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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.


ELTOC 2020

If you’d like to learn more about creating and using informal assessment activities, I hope you’ll join me at my ELTOC session.


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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8 easy steps to using project-based learning in the classroom

Two robots holding handsStudents are always fascinated with the idea of time travel and understanding the relationship between the past and the future. I remember as a child both burying and discovering time capsules full of cultural treasures and personal stories.

We have used the theme of time relationships and time capsules in this lesson plan to encourage students to understand and communicate with the past and send students in the past information about their lives now.

This lesson plan is based on a PBL (Project-Based Learning) cycle and for its output students are encouraged to work towards some form of poster or digital document that tells students of the past about the things they feel are important in the present day.

Students can use these posters and documents to enter The Project Competition 2020.

We hope you enjoy working through this project with your students and that they enjoy thinking about life in the past and how our lives have changed.

 

Download the Lesson Plan

 


 

Nik Peachey is a freelance writer, blogger, teacher trainer and consultant specialising in digital publishing, online course development and the development of digital resources for teachers. He has been involved in English language teaching since 1992 and has worked all over the world as a teacher, trainer and project manager. In 2016 after winning his second British Council Award for Innovations (ELTon) he co-founded PeacheyPublications Ltd.

Nik Peachey was manager of the British Council’s TeachingEnglish website from 2003 to 2007, Global Head of Learning for Macmillan’s online English school EnglishUp from 2014 to 2016. From 2017 – 2018 he worked with Eton College on their EtonX program of soft skills courses and later in 2018 he worked with Kings College London Online developing content for their master’s level Financial Law courses. He has co-edited with Alan Maley two books on creativity – ‘Integrating Global Issues in the Creative English Language Classroom’ and ‘Creativity in the English Language Classroom’ and published ten more through his own company.


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Combining the Four Cs | ELTOC 2020

Here we’ll discuss the role of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration in the English language classroom, and suggest some practical ideas for giving students a challenging new take on these familiar concepts.

Global Skills

Life in the twenty-first century can be complex and stressful. Many of the interpersonal and interactive skills that we need in our everyday lives – things such as digital literacies, intercultural competence, and emotional self-regulation – have not always been formally taught in schools. The movement to embrace Global Skills in education is now looking to change that.

OUP’s Position Paper on Global Skills is a concise guide for empowering students inside the classroom – and beyond. It acts as a guide for teachers who would like to help equip their students with strategies for dealing with the challenges and opportunities of twenty-first century life.

From Four Cs to five skills clusters

Global Skills include Communication and Collaboration and Creativity and Critical Thinking as two of the key skills clusters, and these are concepts which will already be familiar to anyone who is acquainted with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, in which they were grouped together as Learning Skills and referred to as The Four Cs.

OUP’s Global Skills are made up of five distinct skills clusters. If you would like to know more about the other three skills clusters of Global Skills – which are Intercultural Competence and Citizenship, Emotional Self-Regulation and Wellbeing, and Digital Literacies – see the OUP Position Paper.

Fresh perspectives

The skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking are as important as ever, not only because they can have a positive impact on language proficiency, but also because they can be applied to the challenges of everyday life.

Communication and Collaboration

Why are they grouped together in Global Skills?

Learning to communicate involves being able to negotiate meaning – something which requires interacting with another person or people. And when we collaborate with someone else, both in the classroom and in real-life contexts, there is usually communication involved. The two skills therefore connect, and can very often be dependent on each other.

Pairwork and groupwork

The easiest way to generate conditions for collaboration is to get students to work together in pairs or in small groups. In order to ensure that there is communication as well, students need to share or exchange ideas in some way. Let’s look at a simple example.

Recalling an image

Show students the image below and ask them to pay attention to the small details. (Image source: Oxford Discover Futures, SB1, p86)

After about thirty seconds, remove the picture from view and get students into pairs. Thirty seconds is not very long, which means that students will probably have only a partial memory of the poster. Ask them to work together and recall as much as they can. Ask if they can remember:

  • the words on the poster – and the colour of each word
  • the shape of the figure – and what each ‘body part’ consists of

Some students are more observant than others – but the ones who remember the most do not always have the English with which to express all the information. For this reason, it is likely that students will use L1 to negotiate the answers to the prompts as they gather the English words that they need in order to complete their lists.

