them,” says Bonn.

The new techniques, which UBC says are now being adopted in more than 50 courses in seven science departments, are designed so students actively use new reasoning skills and knowledge. They are also crafted to be interesting and personally relevant to help engage and motivate the students”” (my bold).

While it’s FANTASTIC that UBC “had far more professors asking for help to transform courses than there were people and resources to help them” the realities of in-service teacher training require time, energy, money, and experienced prorgam supervisors, and experienced teacher trainers . . . to name a few things.  All too often one or more of these items are missing in the programs I’ve worked in as a teacher trainer–but at least some efforts are being made to update teaching methods in EFL/ESL university and public schools in Korea and China, etc.
The Chinese university I currently teach at is involved in the CERP (College English Reform Program) in China, and is trying to implement CLT/TBL in-service workshops.  Yet from what I’ve been able to gather the invited LECTURERS for the workshops are LECTURING about CLT/TBL methods . . . one of the biggest things I’ve learned both when I’m a participant in a teacher training program or workshop, and when I’ve been the teacher trainer, is this: teachers learn when they DO what they’re learning about in small focused exercises with a clear goal, post-exercise/activity discussion with peers, and follow-up discussion with the trainer.  Without this basic pattern what usually happens is a lot of head nodding while the teacher trainer lectures, and then after the program/course/lecture is finished trainees return to their classrooms and CONTINUE USING THEIR OLD METHODS.
Anyways, that’s subject matter for a future post.  At least now it seems like places all over the world are beginning to try and implement a paradigm shift in teaching methods.

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EFL/ESL Native English Teacher Speaking Tests in a Korean Public High School — Planning and giving speaking tests Part 1

I apologise for not writing regular posts here and promise that over the coming days and weeks this will change.  I have SEVERAL posts planned about teaching university EFL/ESL at a Chinese university and will hopefully get some of those published over the next week.

For now I’m re-posting this write-up I did (from my old Korea blog) about designing speaking tests for a Korean all boys high school–many of the points I make are also applicable to making EFL/ESL university speaking tests.


EFL/ESL Native English Teacher Speaking Tests in a Korean Public High School — Planning and giving speaking tests Part 1

At the beginning of the spring/summer semester at my high school I found out that I was going to be allowed to give speaking tests for my 12 ‘second’ grade classes.  Last semester I dropped several comments every once and a while about how student motivation and classroom behavior are heavily influenced by whether or not there are test points assigned to the lesson content they are learning in my co-teachers ears . . . and apparently during a pre-semester meeting it was decided that I could have 10% of the English grade.  For my 10 ‘first’ grade classes, though, at first I was told there weren’t any test points that I could get assigned to my classes . . . and then later, about six weeks or so, I was told I could write 3 questions of the 33 questions on the mid-term and final exams for the English section of the test . . . this just goes to show one of many examples of how hard it is for native English teachers to design a semester syllabus, choose the curriculum, and how testing points are all too often not assigned to their classes and/or they’re told about the testing points weeks afterthey have already prepared and designed their lessons . . . but I digress, and should get back to writing about the process I went through designing my speaking tests.

I have a lot of experience designing speaking tests and administering them with different kinds of EFL language learners (from middle school and high school to pre-service student teachers and in-service Korean English teachers).  But I decided to do some research and re-read materials I have in my EFL/ESL library (see the list of relevant books at the bottom of this post) cause I hadn’t looked at them in a long time.   While doing my research and writing up my speaking test design I thought to myself, “What do you do when researching “EFL/ESL speaking test +Korea +public school +high school” and your own writing is the only thing you find that is relevant?  HAS NOBODY who teaches high school in Korea designed speaking tests, and then written about it online? Wow.”

Actually, there are bloggers who have written about speaking tests in Korean public high schools but they are a minority.  Also, due to the nature of blogging as an informal genre most of them haven’t really gone into much detail about their test design process, why they chose the test format they did, and other details that I would have really liked to read about the experiences of other native teachers in Korean public schools doing speaking tests . . .

One teacher I did find, and I posted about, wrote this series by  Supplanter‘s blog which I found pretty interesting–and which reinforced my decision to record all the speaking tests with my mp3 player (something I usually do anyways–Korean university students are notorious for trying to get their test scores raised if they don’t like them, so when they do come to ask for an increase I suggest we review their recordings and look at my notes for their test . . . this usually dissuades most of the complainers, lol).

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 1

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 2

The Grade Changing Fiasco – part 3

Finally, I come across something related to my search parameters, Evaluation of The Foreign Language High School Programme in South Koreaby Yvvette Denise  Murdoch, a master’s dissertation submitted to the School of Humanities, University of Birmingham to fulfill requirements in the Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Foreign or Second Language”, 2002.  Unfortunately, while it’s an interesting read, Murdoch doesn’t really provide much in the way of how she tested and what process she went through while designing her tests.  But that being said it’s still a good read.

