<b> Forum for the discussion of assessment and testing of ESL/EFL students </b>

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Post by maiya » Tue Mar 18, 2003 11:36 pm

Hi there,

I am brand new to the world of ESL and reading the postings has been fascinating..if not scary. I am currently enrolled in an on-line ESL class, but will also be starting to teach English to Mexican immigrants in 2 weeks time. I believe that they are beginners or false beginners.

I would like to administer a simple test to determine their level, but have failed to come up with anything inspiring. Could any one share their thoughts on this? Also any ideas on how to proceed from there (materials, pitfalls, words of wisdom..etc?)

Many thanks..Maiya

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Post by LarryLatham » Wed Mar 19, 2003 12:56 am

Hi there, Maiya,

Welcome to the world of teaching English. I hope you'll find it as rewarding and interesting as many of us do.

It's normal for someone in your position to be a little apprehensive. But take heart! The chances are, you'll do just fine.

I wouldn't bother with giving your students a test for level. For one thing, by the time you've been with them for a few sessions, you'll have a good idea what their "level" is. For another, the idea of "level" is very fuzzy indeed, regardless of the subtitles of the textbooks. Truth is, few students are true beginners, and fewer still are truly "advanced." All the rest are "intermediates", but it is very hard to place them accurately along the long continuum beginning with "low intermediate" and ending with "high intermediate." For still another thing, the great likelihood is that some of the students in your classroom will be better (that is, more experienced with, and better skilled) than others. Never have I had a classroom full of students who were all at the same "level." In any new class, whether it's your first, or whether you've been teaching for fifteen years, it takes several sessions to get to know them and what their various capabilities are. If you're professional, you then try to adjust your lessons and activities so that your students gain the most from them overall. Invariably, some students will have difficulty keeping up; some would probably benefit from something more "advanced." Those last you may be able to satisfy by giving them somethign extra to do at home.

Be flexible, be sincere, be caring, and do the best you can to try to make yourself, over time, into a genuine expert at both English language and the theories of acquisition. If you proceed down those paths, you'll do very well as a teacher. 8) Relax, and take heart in one thing: your English is likely a lot better than theirs will be. They will consider you an "expert."

Larry Latham

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Sound advice

Post by maiya » Thu Mar 20, 2003 10:01 pm

Larry, thank you so much for your reply. I will definitely keep your thoughts in mind. I guess that I am really apprehensive about that very first class. I want to put the students at ease without insulting their intelligence or discouraging them. Any ideas?

Thanks, Maiya

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Post by sita » Fri Mar 21, 2003 5:58 am

I always hand out an easy questionnaire

Favourite food:
Favourite music:


Then I get them to work in pairs and they have to interview the partner and then introduce their partner to the whole class.

Add a few funny things and I am sure it will put people at ease and you can see what their level of English is.

Best wishes

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First class

Post by LarryLatham » Fri Mar 21, 2003 6:34 am


It all depends on the particular situation of your class. Is it a daytime class or at night after work? Is the class large or small? Are there more men or more women? How old are they? Do they know each other? What are their reasons for attending your class?

Every teacher has, or should have, a personal method. It remains for you to find yours, I suppose, but if I told you what I do, you might well find, if you tried it, that it simply does not work for you. Very generally, I like to start working with greetings, and then move to numbers, since I find that even rank beginners have discovered how to count in English. But they soon find out that there's a big difference between cardinal and ordinal numbers. I like to have some fun with that after eliciting some numbers by pointing to 7 in my cardinal list, and asking how many that is. They all answer "Seven." Then I point to "7th" in my ordinal list, and ask them how many that is. Invariably, they answer "7". Then I ask them to stand and form a single line. We start counting off the students, and when we get to the seventh student, I ask "How many students is she?" There typically is a lot of puzzlement, but after prodding with additional questions (and never giving answers--teachers giving answers are wasting their students' time, in my view), and sometimes going down roads that become dead-ends, or go nowhere, I repeat the original question until eventually somebody 'gets it' and says:"only one". So then I run back to the board and again point to "7th" and again ask: "How many is this?"...Well, you can see where this is going. But that's me. You should work out your own first classes. Next, I might get into calendars, and start working with expressions like: the day after tomorrow, next week, last month, and similar stuff.

