English Learner Article How to teach FCE Listening Part Two gapfill tasks

Summary: Exam tips and stimulating classroom activities for the Cambridge First Certificate Listening Part Two fill the gaps task.

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What to do in FCE (Cambridge First Certificate) Listening Part Two gapfill tasks

After answering single multiple choice questions for each of eight short extracts in Listening Part One, in questions 9 to 18 students get to listen twice to a longer monologue. While listening, they have to put “a word or short phrase” into ten gaps in a summary of the speech. The gaps are always in the same order as the recording. In the official Cambridge FCE exam practice book for the updated exam the vast majority of answers in all four practice tests are single words, but the answers are sometimes two words such as a compound noun or a number. In more detail, those 40 official answers can be broken down into:

three figures

two names of months

two adjectives (both of which can also be used as nouns in other contexts)

one noun with an optional adjective

and 32 nouns, of which:

  • 8 are compound nouns (all of which can be written as two words and/ or with a hyphen, rather than as a single word)

  • 8 must be plurals to match the gap

Although other words with totally the same meaning should also be okay if students didn’t catch the exactly what was said, the words in the gaps can (luckily) always be taken directly from the listening. However, the words before and after the gap in the summary text tend to be different from what students hear in the recording. All answers must fit grammatically into the gap given and be free of errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar to get a point (there are no half marks in FCE). As all answers should be written in capital letters or figures, students don’t have to worry about capitals in words like place names, months, etc. It seems that dashes in compound nouns need to be correct, but when more than one way of putting words together is correct they can of course get one point for either of those variations.

Unlike this section before the 2015 changes to FCE, the recording seems to have distractors for most or all of the questions, e.g. several months mentioned of which only one matches the gap and the others are trick answers. In compensation, single word answers are more common than they used to be and there are generally writing the answers without mistakes seems to be easier than it used to be.

Students are given time to read through the question before the recording starts. As in all parts of the Listening paper there is time at the end for them to transfer their answers to a separate answer sheet, so they can write anything they like on the question sheet.

How to do well in FCE Listening Part Two

Because students are given time to read through the questions and can write anything they like on the question sheet, the obvious first thing to them to do in the exam is to read through the whole summary, underlining important words. Important words means ones before and after the gap that give them clues as to what information they should be listening for.

Students will then need to think about what kinds of words are likely to go in each gap (a noun, a number, a size, etc) and what words they might hear before and after that, e.g. synonyms of words in the summary. For example, with the gap “gives advice on any ___________ that they might meet”, they know for sure that the word in the gap must be a plural or uncountable noun, and from the context they might have some idea that it is, perhaps, some kind of clothing. They might also be able to guess that “advice” is a key thing to listen for, but in the recording they might hear the synonym “recommendation” instead, or maybe just the verb form “to advise”.

Students might have a tiny bit of time left to do this guessing what goes in and around the gaps before the recording starts, but reading through the summary and underlining the important words tends to take up all the time available at that point. In the real exam, they are therefore more likely to have to do those things while listening and in the brief period before the second playing of the recording starts.

When the recording starts for the first time, the most important thing for students to do is to keep the first two or three gaps in mind, in case they completely miss the answer to the first question. They should then write absolutely anything at all that they hear and which might be relevant to the gap, as there will be time to work out which of those things are relevant later on during the second listening, between the two times listening, and at the end when they transfer their answers. Writing everything down can include the distractors, perhaps crossing through them as they hear that they aren’t the answer, as they would cross off wrong options with multiple choice questions in other parts of the FCE Listening test. Writing everything down also includes complete guesses, as they will have completely forgotten what they heard when it comes to transferring answers after Listening Part Four has finished and so won’t be able to guess if nothing is written down at this stage.

