How to teach Cambridge First Certificate (FCE) Use of English key word sentence transformations

Summary: Teaching tips and stimulating classroom activities for Cambridge First Certificate Reading and Use of English Part Four (writing sentences with the same meaning), with 11 key word sentence transformation games.

Key word sentence transformations are the most difficult part of the whole FCE exam for many students. Luckily, though, the most important language and exam tactics are eminently teachable, and there are plenty of stimulating classroom activities that teach students everything they need to know about this part of the exam. In addition, First Certificate Use of English Part Four teaches students about some useful language that they might otherwise ignore like Unreal Past, “have something done” and modal + perfect infinitive. Activities based on key word sentence transformations are also useful for presenting and practising language that they need for other parts of the exam such as phrases for informal emails and formal letters. This article explains how to make classroom practice interactive, useful and focussed on the problems that students most commonly have with this part of the exam.

What students have to do in FCE Use of English Part Four

In Part 4 of the First Certificate Reading and Use of English paper, students are given a prompt sentence, a gapped sentence which should mean the same thing as the prompt sentence when they have filled the gap, and a key word which should go in that gap as part of their answer, for example:

They say that John is the worst boss ever.


John _______________________ the worst boss ever.

In this case the answer must be “IS SAID TO BE”.

As in all parts of the FCE exam, students can write anything they like on their question sheet, and you should recommend that they underline important words in the instructions and tasks, and they can also scribble down the different answers that they may think are possible, etc. They must then transfer their answers in pencil onto the separate answer sheet within the exam time limit in order to get the marks. All spelling and punctuation must be correct, with punctuation only really meaning apostrophes in this part of the exam. They don’t have to worry about capital letters as answers should be written in all capitals as with the example above, as with all parts of the test. 

The marking key divides each answer into two parts and students get one mark for each half of the answer that they get correct, e.g. one mark for “IS SAID” and one mark for “TO BE” for the task above. That one point is safe whatever they write in the rest of the gap, so they would still get half the available points for “IS SAID HE IS” or “SAID TO BE”, or even writing “SAID ELEPHANT” or just “TO BE”! This scoring system means that students should always write something for each question even if they have no idea what the whole answer should be, particularly as sometimes you can get one point for just one word. If students still don’t guess as much as they should after being told the usefulness of guessing, it is also worth pointing out that they only need to get one point out of two in most of the questions plus a couple of questions completely right to get 60%, which is the pass mark for the exam. As in all parts of the Use of English, if they aren’t sure which thing they think of is correct they should probably trust their instincts about what sounds right. This is especially true if they are doing the most important kind of preparation for Use of English, which is reading a lot in English. 

It is usual for some of the questions to have more than one possible answer, e.g. a sentence with the answer “SAID (THAT) HE WANTED” which is correct with or without “THAT” or a sentence that could be correct with related idioms like “GIVE ME A HAND/ LEND ME A HAND”. However, if students think that more than two or three different answers are possible, they have probably misunderstood the prompt sentence. 

The easiest way for students to get no marks for an answer is not following the instructions. Students are told that all answers must be between two and five words including the key word that they are given, and that they should not change the key word in any way. Therefore answers of six words and answers with other forms of the key word (e.g. “SAYING” or “SAY” rather than “SAID” in the example question above) will get no mark. The key word counts towards the five-word limit, making a correct answer the key word plus up to four other words. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an answer with just two answers, so that narrows down the probable number of extra words that students need to add to two, three or four words.

As well as passive and active sentences like the example above (and related forms such as “have/ get something done”), typical transformations that students have to make in Use of English Part Four include:

  • Sentences with direct speech and reported speech (e.g. “Do you know?” and “He asked me if I knew”)
  • Sentences with different ways of comparing and contrasting things (e.g. “more… than” and “not as… as”)
  • Sentences with different ways of talking about first times/ new experiences (e.g. “I had never…” and “It was the first time that I had…”)
  • Sentences with different linking words (e.g. “Although” and “Despite”)
  • Fact and Unreal Past sentence about something that isn’t true (e.g. “I’m happy that I didn’t go to the party because I don’t enjoy that kind of thing” and “I wouldn’t have enjoyed the party” or “I don’t regret not going to the party”), sometimes including sentences with third conditional 
  • Sentences with different expressions for talking about probability/ speculating (e.g. “I’m sure that he has come” and “He must have come”)
  • Sentences with different determiners in front of the noun (e.g. “too” and “not enough” or “so” and “such”)
  • Sentences with and without a phrasal verb (e.g. “put off” and “delay”/ “postpone”)
  • Sentences with and without other idioms (e.g. “lend me a hand” and “help me”)
  • Different forms of the same word (e.g. “popular” and “popularity”)
  • Two phrases with the same function, e.g. two recommendations sentences, two offers, or two requests
  • Positive sentences and negative sentences that mean the same thing (e.g. “not far from” and “near to”)

