Informal Assessments for English Language Learners

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  • 0:03 What Are Informal Assessments?
  • 0:40 A Friendly Chat
  • 2:02 Guided Free Writing
  • 3:02 Student-Generated Quizzes
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Informal assessments are a valuable way to check student progress in a relaxed setting. This lesson provides teachers with informal assessments specifically designed for use with ELLs (English language learners).

What Are Informal Assessments?

Generally, informal assessments for ELLs are used to check language comprehension and retention without an emphasis on scoring. This type of assessment is an ideal way to see what students really know without placing them under the pressure of a formal examination. Before using any of these assessments, it's important that students are aware their ideas and responses are not being graded. When the pressure of getting a good score is removed, many students may relax and use English more naturally, which will give you a clearer picture of their true language ability. This lesson will go over a few informal assessment techniques.

A Friendly Chat

This assessment will help you determine the conversational English ability of each student. You can conduct this assessment face-to-face with either one or two students at a time. The main idea is to give your ELLs an opportunity to speak naturally about everyday topics. Possible topics include:

  • Hobbies
  • Entertainment
  • Sports
  • Goals/dreams
  • School

If possible, conduct this assessment in a relaxed, private environment such as your office or an empty classroom. The environment is important because students shouldn't feel apprehensive about being overheard by classmates. Privacy can do a lot to encourage students to speak without fear of being judged or making mistakes.

For beginner students, limit the chat to a couple of minutes and try to ask open-ended questions to elicit longer responses. Remember that open-ended questions can't be answered with a yes/no response. For example, 'Do you like school?' is an example of a closed question, while, 'What is your favorite part of school?' is an open question.

For intermediate and advanced students, extend the conversation time and ask multi-part questions. For instance,

  • What is your favorite sport, why do you like it, and how often do you play it?

Before you begin each chat, remind the student that this is just a friendly conversation and there's no scoring involved. At the end of each chat, give the student some positive feedback and words of encouragement.

Guided Free Writing

While free writing is typically used as a brainstorming technique, it's also a great way to assess an ELLs understanding of English grammar, spelling, and mechanics. For this assessment, you will give students a general topic and a set time limit during which they can write about anything related to the topic. There are a few guidelines to go over with your students before starting the timer:

  • While the teacher will look at your writing, it will not be graded or scored. However, errors may be marked and comments given.

  • As you write, try to use correct English spelling and grammar.

  • Don't worry too much about the time or amount you write. How much you write isn't as important as how well you write.

  • Write legibly.

Choose topics based on the abilities and interests of your ELLs. Topics can range from what each student did last weekend to suggestions on how people can help the environment. You can also require students to write all of their passages in a single notebook and then review the notebooks at the end of the term to determine what progress has been made.

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