When it comes to transferring their answers, they should make sure that all spelling, punctuation and grammar is correct. They also need to make sure that they only include relevant words, as any irrelevant or wrong word will mean no point for that question. There might be times when they are not sure if a second word is correct or necessary, as “bird” might not be enough information if the size of the bird is important enough to make “big bird” a more relevant answer, while “blured lines” would be no point due to the spelling mistake and “lines” might have been enough to get a point. As mentioned above, single word answers are more common than longer ones, with compound nouns being the main exception.

If students have no idea what the right answer might be, they should write anything at all that fits the gap and the topic of the listening, as there are no points off for wrong answers in FCE.

Classroom activities for FCE Listening Part Two gap filling tasks

The most important thing to do in class is different kinds of practice of all the things mentioned above that they need to do in the exam, namely:

  • Reading through the summary text and underlining (probably) important words

  • Guessing what kinds of words might go in each gap

  • Guessing what they might hear before and after the gaps, by thinking of synonyms of the words that they have underlined etc

  • Picking out important words while listening

  • Eliminating distractors

  • Checking that answers match the gaps and have the right amount of information

  • Checking answers for grammar, punctuation, etc

The activities below will deal with each of those things in the same order and then look at some activities that combine those skills

Reading through the summary text and underlining (probably) important words

The obvious thing for students to do with to practise this skill is to underline some important-looking words in an exam summary text and then check if they were right with the recording or (the first couple of times they do this) with the transcript. For an even easier start, you could give them a completed text with the answers already in for them to underline important words around and then check.

As with all these activities that are similar to what they have to do in the exam, students should do the activity quite slowly and carefully the first time (probably in pairs or small groups), and then get quicker and quicker until they can do it in well under the time given in the exam before the recording starts.

Guessing what kinds of words might go in each gap

Again, students can gain a lot from the simple activity of trying to do this and then reading the transcript or listening to check if their predictions were correct. Help you can give them include going on to give them mixed answers to match to the gaps before they read or listen (perhaps with some extras which don’t fit any of the gaps).

You can also turn guessing what goes in the gaps into more of a game, letting teams shout out guesses for what go in the gaps until someone is correct. To make this more possible, you can make up a text with easier to guess gaps than usual, choose a selection of the sentences with easiest to guess gaps from several previous tests, give letter hints each time someone guesses wrongly (a bit like Hangman), saying “warmer” and “cooler” each time they guess depending on whether they are getting nearer the right word or not, or give other hints. Alternatively, I have played a game where students get points for any statements which are correct about the words in the gaps and no one else has said yet such as “Number 10 is a noun” and “Number 11 is uncountable”. After trying for a while with their own ideas, they will probably need help with this game such as a list of statements that match various gaps like “It’s a place”, plus probably some trick ones which don’t go anywhere like “It’s an adverb”. You could also use these kinds of descriptions to play kind of the opposite game, shouting out things like “It’s a plural noun” and getting student to race to work out which gap or gaps match that statement, perhaps with points off for wrong guesses and trick statements which don’t match any gap like “It’s a preposition”.

It is also useful for students to make generalisations about what kinds of words often go in the gaps in exam tasks, either as a next stage after one of the activities just mentioned or as a first stage, using an already completed summary with the answers in it as evidence for their generalisations.

Another way for students to get used to dealing with the kinds of words that often go in gaps in Listening Part Two is to for the teacher to put together a collection of some typical words from one or more practice tests and get students to make up texts that could go around them. For example, you could give them all ten words from a real exam that they haven’t listening to and ask them to make a whole text that matches all ten words, perhaps giving points for the text that makes most sense and has fewest mistakes. Alternatively, you could give them some of the most typical words from various tests and give points for the sentences that are closest to the real exam summary text ones.

Guessing what they might hear before and after the gaps, by thinking of synonyms of the words that they have underlined etc

Yet again, most of the time you’ll probably want to simply get students to do this and check their answers with the exam text. You can make this task less challenging the first time you do it by giving them a summary with the important words already underlined for them to think of synonyms for. Alternatively, you could give them a text with the answers already in the gaps and/ give mixed up synonyms for them to match with words in the summary text.