There are quite often differences in the order of the sentence, e.g. which clause comes first when there are two clauses with a linking word. Especially recently, questions often combine two language points and therefore two difficulties, e.g. needing to change to passive and also change an adjective to an adverb or being asked to write a reported speech version of a request in direct speech in the prompt sentence. 

Typical student problems with FCE Use of English key word sentence transformations

There are three main reasons for students not getting (all) the available points for a Use of English Part Four question:

  • Sentences with grammar mistakes
  • Sentences that don’t mean the same as the prompt sentence
  • Not following the instructions

The most typical problems with not following the instructions are writing over five words and changing the key word. To avoid making the former mistake, students need to be aware that contractions like “don’t” and “can’t” count as two words, not one word. You also can’t stress enough that any change at all in the key word (e.g. “pass” to “passed” or “passes”) will lead to no point. 

The instructions in the exam say to complete the gapped sentence to make a sentence with a “similar meaning” to the prompt sentence, but this is just hedging from linguists who can’t bring themselves to say that two sentences could actually have the same meaning. Students should therefore be told that the examiners actually mean a completed gapped sentence must have “exactly the same meaning” as the prompt sentence above it. This means even little changes like writing a pronoun (“he”) instead of the name given (“John”) or putting “smaller” instead of “much smaller” as a synonym for “not nearly as big as” could lead to one or both points for that question being lost. 

Problems with grammar and meaning are generally due to answers with (in approximate order of how frequently they are the problem):

  • The wrong word
  • The wrong form of the right word
  • An extra, unneeded word
  • A missing word
  • The right words in the wrong order

There are times when the answer is correct with and without an extra word, especially with “that” in phrases like “It is thought (that) he lied”. It is generally a good idea for students to put possible words like these into their answers just in case, as missing words tends to be a more common mistake than putting in extra words. However, there are also times where correct but optional words would put the answer over the five-word limit, in which case they should obviously be left out. 

The most typical problems with the wrong word and the wrong form of the right word are dependent prepositions (writing “happy” + “of” instead of “happy” + “with”, etc) and verb patterns (writing “suggest” + the infinitive instead of “suggest” + -ing form of the verb, etc).

Easier ways of getting started with Use of English key word sentence transformations

As students can find this task particularly daunting, it can be worth doing something easier than a set of real exam questions the first time that you tackle this topic in class, or at the very least you should have some help such as hints as to the right answer up your sleeve in case students get stuck or give up. 

Hints that you can give students before or during their practice of sentence transformations include (in approximate order of how often I use them):

  • Mixed words from all the answers in a big list
  • The answers for each question, but each with a mistake that they need to correct to complete the task successfully
  • Mixed words for each answer after each question
  • The number of words that are necessary in each answer (e.g. "Question 1 - four or five words")
  • The position of the key word in each answer (e.g. “In question one, the key word should be the third word in the gap”)

Although not exactly a hint, I also tend to just tell students if they have zero, one or two points for each question and then let them continue to work on their answers until they have two points for all of them. This is especially useful if they are working together in groups. The Sentence Transformations Race below is a more game-like version of this. If any groups finish much earlier than the rest of the class, you could ask them to look for other possible correct answers, perhaps telling them how many of the questions have correct alternatives. 

Another easy way into key word sentence transformations is to give students six to ten questions on just one language point that the class have just studied, e.g. seven questions all testing only passive and active forms. You can often collect enough questions to do this from exam practice books, especially for points that often come up like Unreal Past, comparisons, reported speech and modal verbs. If not, you can quite easily make up your own Use of English Part Four-style tasks for almost any language point. I also sometimes make up sentence transformations to practise language for other parts of the exam, e.g. giving students key word sentence transformations based on turn taking language that we have just studied for Speaking Part Three or supporting your argument phrases for Speaking Part Four. I then link from that to the new topic of Use of English by moving on from that to more realistic Use of English Part Four examples. 