Communication and collaboration in action

This simple task mirrors real-life situations in which we need the help of someone else in order to piece together information and fill in the gaps with our own knowledge. The transfer of information is ‘communication’. The pair work is ‘collaboration’. Students help each other as they complete the task, while also checking each other, and correcting each other, as appropriate. Communication and collaboration go hand in hand.

Creativity and Critical Thinking

Why are they grouped together?

Creativity is the art of thinking – it is based on inspiration, intuition and subjective expression. Critical thinking is the science of thinking – it is based on reason, analysis, and evidence-informed judgements. As skills, they are complementary aspects of thinking outside the box, whether that involves coming up with something new, or seeing something that others have missed. Again, let’s take a look at a simple example.

Comparing posters

Show students all four of the posters related to diet shown below. (Image source: Oxford Discover Futures, SB1, p86)

Now give them the following statements to discuss. Ask them to express their ideas, listen to each other’s views, and then try to reach an agreement, by modifying the statements, if necessary.

  • the posters have nothing in common
  • the posters appeal to emotions, not intellect
  • the posters are intended for children
  • the most effective poster is poster ____
  • the least effective poster is poster ____

Finally, ask them to come up with a new poster of their own, designed to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy diet.

Creativity and Critical Thinking in action

The prompts above do more than check students’ comprehension of the posters; they engage their critical faculties, too. The statements are likely to be divisive, and students might well disagree with each other. Establishing the truth of what they can agree on will require negotiation and compromise, as well as creative recasting of some of the statements. Most interestingly, students will have to consider whether they want to change their initial beliefs in the light of information received from others. That is the kind of critical thinking that can be reached through communicative, collaborative classroom processes.

The final task – the design of a new poster – is an example of a creative task that extends naturally out of the tasks that have preceded it. The task combines language skills and non-language skills, so all students have a chance to make a meaningful contribution. Done collaboratively, it will generate further opportunities for communication, collaboration and critical thinking, too.

Double duty

We don’t need extra lessons to teach global skills, nor do we need to separate language skills from global skills. The activities above demonstrate that the learning tasks of the classroom can be asked to perform double duty: to generate opportunities to practise language and to develop students’ global skills.


ELTOC 2020

I hope this is useful. I’ll be expanding on this in my upcoming session at ELTOC 2020. I look forward to seeing you there!


Edmund Dudley is a teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher of English with more than 25 years of classroom experience. Based in Budapest, he has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels. He works with teachers from around the world as a freelance teacher trainer and as a tutor at the University of Oxford’s ELT Summer Seminar. He is the author of ETpedia Teenagers (2018, Pavilion Publishing) and co-author of Mixed-Ability Teaching (2015, Oxford University Press).

 


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5 Easy Classroom Activities Involving Movie Trailers

Teenagers watching a movieAlmost thirty years ago, when I first started teaching, the use of feature films in the classroom was considered a ‘Friday afternoon treat’ – something to give the students as a reward and, perhaps in some cases, to give teachers a chance to catch up on some marking! Some schools used movies randomly and at inappropriate levels, meaning students often got little to nothing in terms of language learning.

Having originally studied Film at university I was always keen to use movies in class, and some years later I ran a series of workshops for teachers on the use of video in the classroom (‘video’ gives an idea of exactly how long ago that was) and how to maximise learning opportunities. I offered a selection of lesson ideas I’d used to good effect in my own classes and now 25 years later, with increased online access to materials that are often not subject to copyright issues within an educational context, I’m sharing a few of those ideas here!

Why use movie trailers?

These ideas will concentrate on movie trailers specifically as promotional tools studios use to get audiences interested in films coming soon. The interest level in trailers is unquestionable – being among the top five forms of video content viewed by users (as an example, Marvel’s Avengers Endgame trailer had 129,527,344 views at the time of writing).