Anyways, I decided to give myself a research and writing project to kill time when I had no classes at school.  I loosely based my writing goals on Chapter Six: Developing Test Specifications of “Assessing Speaking” by Sari Luoma, Cambridge Language Assessment Series, Cambridge University Press 2004.

Here is a list of things a teacher should be considering, at least some of them anyways, when designing a language test,

“the test’s purpose; description of the examinees; test level; definition of construct (theoretical framework for the test); description of suitable language course or textbook; number of sections/papers; time for each section of paper; target language situation; text-types; text length; language skills to be tested; test tasks; test methods; rubrics; criteria for marking; descriptions of typical performances at each level; description of what candidates at each level can do in the real world; sample papers; samples of students’ performances on task”  from “Assessing Speaking,” Chapter 6, page 114.

The problem is the logistics (I’m going to use this word a lot) of designing and giving speakings tests in Korean public school English native speaker classes is that there are so many unforeseeable, unplannable, and unbelievable (from a native teacher’s perspective anyways) issues and challenges that come up throughout the whole process that trying to do a truly professional EFL/ESL speaking test is nearly impossible–in my opinion . . . but I’ll get into that in more detail in part 2 of this post.

I also found “Chapter Eight: Ensuring a reliable and valid speaking assessment” to be an extremely helpful unit to help me refresh on what I needed to be thinking about as I designed the speaking tests for the high school boys.

While reading Chapter 6 I came across three examples of how to do test specification write-ups: Example 1: An end-of-course classroom test, Example 2: A language test at university entrance, and Example 3: A general purpose proficiency test . . . after reading this chapter I decided to do my own test specifications write up . . . although I was unable to follow the models exactly due to the realities of planning lessons and tests that Korean public schools present.

Alright, that’s enough about why I decided to write this blog post . . . time to wade into the nitty-gritty of what I did while going the process of making speaking tests for a Korean public high school.

Before class/semester begins language learner assessment:  There were no opportunities for me to assess the actual language learner levels of the students in each class.  The only thing available was the students test scores from the previous semester which in terms of communicative ability and fluency really had no validity or relevance.  The only thing I found useful about the test scores that I asked my Korean English co-teachers to show me was being able to see which classes might have a majority of low level students, or average to higher level students so that I could alter my teaching methods accordingly (or ‘differentiate’ them).

Test #1 format (of 4 over the course of the school year, 2 in the spring semester, 2 in the fall/winter semester) : one on one interview, teacher and student

Test #2: one on one interview, teacher and student

Test #3: Unfortunately I won’t be teaching as my contract finishes August 24th, 2010.  I am, however, leaving all testing and lesson materials from the book I was using for the next native teacher.  I hope that they will continue to teach from the same book . . . my original plans for the four tests were that in speaking tests 3 and 4 that the tests would shift from focusing on accuracy with a low degree of fluency to a higher focus on fluency in balance with the test point values for accuracy.  The book I was using focuses on developing fluency and learning, practicing, and mastering speaking strategies so it will be interesting to hear from the new native teacher how the students progress throughout the fall/winter semester.

Test #4: fluency and accuracy have equal values on the rubric.

Class hours before Test #1: two fifty-minute classes.

NOTE: The logistical realities of teaching EFL speaking and conversation in a Korean public high school often necessitate the instructor exhibiting a degree of “flexibility” when it comes to following EFL methodology the way it “should” be practiced versus adapting to and dealing with the chaotic and extremely unstable school schedule and teaching/learning conditions.  I scheduled the first speaking test with only 2 weeks of instruction due to several reasons: 1) My classes were not assigned time slots during the school’s official midterm exam and final exam periods (thus necessitating me having to schedule testing during regular classes). 2) The students do not understand fully (perhaps even not at all) how they will be tested (my test will be the first ever speaking test done at the school in its entire history), and this diminishes their ability to develop effective learning styles and habits specific to my classes (I made a “How to” study guide for speaking tests handout (look at the bottom of this post) and gave tips and strategies during my classes). 3) I fully expect motivation and attention levels to dramatically spike after Test #1 has been completed as students will have a much clearer idea based on first-hand speaking test experience with a native speaker/teacher in a public school setting.

Test #1 focus: pronunciation, intonation, grammar, and demonstrating/performing cultural rules for speaking and interactions during the test (for example, how to shake hands)

Test Duration: 2 minutes

Type of school: 2nd grade classes at an all boys trade/sports school transitioning into an academic high school, Seoul–the 2nd grade students were enrolled during the trade school standards for acceptance.  The overall English abilities are lower.  On average each class has 25% false-beginner, 50% low-intermediate to intermediate, and 25% high-intermediate to advanced levels of English language ability.

Class size: 30-40 multi-level high school boys

Language learners: mixed levels, on average each class has 25% false-beginner, 50% low-intermediate to intermediate, and 25% high-intermediate to advanced levels of English language ability.

