Monday, June 26, 2006

Part 1 Should English Language Formal and Summative Evaluations Be Knowledge or Performance Based?

Viva la Revolution

A revolution is in progress. It’s tranquil and orderly in places, but not so quiet in others. This revolution has swept up the academic world almost in its entirety from students to TEFL teachers and professors, administrators, curriculum designers and materials developers. It’s creating new jobs while obsoleting others. It’s altering the face and structure of the teaching, learning and language acquisition processes. The focus of the hubbub can be summed up in three key words: testing, evaluation and assessment. These three words can strike fear and terror into the hearts of teachers and students alike on a daily basis.

Five Categories of Assessment

Of the five categories of assessment: Placement assessment, Formative assessment, Diagnostic assessment, Summative evaluation, and Self- assessment. (Cucchiarelli, Panti, Valenti, 2000). We will consider aspects of Formative assessment and Summative evaluation.

Formal or Formative assessment such as Progress tests and semester partial exams, provide ongoing monitoring of student progress and are used by the teacher to gather feedback in order to adjust the educational process to insure that learning is occurring and to correct learning errors. (King and Rowe, 1997)

In Summative evaluation such as achievement tests and final exams, a grade or score is received at the end of a program or course and / or aims to assign grades to certify the student’s global level of knowledge on the topics taught. Based on this grade or score, the language learner is permitted (or not) to progress to the next level, semester or school year.

Knowledge vs. Performance

Testing occurs in one of two format types: “Knowledge of Language” or “Ability to Perform” using the language. (Spratt, Pulverness, Williams, 2005)

Some examples of knowledge tests can include:

-Proficiency tests
-Norm-referenced tests
-Discrete-point tests
-Language sub-skills tests

Some examples of performance tests can include:

-Achievement tests
-Criterion-referenced tests
-Communication skills tests
-Integrative tests
-Receptive tests

So the question becomes then, “Which type of test is best for formal and summative evaluations designed to assess language learning and ability or language level?” In my opinion, this should be done using language performance assessments. In part 2 of this article we’ll examine some reasons why.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Use the Soccer World Cup to Teach English

Use the Soccer World Cup in Germany as an English Language Teaching Tool?
No, I’m not kidding. Using popular events like the soccer world cup in Germany to teach English is in fact, practical. The learners’ Affective Filter (Krashen and Terrell, 1983) is so low using events like these to teach English, “a cockroach could leap over it”.

Can you imagine the reactions of my learners when I announced, “For English class everybody has to watch the world cup matches”?

“That’s great!” “Teacher, you’re the best!” “Oh man, we’ve never had an English assignment like that before!”

Although not a huge soccer fan myself, I did think it would be interesting to see matches between teams you know never get to play each other during a regular season. Italy vs. Ghana? The USA vs. the Czech Republic? Holland vs. Ivory Coast? Awesome!

To work the games in to English language practice, learners must use their skills in a number of different ways by applying Task-Based Learning (J. Willis, 1998) in addition to some Content-Based Instruction (Richards and Rogers, 1993). Do Ghana and Italy do business together? If so, what kinds of products or services? Useful activities for learners include ones such as:

-Preparing and giving profiles of the competing countries including economics, geography, capitol cities, etc.

-Being able to locate the countries on a world map and give bordering countries and geographic features

-Talking about key players on each team or dialogues between players / coaches / fans

-Describing aspects of key players on each team – age, height, weight, hair, looks, marital status and other features like bald, braces, glasses, tattoos, etc.

-Soccer match elements like player positions, scoring, and even how to play the game

-Giving commentary on game plays and goals using active or passive voice

-Making predictions using future tenses “going to” or “will”

-Using discourse markers or modals to express uncertainty (perhaps, possibly, maybe, might, could, may, etc.)

The learners are free to work up whatever formats they wish as long as they stay active and involved in the process. Some games are recorded with highlights reviewed / discussed in class. A few games are watched during class hours via multi-media facilities available at the university.