Other topics that you can usefully make up sentence transformations for include:

  • Comparing and/ or speculating phrases for FCE Speaking Parts Two and Three
  • Formal and informal emailing phrases for FCE Writing Part Two
  • The language of likes and dislikes for Speaking Part One and FCE reviews 

Another way of making the task easier is to get students just analysing the questions before they actually try to complete them. If they really don’t know this task yet, you could give them completed examples without the instructions and get them to work out that all the answers are between two and five words, include an unchanged version of the key word, and have exactly the same meaning as the prompt sentence. Working this out for themselves is of course likely to be more memorable than just reading and ignoring the instructions or being told it over and over by their teacher!

Students who already know something about this part of the exam can work out in more detail what they need to do by labelling tasks or answers with typical language points (“passive” etc) or matching the kinds of mistakes mentioned above to answers that you have put mistakes into, e.g. finding that in ten answers, two of them have the words in the wrong order and two of them have the wrong forms of the right words.  

FCE Use of English Part Four games/ classroom activities

FCE sentence transformation question writing tasks

This is perhaps the most useful kind of activity to do to really teach students what they have to do to get a good score in this part of the exam. Perhaps after analysing some questions for typical language points and/ or mistakes as mentioned above, students work in groups to write key word sentence transformation tasks to challenge other teams with. Students can be asked to write questions from:

  • Just the prompt sentences
  • Just the key words
  • Just the gapped sentences
  • Just completed gapped sentences (with or without something to show where the gap should go)
  • Just the answers that would go in the gaps (without the gapped sentence that they should go in)

These key words etc can be taken from or adapted from exam practice books or from the (free) official FCE Handbook. Students use what they have been given to write whole questions (prompt sentence, key word and gapped sentence) to pass to other teams to test them with. Alternatively, they could write answers with mistakes in the gaps that they created for other groups to correct.

To help them really think about what the exam is like and to make realistic exam tasks to test each other with, it is worth giving students a list of typical language points that they could include in their questions and/ or a list of typical kinds of mistakes that they can put in the gaps (if they haven’t already worked those things out for themselves with the analysing questions and answers activities suggested above). As writing questions is quite an involved task, it can also be useful to give students a list of stages that they can use when they write the exam-style questions. For example, if they have been given just the answer (without the gapped sentence that it should go in and without the prompt sentence) to write questions from, the suggested stages could be:

  1. Make a sentence with the words that you have been given in the middle of it
  2. Write another sentence which means the same thing as the sentence which you have just written
  3. Choose one of the words from the answer which you have been given to be the key word
  4. Check if any other words would also be correct answers in the place of the words that you were given
  5. Write out the prompt sentence, key word and gapped sentence on another piece of paper which you will hand to another group
  6. Write all the possible answers on your own piece of paper
  7. Do the same for all the other answers which you were given
  8. Pass the question sheet to another group and take theirs
  9. When both groups think they have finished, give each other your answer keys
  10. If you think you have a written another possible answer or have any other questions, ask the other group. Answer any questions that they have about your task and suggested answers.

FCE Use of English Part Four Reversi

I originally saw this activity in a book by Mario Rinvolucri in which it had all the rules of the real board game of Reversi, also known as Othello. However, over the years I have stripped away almost all the rules and chucked out the board, until all that is left is eight to twelve cards which have sentences with the same meaning on either side (in the place of black and white in the original Othello board game), e.g. “I haven’t eaten kangaroo before” on one side and “This is the first time that I have eaten kangaroo” on the other side. 

In my variation on TEFL Reversi, students lay out all the cards in a single column and take turns trying to “climb the ladder” from the bottom of the column to the top by saying (exactly) what it on the other side of each card. After guessing what is written on the other side, they turn the card over to check if it says exactly what they said. They can then do the same with the next card up the ladder if they were correct. Each time that they make any kind of mistake, they go right back down to the bottom of the column again, as they would if they slipped on a real ladder. Any cards which they guess the other side of correctly remain turned over after they check their answers, so that the next person has the slightly different challenge of turning it back this other way. This means that the students should have a very good memory of the sentence transformations in both directions by the time that they finish the game. The winner is the first person to go all the way from the bottom to the top of the column without a single mistake. If this admittedly tiring task gets too much for them, you can take away a few of the cards from each column and/ or let the students cooperate rather than compete. 