Test location: in the native English teacher’s classroom, no other students are permitted to be in the room; also, no Korean English co-teachers (they’re presence would inhibit student speaking performance and test conditions), all other students will be waiting in their homeroom, and in groups of 5 come to the hallway outside, line up and wait for their turn.

General Conditions: each class of 30-40 boys will be divided into two groups, A and B.  Boys will do a lottery that places them in one of the two groups, and also determine order of testing.  This is to avoid the ‘not fair’ criticism that is a very big concern for Korean students in testing situations (whether or not what they’re saying has anything to do with ‘fairness’).

Role of Korean English co-teacher during testing: KET will be responsible for organizing the boys into testing order, and keeping them quiet as the tests are in progress.

Absent/Sick students:  more than likely a make up test time will have to be set up during a lunch period as soon as possible

NOTE: During testing I realized that my co-teachers were not taking attendance on the day of the test (they tend not to during regular classes too, sigh), not marking down who was absent/sick, and that they had not checked the order of testing group lists we had made against the class attendance list to make sure every student was on the testing list . . . this caused some problems later, and hopefully other native teachers can avoid this by explicitly asking their co-teachers to check these rather important details (although, even when explicitly asked, the unfortunate truth is that the task is not done or done poorly).

Test Writing/Editing: due to “issues of motivation and a lack of interesting co-producing lesson plans” the native English teacher designs and writes up the English test text and rubric.  A younger Korean English teacher who I wasn’t actually co-teaching with ended up helping me edit and proof the test questions and make sure there were no problems.

Test Planning/Meetings with Co-teachers:  Getting the co-operation and willing participation of co-teachers was extremely challenging and often met with failure in the weeks leading up to speaking test #1.  For speaking test #2 I decided not to go through the ridiculous stress and passive-aggressive/apathetic participation I was exposed to during prep for test #1 due to being constantly reassured by my co-teachers that they knew what their testing roles and tasks were (which they didn’t, and had forgotten).  Test 2 had several administrative problems due to a lack of a pre-test meeting where I wanted to, as I did in the pre-test meeting for test 1, go over and review what each of us needed to do, how to do it, and try to make sure my co-teachers understood the very few testing tasks I had asked them to take care of . . . I will write more about this in part 2.

Test Review Class:  a test review class will be scheduled  in the week before each testing period so that students can learn and practice test procedures as it is the first time for them to participate in a public school speaking test, and familiarizing themselves with the procedure will help reduce stress and anxiety for students.  This is also vital for the co-teachers as they have never participated or overseen speaking tests and they need the practice time too.

1 week before the test:  a list of questions based on the English class lessons will be provided to students.  The reason for this is that the classes are multi-level and the speaking book lessons are intermediate level.  In order to give the lower level students a fighting chance to do well on the test it is vital to provide them with the general test content.  If they actually study hard, and practice hard, they will then have the possibility of achieving a good test score.

Primary focus of KETs in test design: produce ranked results for evaluations–in general, they had very little to no interest in accurately and fairly assessing student speaking abilities.

Primary focus of NET:  I wanted to accurately, and in a fair and professional manner, assess student speaking abilities.

Role of KETs in test and curriculum design:  0%.

Role of NET in test and curriculum design: 100%

Reasons for choosing teacher-student interview style test versus other types of speaking tests:

1) Large multi-level classes preclude being able to pair up students.  Putting a low level student with an advanced student is a recipe for disaster.

2) Low level students need a testing situation where they can be prompted if need be, and also a friendly non-threatening partner for the speaking interview.  Pairing up students who are not friends or part of the same social peer group within a class (there are multiple groups) creates the potential for classroom peer to peer dynamics to sabotage the testing process and validity (i.e. I’m gonna kick your ass after school if you screw up my test score).

3) Selection of partners process and ‘fairness.’  If students perceive the process to be “unfair”–regardless of whether or not they’re right–this can dramatically impact teacher-class relationships, etc.

4) Small groups . . . see #1.

I mentioned that some other instructors I know suggested doing pairs or small group speaking tests but my reaction is the same as I found online while doing some research to see what other instructors have done for speaking tests.  The instructor in a A Case Study: One Speaking Test Format says, “But a good conversation depends on both students doing their part, so you run the risk of one person’s grade being affected by the other’s performance.”

The relationship between test format choice and language learner levels is critical.  In the particular situation of large multi-level classes in Korean public schools the range of choices is severely limited by both consideration for the students abilities AND the logistical nightmare that is organizing and scheduling the test dates and times.

