HKDSE English Language: A Case Study - passionforlanguage

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May 16 2017
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HKDSE English Language: A Case Study

The HKDSE English language exam requires high proficiency and sophistication in using the English language for both verbal and written communication. While students often develop their vocabulary, sentence structure and narrative techniques through regular written compositions completed at school, these skills do not always flow so easily when speaking. Our native English tutors’ ease concerns about verbal fluency by providing structured conversation practice and coaching in more formal genres such as presentations, debates and interviews. Trained in using language effectively, they teach techniques to allow students to communicate eloquently.

A case study: Gary

Now studying for his HKDSE at St Paul’s College, Gary is a personable and intelligent young man looking for greater confidence in speaking. While his vocabulary is commendable and he has a good eye for detail, Gary lacks fluency in conversation and presentations. Furthermore, his tutor identified through careful assessment that Gary would benefit from practice in identifying broader aspects of verbal and written texts such as tone and attitude.


What we needed to work on…

– Gain confidence and fluency of expression when speaking English by regular conversation practice.

– Develop verbal techniques to participate effectively in more formal spoken genres such as debates, presentations and interviews.

-Perfect grammar features of irregular plural nouns, modal verbs and past tense constructions.

-Develop ability to grasp broader aspects of a text such as tone, purpose and attitude to

complement Gary’s existing ability to identify small details.

-Increase familiarity with native speaker devices that signal opinions.

-Consult on Gary’s written compositions where needed and suggest structural and lexical improvements.


How we are doing it…


Lesson Plans:


Starter: Tools and Techniques to improve verbal communication.


Each week, we add a different technique to Gary’s ‘toolkit’ for speaking. This usually involves a worksheet with examples that demonstrate how the technique is used correctly and effectively. We then select a number of examples that can be used directly in Gary’s own communication. The tutor does not just help build familiarity with words, but helps Gary to communicate naturally by working on aspects such as intonation (pitch) and gestures (body language) as are used in native conversation.


Techniques include:

  • Discourse markers- e.g therefore, on the other hand, similarly, in conclusion
  • Tag questions- e.g. It’s raining, isn’t it?, you don’t have a car, do you?
  • Back-channel behaviour (ways to shows that you’re listening)- e.g. right, sure, I understand, really?


Main activity: Putting techniques into practice and supporting with relevant tasks


We go on to apply techniques developed in the weekly starters by working on tasks that prepare Gary for the speech situations he will soon face. Each week, we focus on an engaging topic that stimulates lively discussion between the tutor and tutee. This gives the student examples of what to aim for by listening to the tutor and practice talking to improve their own verbal fluency. A variety of methods are used to improve all-round performance.


Methods include:

  • Timed talk: Speaking continuously for 2-5 minutes at a time develop speed of recalling vocabulary and keeping pace.
  • Recording and reworking: Listening back to speech helps Gary to see where he could improve his accuracy of expression, pronunciation and intonation. We then discuss and implement the changes by trying again.
  • Detailed support: We spend time working thoroughly through a particular question by identifying key points, structuring them logically and selecting appropriate vocabulary to ensure mastery over the speech task. For Gary, this involved avoiding single sentence answers and instead expanding his points with example, explanations and links to the question.


Topics include:

  • HKDSE speaking paper questions: Direct practice with the exam format ensures that Gary is fully prepared. By reading articles and reports carefully before responding, we build a better understanding of tone and attitude.
  • Literature presentation topics: We take texts studied at school and explore key themes that the author deals with. Then, we utilize speaking techniques to plan and produce a high-quality presentation that shows depth of understanding and attention to detail.
  • Current or social affairs: We work on topics in the media and society to give practice using appropriate vocabulary and registers. This may include more formal genres of speech such as debates or speeches.


Plenary: Perfecting grammar


Finally, we cover grammatical issues highlighted in previous lessons ensure that Gary’s accuracy of verbal expression is at the necessary level. We may use correction or completion exercises.

Topics include:

  • Past tense verbs
  • Irregular plural nouns
  • Prepositions


By providing a range of techniques and the opportunity to practice speaking in a supportive environment, we aim to increase Gary’s academic and personal confidence.


To learn more about how we can help develop skills of speaking, listening, writing and reading for HKDSE students, please contact