Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New EPE test items: dialogue completion and situation responses

The revamped English Proficiency Exam here at METU now includes a number of new test items.  The format, content and skills works related to some of the new items in will produce some challenges for teachers.

As normal, the test items will be devoid of any context, other than textual clues. Here is an example of what students will face on the EPE for the new test item for dialogue completion. What is the answer?  

Clerk: Next please. How can I help you?
Dina: I‘d like to open a bank account. ____ (22)____
Clerk: Only a copy of your ID card.
Dina: I only have my student ID card with me. Is it OK?
Clerk: Sure. And please fill in this form while I‘m photocopying your ID card.

For teaching purposes, working with such a dialogue in text-only format may present a challenge both for teachers as well as students.

Visualization and context through comics
  • Visualization clues, using pictures, realia, etc., are all tools of the teaching trade.  Creating a comic strip is another technique that is not normally available to teachers who are 'drawing-challenged' (such as myself!) 
  • However, the Internet has the answer.  Here is an example of a test item for dialogue completion as a comic (using http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/)

There are many other other comic creation sites around, but http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/ is probably the easiest.
  • The site is all black and white, but the characters have a useful range of emotions to choose from.  
  • Note that you cannot change anything once you've published it (unless you save it as a JPEG and edit it in an image editor like PAINT or GIMP).  
  • Also, make sure you send yourself the link to the comic so you can retrieve it in the future in case you lose the picture that you copy (generally using PRINT SCREEN or any SCREENSHOT program that you have.)
The other site that is worth a good look at is http://www.toondoo.com/.  This is a much more sophisticated than MakeBeliefsComix, but you can also waste a bit more time using all the features until you get used to the interface.  You can register and save your 'toons' in your account. Although you can't change them from your own account, others you share the 'toon' with can make changes.  Here is an example of the same dialogue complete in a ToonDoo to get a flavour of the difference in output.

If you find another site that you like and find useful in this context, please share your link by adding a comment.
Visualization and context through animation

There are other 'multimedia' options for dialogue completion, perhaps to add a bit of variety to comics, and the other techniques you employ from your personal bag of teaching tricks.
  • There is another animation tool, XTRANORMAL, which you can find in Youtube's create video option (http://youtube.com/create), that allows you to add pauses and gestures.  
  • Using these you can create a 'gap' in the dialogue which could be another way to expose students to dialogue completion tasks.


Preparation for another test item, responding appropriately to a situation, may also benefit from the use of comics when presenting and practicing the skill in class.  Here is an example of a test item for response to a situation. What is the answer?

Your friend is supposed to pick you up from the station and you know that he/she is waiting for you now, but you have missed the train and you will be one hour late.
Call your friend and apologize by explaining the situation: ____(27)____

Again, creating a simple comic strip can perhaps bring the situation to life in class.  Here is a simple example of a MakeBeliefsComix for the situation above.  Click on the image to see the full-size version.

Learner awareness

If you are thinking of how to introduce the new test items in class, here are two draft worksheets (with tasks created using Teacher's Pet) that you can download and adapt.  These are in OpenOffice format.
  1. Worksheet to introduce Dialogue Completion
  2. Worksheet to introduce Response to Situation.


  1. I love the audio - hear this post-. Guess in a year or too this will actually be clear and understandable! Seriously, probably the written word will always be accompanied by audio and we will wonder how we did without this, just as people now wonder how we managed without mobiles (or even further back, any) phones.

  2. Yes, I using a 'free' website, so their voices don't have the quality of commercial products like AT&T (which tend to set the industry standards.) The new iPhone4s is another example of where computers not only talk to us, but we can now talk to them. Combine this with the evolving machine translation software and the BABLEFISH of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy may not be that far off from reality!

    If you are really interested in the text-to-speech feature, there is a good program which has a free version you can download on your computer and convert any text into an audio file. The quality is surprisingly good. See http://www.naturalreaders.com/index.htm

    For language learners, the advantage of these programs is that they can request that the reader "speaks more slowly" and can adjust the speed of delivery in a natural way. Possibly worth trying out with students for extensive listening practice?