I came across two articles from the Internet TESL Journal.  The first is Using Pair Work Exams for Testing in ESL/EFL Conversation Classes by Ian Moodie, Daegu Hanny University, Gyeongsan, South Korea


“In utilizing one-on-one interview examinations obviously the instructor can get a sense of the oral communicative competence of students and overcome this weakness of written exams.  However, there are other disadvantages to this approach.  First of all for the instructor, time management can be an issue.  For example, assuming a two hour period for exams, a class of 20 students would mean each student only has six minutes of time for testing.  This includes the time needed to enter the room/office and adjust to the setting.  With such a time constraint it becomes doubtful that the student and instructor can have any kind of normal real-world conversation. Also, considering the weight of the exam (assuming that it is between 20-40% of the final score), it is not a lot of time to elicit and test for speaking ability or listening comprehension.  Six minutes for 30 or 40 percent of the student’s grade puts a lot of pressure on the students to perform in a very limited amount of time.  The fact that it is a direct conversation with the instructor, who will dole out the final grade, would also make it more stressful for the students.  As for the instructors, it can be taxing to both have a conversation with a student and evaluate it simultaneously” (my bold, my italics).

The logistical realities (or  perhaps ‘nightmare’ might be more appropriate) of my English classes and testing pretty much forced me to have to ignore certain EFL standards and methods for testing that I would have preferred to follow.  The testing time was only 2 minutes, the class sizes 30-40, and because the school was not integrating my testing into the official mid-term and final exam testing days I was forced to schedule TWO WEEKS (one class per week) of class time in order to complete all the 2 minute tests (and that was just for test 1)–if I’d reduced the testing time to one week only each test would have lasted something like 45 seconds MAYBE…


Pair Work Conversations

“One way to improve upon one-on-one testing is the utilization of pair work activities as part of or all of the exam itself.  This type of activity frees up the cognitive resources of instructors in order to pay closer attention to the production of each student than if they were participants themselves.  Students have a longer time to interact, instructors have longer to evaluate and comment on each student’s performance.  In the case of the instructor following Communicative Language Teaching methods, where pair work may take up a significant portion of a class, it would be appropriate to incorporate similar activities in the exam.  That way the exam itself is much better integrated into the fabric of the course.  Students can be tested for performance related to activities done in class.  For a conversation course, oral pair work exams are much more relevant than written exams or one-on-one interviews.  There may also be benefits in regards to student motivation.  If students are aware that they will be tested on activities similar to the ones done in class, they may have more incentive to be attentive and use class time effectively.”

I had originally planned on getting my guys to do a lot of in-class pair activities so that I could have them test in pairs . . . but learner motivation, maturity, and self-discipline in the classroom quickly made it apparent that I’d spend more time on trying to get the low level/low motivation language learners to do the paired learning tasks/activities and to keep them from disrupting the other pairs who were actually doing the work . . . I quickly reassessed my curriculum plan and testing from paired to teacher-student interview format.

I also took a look at the different ways one can test speaking . . . here are links and descriptions.

CPE Speaking Test

Duration: 19 minutes (28 minutes for groups of three at centres where there’s an odd number of candidates).
Participants: Candidates are interviewed in pairs. There are two examiners present: one who asks the questions, the other acts as assessor and doesn’t speak during the interview.
Format: The oral test consists of three parts.”

Part 1 (Interview)

“Tests ability to: use language for social purposes, such as in making introductions, answering questions, giving an opinion.

This first section of the CPE Speaking exam lasts about 3 minutes (4 minutes for groups of three). In this section the examiner will ask you at least three questions to give you the chance to introduce yourself and for you to give an opinion on a general topic to do with your life experiences, interests etc.”

Part 2: (Collaborative Task)

“Tests ability to: use language to discuss and interpret, to agree, disagree or agree to disagree, negotiate and collaborate, to rank or classify, speculate, evaluate, make decisions etc.

There are two sections to Part 2 of the CPE Speaking test, which lasts about 4 minutes (6 minutes for groups of three). The examiner will ask you and your partner to talk about a set of visual prompts together.”

Part 3 (Long Turn and Discussion)

“Tests ability to: speak at length coherently, use language to develop a topic, describe, compare and contrast, hypothesise and comment.

Part 3 of the CPE Speaking test lasts about 12 minutes including 2 minutes for each long turn and 4 minutes for the final discussion. Candidate A is passed a card and has to speak about the topic without interruption, either from the examiner or their partner. When Candidate A has finished the examiner asks Candidate B a brief question about the topic. The roles are then reversed: Candidate B is given a different card and speaks for 2 minutes followed by Candidate A who answers a brief question about the topic. At the end of the long turns both candidates participate in a discussion with the examiner about the theme of the two topics.”

IELTS Speaking Test

“Duration: Between 11 and 14 minutes.
Participants: Candidates interviewed individually. The test is recorded.
Format: The test consists of three parts.”

Part 1 (Interview)

“Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking test lasts between 4 and 5 minutes. The examiner will ask some simple ‘getting-to-know-you’ questions which will help the examiner find out a little about you and help put you at ease. These will be general questions such as about your family, your studies, where you come from or what your interests are.”

Part 2 (Long Turn)

“Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test lasts between 3 and 4 minutes (including 1 minute preparation time). The examiner gives you a task card and you have to speak about the subject without interruption for between 1 and 2 minutes.”

