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Assessment activities that help students show what they know | ELTOC 2020

Assessment Activities Most teachers include informal, ongoing assessment as an integral part of their lessons. Noticing what students know and don’t yet know helps us adapt our lessons and teaching strategies. Sometimes teachers hesitate to tell students when they are being assessed because they don’t want students to become anxious. However, if we present these assessment activities as a chance for students to see (and show us) how much they can do in English, they can be something that students look forward to.

Colin Finnerty writes about the importance of providing students with the ‘right level of challenge’ in formal assessment. This is equally important in informal assessment activities, especially in young learner classrooms where teachers are juggling students’ cognitive and physical development, language levels and global skills objectives. Matching assessment activities to student levels can make the difference between a student feeling like a success (and working enthusiastically toward even more success) and feeling like a failure (and giving up on English in frustration).

The simplest way to make sure that your assessments are at an appropriate challenge level is to repurpose activities students are already familiar with. Students can focus on the language or skill you are assessing rather than figuring out what it is that they are supposed to do.

In my ELTOC webinar, we’ll look at different types of activities to assess both language and global skills, but in this blog post, let’s look at how these activities might work for assessing writing. First language writing development commonly categorizes children as emergent, transitional, or fluent writers (Culham, 2005). In foreign language writing development, these levels are determined more by literacy level than by age, because children begin studying English at different ages, some are already literate in their first language, and some are coming from a first language that has a writing system very different English. While writing skills may develop a bit differently in a second or foreign language, the categories are still useful for describing stages of growth.

Assessment activities for pre-literate learners

At this stage, students don’t really write. They are typically developing phonemic awareness of English sounds, and perhaps developing awareness of how the English writing system differs from their own. While you can’t assess a skill they haven’t yet developed, you can give them a picture or photograph and ask them to tell you what they would write if they could. If you want something to add to a portfolio to document growth, you can also record them talking about their pictures.

My name is Max English Assessment

Watch the video on YouTube. Created using Chatterpix.

What is Ririko showing us that she can do? She uses the English she knows in a creative way to talk about the dog, including using a relatively low-frequency word from a phonics lesson (bone). It’s easy to identify areas I might want to focus on in class, I also want Ririko to see what she is able to do so that she can learn to notice her own growth.

Assessment activities for emergent writers

Emergent writers can write with a model that provides a lot of structure, for example personalizing sentences from lessons, like I can _____ in the following example. In writing, they still convey most of their meaning through drawings. To assess their progress, you can ask them to draw a picture and then write using the model to bring the writing challenge to an appropriate level.

Emergent Writers Assessment

Kanna clearly understands that I can ___ is prompting her to talk about abilities. She was able to correctly spell two relatively challenging words (swim and jump) because those were important to her. They helped her communicate something meaningful about her own abilities.

Assessment activities for transitional writers

Students at this level can write somewhat independently when using familiar patterns and words, but often use invented spelling. They may still need illustrations to support what they’re trying to communicate in writing. An appropriate assessment activity is to ask them to draw a simple picture and write what they can about it.

Transitional Writers Assessment

Interestingly, Natsuru can spell ‘like’ correctly on a spelling test and uses plurals with the verb in practice activities but loses that accuracy when she’s writing to communicate. But I am impressed that she created a conversation for her drawing, especially since she hasn’t been explicitly taught any of the conventions that go with writing dialogue.

Assessment activities for fluent writers

Fluent writers can do a lot. They can organize their thoughts in a logical order and their writing usually has a beginning, middle, and end. They are willing to take risks with structures and words they aren’t confident with. Give them a specific topic, and a time limit, and ask them to write as much as they can during that time. Satoshi’s class was asked to write about something that happened during their summer vacation.

Fluent Writers Assessment

Errors like Satoshi’s with prepositions and verbs show his developing understanding of the English language system. These types of errors are sometimes called ‘developmental’ errors “because they are similar to those made by children acquiring English as their first language” (Lightbown and Spada, 2013). I can also see that Satoshi is ready to learn how to use transitions like on the fifth day in his writing. He hasn’t explicitly learned how to use ordinals for telling a story in chronological order so I’m happy to see him include them. I’m thrilled that he was willing to write about something that was meaningful to him, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it perfectly.

If we create a learning environment where assessment activities are opportunities for students to see their own growth, we can also help them learn how to become reflective learners.


