Remixing Assessment in Language Teaching with 5 Fun Activities
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “assessment?”
Probably more of the same reading comprehension exercises and multiple choice bubbles.
I know, I know. “Assessment” and “fun” don’t even belong in the same sentence—or do they? You’d probably be surprised to find out that they do.
Continue reading to see why language assessments are important, and how we can take the old routines and jazz them up with a little bit of fun.
5 Fun Activities That Remix the Way to Give an Assessment in Language Teaching
Traditional testing certainly has its place in the canon of proven assessment strategies, but it’s by no means the only option available.
Part of good teaching is assessing students on multiple measures, finding ways to highlight the strengths of individual students and learning how to mix things up enough to keep everyone interested.
The Function of Language Assessments
Before we delve into specific ways to add fun to the assessment menu, let’s first think about the real purpose assessments serve.
Below are some reasons why we need language assessments in the classroom.
To determine whether you need to change the way you’re teaching
Surprise! Assessments don’t just benefit your students. They evaluate you, the teacher, as well.
Experienced teachers already know they need to use assessments to track their students’ progress. This helps them look at ways to adjust their teaching methods to better suit the needs of their learners.
Say every student in the class failed an assessment. Chances are, there’s something about the way you taught the lessons that seriously needs to be addressed. Or maybe you’ve spent a generous amount of time practicing speaking and listening skills, but your students’ aren’t getting enough reading practice. Your assessments will reflect this, and should be used to help you change your teaching strategy as needed.
To make informed decisions about your students’ learning experiences
Teachers need a fair and consistent way to determine whether or not students are ready to advance to another unit, another language level or another grade level. The right kind of assessment shows us where our students are, as well as where they need to go next. With this information, you can then come up with an action plan to help them succeed.
Additionally, assessments can also provide much-needed background information that helps with choosing curriculum or placing students in appropriate classes.
To improve student outcomes
Helping students achieve their goals is probably the most important purpose of your assessments, as well as the true reason for everything we do in education. Ultimately, the purpose of any assessment is to improve student outcomes. We use assessments to measure student progress towards a learning goal so that we can identify the best ways to help them do better.
Given the purposes of assessment, how do we know whether or not the assessments we use truly are quality assessments?
The Framework of a Quality Assessment
A good assessment is…
Obviously, not every student will be exactly alike. There are bound to be slight differences each time you give a particular assessment. But overall, the results of your assessment should remain fairly consistent over a period of time.
One way to ensure that your assessments remain consistent is to standardize certain aspects of the test. Not like the standardized tests you took in high school, but rather a set of guidelines to ensure every student takes the test in the same way, under the same conditions, with the same resources available. For example, if you decide to give one class an open-note test, you must provide the same style exam for all subsequent students.
Of course, you may be wondering about students who require modifications or special testing conditions. In these cases, providing them with needed modifications actually helps to “standardize” your assessment. This is because you’re putting them on a level playing field with other students by compensating for their unique learning needs or disabilities.
Let’s say you gave an assessment with the goal of measuring how well your students can identify colors in the target language. And to assess your students, you showed them pictures of different coats and asked the question, “What color is the coat?” Some of the students might do poorly even though they know their colors. It’s not because they didn’t study, but because they don’t know what a coat is, and are confused as a result.
In this example, the assessment is not valid. Instead of measuring your students’ knowledge of colors, you also test their vocabulary knowledge.
A valid assessment measures only what it is supposed to measure. No more, and no less.
You could assess your students’ knowledge of French restaurant vocabulary by taking them to Paris and having them order food at a restaurant—but is this practical?
No, not at all.
A good assessment is one that can be practically carried out within the confines of time, budget and resources that you have available to you. But above everything else, your assessments need to be realistic.
Want to create fun and realistic assessments that excite your students? Use FluentU in the classroom.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
FluentU gives students the opportunity to experience language and culture the same way they would if they were living in a foreign country. Instead of memorizing unnatural dialogues and irrelevant information, they use actual real-life media to learn a language from the people who use it the most—it’s speakers.