Part 3: (Two-Way Discussion)

“In Part 3 of the test, which lasts between 3 to 4 minutes, the examiner will ask you questions linked to the topic in Part 2.”

While doing my research I came across a research article excerpt from,  The paired speaking test format: recent studies by Linda Taylor.  In the two page excerpt Taylor talks about the drawbacks of one to one testing versus two students paired up for speaking tests.  I think the article has extremely valid points about language learner anxiety and how being paired with a student helps to relax them, raise their performance levels, and also produce a wide range of speaking skills and content whereas a teacher/evaluator pairing with a student has an ‘asymmetrical’ relationship that impacts what a student thinks they can and can’t do based on a different set of relationship rules from their L1 classroom cultural experiences (Korean public school classroom culture is notoriously imbalanced in terms of teacher-student power dynamics) but I would argue that I create and foster a sense of informality and friendliness between myself and the students I have in my conversation classes.  To play Devil’s Advocate with myself, though, I would say that in a testing situation there is a dampening of the normal English conversation class teacher-student dynamic I try to foster because of testing anxiety and its powerful influence on a student.

Speaking Test Rubrics: I told students I would post copies of the rubric, and explanations of the rules and standards for each point in the classroom.  I also went over the rubric in the test review class, and had my co-teacher translate what I said to reinforce and make sure the students understood how they would be tested.  I think the students were surprised at how transparent and fair I was making the testing process–overall, their reactions were positive.

I’m going to end part 1 of this post on speaking tests with copies of the handouts I gave my classes, the list of books I referred to while preparing my speaking tests, and links to other posts I’ve written about speaking tests in Korean public schools.  It’ll probably take a few days to finish writing part 2 of this post . . . in it I plan to write about some of the challenges and issues that arose during the designing of the tests, during the testing itself, and also more about test 2.


Test Procedure

1. Each class will be divided into two groups: A and B.

각 반은 A와 B 두 그룹으로 나누어 질 것입니다.

A lottery will decide the order in which students are tested.

추첨을 통해 각각의 그룹 안의 학생들의 시험 순서가 정해질 것입니다.

2. Group A testing : March 29th to April 2nd

A 그룹 시험일 : 3월 29일부터 4월 2일까지

Group B testing : April 5th to 9th

B 그룹 시험일 : 4월 5일부터 4월 9일까지

3. Go to the waiting area 5 minutes before class time/test time begins.

수업/시험 시간이 시작되기 5분 전까지 대기실로 가기 바랍니다.

4. Leave all papers and notes outside the test room. If you are caught cheating you will get a ZERO score.

모든 서류와 메모들을 시험실 밖에 두고 들어오기 바랍니다. 만일 부정행위가 발각된다면 0점을 받게 될 것입니다.

5. The Korean teacher will tell you when to go to the English classroom for your test.

한국인 선생님께서 여러분이 시험을 치르기 위해 언제 영어 교실로 가야할 지를 알려주실 것입니다.

6. Five students at a time should wait outside the English classroom in the hallway QUIETLY.

한 번에 5명씩의 학생들이 영어 교실 밖 복도에서 조용히 시험을 기다리게 될 것입니다.

7. Wait quietly outside the classroom door. If you talk loudly and/or laugh you will do 30 minutes lunch time cleaning.

교실 밖 복도에서 조용히 기다리세요. 만약 큰 소리로 말하거나 웃는다면 점심시간 30분 동안 청소를 하게 될 것입니다.

8. When it is your turn, come into the classroom and be ready to start the test immediately.

당신의 차례가 되었을 때, 교실로 들어와서 바로 시험을 볼 수 있는 준비를 하도록 하십시오.

9. The test is only 2 minutes so please be ready to speak English

시험은 오직 2분이 소요되기 때문에 영어로 말할 준비가 되어 있기를 바랍니다.

10. After the test is finished you should return to the waiting area (homeroom).

시험이 끝난 후에는 대기실로 돌아가길 바랍니다.

11. Do not talk about the test with other students. If you do this you only help them get a higher score than you.

다른 학생들과 시험에 대해서 말하지 마십시오. 만약 하게 된다면, 이는 단지 그들이 당신보다 시험에서 더 높은 점수를 받는 것을 도와주는 것이 될 것입니다.

Speaking Test Study Guide

1.  Find a quiet place to practice and study.

2.  Find a partner to practice asking and answering questions with.

3.  Memorizing spoken English . . .

a)  Read over the class handouts.

b)  Write all of the expressions, questions, and answers 5Xs each.

4.  Practice speaking the expressions at NORMAL VOLUME and SPEED.

5.  Practice in the same way you normally speak.  Do not practice speaking quietly, and in a robot voice.

6.  Make an mp3 recording of yourself speaking, and listen to it.  Try to find errors and then practice the correct pronunciation and intonation.

7.  Speak slowly when you begin your practicing, and then slowly speed up to native speaker speed if possible.

8.  Do some practice speaking each day over many days.  Do not practice the NIGHT BEFORE the test day, or the HOUR before the test day.