Other activity possibilities are:


-Developing vocabulary lists in context based on vocabulary elements (Thornbury, 2002)

-Discussion / descriptions of cities where games are played

-Local architecture

-Regional foods



-almost any cultural aspect learners may find new and interesting

At the end (gasp!) of it all, learners will have compiled an extensive “portfolio” of written and multi-media materials that have allowed them exhaustive practice in the four English language basic skills. Written practice can be either Process-based (White, 1987) or Product-based (Fowler, 1988) Learners have also had extensive listening comprehension practice in English. With different sports moderators and commentators from different countries speaking English with a variety of accents, elements of listening and their associated difficulties can be examined. (Brown and Yule, 1983)

So, these activities are turning the soccer world cup in Germany into a marvelous English language teaching tool. The process could be rolled over and used with other international sporting events as well, like the Olympics, Baseball World Series, American football Super Bowl or numerous other world regional events. Think about sports or other types of events where you live. How might you effectively exploit them to teach your English EFL or ESL learners?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Three Fun Ideas for Teaching Grammar to TEFL Learners

Grammar. The very mention of the word strikes fear into the heart of the staunchest language learner. Many English EFL and ESL teachers also feel the pit of their stomach churn at the thought of preparing and giving a grammar lesson. But what are we to do? If lexis and vocabulary are the building blocks of language, then certainly grammar is the mortar or structure that holds them together. Teaching it and learning it are therefore inescapable. The only thing to do then is to make it as interesting, pleasant or at least as painless as possible. Here are some ideas to help you do just that.

1. Use Grammar Games

Both learners and teachers alike love to use games in the English EFL ESL classroom. So, make extensive use of games to teach and reinforce critical grammar points. What, you say you don’t know any grammar games? Or perhaps you’ll quip that you don’t have a good stock of them so you can’t count on regularly employing them for use in your classes? Au contraire! They abound on English teacher websites, commercial publications and in the minds and hearts of your colleagues worldwide. If you have a good game to share, post it on an ELT forum or TEFL materials / activities website. Create your own based on popular games you’re familiar with. Use pursuit and turn-taking games, card games, board games or TPR-based games to get maximum involvement of your learners. Actually, you should get in there too. Don’t be a lazy butt.

2. Use movie and video clips

“Go ahead, make my day.” Now who was it exactly that first said that? Yes, yes I’m sure you know. Now change it to other verb tenses. Change it to a question. Change it into different question forms. Make it imperative. You get the idea.

“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” If you don’t know the initial speaker of that line, three slaps with a wet noodle for you. What verb tense is there? Now change it into different forms.

Watch a three to seven minute clip from a movie scene or video. Write down what grammar forms you hear. Then have the class do it. Does everyone agree? No? What are the different forms they come up with? What’s correct? Go back, watch the clip again and check. Do it until you’re satisfied.

3. Use Audio-only Segments

Now it’s getting tougher. Listen to an audio clip. A commercial, story, dialogue or news segment. From where? The radio, cassettes, TV, CDs / DVDs, etc. Note the grammar points used. Can you change any of them? How? Why? What does the change do to the meaning? Does it become formal or informal? Imperative? Humorous? Don’t forget to have the learners practice and deliver these short dialogues aloud. (Everybody wants to be Dirty Harry or the Godfather) My learners like scenes from “Matrix” and “Frantic” with Harrison Ford. James Bond film scenes rate highly with my learners too. The ladies like to be Julia Roberts or Demi Moore from almost any of their flics. Angela Bassett and Sigourney Weaver frequently portray “strong women” with good dialogue strings and soliloquies which give the female learners character choices. It works for me and it definitely works for them.

Try it out for yourself. You’ll see. Just remember to pick an interesting clip that’s not too long. It must have snappy dialogue either between two characters or a quippy comeback on the part of one of them. You could even have the learners suggest some clips, programs and / or scenes to use.

So Bunky, don’t let the term “grammar” strike fear into the hearts of your learners (or you) ever again. Work up some grammar – teaching activities using these techniques and grammar could become your – and their – favorite lesson type. If you have questions, would like additional suggestions or guidance, please feel free to contact me at:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Five Tips to Become An Expert English Teacher

Although there are scores of variables that can directly or indirectly affect rating as an EFL or ESL English teacher, many of them are out of your control. The school environment, the class profile of the learners, available materials, schedules, curriculum and most administrative aspects are among these.

There are many others that you can and should take control of, using them to your best advantage at all times. Examples of these elements include your individual skills and abilities as an EFL or ESL professional, materials you create for the use of your learners, your character, personality and approach to English Language Teaching (ELT) and your knowledge of the teaching / learning topic – the English language itself.

Here are five basic tips you can use on a daily basis that will enhance your notability as an ELT professional. Here they are:

1. Learn everything you can related to English Language Teaching and Learning

Attend classes, short courses, workshops and seminars. Read ELT methodology books and magazines both online and off. Subscribe to education-related magazines that will help you in your career. There are many available at no cost online. Try out for example. Just like a surgeon who must purchase tools and equipment so he can practice and improve his skills, you must invest in the tools that will make you a better English teacher.