You can find trailers on YouTube or sites like iTunes Movie Trailers. A typical trailer will be between 2 and 3 minutes long, although teaser trailers – those released sometime before the movie’s planned release – will be shorter, and typically give less of the plot away, aiming to create a general mood instead (these can be useful in their own right).

You should ensure you are not breaking any copyright laws in your use of movies in class and be aware of the suitability of the subject matter for the students you are teaching. Note that the majority of trailers will be suitable for class use, but ‘red band trailers’ are those which feature violence and/ or abusive language.

1) Pick a Movie

If you do show movies in your school, as part of a ‘movie club’ or similar, trailers can provide an excellent opportunity to decide what movies are shown, while encouraging students’ analytical and presentation skills!

Method: Show three trailers. Students divide into three groups according to which movie they would prefer to see. Within each group, they decide what it is about their choice that appeals to them. A help guide could be provided with keywords to assist them: words like genre/ stars/ director/ themes etc. After half an hour, selected representatives present their choice reasons to the broader group. After presentations, the choice is put to a class vote.

2) Film Pitch

This is a more ‘drama’ based version of the ‘pick a movie’ idea and uses the concept of familiar social events such as the Cannes Film Festival etc. where filmmakers will try to sell their films to would-be studio buyers.

Method: Show a trailer and ask the students to consider it along the lines of stars/ genre/ look and feel/ what they saw. Invite students to write a ‘pitch’ for the movie, as if they were the maker. Their job is to pick out the most positive points about it and why people would want to see it. The second group of two/ three students will act as a ‘movie producer panel’ who can buy a movie. Their job is to decide whether they would buy the film in question, based on the quality of the presenters’ persuasive powers.

3) Red Light/ Green Light

This is a variation on Film Pitch, which doesn’t even need a trailer!

Method: Students in small groups come up with their own ideas for a film, and present a 2-minute ‘pitch’ of it to a panel of students who will decide whether their ‘studio’ will give it the green light (make it), or a red light (turn it down).

4) What Happens Next

The point of a trailer is to give a feel for what the movie will be about, without giving the whole plot away (some do this better than others). They often use ‘tropes’ – a movie language shorthand which allows an audience to see there is enough in the movie that reminds them of things they have previously liked without being ‘exactly the same’. If you have students who are interested and watch movies in their own time and depending on your class subject, this can work as a fun ‘warmer’ exercise.

Method: Show a trailer and ask students what they think will happen in the movie. Students can work in pairs or individually and either fill in a response or call out suggestions (from experience these can be humorous or serious, depending on your class…). If you are using an old movie then you can tell them who was closest (although they may have seen it), if it’s a new film then there will be a period of waiting before the answer is revealed…

5) My Favorite Genre:

… a fun self-study preparation/ classroom presentation project for classes who have an interest in movies.

Method: explain to students what a ‘genre’ means in film terms. This can be a fun classroom warmer to encourage students to take part: in the past I’ve put genre headings up on a board (e.g. Western, Sci-Fi, Horror etc.), and provided post-it notes of terms or words such as ‘Ghost’, ‘Horse’, ‘Time-travel’ etc. then asked students to put them under the appropriate genre. Students can then add their own elements under the genre they think is most fitting.

To extend this ask students to think about what their favourite genre is and tell them to find a trailer which they believe demonstrates this genre. Students can do this in their own time and present it to their classmates, pointing out what ‘genre’ elements it uses. This can lead to interesting discussions around cross-genres and storytelling techniques.

How do you use movies in the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

 


 

Simon Bewick worked in ELT for 25 years and has watched movies for nearly 50. He is the author of several short story collections for both adults and young adults, available on Amazon. He writes about films, literature and culture on his website bewbob.com


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Find your learner’s reading level | Andrew Dilger

Find your reading level

I have a question for you. Do you know your learners’ reading level in English – I mean, really know it? If your learners are halfway through an A2 coursebook, does that mean their reading level is A2-and-a-half?! The cautious ones among us would say ‘Not necessarily’; the bold ones would say ‘No’. But in an age when efficacy and assessment is all the rage in ELT, plenty of pressure is put on the teaching community (by itself, parents, and other stakeholders) to measure learners’ language skills accurately – down to the nth degree, in fact.