To make the cards for this game, take or adapt some real FCE Use of English Part Four questions and then create an additional sentence transformation task for each that goes from the answer to the original task back to the original prompt sentence. In other words, you also need a transformation for each which has the original prompt sentence as its answer. For example, if the original exam task is “John needed someone to cut his hair before his wedding. GET John needed ____________________ before his wedding.” with the answer “TO GET HIS HAIR CUT”, you could create the opposite transformation of “John needed to get his hair cut before his wedding. SOMEONE John needed __________________ before his wedding” with the answer SOMEONE TO CUT HIS HAIR. The original task goes on one side of a card and the task going back to the original sentence goes on the other side. It doesn’t matter what side students put top when they start the game because they will see both sides of the card sooner or later. 

The easiest way to make these tasks into cards is to put the two versions next to each other in different cells of a table in Word. You then leave the cells which should be the two sides of the card connected when you cut the worksheet up and fold along the line between the two versions of the transformation task to make a two-sided card.

As well as whole sentence transformation tasks, I have also played this game with useful transformable language from within some real tasks. For example, I have just made a pack of FCE Reversi cards with (just) phrasal verbs on one side (e.g. “put up with”) and (single) verbs meaning the same thing (e.g. “tolerate”) on the other, all with phrasal verbs taken from real previous exam papers. This version of Use of English Part Four Reversi can be played with the cards in a ladder-like column as explained above but as my students had played the game before, this time I asked them to spread them across the table. In this variation they were free to choose which ones they wanted to try to guess the other side of each time, continuing until they made a mistake and getting one point for each correct guess. The winner can be either the person who gets most points by the end of the game or the person with the longest stretch of correct guesses at one time before they make a mistake. As with the other Reversi game, cards which are guessed correctly stay turned over until someone successfully does the transformation in the other direction, and they can do the same card as many times as they like. These kinds of small cards would also be suitable to play with a board and the original instructions of Reversi/ Othello. 

Sentence Transformation Reversi on just one language point is possible for almost all of the typical language points mentioned above, and I have tried it with direct and reported speech, passive and active sentences, and idiomatic and non-idiomatic phrases. I’m also planning to do the same thing with different linking words, different determiners, different phrases with the same function, or different ways of talking about what didn’t happen, though I might need to find another variation before I can use that too with the same group of students!

Before or after playing this game for key word sentence transformations or the language in them, I like to link to other parts of the exam with the same game for other sections such as synonyms for Speaking Part One vocabulary (including British and American English for the same thing), gradable and extreme adjectives for FCE reviews, and useful phrases for writing formal letters and informal emails. This game is very useful for speaking and writing as students will need to be able to rephrase to not repeat the phrases that they use and so be able to show their level in the exam. 

Sentence transformations hangman

Although Use of English Part Four generally has enough intellectual stimulation to make it more interesting for students than just putting single words in gaps, checking answers is possibly even more boring and time consuming than in other parts of the test. This game is one way of getting round that, while also hopefully making the language more memorable.

Give students five to ten prompt sentences and ask them to work in teams of two to four students to rephrase them. The teams take turns choosing one of the sentences and saying their rephrased version letter by letter (e.g. “T” “O” “M” “S” “A” “I” “D” for “Tom said”) as the teacher writes their sentence on the board. They get one point for each correct letter and can continue guessing the next letter for as long as they like. However, if they say a letter which isn’t the same as in the teacher’s version of the transformed sentence they lose all the points which they had got in that turn. They should therefore say “Stick” if they have any doubt about their next letter or if they think there is more than one possibility. Whenever they make a mistake, the next team can continue guessing the next letter in the same sentence. Once a group says “Stick”, the points which they got in that turn are safe and play passes to the next group to continue the same sentence. The team with the most points at the end wins the game. 

This game works well with just a prompt sentence or with the prompt sentence plus a key word or a gapped sentence, but giving them all three probably reduces the number of options too much for the game to be fun. I haven’t tried it, but you could probably also play the same game with just a gapped sentence and no prompt sentence, maybe without giving the key word. 

When you’ve played with the sentences that you have prepared, students could make up other sentence transformations for other teams to play the same Hangman game with, perhaps from a list of language points, key words, prompt sentences or gapped sentences that you give them. To test how much they have learnt, they could also go onto do the real exam tasks that you based the Hangman game on, this time on their own and with any acceptable answer getting two points (as in the exam). 

The game below is another useful way of making checking student answers more stimulating and thought provoking.