Barbara spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto is co-author of the bestselling Let’s Go series, and director of the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi.pro). She is an English Language Specialist with the U.S. State Department and has conducted teacher training workshops in Asia, Europe, the Americas, and online.


References

Culham, R. (2005). The 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades. New York: Scholastic.

Lightbown, P. and Spada, N. (2013). How Languages are Learned. Fourth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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5 Easy Ways to Nurture Imagination and Creativity in the Classroom

young learner using a puppet in the classroomEnter the world of a young child. What might you discover? Young children squeal with delight at surprises. They love to use their imaginations. They easily become animals, princesses, firefighters, doctors, and more! How can we as English teachers build English language skills while nurturing our young learners’ creativity and imaginations? Let’s explore some classroom strategies and activities that successful teachers of young learners use.

1. Classroom songs and chants

Listen to a classroom of young learners. Songs and chants can be heard throughout the day. Let’s consider using a song for a warm-up activity. What kinds of songs or chants work best with young learners? One of the things I look for in a song or chant is a simple pattern. For example, consider this well-known children’s game song, “Looby Loo.”

Here we go Looby Loo. Here we go Looby Light.

Here we go Looby Loo, all on a Saturday night.

We put our hands in. We put our hands out.

We give our hands a shake, shake, shake,

and turn ourselves about, OH!

In this song, the children hold hands while walking around in a circle. For my Japanese students, the song gets their ears ready to hear the /l/ sound that’s not present in their language. The song is cheerful and uses movement that gets children’s bodies warmed up for class.

After children have learned a song, patterns invite them to add their own ideas. What can we change? We could focus on body parts. Children enjoying thinking of a new body part with each repetition. To guide thinking, you can give a child a bilateral choice: Should we move our legs (move your legs) or our fingers (wiggle your fingers)? After a few repetitions, children may be able to name a body part independently.

Sing the song at the next class but add something new. We could change the way we “go” around the circle. Children choose new verbs, such as jump, hop, march, tiptoe, run, skip, gallop, etc. Make it more interesting by changing your voice, speeding up the song, or slowing it down.

Giving children choices nurtures their creativity and encourages output.

2. Creative movement

As I mentioned with music, young learners love to move. There are so many ways that we can add movement to our classes for children.

TPR (Total Physical Response) invites children to respond to movement commands. Using movement in a song as mentioned above is similar. Students hear the words, watch the movement, and move to the words.

Some movements are easy to do in one place, such as clap your hands, pat your legs, stomp your feet, touch your toes, wave your arms, wiggle your fingers, nod your head, blink your eyes, shake your hair, bend your knees. Some movements can be done around a circle or in an open classroom space, like the ones mentioned in Looby Loo.

Children can use their imaginations to move in so many different ways. They can pretend to be animals, Halloween characters, or their favourite storybook character. Using simple props makes it even more interesting.

3. Puppets and stuffed animals

Engage your children’s imaginations by making puppets or stuffed animals a regular part of your English lessons. Practice in front of a mirror to make your puppet appear more life-like. I just introduced my new hedgehog puppet to my kindergarten class. I invited my students to give him a name. They chose “Harry.” Harry comes to class every week. Your puppets can lead an activity, join in a game, read a book, or be part of a conversation. They are often just what you need for your shy students.

4. Hands-on classroom learning

What else can we bring into our young learner classroom? Use your imagination! Real items can be used in numerous ways. Thinking of unusual ways to use items makes learning fun while nurturing your students’ creative thinking.

For example, beanbags can be used to practice colours and play games, but we can use them for imaginative chants, too. Scarves can be used to toss in the air. Pretend that they are leaves, a flower, or the wings of a butterfly. Asking yourself if there’s another way to do something will lead you to new creative choices.

5. Books

Children’s stories can be used in many ways with young learners. Most children’s books have beautiful illustrations, a perfect tool for teaching new vocabulary. Board books often have some type of interactive features that make reading even more interesting.  

 

Come and discover the magic!

In my webinar, I shared strategies and activities that you’ll be able to use immediately in your very young learner classroom. I modelled ways in which you can enter the world of imagination and develop language. Join me for an active session of songs, chants, creative movement, puppets, scarves, beanbags, children’s stories, and more!