9.  After memorizing the English do not use a script paper when you practice speaking.  Practice speaking with NO PAPER because you cannot have a script in the test.

10. If you need help with pronunciation, intonation, or have a question about the language on the speaking test YOU should ask your Korean teacher, or Jason, for help.  Do NOT ask for help in the hour just before your test date and time!

Rubric for Test 1

Criteria Points Score
Eye contact andHandshake 1 2 3 4 /4
Intonation 1 2 3 4 /4
Pronunciation 1 2 /2
Grammar 1 2 3 4 /4
Fluency 1 2 3 4 /4
Total /18
A = 15-18 points, B = 11-14 points, C = 7-10 points, D= 5-6 points

NOTE 1: My co-teachers insisted on the point range for each letter grade . . . thus the unusual “D” value.

NOTE 2: Use an mp3 player to record each speaking test.  If necessary, you can use this later to support your evaluation and the score you give a student if it is challenged.  If possible, and necessary, use a video camera (or point and shoot camera with video capability) if you are assessing body language and gestures.

Criteria for Marking: Explanation of Point Values

Eye contact and handshake

1 Korean style eyes down, left hand/arm horizontal position, very soft hand pressure, 5+ seconds holding hand too long, bow
2 Left hand begins in Korean style position but student self-corrects, right hand 4+ seconds holding time or less, hand grip pressure is too soft or too strong
3 Left hand stays at side entire time, right hand 3 seconds holding time or less, pressure a little too soft or a little too strong, eye contact good
4 Left hand stays at side entire time, right hand 3 seconds holding time or less, medium pressure not too much pressure


1 No up and down sounds, robot speakingYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question
2 Very little variation to up and down sounds, and wrong direction of sounds with wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question
3 Good up and down sounds paired with appropriate wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question
4 Excellent up and down sounds paired with appropriate wordsYes/No questions: stress the most important word, go up at the end of the questionWH questions: jump to the most important word, step down to the end of the question


1 Unclear and difficult to understand.
2 Clear and intelligible pronunciation.


1 Many errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, forget to use verbs often
2 Some errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs
3 A few errors in use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs
4 Excellent use of articles, subject-verb agreement, use of verbs


1 5+   second/s response delay time in producing correct response
2 4     second/s response delay time in producing correct response
3 3     second/s response delay time in producing correct response
4 0-2  second/s response delay time in producing correct response

List of books I referred to while preparing my speaking tests

Teaching ESL/EFL Speaking and Listening

ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series

I.S.P. Nation


Practical English Language Teaching: Speaking

Kathleen M. Bailey

McGraw Hill


Keep Talking

Communicative fluency activities for language teaching

Friederike Klippel

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers


Teaching Large Multilevel Classes

Natalie Hess

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers


Assessing Speaking

Sari Luoma

Cambridge Language Assessment Series


Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy

Scott Thornbury and Diana Slade

Cambridge Language Teaching Library


Keep Talking: Communicative fluency activities for language teaching.

Klippel, Friederike.  Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers.  Series Edited by Penny Ur.

W30,000 (?)

How To Teach Speaking.

Thornbury, Scott.

Series Editor: Jeremy Harmer.  Longman, 2006.

W27 000

Teaching English to Koreans.

Edited by Susan Oak and Virginia S. Martin.  Hollym Publishers, 2003

W15 000

Conversation Strategies

David Kehe and Peggy Dustin Kehe

PLA (Pro Lingua Associates)


Strategies in Speaking

Michael Rost



Basics in Speaking

Michael Rost



Language Testing

Tim McNamara

Oxford Introductions to Language Study, Series Editor H. G. Widdowson

Oxford 2000

Blog posts I’ve written about speaking tests in Korea (and other related topics)

EFL/ESL speaking tests in an all boys high school in Seoul, South Korea — More of my favorite answers . . .

EFL/ESL Speaking tests in an all boys high school in Seoul, South Korea — The worst test answer I’ve ever heard.

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests – My favorite responses from high school boys during speaking tests

Day 2 of speaking tests in a boys high school in Korea: Don’t poke the sleeping tiger!

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests — Here’s a three part series on what happens when things go wrong for the native teacher.

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests in a Korean Boys Public High School: Trials and tribulations of test #2

Vampires buses and loudspeakers on a Friday . . . how could teaching in Korea get any more fun than that?

False-beginners and low level students in a Korean all boys high school — How do you help them get ready for a speaking test?

Co-teacher/Native teacher mis-communications: Korean Public School Testing System — Each semester has a final grade?

Thoughts on designing speaking tests and their relationship to native teacher respect and authority in Korean public schools

EFL/ESL Native Teacher Schedules in Korean Public Schools — Day 9 of the semester and I still don’t have a ‘permanent’ class schedule…nice.

The relationship between the power of tests, corporal punishment as the primary classroom behavior management system, and respect for a native English teacher in Korean public schools….