First Cert sentence transformations race

This is by far the easiest activity in this article to explain and organise, but still very useful. Put students into groups of two or three and give them between five and ten real exam questions to complete. The first group with two points for all the questions (i.e. a perfect score) wins the race. The teams can pass their answers to you for you to check at any time, but the only feedback you will give them each time is the number of points that they have scored for each question (so far). They can pass their answers to you and change their answers as many times as they like. To make sure that the game lasts a reasonable amount of time and so the tension builds up at least a little, you’ll need to make sure that there are some very tricky questions included which are (almost) impossible get right first time. 

Sentence transformations the same or different games

As mentioned in the introduction, it is very important for students to know when two sentences mean exactly the same thing and when they don’t. There are several stimulating classroom activities that you can base on this idea of “The same or different”. These activities are very useful for showing students what answers they might write would lose points because they don’t mean the same thing. The games can also be a useful way of relieving the stress that students sometimes feel when they think of two possible forms and worry about each is correct, when in fact both would be okay. You can also use these games to present little grammar points that often come up in this section of the exam like “so” and “such”. 

The easiest “The same or different” game to organise is to give each student two cards saying “The same” and “Different” and ask them to race to hold up the right card depending on what they think about the meaning of the two phrases or sentences that you read out. For example, if you read out “It’s a shame I couldn’t come to your housewarming party” and “I wish I could come to your housewarming party”, they should hold up their “Different” cards as quickly as possible (because the latter sentence is about the future). If you say “Your name isn’t as long as mine” and “Your name isn’t so long as mine”, they should race to hold up their “The same” cards. 

You can easily make suitable pairs of sentences for this game from a mix of correctly filled in exam questions and a few which you have filled in so they would lose points due to having different meanings (but probably still have correct grammar). You can get at least some of the sentences that mean the same by looking through the answer key of an exam practice book for answers which have different options like “GET IT FIXED/ HAVE IT FIXED”. 

A “The Same or Different” activity which takes a bit more setting up but which is worth the effort for the extra thought it causes in students is a pairwork version. Split the same pairs of sentences with the same meaning and (slightly) different meaning between a Student A worksheet and a Student B version, e.g. “If I had seen him, I would have asked him” on Student A’s worksheet and “I saw him so I asked him” on Student B’s sheet. Ask students to read out the phrases to each other and then together try to work out if the meaning is the same or different each time, all without showing their worksheets to each other. You can make this slightly easier and help them focus on the key language by underlining a key part of each sentence that they should read out first. With this version you should ask them to first discuss if, say, “wish I could come” and “pity I couldn’t come” have the same or different meanings, and then read out the whole sentences to help them check from the language in context. 

When you have finished these activities, you can test students’ memory of the language and link it more to the real exam task by giving them just one of each pair of the phrases or sentences and asking them to write something that means the same as each one, perhaps with key words to help them. You can then move onto real exam tasks. 

Another nice activity to do after The Same or Different activities is to get pairs of students to create similar pairs of phrases or sentences with the same or (slightly)different meanings to test other pairs with, perhaps using different exam practice books or a list of typical language points to help them come up with realistic and useful examples. They then pass these to another group of students for them to try.

To link this lesson to other parts of the exam, you can also play the same The Same or Different games with, say, vocabulary for Speaking Part One like “flat” and “apartment”. 

Sentence transformations disappearing text games

As with the Reversi games above, this game is based on the idea that memorising one or two example sentences is one of the best ways of learning language structures. Choose or make a senteence transformation task, including the answer. It is best if it is a sentence transformation with just one correct answer (as is often the case), not one with several different correct answers. You should also choose a task which teaches very useful language for your group of students, e.g. something that often comes up in this part of the exam and that they have problems with such as “In spite of” and “Although”. 

Put the whole sentence transformation task (including the key word and the complete answer) into a table in a Word document, with one word in each cell of the table. Most tasks will fit into a table which is approximately seven columns wide and five rows tall. Students will cover this table one cell at a time (and therefore one word at a time) until they can remember the whole senteence transformation task and ask, or until they forget what has been covered and give up.

Make some small pieces of paper to cover the squares in the table with. This can be done by making another, same-sized, copy of the table but this time blank or with “XXXX” in each square. Photocopy and cut up the blank table, maybe on coloured paper so students can’t see through the paper when they are playing the game.

