6 ways to adapt grammar and vocabulary exam tasks

Exam classes have always fascinated me mostly because I love exploring ways to make them more creative and learner-centered (if you’re interested in creativity in exam contexts, you can find my two posts on the topic here and here). Turning exam contexts into more student-driven learning environments was the topic of my second online workshop last Saturday, 10/02 in which I was joined by a group of fellow inspiring educators. During the workshop, we discussed the challenges of teaching exam classes and experimented with different activities on all four skills that allow for exam tasks to be more learner as well as learning-focused. As a follow-up to all the wonderful ideas shared in the workshop, I’ve been inspired to share six ways in which we can adapt grammar and vocabulary exam tasks to make them more learner-centered and creative at the same time.

  1. Groups of Four: As multiple-choice cloze exam tasks often provide learners with options which are either semantically, thematically or grammatically related, I often adapt those tasks into a Groups of Four game inspired by the traditional Connect Four board game. In the game’s simplest form, I create a 4×4 table which I complete with either four of the sets of the answer options for the task’s gaps or a combination of two/three of the answer options for a gap and one/two words of my choice. I then ask learners to look at the words and try to identify which words are connected and create families of four (e.g. four adverbs of manner, four verbs that are followed by the preposition “in” etc.).
  2. Turn the task into a riddle: I’m a huge fan of crosswords and puzzles, so it comes as no surprise that my favourite exam tasks are open cloze ones. However, most of my learners don’t share my enthusiasm for them and often struggle to complete them. One of my favourite ways of adapting open cloze exercises is by using the puzzle element they contain and turning them into riddles. These can vary from simpler puzzles such as giving learners the answer in a jumbled letter order to creating riddles for the answers (e.g. Riddle: You use me to ask for time. Answer: When) or presenting the answer and part of the sentence that follows or precedes it in a form of a Rebus Puzzle. Learners can also create their own riddles and check their classmates’ understanding of them.
  3. Find the extra word: An easy way to introduce learners to key word tasks and practise their paraphrasing skills is to give them the answer including an extra word they do not need to use. Once they find the extra word, I usually ask them to think of two more ways they can use to express the meaning of the original sentence in other words.
  4. Scavenger hunt: Another way of making key word tasks more interesting is by turning the task into a Scavenger Hunt game in which you can give learners clues so that they can find the key words for each gap (e.g. if the key word is the conjunction “IF”, you can write the word on a sticky note, place it on one of the classroom’s walls and your clue might be “I’m a two-letter word that you use to talk both about what’s possible and impossible to happen.”). Alternatively, you can split the game into two parts by first giving learners clues to items they have to find in your class. Once they find each item, you can give them part of the reformulated sentence and a riddle for them to find the missing part of the answer (e.g. the first clue might be the word “dictionary” and inside the dictionary learners might find part of the answer and a riddle to a word missing from the answer).
  5. Offer option cards: Option cards work really well with all levels of learners as they engage them in the process of materials’ creation. The idea behind using them is for learners to either personalize the task, suggest improvements to it or replace it with another exam task of their choice or one they have created by themselves. I use the following cards with my learners, but you can add more cards or keep as few of them as you deem necessary for your learners’ needs. Replace the task: Bring another exam task of your choice. Improve/Adapt the task: Make at least two changes to the existing exam task to make it more interesting. Personalize it: Change the task so that it is more representative of your interests. Delete it: Delete the task completely, but create a new task of your own.
  6. Spot the liar: This activity is a variation of the “2 Truths and 1 Lie” game and is a great way to extend grammar and vocabulary tasks or review grammar and vocabulary. Before the game, I prepare a set of paper or digital word cards and a set of “Use it correctly” / “Use it incorrectly” game cards. Depending on how many learners will play in each round, I create two or three copies of each card with the word/structure and its definition/use. I then split the class in two teams and ask 2 or 3 learners of the first team to play to choose one word. I then give each learner the word cards and one of the “Use it correctly”/”Use it incorrectly” game cards. Depending on which game card learners have been given, one or two of the learners have to use or define the word/structure correctly while the other learner has to use or define the word/structure incorrectly. The goal of their team members is to “spot the liar” and say which one of their classmates is using the word/structure incorrectly and share why they think so.

Here’s a .jpeg file with all the suggestions mentioned above:


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