Watch the recording

 


Kathleen Kampa specializes in working with young learners. As a PYP (Primary Years Program) teacher, she uses an inquiry-based approach to teaching through which students develop 21st Century skills. Kathleen uses multiple intelligences strategies to help all students find success. She also builds English language skills by creating songs, chants, and movement activities targeted to children’s needs. Kathleen and her husband Charles Vilina are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and the ELTon award-winning course, Oxford Discover, published by Oxford University Press.


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Strategies for EMI/CLIL Success for Primary Learners | Q&A

Thank you to everyone who attended the webinar ‘Strategies for EMI/CLIL Success for Primary Learners’! During the webinar I had defined EMI and CLIL while addressing a few strategies applying the CLIL approach focusing on primary learners.

EMI – English as a Medium of Instruction

Information communicated to the learner (English being their non-native language) in the classroom is in English. This includes subject content, student materials and resources (textbooks and or coursebooks), and lecture instructions.

CLIL – Content and Language Integrated Learning

CLIL refers to, situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language.
[D. Marsh, 1994]

Strategy Focus for Primary Learners with CLIL – Use of Visuals and its Benefits

Visual aids are tools and instruments teachers will use to encourage student learning by making the process easier, simpler, and more interesting for the learner. Visual aids usage supports information acquisition by allowing learners to digest and comprehend knowledge more easily.

  • Examples of visual aids, but not limited to, are: Pictures, models, charts, maps, videos, slides, diagrams, flashcards, and classroom props.

Thank you all for your interesting questions! Here I will do my best to respond to a couple of those I could not answer during the webinar.

What challenges do students in EMI [classes] face?

A student’s stage in education, (i.e. Primary, secondary, etc.) would result in different challenges. Overall, there are usually two main factors to consider in an EMI learning environment; first the student’s native tongue is not English, and second, the acquisition of the subject content being taught. Since the learner is dealing with new and fresh information in a relative new subject, those challenges being difficult on their own, a strong command of English would be a prerequisite.

That being understood, without the language ability, challenges could include difficulties comprehending subject concepts or themes, struggles communicating with the teacher or classroom peers, even troubles using materials such as their textbooks, workbooks, or class resources.

I am not stating that a student must be 100% fluent in English for EMI to be successful, but since EMI classrooms do not focus solely on English language learning, an appropriate level of English is needed to help learners reach their goals.

Does CLIL overlap with the PPP approach?

I believe that CLIL and the PPP method can overlap. Just to clarify the PPP methodology, this style of English teaching follows the 3Ps – presentation, practice, production. This method deals with a set process of how to deliver content to a L2 student, then provides support for language usage and application. Though CLIL does not encompass or represent all learning styles, it does provide a more flexible set of principles and guidelines. To paraphrase our previous definition, CLIL is established as a learning environment that satisfies the two goals of learning content and learning a foreign language equally. I like to think of the PPP method as a language delivery system. If an English teacher is teaching her L2 students science and writing skills, the PPP method can be used just as effectively as with a teacher teaching L1 grammar to an L1 classroom.

Many of the questions that were included were in regards to characteristics of a CLIL classroom/lesson. For that, I would like to recommend a short article for additional information.

The British Council has an article by Steve Darn that addresses CLIL’s framework and expectation in the classroom with supplemental resources: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/clil-a-lesson-framework. I also would like to recommend some other resources that I have found very helpful as well for CLIL and EMI in the classroom:

  • Ball, P., Kelly, K., Clegg, J. (2015). Putting CLIL into Practice. Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Deller, S., Price, C. (2007). Teaching Other Subjects Through English. Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Missed my webinar? click the link below to watch the recording!

Watch the recording

Interested in EMI and CLIL? Get practical recommendations from our experts with our position paper. Click here to download.


Joon Lee has been involved in the EFL and ESL educational community at the positions of Academic Director, Content and Curriculum Developer, and Academic Advisor. He has been fortunate to pursue his interests in developmental learning from both in and out of the classroom. At OUP he is part of the Asia Educational Services team and shares his experiences providing teacher training and professional development workshops. He holds great respect for educators and administrators who show passion towards nurturing a learner’s path to success.


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Fun with Phonics | Charlotte Rance | OUP

Phonics dictionary entry with OUP logo

If I asked you what the hardest part of learning English was, how many of you would point out the relationship (or seeming lack of a relationship) between how English sounds and how it is written?

My social media feeds are full of jokes about English spelling, like the famous poem ‘The Chaos’ by G. Nolst Trenite, which uses rhymes to point out that

“Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.”