EFL Teaching and Curriculum Design in Korea – Tried to make a 2 month syllabus and in the first week it’s already been destroyed…

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Filed under EFL/ESL in South Korea, EFL/ESL speaking tests

EFL/ESL University Listening Test Design, Writing, Editing, and Recording – Do’s and Don’ts

I went today to do my first listening test recording in China for my university. I think I’ve probably done 50+ listening test recordings over the past six years I’ve been teaching, and I’d like to think I’ve accumulated a bit of useful experience and ideas about how things should be done.

As a native English speaking instructor I always struggle to find ways to integrate myself into the L2 educational environment–and in China it’s no different than in South Korea in terms of trying to remind teachers to give me the information I NEED TO KNOW, and to keep me in the communication loop with all the parties that are involved in the process of designing, writing, editing, recording, and then editing and checking the final product.

If you’re new to EFL/ESL teaching, I strongly recommend you purchase a good book on test design.  There are three titles that I’ve come across that are really good.

Assessing Speaking by Sari Luoma. Cambridge Language Assessment Series, 2004

Testing Second Language Speaking by Glenn Fulcher. General Editor: C. N. Candlin. Applied Linguistics and Language Study. Pearson Education Limited, 2003

Testing for Language Teachers, Second Edition by Arthur Hughes. Cambridge Language Teaching Library Cambridge, 2002

Of the three books, I’d recommend the 3rd title, Testing for Language Teachers, Second Edition, as the most useful book for any type of test you might have to make for the four language skills. For new EFL/ESL teachers who are beginning a career this book is an invaluable resource.

Yet at the same time the EFL/ESL training, experience, and methodology books we have can cause us unnecessary stress when it comes to designing tests, writing them, and then (in the case of listening tests) doing the recordings.  Knowing how something should be done, or can be done, and then seeing first hand how untrained, inexperienced, incompetent, or working under poor conditions teachers ACTUALLY produce tests can be . . . ahem, unsettling.

Depending on your personality this may result in anything from a shrug, and saying “Okay, let’s get on with it,” to banging your head into a brick wall as you intermittently do shots of the cheap local libations (not, of course, that I’ve ever done that, lol).

Before I (finally) get to some Do’s and Don’ts, let me say one final thing: ‘professionalism’ is a huge cultural difference.

Let me say that one more time: PROFESSIONALISM is a cultural difference.

I’ll write about this topic in depth some other time, but for now suffice it to say that during today’s recording session I kept hearing other university instructors say to me, “You’re so professional.”  And it made me want to ‘scream’ a wee bit because I was biting my tongue from pointing out all the small issues I kept seeing crop up in the process for the listening test recording we were doing, and the bigger issues I wanted to say something about but didn’t because there was no time to do anything about them, nor did the general education culture and setting allow for the proper rehearsing and language pronunciation issues that kept appearing during the recording session I had with my Chinese English teacher partner.

It’s definitely a blessing and a curse to be seen by other teachers, and your supervisors, as being a ‘professional teacher’–especially when the behaviors or actions they’re commenting on are, in my mind anyways, things that EFL/ESL professional career teachers should do WITHOUT THINKING . . . anyways, back to the topic at hand.

Do’s . . .

1. Ask your university contact person for their cell phone and email, and then ask who the other people are that are involved in the test recording process and production line. (Oh yeah, and ask them if they have YOUR cell phone and email info–ask them to READ IT TO YOU, lol.  Sometimes ‘loss of face’ will prevent a teacher from admitting to you that they lost your info, or forgot it, or whatever is going on–and then later when they need to tell you something they can’t because they don’t have your contact info.)

2.  Ask your university contact person the following explicit questions.

a) Who will approve the listening script and questions?

b) Who will be my partner for the listening recording?

c) Who is available to edit the written script and questions for the listening test?

NOTE: Then ask again for the contact information for these people to keep everyone involved in the communication loop.

3. Do use the ‘spell and grammar’ check in MS WORD.

4. Do SPEAK OUT LOUD anything and everything that will be recorded.  My senior year high school English teacher taught me perhaps the most valuable editing trick is to read out loud the text because unnatural sounding language is easier to detect and revise, and errors that you missed while only reading also sometimes get caught by the ear when the eye misses it.

5. Do PRACTICE and REHEARSE the text to be recorded before you get into the recording studio (IF POSSIBLE–it’s not always possible).

6. Do PRACTICE and REHEARSE with your partner, and any other speakers involved, before you get into the recording studio if possible.  Often, if your partner is a L2 (non native English speaker) there are words they do not know  how to pronounce, sentences with difficult stress patterns, and vocabulary or cultural items that they do not know.  You can help them practice whatever they need to BEFORE getting into the recording studio where it’s not a good time to have to stop and start, stop and start, because they are making errors that cannot be used on a recording for testing purposes.

