Being able to understand and give an opinion is crucial in communication. It makes our connections with each other stronger and our dialogue richer. This important skill is also tested a lot in reading and listening exam tasks, so it’s important that we pay attention to the variety of ways in which a writer or speaker can do this, and help our students to recognise and use it themselves.
As we can see from these GSE descriptors, this skill starts to be developed and is expected at an A2 level:
and continues well into C1:
It’s a skill we can help our students with in general, and also for exam preparation. This blog post is going to take a typical listening text you find in a course book and provide ideas on how to teach it, and then provide further activities for you to use in class to help your students to recognise and use the language used to express opinions.
Let’s look at a typical B2 multiple choice listening task now. As you can see, the first question is all about recognising the speaker’s opinion:
So, how can we teach this to our students in class?
The theme of the whole listening is about friendship – and everyone in class will have an opinion about that! On the board, write the question ‘What makes a good friend?’ Ask students to work individually and write down 5 ideas. Then, ask students to sit together in pairs and share their ideas, but they now must only agree together on the best 4 ideas out of a possible 10, making sure students write a new, agreed list. In the last stage, ask students to sit together in groups of four and share their ideas, but they must only agree together on the 3 best ideas out of everyone’s opinion. Make sure they write the 3 ideas down. As a plenary, ask the groups to share with you and the whole class the best 3 ideas of what makes a good friend. Were any groups similar? Finally, can the whole class vote or decide on the one best idea? Take the best idea, and see if it matches the possible answers in the listening Question 1!
2. Raising awareness
Direct students’ attention to Question 1 of the exam task, and ask them what are they listening for (answer: the speaker’s opinion about the most important factor in a friendship). Point out that the speaker is unlikely to say ‘The most important factor is…’ because it’s too easy, and also there are other, more exciting ways to express your opinions in English.
Challenge: Ask students to write down, or tell a partner, three other ways of saying this. Here are some examples using the adjective ‘interesting’:
Remind your students about the warmer activity ideas – can they rephrase the best three ideas using the new language? For example, ‘Above all loyalty is important’ or ‘What’s important is laughing together.’
3. Controlled Listening practice
The students can then practice these skills, before jumping into the main task, by listening to language in action and completing the gaps.
4. The main task
The students are now ready to try to listen and answer the questions. However, it’s not just question 1 that asks for an opinion, a further four questions are testing students on identifying how the speaker thinks and feels.
Help your students by pointing this out – that language such as ‘feel’ ‘think’ ‘opinion’ ‘according to’ in the questions are always testing the students to identify opinions. Also, consult the audio script before class and pre-teach any opinion phrases that are sure to block your students – for example, these could prove quite tricky:
‘The crucial thing is…’
‘It’s more often about X than Y’
‘The truth is…’
‘I’m struck by…’
5. Feedback and identifying blockers
Check the answers with the class. For any they got wrong, ask them to consult the audio script and find out why. Was it a pronunciation misunderstanding, a new vocabulary word, or something else?. If it was a whole class collective mistake, then include this on your review documents and make sure to include it in any warmer or cooler revision activities in future classes.
6. Further practice of the language of giving opinions
To help students to consolidate what they have learnt, they can now personalise the topic and practice the opinion language seen and heard in class.
If you liked this lesson and you would like to look at this activity, and many others, please feel free to download a sample of Formula, which is where this B2 listening task comes from.
Some ideas to further introduce and recycle the language of giving opinions:
1. Spend the card
Hand out 4 small pieces of card to your students. Ask them to write down an opinion phrase they know on each of the cards (If students are struggling to recall, quickly brainstorm language on the board). Tell your students that they are going to play an opinion game. Give students two things to talk about, for example, ‘What is better: chocolate or pizza?’ You can either let the students speak their real opinion, or assign one item to student A and the other to student B to argue and defend. The students must try to use the phrases on their cards. If they can, they ‘spend’ the card and place it face down on the table. The first student to spend all the cards by using the sentences coherently, wins. Keep on playing, changing the topics. This allows students to repeat again and again those key phrases.
2. Play ‘contrary tennis’
Ask students to work in pairs. Give them a topic, for example school subjects. Student A begins by giving a short opinion. Student B listens and must reply with a contrary opinion, Student A then replies contradicting what Student B has just said, and on and on until one person hesitates – if the hesitate they lose that round. To add spice to the game, students cannot repeat an opinion structure they have used before – for example, if they have already said ‘I think it’s important…’ they cannot repeat this again.
3. Snowball ‘find someone who’
Choose a topic you have recently been studying, or are about to study in the unit. Give each student a piece of paper and ask them to write a short sentence or couple of sentences giving their opinion about the topic – encourage them to use the higher level phrases they have discovered. Ask students to screw their paper up into a ball, and then proceed to have a ‘snowball fight’ for 30 seconds. This means that students are allowed to throw the papers at each other, effectively mixing them up. When the class has settled, ask students to pick up a piece of paper, open it, and then attempt to find the owner of the piece of paper by mingling and asking ‘Is it you who believes..?’ Once they have located the correct person, they can sit down.
So, we’ve looked today at how learning language to give opinions is key to exam success and ways to develop the skill, referencing course material and other activities. What are your top tips?
If you would like to know more about Formula, Pearson’s new 3-level flexible, unique and enjoyable route to Cambridge exam success, click here.