In this blog, Hannah sets out five activities which can help your child to prepare for their 7 Plus or 8 Plus school entrance interview. Using these five activities as part of a long-term strategy will build your child's confidence in speaking and ensure their personality shines through on the day.
You cannot drill a child for the interview element of school entrance assessments – it’s counterproductive, and at worst, could prevent your child from revealing their vitality and unique personality. But you can, over time, support the use of more confident, developed talk which gives your child every chance to show the best of themselves using the spoken word in unfamiliar situations, rather than defaulting to shy, one-word answers.
Below, you will find a number of activities which will help your child to develop their language skills and gain the confidence to provide full answers to interview style questions.
Another advantage of these activities is that that they act as a rehearsal for better writing – there is a huge step between social chat and academic writing, so practising more precise, developed talk bridges that gap nicely. They can be enjoyed by the whole family round the tea table, in the car on the way to granny’s house or during a holiday flight. Enjoy them in short bursts and revisit them regularly. It is worth starting long before the stage where your child has passed the exams and is facing the interview imminently.
Take it in turns to ask a question in two parts, which the person beside you answers in three parts. For example: If you were a bird, what bird would you be, and why? The three-part response could be, ‘I’d be an eagle, because it’s a beautiful bird which can fly incredibly high.’ Model the response type you would like to hear from your child, and then scaffold their initial responses if necessary. Encourage them to listen carefully to each part of the question, respond to both and then add an extra bit of information. You could award points for questions and responses offering the two/three parts. Perhaps you could extend it to three/four parts when the game becomes familiar.
Collect a series of interesting action images online, and print them. Take it in turns to choose one and say what it looks like, what it might feel like, what it might smell like, what it might sound like and what it might taste like! Encourage imaginative comparisons. You could extend this by asking the same questions when you visit a new place, relate a memory or read a new book together.
Take it in turns to describe something familiar to you all without mentioning the thing you’re describing, using something else instead. For example, (and I have a lovely tutee to thank for this one!) you could describe the cannons on the Cutty Sark as strong, dark guard dogs who protect the ship. Or perhaps you could describe something in the garden on a windy day as an immense bird which flaps with enormous white wings but gets nowhere for the sheets drying on the line. Encourage your child to guess what it is, and in turn, to begin to develop their own metaphors and bring them to the game.
For this game, you need a pack of great picture postcards or images, a pencil and paper. In pairs, sit back to back. One person is given the picture, and the other has the pencil and paper. The person with the picture needs to describe it in enough detail that the partner can attempt drawing a copy. Encourage the child describing to think and articulate description about colour, shape, position and scale.
When you want to hear about a trip out, a sporting event or a day at school, try conducting it as a pretend TV interview. Create a ‘microphone’ out of a ketchup bottle or rolled up paper, and sing your theme tune before starting the interview with your young palaeontologist, adventurous explorer or intrepid sports personality. Stretch your interviewee by probing deeper with follow up questions to elicit more details. Then once you have modelled the interviewer, swap roles.
Give children thinking time to formulate their responses without jumping in (or allowing older siblings to jump in) too quickly to ‘rescue’ them. Remember to praise good responses in these activities very specifically, saying what your child said which you liked and why you liked it; why their talk worked. This kind of feedback can be so much more valuable to young learners than vague, ‘Good Job!’ type comments, especially when it comes to building confidence. Above all, have fun!