Building the Framework for a Realistic and Engaging Assessment
Ready to give your students a better kind of evaluation?
We’ll cover a few rough ideas to get you started. But first, let’s look at the basic types of assessment you’re likely to use.
- Formative: A part of the instructional process, the purpose is to provide feedback on the learner’s progress toward learning goals.
- Summative: This is given at the end of instruction to measure a learner’s success in achieving learning goals.
- Diagnostic: You would give this type of assessment at the beginning of instruction to assess the student’s prior knowledge, strength and weaknesses.
- Criterion-referenced: This measures a student’s performance against a specific goal or standard.
- Norm-referenced: This compares student’s performance against a “norm” group, such as the national or state standard.
- Interim/Benchmark: These are periodic assessments, sometimes at the end of a grading period, which can predict how students will perform on summative assessments.
As we discuss these assessment activity ideas, we’ll indicate which type of assessment you would be likely to use them for.
Examples of Outside-the-box Language Assessments
Nowhere does it say an assessment must be in the form of a written test, nor does it have to be boring. In fact, I’m willing to bet that your students will perform better if they are engaged and motivated.
And to get them engaged, we need to think outside the box just a little. Just make sure that your assessments are actually measuring your students’ skills. This means that you should create your assessments with the intention of evaluating one or more of the following…
- Grammar usage
Here are five examples of fun, outside-the-box language assessment ideas to use with your students.
1. Create group quizzes
Best for formative assessments
Add a social and interactive element to traditional quiz-taking!
Get your students to come up with their own questions and answers, and then divide them up into groups or three or four. You can have students in the group take turns answering. And if they need help, other group members can give hints through gestures, like charades.
Best of all, apps like Survey Monkey allows you to easily administer quizzes and collect the results.
2. Conduct celebrity interviews
Best for formative or summative assessments, or as one component of an interim/benchmark assessment
Have each student dress up as a different celebrity and then interview them.
This is a great way to practice oral expression and grammatical structures. You can make the interviews on any topic you like: food and travel, as well as basic getting-to-know-you questions. For an idea of what questions your students should ask, check out this example of a celebrity interview created for ESL classrooms.
3. Host a literature podcast
Best for formative, summative or criterion-referenced assessments
Adding literature to your lessons is an excellent way for you to assess reading comprehension as well as speaking and listening skills. An added bonus is that it taps into your students’ natural love for technology.
Have students work with partners to create podcasts about the last book they read as a class. They can cover things like:
- What they liked about the story
- What they didn’t like about the story
- A few things they learned after reading the book
Here is a great sample lesson plan for a unit on podcasts.
4. Keep an impressions journal
Best for formative, summative, norm-referenced and criterion-referenced assessments
Take this old teaching method and infuse it with new life.
Use journals for students to write “exit tickets,” recording their impressions at the end of a lesson. Give occasional writing prompts or ask them to write about something they saw, ate, read or experienced over the weekend.
Your students’ journals can be used on an ongoing basis to assess their progress toward writing goals, as well as helping them to prepare for larger writing tasks such as essays or short stories.
Here are some tips on journaling for language learning for you to pass along to your class.
5. Create spontaneous role-playing exercises
Best for formative assessments
If your main concern is communication, and you’re not too concerned with correct grammar and sentence structure, this assessment activity is perfect for you!
Try jotting down some funny role-play situations based on the vocabulary or the unit on index cards and putting them in a hat. Students choose a situation at random and role play it to the best of their ability. If you’re stuck, check out this FluentU blog post about speaking activities to get ideas of how you can maximize your speaking exercise.
Now that we’ve looked at assessments from a new perspective, what other new ideas do you have?
Try unleashing the full potential of your creativity, aligning it to your learning goals, and see what you can come up with.
And remember, the more engaged your students are, the better they can demonstrate what they truly know how to do—they might even surprise you!