Ahead of my forthcoming webinar Fun with Phonics next month, let’s go back to basics with phonics and think about how it is relevant in the young learner’s classroom.

What is phonics?

English is not spelt phonetically so reading and spelling in English can be challenging even for native speakers. Phonics is a system that was developed to help native speaking children learn to read in English. It involves linking the 44 sounds of English (phonemes) to the possible ways they can be spelt (graphemes). There are three main types of phonics: Analytic, Embedded and Synthetic.

  • Analytic phonics takes whole words and asks learners to analyse them. Students are taught to compare sound patterns, for example identifying what is the same about the words pet, purple and potato, or noticing the similarities between words with the same ending like book and cook.
  • Embedded phonics teaches phonics as and when it is needed. For example, if a student is having particular difficulties with a new word. It is not a systematic approach, and students are only taught what is needed so not all phonics elements are covered.
  • Synthetic phonics is the most widely used approach around the world. This is because it is the most effective. This method takes a systematic approach to phonics, teaching children to sound out words to ‘decode’ what they say, or blend sounds together to ‘encode’ them in their written form.

As Synthetic phonics is the most widely used, we will look at this further during the webinar.

Why does it matter to English language teachers?

As a native English speaker (and reader) I clearly remember receiving phonics instruction as I navigated English spelling. I remember working through levelled reading schemes in school, and reading with my Grandmother as she challenged me to find all the words in the newspaper with “oo” in them while we experimented with the sounds they make. More than 30 years on and phonics has become a buzzword in the English language classroom.

However, phonics doesn’t just help children to associate the sounds and spelling of English. Through focusing on the sounds of English, young learners can develop confidence when they tackle new words. It can also help them to improve their spoken and written English and develop their learner autonomy. We’ll be exploring this further in the webinar.

How can I teach phonics?

In 2018 there are plenty of great phonics-based reading schemes that can be used in our classrooms.

There are those such as Floppy’s Phonics which is designed for the first language English speakers, but which is increasingly used in the second language classroom. Then there are schemes such as Oxford Phonics World which is developed specifically for learners of English. Phonics can also be seen embedded in young learners’ coursebooks such as Family and Friends, where children learn phonics while they learn English.

Of course, having the right materials is only half of the battle. As with anything else in the classroom, success with phonics will also depend on how well you implement the ideas into your lessons.


Charlotte Rance is a freelance teacher trainer and educational consultant based in Brighton, UK. She has been working in the English Language Teaching industry for over a decade, and her key areas of interest are young learners and the use of stories and reading as a tool for language learning. Her main goal as a trainer is to provide practical advice and strategies that teachers can implement in their lessons.


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25 ways of randomly placing students into pairs or groups

There are many benefits to getting students to work in pairs and groups. These range from giving students more speaking opportunities to creating better overall classroom dynamics.

There are three broad ways of grouping students. We can let the students choose who they wish to work with, the teacher can make the groups, or we can group them randomly. In this post, I’ll show you a wealth of ways that you can organise your students randomly into pairs and groups.

The suggestions are organised into two sets. The first set of suggestions gets students to form a line which the teacher then divides up into pairs or groups of the desired size. The second set of suggestions gets students directly into pairs or groups.

Form a line

This grouping method requires students to stand up and form a line, complying to the set rule. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups. All except one of these require no extra preparation before class.