2. Read everything you can get your hands on.

Read texts, non-fiction, biographies, read everything you can find. When you become a voracious reader, you become a more knowledgeable, better teacher. There are no short cuts to excellence. Look online, at professional organizations like TESOL, Inc. and IATEFL. Check local public, private, language institute and university libraries for collections of high-level technical materials. The internet has so much material available online at no cost, it would be embarrassing not to take advantage of it. Immerse yourself. Learn and grow. The payoff will show up in the classroom – in more ways than one.

3. Become active in professional organizations and SIGs (Special Interest Groups)

There should be at least a couple of professional organizations available in your country or region, like those mentioned above, that have SIGs. Find an area that interests you and go for it. Don’t just sit on the sidelines, get out there and DO something. Participate, share your opinions and ideas, ask questions. Then apply what you can to your teaching to maximize the experience. Try something new on a regular basis.

4. Increment your academic production

If you’re not writing articles, opinions, journals, commentary, reflections and even lesson plans that you post online for the perusal and use of other ELT professionals worldwide, you need to get cracking. Your learners aren’t the only ones who are interested in what you do in the classroom and beyond. I want to know too – yeah, really. There are local, regional, national and international technical publications that will take your work as well. No, you don’t need a PhD either. If you have a tip or technique your students love or that helps to get you through a tough teaching point, curious minds around the world want to know. Share it with us online at one of the more than 100 EFL / ESL Teacher websites like Not sure how to write it up? I’ll be glad to help you outline and draft your piece to share with the world.

5. Attend ELT Conferences, workshops and seminars

Not only do those professional organizations offer opportunities to grow and learn, but you can share your ELT knowledge, skills, experiences and abilities too. Attend all the sessions that you can, but by no means stop there. Skilled, knowledgeable presenters are always in demand. Set a goal to prepare and present a workshop, poster or academic session. Hone your research, writing and Power Point skills in the process. Do “test runs” on your colleagues at your school or institution for your and their enlightenment.

So there you have it. If these tips sound like you need to do some work, you do. But the work you put into fine-tuning your knowledge and teaching will be reflected in the number of smiles and high-scoring communicative learners you’ll produce. If you begin to notice the difference, so will others in the front office. That’s where the money comes from. The pride and satisfaction comes from those faces in front of you. Finally, if you’re the bashful type and need a gentle push in the right direction, please feel free to e-mail me at with your question or concern. I’ll be glad to help.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Is EFL or ESL English Teaching Practical for Home Schooling?

Home Schooling is Popular

Home schooling is becoming increasingly popular. Why? Because in some areas schools are too dangerous to consider. Parents want to have more control over their children’s learning environment. Schools in some districts lack essential quality in resources and staff to effectively educate children for the challenges of today’s global society. With home schooling, parents are able to expand the learning platform of their children to an almost infinite degree. School districts provide the required curriculum for children so that parents don’t go off on a non-productive tangent. This also helps to ensure that home-schooled children are on track with their peers of the same age and grade level.

What about those cases in which children have a first language other than English? Though not yet in supremely large numbers, the growing discovery of alarming numbers of children with illegal immigrant status raises the question of English as a Second Language (ESL) home-schooling and literacy. The task of developing fluency in English stretches from the children through the parents and even the grandparents in many cases. Immigrant families are cash-strapped. Often due to low levels of educational achievement, lack of marketable skills or even illiteracy, parents feel they are “trapped”. To earn more they must learn more, but how can this be accomplished without English language fluency?

Using A TBL Approach

One of many possible scenarios is home schooling using a TBL (Tasked-Based Learning) approach. In this approach, learners are taught useable, marketable skills using English as the language of instruction. In-demand skills such as Nursing Aids, Home Health Care Aides, Auto Mechanics, Electrician Helpers, Carpentry and construction trade workers, Cooks and even Teacher Aides could be brought up to marketable standards rather quickly. Certainly most would require less than a year of preparation to begin “giving back” to the economy that many now only abuse to the detriment of tax-payers and home owners who currently carry an over-burdened share of the economy.

Using a TBL approach, several problems would be addressed at the same time.

-Immigrants would learn a marketable skill

-Immigrants would learn English

-Immigrants would regain their personal pride and dignity

-Parents could set a valuable example for their children

-Children could be eased more into mainstream American society

-Children could more easily acquire useable English language skills

There are already quantities of online and low-residency English language and other programs available for both adults and children.

Certainly English taught as a second or foreign language is practical for home schooling. Teachers and tutors must make classes interesting, lively and on occasion even fun if they are to maintain the interest and attendance of these LEP (Limited English Proficiency) learners. In so doing, the problem of non-English speaking or LEP learners of all ages can begin to be addressed in earnest. Over-crowded, cash and resource-strapped schools need our help. This is one way that we, as concerned TEFL professionals, can give it to them.