7.  Do make sure you have in your possession a copy of the master text to be used for the recording session.

8.  Do bring with you a color pen or highlighter and pencil to mark your spoken parts, and any special text like instructions for sections of a test, or questions that you are to read off alternating with other speakers, etc.  This helps to lower wasted time with having to redo sections of the recording when someone forgets or doesn’t realize it’s their turn to speak!

9.  Do bring water, juice, or coffee with you to the recording session. (But do NOT bring Coke or any kind of pop with you–burping or having gas problems during a recording wastes your time, and everyone else’s too).

10.  Do ask for a time estimate on how long the recording session will take (but do NOT believe it will be accurate as all too often the person in charge of setting up recordings has either never done it before, or they don’t know how to assess how much time it will take because there are too many unknown variables.)

11. Do take breaks when needed cause if you don’t fatigue will just make things take longer to do.

12.  Do get as many teachers as possible to review and offer editing/revision comments as you feel it is appropriate to do (though be careful in who you choose to ask as sometimes workplace politics can get in the way).

13. Do bring food and drinks with you if the recording session is going to last all day. (Also, if you don’t know what kind of restaurants or quality of food is available–bring your own supply!)

14. Do bring a warm coat/jacketet/sweater with you if it’s during the winter as not all recording studios/rooms in Asia are heated (and it’s hard to do a recording if your voice is messed up cause you’re shivering!)

15. Do make sure there’s a fluent English speaking/L2 speaking teacher in the control booth with the sound technician.  Having someone who can translate questions/recordings saves time and misunderstandings.

16. Do make sure the translator and sound tech have a copy of the script so they can follow along and help monitor the recordings.

Don’ts . . .

1. Don’t believe that making necessary changes to the testing format is an impossible request–everything is open to negotiation and change depending on a myriad of variables that you may or may not know.

2. Don’t be afraid of invoking ‘executive teacher powers’ when it comes to test design if you’ve been given absolutely insane testing conditions and instructions.

NOTE: That being said, if there’s a risk of being disciplined, fired, deported, or not re-signed for another contract (IF you want to sign on again) reconsider carefully how you invoke your ‘executive powers’ as the teacher and test designer.

3.  Don’t rely on MS WORD’s ‘spell and grammar’ check to catch every error in the test.  All too often there are small grammatical and spelling errors that the program cannot catch (though it is the BEST program to use!), so a human editor is still the best way to go after using the program to catch as many of the small mistakes as possible.

4.  Don’t assume the supervisor (or teacher ‘in charge’) running the recording project knows what to do, how to do it, and that they are as invested in producing a good quality recording as you are (often they seem to be overworked, overstressed, and overtired).

5. Don’t be afraid to delay the start of the recording session if you see the script and notice that there are too many errors that need correcting.  Trying to do a recording with a script that has errors scattered all throughout is just a complete waste of time, and you’ll end up having to do all the recording time over again as it’s highly likely you won’t be able to avoid making errors.  Just take the time needed to edit as much as possible, and then do the best you can if time is restricted for access to the recording room.

6.  Don’t be afraid to point out mistakes you make, or others in the recording booth make.  Listening test recordings need to be very high quality otherwise there can be many consequences after the test takes place.  For example, students will lose trust in you as a teacher and how you evaluate them and the quality and fairness tests you’re involved in . . . and that’s just one issue among many that can come up.

7.  Don’t forget to take a few minutes and make a plan with everyone who will be speaking in the recording.  Walk through each page of the script and make sure each speaker knows what they will be saying, what parts they have to say, and that they mark those items with a color pen.  If you don’t do this BEFORE the recording begins I guarantee you’ll be doing it later DURING the recording.

8.  Don’t forget to look over the master script and make sure editing notes and corrections you made and passed on have been implemented on the master copy.  I have experienced far too many times now looking at a listening test script that I have closely read and edited, and seeing that the ‘master’ copy has errors still on it that I had sent to the person/teacher/supervisor running the recording project.  If the errors are clear and yet haven’t been fixed on the master script insist that changes be made before the recording begins.

9.  Don’t forget to stay after the recording session is done and LISTEN TO THE RECORDING!  You may find yourself being called back later in the same day, or the next day (and your plans being destroyed if it’s a weekend) to re-record a part of the test that has problems in it.

10.  Don’t get upset if it’s your first time, or for that matter your twenty-fifth time, making an EFL/ESL listening test and the only instructions you get are, “Make a listening test.”  Ask if there are any models of past listening tests the school/university has used for you to look at.  Ask if there’s a veteran teacher who has made listening tests before who could help you.  Ask for help from other teachers at the school.  BUT also be prepared to have to do some reading, some research, and some do-it-yourself-teach-yourself-how-to-do-it cause there may not be anyone around who knows more than you do.
Well, I’m going to stop there.  I’m sure there are things that need to be added to this post, and I’ll ask the veteran expat EFL/ESL teachers who read this post to add comments and any other things they think are useful to this post.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you find some things here helpful.



Filed under EFL/ESL Test Topics and Issues