Teaching C2: facing the challenge and mastering the magic!

by Elspeth Pollock

Teaching C2: facing the challenge and mastering the magic!

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In June 1913, 3 candidates took the first ever 12-hour Cambridge Proficiency in English exam. It included translation, phonetics and a 2-hour essay on the development of local self-government. Thankfully, since then, the current 4-hour C2 Proficiency exam isn’t quite as challenging! However, it might still instil a little fear and trepidation amongst teachers. I work in a large language academy in Seville, and when producing the timetable of classes for the following academic year, the question “Do you want to teach proficiency?” is most often met by our teachers with an incredulous stare and a definitive “No, thanks!”.

What is it that makes teaching C2 a challenge? How can teachers lose the fear and gain the confidence to teach it? What are the students like? And when / how does the magic happen?

As teaching C2 is way out of most of our comfort zones, I suggest never entering a classroom which is filled with keen proficiency students without your most valued ally: the Teacher’s book. In it, we can instantly find why “option B” in the multiple-choice reading task is correct without having to wade our way through the text and try to figure it out ourselves under pressure. Additionally, it’s important to go into class with a mindset which recognises that we don’t have to be the font of all knowledge, we can tell our students that we will find out the answer to the question “What are the various forms and common usage of the subjunctive in English?” next lesson. Then we can go and look it up! Similarly, at this level we should be showing our C2 students how to be more autonomous by fostering a more student-centred approach which allows them to decide what they would like to focus on in class, and asks them to share their no-doubt considerable knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar.

Students at this level are usually a joy to have in class. They’re intrinsically motivated exam experts, who have quite often come up through the Cambridge exam system, and they therefore know what they have to do in a Reading & Use of English exam, they’re familiar with the exam tasks, and they can identify a distractor at 20 paces.

What is the role of the teacher then, if students already know all this?

Firstly, we can of course introduce them to the couple of unfamiliar tasks they might not yet have come across in the C2 exam, such as the 2-minute Speaking long turn task and the Writing part 1 which has 2 texts which need to be summarised and evaluated.

We can then help our students by giving them ideas and advice on how to become more autonomous learners, how to analyse their own speaking and writing and learn from their mistakes and from each other. We can also teach them, if they aren’t already aware of it, to keep a decent vocabulary & collocation notebook and to distinguish between productive and receptive vocabulary.

Lastly, we can also have tremendous fun in class with C2 students, albeit sometimes somewhat academic in nature at times!

What practical classroom techniques can help foster proficiency (and make the magic happen) in our language learners?

Use the Reading & Use of English paper and audio scripts of the Listening paper as a source of vocabulary. Put students into groups and give each group a column of words from the Part 1 multiple choice task. Ask them to explore each of their words together (what do they collocate with, what part of speech are they), using an online dictionary if needed, then to regroup and share what they learned with classmates. Ask your students to choose 3/4 collocations from every text, record them in their notebooks, then ask them to read and use them during the same lesson in their speaking or writing.
Use AI in your classes to explore language and to compete with students. For example, ask Chat GPT to produce a list of synonyms for a certain word, ask students to guess the synonyms and give points for every one they get which is the same as the ones given by AI. Do the same with paraphrasing (an essential skill to practise at C2), choose a phrase from a reading text (the Proficiency Handbook or your course book are great sources for this) and ask AI to rephrase it, then see if your students can guess the paraphrase. If you work with monolingual groups, you could also do this activity using translation from English to L1 and back to English again and compare.
Work on student self-analysis and get them to build an individual speaking portfolio by recording themselves at the beginning, middle and end (or as many times as they want) of their proficiency course doing the 2-minute individual speaking task and analysing their pronunciation, discourse management and overall performance using a checklist you have built with them in class. In this way they can also set their own goals throughout their C2 learning journey.
Build student collaborative work on topics of interest using a site such as https://padlet.com/. Students can upload articles, video, or spoken and written contributions which they create themselves to share with the class. This collaboration can be the source of classroom discussion, general reading practice or students can upload a response to each other’s material.
Producing a C2 level 280–320-word composition is time-consuming, and students often find it hard to write an entire composition from scratch. Show them how to actively improve their writing by giving them a model of a C1 level task and asking them what they would do to make it C2 level. Look at choice of functional language, vocabulary, and discourse markers together.

I think that the fear of teaching Proficiency is a fear we should face, because teaching Proficiency is actually an enjoyable, motivating challenge.

Pick up that Teacher’s Book and go for it!

Useful sites and references:

C2 Proficiency Handbook: https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/Images/168194-c2-proficiency-teachers-handbook.pdf

C2 Cambridge Teaching Resources: https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-tests/proficiency/preparation/

Padlet for students to research and share topics of interest: https://padlet.com/

AI Chat GPT for students to compete against: https://chat.openai.com/

Onestopenglish articles on teaching each part of C2 proficiency: https://www.onestopenglish.com/cambridge-c2-proficiency-cpe/59544.subject

Macmillan English Ready for C2 Proficiency course book: https://www.macmillanenglish.com/es/catalogue/courses/exam-preparation/ready-for-c2-proficiency/course-information


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by Elspeth Pollock