Other times, I may have them stand in a circle and toss a ball around. Maybe I'll say something, then toss the ball to a student. She may be confused, but I'll just wait for her to do something. Then I'll react, showing either exaggerated pleasure or a sour face (obviously in jest), or maybe let my posture go limp (again obviously in jest), then motion for her to throw the ball back. Then to another student. After a while, I'll have them throw the ball to other students. We get something going, perhaps, for example, with greetings and replies, and when they do it well, maybe I'll go over and shake a man's hand, or give a woman a hug. When they don't, I'll make a judgement about their character. If I think they can take it, I'll hang my head and shake it sadly as if to say (again in jest) "It's hopeless." It usually produces laughter all around. If I judge that the student is shy and may be hurt by something like that, I may say something like, "Almost...", or "Good enough...", or "Keep working." Again, I emphasize that this is my personal style, and it may not work for you at all. You have to be true to yourself. Give them something of yourself in your classes. The worst thing you can do is to follow some kind of routine that someone else, even a teacher trainer, or a textbook on teaching techniques, sets up for you. Take your training, but work out your own classroom style. Hope this helps you, and best of luck on your first experiences as a teacher. If you give of yourself, you'll find teaching very, very rewarding.

Larry Latham

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Post by stephen » Sun Mar 23, 2003 11:23 pm

I have to say that I think Larry has got it right. Sian's suggestion is good, but not good for false beginners. I think with false beginners this is asking too much, it would be good, however, for a pre-intermediate class. If they are false beginners then start with something simple. I normally do numbers & jobs. As Larry says they probably will know some numbers already possibly/probably 1-10; however, they will possibly/probably have problems with the teens & also with -ty vs -teen. You might like to take a little while each lesson for the first couple of lessons on this.

For jobs,I get some big pictures of jobs (A4 size). Each picture shows one job eg. teacher, fireman. I stick the pictures to the board and write a number (1 through to 10) and the name (in English, of course) next to it. I then drill them on the new vocabulary. I, then, write the question structure "Is he/she a ________?". I also draw a picture of a woman with she next to it and a picture of a man with he next to it. I stick a blank non-see-through piece of paper on the board. I, then, write a number under the blank piece of paper corresponding to one of the pictures. The I choose a student, point to a picture and say "Is he/she a fireman? (or whatever job the first picture is) and use gestures and repetitions of the first word/two words of the question to get the student to say it. When the student has repeated the question I say, "No, he isn't," and shake my head. After this I repeat this with a couple more students using different jobs, when you've done it once or twice they'll ask with out prompting!! Then, I point to the correct picture and when the student asks the question nod. I follow this by showing the class the number. I, then, get the student to come to the front and write a hidden number. Next, I choose the student who asks the question, then the student who wrote the number answers, we repeat this until someone gets the right job, and then they write a new number and we start again. (During this I make the students produce the sentence accurately, although there may be some degree of pronunciation errors, but it is important to get structure right and get he/she correct.)

Anyway, this is my way, not the right way or the wrong way. You have to find out what works for you and do it. What I suggest is certainly not the orthodox EFL/ESL way which seems to be start with numbers and greeting, but it works for me. Personally, I would never have students throwing a ball about like Larry does; I've seen this work for other teachers, but I stick with what works for me. Find out what works for you, don't be afraid to experiment, or ignore other people's advice, including mine, if you don't think that it is what you need to do. Do what feels right!

The first lesson is always the hardest. Don't worry if things don't go according to plan. I never enjoy first lessons with a new class, there are too many unknowns; it takes a lesson or two to get to know a class, but after that it becomes much easier to plan your lessons!

Good Luck

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