ESL Content Assessment Strategies

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Choosing content for English as a second language (ESL) students can be challenging for a variety of reason. This lesson provides teachers with advice on how to choose and assess appropriate content for an ESL classroom.

The Importance of Content

Selecting assessment content for an English as a second language (ESL) classroom frequently depends on the subject and amount of content that needs to be delivered. While this process may seem daunting, it can be broken down into more easily managed components.

Selecting Assessments

Depending on the subject of the class you teach, choosing assessments may or may not be much of an issue. If your lessons are focused on one subject, such as speaking, you can typically base your assessments around content specifically designed for ESL learners.

However, many ESL teachers are responsible for teaching multiple disciplines. If this is the case, choose materials that focus on the use of English in order to deliver subject content. For example, a science text that includes a breakdown of vocabulary and proper usage will be of more value to your students than a straightforward science text.

Age and Level

There are many subject-specific texts written with an ESL audience in mind. If you have these resources available, you can adapt the content to fit your assessment needs. When it comes time to choose assessments, there are a few items to keep in mind.

First of all, is the assessment's age or level appropriate? If you're fortunate enough to have a class of students organized by level, it will be much easier to align the assessments. However, if your ESL learners vary significantly in language abilities, the process for choosing assessments becomes more complicated.

Main Categories

The first step is to choose the type of assessments you want to use. Assessments can be broken down into two main categories:

  • In-class assessments: quizzes, tests, worksheets, and in-class writing/speaking/reading
  • Homework assessments: essays, reports, and worksheets

One effective way to utilize these assessment types is to adapt the material you use in class.

Adapting and Varying Assessments

Don't be afraid to use non-ESL material to suit your assessment needs. If you don't have access to materials written specifically for ESL students, combine the subject-specific content you do have with ESL teaching techniques. This will give you greater control over the types of assessments you can use in class.

Variety in Content and Activities

Try to incorporate a variety of content and activities, such as reading, writing, speaking, or individual and group work, in order to prepare students for assessments. For instance, worksheets can be done with partners in class and individually outside of class. You can also have students share essay drafts and encourage the use of peer editing and feedback.

Need to Adjust Content

If an assessment type or the content it's based on isn't working, don't be afraid to adjust it. If you notice students losing interest, be flexible enough to change your lesson plan to engage them more. The value of an assessment can be greatly reduced if students approach it with apathy or confusion. While you can't change a test while students are taking it, you can later assess what is, or is not, working and adjust the next assessment accordingly.

Appropriateness and Relevancy

Deciding on the appropriate level of an assessment can be interesting. If an assessment is too difficult, students may feel discouraged. However, if an assessment is not challenging enough, students may feel they are progressing too slowly. With this in mind, develop the level of your assessments based on the work students perform in class. This essentially means analyzing homework and classroom performance in order to set the difficulty of assessments at the appropriate level.

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