Assessing Speaking in ESL

In this post, we will look at different activities that can be used to assess a language learner’s speaking ability, Unfortunately, will not go over how to mark or give a grade for the activities we will only provide examples.

Directed Response

In this activity, the teacher tries to have the student use a particular grammatical form by having the student modify something the teacher says. Below is an example.

Teacher: Tell me he went home
Student: He went home

This is obviously not deep. However, the student had to know to remove the words “tell me” from the sentence and they also had to know that they needed to repeat what the teacher said. As such, this is an appropriate form of assessment for beginning students.

Read Aloud

Read aloud is simply having the student read a passage verbatim out loud. Normally, the teacher will assess such things as pronunciation and fluency. There are several problems with this approach. First, reading aloud is not authentic as this is not an in demand skill in today’s workplace. Second, it blends reading with speaking which can be a problem if you do not want to assess both at the same time.

Oral Questionnaires 

Students are expected to respond and or complete sentences. Normally, there is some sort of setting such as a mall, school, or bank that provides the context or pragmatics. below is an example in which a student has to respond to a bank teller. The blank lines indicate where the student would speak.

Teacher (as bank teller): Would you like to open an account?
Student:_______________________
Teacher (as bank teller): How much would you like to deposit?
Student:___________________________

Visual Cues

Visual cues are highly opened. For example, you can give the students a map and ask them to give you directions to a location on the map. In addition, students can describe things in the picture or point to things as you ask them too. You can also ask the students to make inferences about what is happening in a picture. Of course, all of these choices are highly difficult to provide a grade for and may be best suited for formative assessment.

Translation

Translating can be a highly appropriate skill to develop in many contexts. In order to assess this, the teacher provides a word, phrase, or perhaps something more complicated such as directly translating their speech. The student then Takes the input and reproduces it in the second language.

This is tricky to do. For one, it is required to be done on the spot, which is challenging for anybody. In addition, this also requires the teacher to have some mastery of the student’s mother tongue, which for many is not possible.

Other Forms

There are many more examples that cannot be covered here. Examples include interviews, role play, and presentations. However, these are much more common forms of speaking assessment so for most they are already familiar with these.

Conclusion

Speaking assessment is a major component of the ESL teaching experience. The ideas presented here will hopefully provide some additionals ways that this can be done.

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