In pairs or small groups, students take turns reading out the whole task, key word and answer and then putting a piece of paper on top of one of the words that they have just said. Students should always read out the whole thing, including all the words which have been covered so far. The game continues until both students have forgotten what the covered text says or at least one of them has successfully memorised the whole thing and so can repeat the prompt sentence and the transformed sentence even with the whole task covered with pieces of paper. You can play the same game with three or four different tasks (on the same or different language points), then you could give them the real exam task that the examples came from to do in the normal way.

FCE Use of English key word sentence transformation brainstorming activities

This is kind of like FCE Sentence Transformation Question Writing Tasks above but without the setting challenges for each other part of the activity. The teacher gives students a prompt and asks them to work in groups to come up with as many different correct example sentences or pairs of sentences as they can matching that prompt within, say, four minutes. For example, the teacher could give the students a real (two-word to five-word) answer from the exam (without the prompt sentence or gapped sentence) and ask them to write as many different sentences with that in the middle as they can. When the time limit is up, the teams swap paper with other groups, check the brainstormed language that the other group gave them, and give one point for each example which has no mistakes. You could also have bonus marks for the most original sentence and/ or the sentence that is closest to the real exam one. Especially if your students often don’t think carefully enough about accuracy of their grammar etc, you c could give bonus points for finding mistakes in the other group’s sentences. 

The same brainstorming activity can be done with students brainstorming:

  • Different sentences using one key word, with each sentence paired up with another sentence which doesn’t have the key word but has (exactly) the same meaning, e.g. coming up with three different sentences with the key word “avoid” in them, each with another sentence with the same meaning without the word “avoid” with them (“We couldn’t avoid him at the party” with “We tried to stay away from him at the party but couldn’t” and two more similar pairs)
  • Different sentences including the (single) grammar point which you tell them, each with another sentence meaning the same thing without that grammar point (e.g. “They were asked to stop smoking” with “Someone asked them to stop smoking” and as many more similar pairs as they can think of for “Past Simple Passive”)
  • Different things that could go in the gap in a gapped sentence (without the key word or prompt sentence to help), maybe each with a sentence that means the same thing
  • Sentences with different phrasal verbs/ multi-word verbs, each with a single verb that you give them (e.g. sentences with “come in”, “come up with” etc if you give them the verb “come”), maybe each paired with a sentence meaning the same thing without a phrasal verb
  • Different sentences with phrasal verbs with a single preposition or adverb (e.g. different sentences with verb + “up”), maybe each with a sentence meaning the same thing without a phrasal verb
  • Different sentences that mean (exactly) the same as one prompt sentence (e.g. sentences with “however”, “although” and “but” if the prompt sentence has “despite”), without giving them key words or gapped sentences

With all of these you will need to carefully choose things to brainstorm from that have at least three or four possibilities, because some possible prompts such as the gaps in some real exam tasks only have one or two possibilities and so are not really suitable for brainstorming. With most of these variations, you can also give bonus points for things like brainstorming something that is close to the sentence that is in the real exam question.

To tie this activity in with other parts of the exam, there are plenty of other things that you can brainstorm such as different ways that the examiner may ask typical FCE Speaking questions (“What is… like?” = “Can you describe…?”, etc)

Oral rephrasing games

Particularly as a warmer and/ or to link to other parts of the exam, it can be nice to spend a little time on rephrasing as a speaking activity. The simplest way is just to ask students to say something true about themselves such as “At the weekend I often go walking in the countryside not far from my house”, perhaps by choosing from a list of Speaking Part One questions and answering that question. Their partner then repeats the information back without using too many of the same words, e.g. “You regularly take a stroll outside the city near where you live”. Their partner will then say if the sentence is still true or not after being rephrased, and maybe suggest any other suitable rephrasing that they can think of. The same thing can be done for their (own real) opinions with Speaking Part Four questions. 

If you want to turn this into a roleplay to set some context, you could tell them that in groups of three or four one person should pretend to be a translator. Instead of using their own language when they are pretending to translate, they should just use rephrased English as the translated sentences.

You can also do something similar with roleplay interviews, as interviewers often rephrase what the interviewee says with phrases like “So, you left because you didn’t get on well with your boss?”

If you want to make oral rephrasing more useful language for this part of the Use of English section, you could give them a list of language points to include in their prompt sentences such as “Direct speech that someone said to you” and “A phrasal verb with ‘keep””. Students should still try to make their sentences true ones about themselves if they can.

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Written by Alex Case for

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