Teaching Vocabulary for CELPIP
Teaching Vocabulary for CELPIP
A strong vocabulary is key to navigating everyday life in English, and therefore to CELPIP success as well. This post introduces activities that will help test takers build a variety of vocabulary skills: learning new language, accessing words and phrases they already know, using vocabulary precisely and accurately, and adjusting their register. These are minimal prep exercises that can be based on a variety of CELPIP task types and will work both online and in person, with groups of all sizes and all levels of proficiency.
Brainstorming can be used as a stand-alone warm-up activity, but it’s especially useful when followed by an activity that allows learners to see some of the generated language in context or use it themselves. The only prep required is to choose a topic relevant to that day’s lesson (e.g., air travel) and, if desired, some sub-categories of the topic (e.g., at the airport, in the air, at the destination). In class, divide learners into groups of 2-3 and have each group choose a secretary. Let the groups know their topic. Set a time limit that aligns with the learners’ language level and the difficulty level of the topic(s), and instruct groups to list as many words and phrases related to their topic as possible before the time is up. If the topic is broad and the learners are higher level, you can add a layer of difficulty by specifying a part of speech to focus on, challenging them to think of one word starting with each letter of the alphabet, or something similar.
Brainstorming is an ideal way to practice accessing relevant vocabulary within a time limit: an essential skill for CELPIP Speaking tasks. Brainstorming in groups creates an element of friendly competition that heightens the stakes, while being part of a team benefits learners who may feel uncomfortable being put on the spot. Plus, due to the amount of content generated, it’s likely that everyone, regardless of language level, will learn something new, especially if you further engage them during the follow-up discussion with grammar and usage questions such as “Can you think of a synonym/antonym for this word?”, “How do you spell that?”, “Is that count or non-count?” and so on.
Describing Objects and Scenes
The ability to describe people, objects, and situations is vital to CELPIP productive skills tasks. To facilitate this, consider having learners bring in (or show, if you teach online) photos of groups of their family or friends, or objects of significance to them, to describe to the class. Exercises that allow learners to personalize their learning result in better retention of information and a positive classroom atmosphere. When learners feel comfortable with each other, they are more willing to participate in class and take risks with language.
Another way to personalize description activities is to have the learners create images themselves. Provide them with a time limit and some general guidelines (e.g., “Draw an outdoor scene with at least 5 people,” or “Draw a strange item of clothing”), then put them into groups of 2-4, depending on the class size and the amount of time available. Instruct group members to take turns describing their picture while the others each try to draw what the speaker is describing. Once the description time is up, all group members show what they’ve drawn and the groups spend a minute or two comparing them: how are they similar and different from each other, and to what extent do they resemble the original image? Was there anything the speaker had a difficult time describing, and can the other group members help with appropriate language or structures? This discussion will elicit words and phrases related to direction, appearance, size, and so on, which are useful for all CELPIP Speaking tasks.
To target specific language or forms during description activities, you can specify that students must include a certain number of, for example, adjectives, prepositional phrases of place, verb tenses, or recently learned vocabulary words. To prepare for timed CELPIP Speaking tasks, you can specify time limits for responses. To prepare for Speaking task 4 specifically, you can save images of scenes and reuse them for prediction practice later.
Paraphrase with Register Change
As CELPIP tasks cover a range of levels of formality, test takers will benefit from the ability to recognize the tone and register of different sources and adjust their own register to suit a specific context. One way to practice this is to gather, or create, about 4-6 short (about 50-100 words, depending on the learners’ language level) texts or recordings that cover a range of levels of formality—for example, a paragraph of a news article, a short email from a supervisor, a passage from a biography, a brochure from a tourist attraction, a clip or transcript from an everyday conversation in a sitcom, etc. For this activity, reusing content from previous exercises is fine, but if you’d prefer to use new ones, anything similar to one of the CELPIP Listening or Reading passages will work.
In class, introduce each resource and discuss as a class how casual or formal it is and how the students can tell: elicit ways that word choice, sentence construction, and even punctuation contribute to a casual or formal tone. Additionally, go over any unknown vocabulary and grammar. Once the students are familiar with the resources, assign one to each student (doubling up is fine) and instruct them to write a paraphrase of the content, maintaining the meaning and the important details but using the opposite level of formality: for example, if the original is an excerpt of a news story, they should rewrite it in a very casual style; if it’s a clip of two friends chatting, they should rewrite the conversation as formally as possible. If you like, prepare an example to demonstrate, or complete one together as a class before having learners complete their own. (Note that if you’re using audio clips, providing transcripts will help learners work with the content. They can write out their new version and then read it out loud.)
For this exercise, encourage learners to exaggerate. Humour won’t take away from the usefulness of the exercise; in fact, silly or funny content is often the most memorable. Learners will gain valuable experience with paraphrasing as well as recognizing the role of vocabulary and grammatical structure in establishing an appropriate (or inappropriate) tone.