You can also turn guessing synonyms etc that they might hear into a team game (similar to the one described for guessing what goes in the gaps mentioned above) by giving points for guesses of the synonyms in the listening monologue. Unfortunately one exam text rarely has enough synonyms to make a game out of out, so you might want to make up a summary text with more synonyms to match a real recording, or put together a set of sentences that have synonyms in their listening texts from two or three different exam tasks.

Picking out important words while listening

It’s quite difficult to practice picking out important words while also doing an exam task, so it can be useful to get students to listen without having read the exam task and writing down key words, usually meaning words which are stressed (very) strongly. They can then read the exam task and see if any of the words they wrote down match the gaps, or perhaps match the key words before and after the gaps that they need to underline. To train students to only concentrate on the most important key words, you could ask them to only write down a certain number of words. For example, you could limit them to thirty words maximum, which is likely to be enough for the correct answers, the similar distractors, and the most important words in the summary or their synonyms. Key words in the test tend to be nouns, dates and other figures – something which you can tell them to help them listen for the right words, or they can work out for themselves after doing one of these tasks.

Eliminating distractors

The simplest way of dealing with not getting tricked by the examiner is while listening to the recording a third time to check their answers. Stop the recording after each thing which is mentioned that could fit in a gap grammatically. Each time, ask “What did they say?” and “Is that the correct answer?”, plus “Why not?” if it is a distractor.

The answer to “Why is that not the answer?” is often a phrase that the speaker uses such as the fact they said “We were thinking of…” or “We had planned to…”, and you can usefully do a whole activity on these kinds of phrases. Make a collection of at least twenty of these phrases from real exam listenings, plus a similar number of phrases which confirm that something is the right answer such as “So we decided on…” and “… which is what happened”. Give students cards which say “The right answer” and “Not the right answer” to hold up when you read out those kinds of phrases one by one. After a few minutes of this, students can label the same phrases on a worksheet with the same two categories. They could then possibly hold up the same cards while listening to an exam task (with perhaps no need for the summary text in this case). This can work with tests they have or haven’t done before.

Checking that answers match the gaps and have the right amount of information

When doing exam practice it is well worth having a stage when you ask students to think about whether they have enough information in each gap to be a real answer to the question, or whether they might have gone too far and included words which aren’t needed or have even made their answer wrong. More intensive practice of this could be giving them a summary which has been completed but with some of the gaps filled with too much information and/ or too little information. After guessing which gaps might have problems, students listen to or read the text to try to improve on those answers, then compare with the answer key. Groups of students can then work together to then try to generalise about what kinds of words are usually needed and not needed in the gaps in the test.

This skill is one of several in this article where it can be good to get students to make errors for each other to correct. Groups of students can either take the right answers you have given and add or take away information to make some wrong, or try to work out the right answers for themselves and then do the same. As in the activity just mentioned, students then try to work out which ones are wrong and why.

Checking answers for grammar, punctuation, etc

The main practice for this is again fairly straightforward – getting students to check and double check their answers (and perhaps other people’s) before going through them as a class, then getting them to generalise about what kinds of mistakes they have made.

It is also well worth giving them some wrong answers to correct even without need for an exam task. For example, you could collect some real answers from many different exams and add spelling mistakes, wrong formation of compound nouns, grammar mistakes, etc for them to work together to correct. Specific mistakes which are worth practising include problems with double letters, different possible spellings of the same sounds (especially vowel sounds), magic E, tricky plurals, minimal pairs, countable and uncountable nouns, and words whose pronunciation doesn’t seem to match their spelling. It can also be useful to get students to work out which of these problems they find in their own answers.

This skill is a particularly good one to get students to make mistakes to test each other with, perhaps giving the list of typical problems above to add to the words that their group have been given as they rewrite them for another group to try.

Activities combining several FCE Listening Part Two exam skills

It is quite easy to combine two or more, or even all, of the skills above when doing exam practice. As mentioned above, this is something you should probably do faster and faster each time you do it until they can do it well within the real exam time limits.

