Approaching the same topic using different media

Starting from a standpoint of learner need, which in this case is bringing the CAE speaking topics ‘to life’ and with an increase in sociolinguistic and sociocultural competence as the objective I have been looking at some methods and materials that can achieve these aims.

Initial engagement with the topic is very important for what results are achieved afterwards. We have already ascertained from reading and interviews that paper-based materials and textbooks still currently have a very important role to play, but that these can also benefit from the addition of a technological aspect. In a previous post I referred to Lave & Wenger’s (2002) term ‘ community of practice’ with reference to the social networking site for CAE students. However, I believe these ‘communities’ are an important aspect in the creation of all types of materials. Therefore a paper-based activity on the theme of the environment might be introduced by a simple internet search using the name “Tilly Smith’ or ‘Mont Pele-Martinique’ or the like. When we type Tilly Smith into Wikipedia this is what students will see.

Tilly Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tilly Smith (born 1994) is a British girl who, at the age of 10, was credited with saving nearly a hundred foreign tourists at Maikhao Beach in Thailand by warning beachgoers minutes before the arrival of the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

Tilly Smith learned about tsunamis in a geography lesson two weeks before the tsunami from her teacher Andrew Kearney at Danes Hill School in Oxshott, Surrey. She recognised the symptoms of receding water from the shoreline and frothing bubbles on the surface of the sea and alerted her parents, who warned others on the beach and the staff at the hotel on Phuket where they were staying. The beach was evacuated before the tsunami reached shore, and was one of the few beaches on the island with no reported casualties.

Not only does this introduce the topic in an interesting way, with a human interest story but it gives the students autonomy to find out more by following links and finding information which can then be shared in groups or as a whole class activity.

Another way of exploiting this reading from Wikipedia could be for students to read some information about a particular topic and pass it on in a chain to other students. This type of activity incorporates interaction and negotiation for meaning and practices the key skills of reading, speaking and listening and could be modified to practice writing skills if necessary.

Another way of exploiting the internet on the theme of the environment could be to search and compare the same theme as seen from different viewpoints on the internet. A search for’ Greenpeace’ for example would reveal lots of different points of view. These attitudes and opinions would provide a rich focus for classroom discussion.

The teacher’s role in this would be of guide and ‘scaffolder’. Circulating, making suggestions of synonyms, different constructions to use or alternative ways of expressing a viewpoint.

Useful vocabulary and constructions to use could be put on the board or given to the students at the beginning of the session or could even be formulated by the students themselves through brainstorming. From my own experience and that of Advanced level teachers I have spoken to this autonomy creates effective lessons.

Podcasts and Video

In this blog we have already looked at the advantages of using video and have created the channel ‘CAE inspired’ on YouTube for students to make and post their own videos which will serve as a starting point for discussion. Podcasts serve a similar function and are excellent in their capacity for practicing listening and speaking  in that students can record their views and experiences which will be available for other students to listen to and comment upon.


A site where students can make their own comic strips and add speech bubbles to pictures. To exploit the theme of the environment I have made some example comic strips. These strips could be used to introduce an environmental debate as it depicts two people who have opposing points of view on environmental issues. This would enable students to see the argument from both sides and possibly to be more objective in their own viewpoints and arguments. Bubblr would initially appear to appeal more to younger learners and teenagers. However, I have found that all learners engage with the materials.

Mobile phones and apps

The use of mobile phones in the classroom is not only restricted to apps- various other uses such as text or video messaging or ‘authentic’ telephone conversations could be had. However, apps are the new trend and teachers can tap into this. In order to practice the topic of environment for example a couple ideas that are I had were for an app where students could label pictures of environmental problems with the correct vocab and then record themselves speaking about the picture for a minute (this would practice the long turn activity in the CAE exam). Another possible activity would be a mobile phone game or wifi game in which students have a picture to describe and another student has three pictures on their phone. The student has to choose the picture which matches the description.


Articulate gives the user the capability of making very engaging interactive quizzes on different topics

Victory author and Yabla

With victory author video and captioning software students can make their own videos and caption them while Yabla has videos for students to watch and discuss

The possibility of using these activities as one unit of a digital coursebook would also imply the necessity of learning and cementing the essential vocabulary and constructions required for the CAE exam. Assuming the format for the exam stays the same in the forthcoming years this would imply incorporating a piece of writing into the activities. This could be done based on ‘An inconvenient truth’ or similar documentary in which students watch sections of the documentary and write a report or comment on it, I have include 2 links below. Bubblr could be a useful way of introducing the vocabulary and constructions necessary, this could be done on the first page of the Bubblr strip or could be introduced gradually over a series of strips that the students have to write on various themes.

I apologise for the quality of this second video but I think it provides rich teaching and discussion possibilities, not least because it is from 1992, and can be used as the starting point for a discussion or writing piece on what has and hasn’t changed since then.



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