  1. When did you last eat ice cream? – Students get into a line ranked in order of when they last ate ice cream (pizza, chocolate, etc.). The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups as required.
  2. Something in your bag or pocket – Each student chooses and takes out a personal item that they have in their bag or pocket (encourage students to choose a more unusual item, not just a pen, keys, a coin, etc.). Students get into a line in alphabetical order of the spelling of the name of the item they are holding. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  3. Birthdays – Students get into a line ranked in the order of their birthdays in the year. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  4. Words from the unit – The teacher selects words from the unit of the course book and writes each one on an individual piece of paper. The teacher gives one word to each student. Students get into a line in alphabetical order of the spelling of the words. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  5. What’s your favourite food? – Students write their favourite food (animal, place, singer, etc.) on a piece of paper. They get into a line in alphabetical order of the word they wrote. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  6. What time did you go to bed last night? – Students get into a line ranked in order of the time that they went to bed last night. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  7. Alphabetical order – Students get into a line in alphabetical order of the spelling of their first/given name (or surname). The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups. Alternatively, students could write their names backwards and get into alphabetical order of the reverse spelling of their names.
  8. The youngest person living in your home – Students get into a line ranked in order of the age of the youngest person who lives in their home. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  9. How long did it take you to get here today? – Students get into a line ranked in order of how much time it took them to get to school today. The teacher then divides them into pairs or groups.
  10. Where did you go on your last vacation? – Students get into a line ranked in alphabetical order of the name of the place they went on their last vacation. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups. Alternatively, this could be about the city/place they would most like to visit.
  11. Last 2 digits of your phone number – Students get into a line ranked in order of the last two digits of their phone number. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups. Alternatively, this could be done with the last two digits on a personal ID.
  12. What was the last thing you ate? – Students write the name of the last thing they ate on a piece of paper. Students get into a line in alphabetical order of the spelling of the food they last ate. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  13. Number of letters in your name – Students get into a line based on the number of letters in their full name. Students should decide if they wish to omit any name they do not normally use or do not like. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  14. How much time did you spend away from home yesterday? – Students get into a line ranked in order of the amount of time they spend away from their home yesterday. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  15. Last word on the page – The teacher assigns a different page number of the course book to each student. The assignment of the pages could be done in several ways, but the easiest is probably to get students to count consecutively around the class, although not necessarily starting on page 1 (e.g., 33, 34, 35 etc.). Students look at the last word on their assigned page and get into alphabetical order of their words. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.
  16. Date on a coin – Each student takes out a coin and looks at the year written on it. Students get into a line ranked in order of the dates on their coins. Some students will probably have coins with the same year, in which case they could rank themselves by how old or new each coin looks. The teacher then divides the line into pairs or groups.

Directly into pairs or groups

Most of these suggestions require some degree of preparation before class.

  1. Grab the string – To get students into pairs, the teacher has pieces of string (one piece for every two students). The teacher holds all the pieces of string in a bunch in the middle and every student chooses and holds the end of a piece of string. The teacher then lets go of the string and students get into pairs with the person holding the other end of their piece of string (Dudley, E. & E. Osváth. 2016. Mixed-Ability Teaching. OUP).
  2. Lollipop sticks – The teacher has the name of each student written on an individual lollipop stick (or name card). The teacher chooses sticks at random to put students into pairs or group. Note: there are also free apps that can randomly group students in a similar way.
  3. What’s the category? – To get students into groups of 4, the teacher chooses words of 4 kinds of fruit, 4 kinds of colour, 4 kinds of animal, 4 kinds of furniture, etc., and writes each word on a separate piece of paper. Each student gets a word at random. Students get into groups with people who have the same category of word.
  4. Lengths of ribbon – The teacher has some pieces of ribbon cut into lengths (string or strips of reused paper also work). For example, if there are 12 students in the class and the teacher wants to make three groups of 4 students, there will be 4 short ribbons, 4 medium-length ribbons and 4 longer ribbons. The teacher holds all the ribbons so that students cannot see how long each ribbon is and gets each student to select one. Students get into groups with people with the same length of ribbon.
  5. Parts of a picture – The teacher has a number of different pictures and each is cut up into pieces (the number of pieces corresponds to the size of the groups required). Each student gets a piece of a picture at random. Students get into groups with people who have the other pieces of the same picture.
  6. Halves of sentences – To get students into pairs, the teacher chooses different sentences from the unit of the course book and writes each one on a strip of paper. Then each sentence is cut in half. Each student gets half of a sentence at random. Students get into pairs with the person with the corresponding half of the sentence.
  7. Letters – The teacher prepares pieces of paper each with the letter A, B, C, or D, etc. written on each one. The teacher gives one piece of paper to each student. Students get into groups with people with the same letter. This can also be done with coloured tokens or coloured pieces of paper.
  8. Team captains – The teacher selects some students to come to the front and be team captains. The number of team captains will depend on the required number of groups/teams. Each team captain then takes it in turns to choose team members. This can be done by team captains selecting who they want to be in their team or by randomly taking lollipop sticks or name cards (see 18).
  9. Count around the class – The teacher allocates a number to each student (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, etc.) around the class. When all students have a number, all the students with the number 1 get into a group; all the students with the number 2 get into a group, etc.

Philip Haines moved to Mexico from England in 1995 and currently works as the Senior Academic Consultant for Oxford University Press Mexico. He has spoken internationally in three continents and nationally in every state in Mexico. Philip is the author/co-author of several ELT series published in Mexico.