You can also combine some of the non-exam-style activities above. For example, I often get students to try and guess what goes in the gaps, compare their ideas with a version that has the right information but some other problems such as spelling mistakes or the wrong amount of info in each gap, then get them to correct what is there before looking at the answer key (all this without a listening task in this case).

You can also put some of the more game-like ideas together, e.g. letting students guess any of the words they might hear in the exam such as words in the gaps, synonyms of words in the summary text, other grammatical forms of the words in the summary text, and words which are actually unchanged in both the recording and the summary text. Split the class into small teams, give them five or ten minutes to choose which words they want to guess, then go around and around the teams writing their guesses on the board. They can then listen and check. For this to be useful practice as well as a fun game, you’ll need to make clear that you will only allow key words, so don’t want grammar words like “at” and “are”.

Students making wrong answers to test other groups with can also be a combination of several of the points above. For example, you could give two groups of students different tests and get them to add answers which have spelling mistakes, have grammar mistakes, have punctuation mistakes, are too long, are too short, don’t match the gap, or are simply the wrong information (e.g. are what someone would write if they fell into the trap set by the examiner with a distractor). They then pass these to other groups for them to correct.

Perhaps the most intensive way of practising all the skills above and giving students insight into the challenge of the exam is for groups of students to write exam tasks for other groups to try. There are several ways of organising this:

  • Retype at least two summary texts with the answers put in so there are no gaps. Give groups of students this and the tapescript, and get them to add gaps to the summary text to test another group with.

  • Give students a tapescript and the original ten answers (in the original order or mixed up) and get them to make a gapped text with those ten answers missing

  • Give students just a tapescript and get them to make a summary text with ten answers (of their choice) missing

  • Give students a recording and something to play it on (not a transcript in this case), plus maybe the ten original answers Get students to listen again and again to the recording until they have written an exam task for another group to try.

  • Give students just the ten original answers and get them to create a monologue and a gapped summary, perhaps also recording the monologue (or allow them to just create and record ten unconnected sentences if a whole monologue on a single topic would be too difficult).

Other groups can then try those tasks, with a recording and/ or transcript. If you are using recordings (in the writing tasks or trying other groups’ tasks stages), you’ll obviously need at least two rooms with some equipment to play audio in both.

If you don’t have the time or resources to do the testing other groups stage, it can still be useful to get groups of students to make exam tasks, perhaps instead giving points for the tasks which are most similar to the original exam ones.

To make making exam tasks useful practice for both the groups writing the tasks and the groups trying those tasks, you’ll need to make sure that you give them a list of characteristics of a real task, including tricks that the examiners often really use, for them to try to include in the exam tasks that they make. For example, you could tell them to “Include a mix of singular, plural and uncountable nouns” and “Make sure that you can’t guess the exact word in any gaps without hearing the recording”.

Instead of giving students information/ tips about the exam in this way, it can be useful to get students to work out tactics, true statements about this part of the exam, etc for themselves. Students who already know the exam fairly well can come up with their own tips, perhaps with the help of discussion questions and/ or with a full task with transcript to refer. Students with less experience can also try to analyse a full task with transcript, or you can give them more help such as a list of help and hindrances in the exam to classify as such. For example, “The questions are always in the same order as the recording” is definitely something they should mark as “help”, “Compound nouns must written correctly” is definitely a hindrance, while “The words to go in the gaps come directly from the recording” is kind of both, as it means you don’t need to rephrase but you have to catch what is there.

A more complex version of discussing tips is to give them a mix of true and false tips to circle and cross off, then ask them to brainstorm examples of the things that are true. For example, after circling the true statement “You sometimes have to write compound nouns with a hyphen” they can write examples like “T-shirt” and after selecting “There are phrases to show you that the thing which you just heard is the right answer that you should write in the gap” they can write things like “… and so we did”.

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Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com