 The dark art of testing

Measuring reading level has always been something of a dark art, or at least a shadowy discipline. Part of the problem is that, as a receptive skill, it seems to take place inside learners’ heads. We can test comprehension, of course. And how we love to test it – with questions, gapfills, clozes, and multiple-choices, all of which require learners to skim and scan until they go cross-eyed! We often enjoy testing comprehension so much that we squeeze the life out of a text. It’s a wonder we don’t put learners off reading in English altogether.

There are other factors at play, of course – short attention spans in a fast-paced, device-driven world compromising the appeal of ‘deep reading’ is one of them, but that’s an easy target. The main issue is that most learners aren’t reading the right texts for them, and not in the right way.

Reading improves all-round ability

If learners want to improve their reading level – and benefit their all-round ability in English – then it’s vital we help them discover how to do this. And don’t just take my word for it. Research by luminaries like Richard Day and Paul Nation has suggested this for years. There are massive gains to be made by learners reading a lot in English – reading extensively for interest and pleasure. For more on this, see this article from El País (use Google Translate if your Spanish is rusty or non-existent).

Reading fluency over reading comprehension

So let’s go back to the question: Do you know your learners’ reading level? The important thing to appreciate is that I’m talking about reading fluency here. Can they read a text connectedly and understand the majority of words?

Most publishers have an online test which claims to tell learners their reading level. Take the Macmillan Readers Level Test, for example. In actual fact, it’s a series of grammar and vocabulary sentences with multiple-choice options, i.e. it doesn’t test reading fluency at all. It features prompt pictures for all the items but most are decorative rather than functional. In addition, some of the sentences are unnatural or misleading, e.g. I’ve got an ache in my throat; Did you hear the thunder last night? with the prompt picture showing lightning. The maximum level the test can give is Upper Intermediate and, if you retake it, the questions and options are all in exactly the same order… so you can improve instantly by virtue of having done the test already.

A tool instead of a test

Here at OUP we’ve come up with something different and something new. And we’d like you and your learners to decide how useful it is. For a start, we’re not calling it a test – it’s a tool. A semantic difference perhaps, but an important one. This isn’t a grammar check based on a random text, but something which genuinely attempts to gauge how fluent learners are at reading a page of a published story.

How does it do this? With a disarmingly simple innovation. Learners themselves decide whether they know the meanings of the words or not. They also decide whether a page of a story at a certain level is ‘Too easy’, ‘Too difficult’, or ‘OK’. This is known as the Goldilocks Principle and is common in cognitive science and developmental psychology.

‘But students will cheat!’ I hear you cry. If they do, they’re only cheating themselves because they’ll be shown a range of stories at the wrong level. It’s like buying clothes – why would you choose trousers which are two sizes too big if they fall down round your ankles? Instead, what learners need is something that ‘fits’ – something that’s right for them at that stage in their development. This means being able to read confidently at a comfortable level.

What’s the point?

After all, the point of learners finding their reading level isn’t so they can brandish it on a certificate or boast about it on social media. The point is to open up a world of texts, stories, and information which they will find digestible and rewarding – even life-changing.

If YOUR learners want to find their reading level in English, they can try our new tool here. Why don’t YOU try it, too? It’s free and takes less than 10 minutes. Because it’s a beta version, we’re also interested in getting feedback about ways to improve it, so please ask your learners to complete the survey too. Happy reading!                      

Find your reading level button

 


Andrew Dilger is a Managing Editor at Oxford University Press. He has been involved in English language teaching as a teacher, trainer, and editor for over a quarter of a century. He is passionate about the power of reading and claims to have read something every day of his life since he first went to school.