Every Friday as a newly qualified teacher I would board the Leeds to Liverpool intercity train armed with a shoe box full of my pupils'
cassettes. I ignored the strange looks of fellow passengers as I knew that the box was essential to my pupils' preparation for their GCSE oral exams.
I would spend the two-hour journey listening to my pupils' recordings of their GCSE oral work. Initially I wrote a report containing a mark and phonetic pronunciation of errors made by each pupil. However, on one journey I had a revelation similar to that of St Paul on the road to Damascus.
I decided that it would be far more beneficial and efficient for the pupils if I were to record my corrections on my return to school. (This was 16 years ahead of Assessment for Learning.) I now record my comments on the end of each cassette so that pupils have to listen to their work in order to find out their mark and targets. These cassettes now form part of department policy as each member of staff gets their pupils to record their GCSE presentations and topic areas.
In the run-up to the exams the pupils are able to build up a comprehensive record of their GCSE oral work. They also have something tangible to revise from, which is often a concern for young people before their oral exam.
Past paper role-plays can also be recorded in the same way. For pupils who do not have facilities to record at home we make tape recorders and cassettes available at break, lunch and after school. It is now slightly more difficult as pupils have CD Walkmans and MP3 players these days.
For pupils to achieve a grade C they must refer to three time frames and use opinions. To help them to do so every languages classroom has colour-coded key words and phrases displayed on the walls. Each pupil also has the same language in their personal planners (from the table below). I also use the "hot seat" technique used in drama classes to improve my pupils' ability to communicate and gain confidence. Pupils take it in turn to speak for 30 seconds on a topic while their peers listen. Peer assessment is then used to improve the quality, content and pronunciation of the pupil in the hot seat.
Videos set up as "mock" orals with the assistant, a trainee teacher, another teacher or a pupil can be used as good training for the GCSE oral.
You could set up an excellent, good or poor oral and then comment on it with the pupils, as for a videoed golf lesson.
Many teachers provide lists of questions and answers in the form of revision booklets, which work for some pupils. I would prefer a speakingtalking resource, which, although taking more time to prepare, is far more effective.
Taking the role-play cards for a year's oral exam and then dividing the class to work on them in teams to come up with their best answer can add a competitive element to preparation for the exam. A league table in the run-up to the exams is often popular, especially with boys. Pupils enjoy this type of brainstorming exercise.
Using your language assistant, if you are fortunate enough to have one, is crucial to enable pupils to practise their oral work individually or in small groups. Placing trainee teachers with Year 11 groups before the mock or real exams is a good use of their time. They can record a model presentation or conversation.
Paul Keogh MBE is head of languages at King James's School Knaresborough and was 2003 Teacher of the Year