Monday, 30 December 2013

Warmers, coolers and lesson-planning for teenagers

This was the title of a presentation given by Dave Spencer as part of the recent Macmillan Online Conference.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

Typical qualities of a warmer
  • Short - 'against the clock'
  • Interactive (pairs, small groups)
  • Competitive
  • Fun
  • Gets students thinking in English
  • Recycles/revises vocabulary
  • Gets students speaking - noisy!
  • Raises energy levels
Warmer - the 3-letter game

Put 3 letters on the board and tell students they have two minutes to think of as many words as they can which contain those letters (in any order).  Encourage students to think about word formation in order to increase the number of words they get.  For example,

R        T         N
train       return      north     present      presentation      presenter    presented
turn       ration       restrain  rating        nature               natural, etc.
This is a very simple warmer which can be done with every level.
Warmer - alphabet cards
Have a series of A4 size cards with the letters of the alphabet on them available for a range of activities such as these two:
1.  Class spelling - give each student a letter.  Dictate words to the class.  Students have to come to the front of the class and arrange themselves in the correct order to spell out the word.  This is physical and a good way to get students moving.
2.  Category scramble - put the cards on the floor in any order.  Shout out a category.  Students grab a card and must be ready to give a word in the category that starts with that letter. The last student to grab a letter, or a student who can't think of a word, loses a life.  This is an 'extreme warmer' with lots of movement and lots of noise!
Warmer - running dictation
The classic activity where students are in pairs.  One of them is inside the classroom, writing.  The other runs outside to read a text.  They have to remember as much of it as possible and run back to their partner who writes it down.  The first pair to reproduce the text correctly, wins.
Typical qualities of a cooler
  • Individual work
  • Involves concentration
  • Gets students thinking in English
  • Practises listening and/or writing
  • Is quiet, or even silent
  • Is slow - has a calming effect on students
Cooler - opposites dictation
Students have to write down the opposite of what you dictate.  It is up to them what they write, as long as the sentences are grammatically correct.  For example, you say:
'There was a young woman.'
The students write:
'There was an old woman.'
'There was a young man.'
'There is a young woman.'
This is a quiet activity which involves students concentrating.  When they've finished, they compare their texts - they'll be similar, but different.  You could then ask students to re-convert their text so that it matches the original.  You could use a text from the coursebook.
Cooler - DIY word search or crossword
Give students an empty word search or crossword grid and a topic and ask them to make their own puzzle.  They could just list the hidden words, give definitions, or draw picture clues.  Students can swap with a partner or they can be copied for the whole class.  Empty grids can be found online.  These are great activities as the students are doing all the work!
Some considerations in lesson-planning for teens
  1. The topics need to be relevant, but not so relevant that they'll discuss them in their L1!  Students need to be interested and focussed.
  2. There should be a variety of skills work.
  3. There needs to be a variety of interaction.
  4. You need to consider pace and timing.
  5. Include warmers and coolers.
  6. Balance - this is the key to everything!


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Using grammar to create a good relationship

Michael McCarthy
This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Cambridge English Teacher and presented by Michael McCarthy.  He should have been joined by Anne O'Keefe, but unfortunately technical issues meant she was unable to connect.  What follows is a summary of what Michael had to say.

Grammar is more than just a set of abstract rules - it can be used to create appropriate relationships:
  • Forms of address (sir, madam, mate, etc.)
  • Formal vocabulary (e.g. we wish to advise you....)
  • Hedging and vagueness (e.g. a bit hungry, hungry-ish)
  • Indirectness (e.g. one shouldn't worry, it is hoped that....)
  • Using tense, aspect and modality (e.g. I wondered..., I should be grateful...)
  • Involvement strategies/use of pronouns - ways of making the person you're talking to feel more part of the topic of conversation
  • Ellipsis (e.g. want some coffee? you ready?)
Corpus evidence
  • Cambridge English Corpus - 2 billion words
  • CANCODE Spoken Corpus - 5 million words (mostly informal speech)
  • Cambridge Learner Corpus - 5 million words
  • CANBEC Spoken Business English Corpus - 1 million words
  • CLAS Spoken Professional/Academic Corpus - 1 million words taken from a hotel management context in Ireland
These corpora give us the evidence to understand how grammar is used.  Where grammar gives us choices, the choice you make affects how your spoken or written word is received.  Look at this example which goes from direct to less direct and, therefore, more polite:
  • Where's the key?
  • I hope you've got the key.
  • I was hoping you had the key.
Or this example:
  • I wonder if you can help me?
  • I'm wondering if you could help me?
  • I was wondering if you could help me?
All of these sentences are grammatically correct, but small changes affect the degree of politeness.

Some verbs are more polite and less direct when used in the continuous form (present or past).  For example:
  • Are you needing something?
  • I was wondering if I could ask you a question?
  • I was hoping you'd come to visit.
  • We were thinking we should finish this by Friday.
Look at this example in context:

or this one:
Customers and servers work hard from the beginning to set an appropriate relationship.
Use of pronouns (we versus you)
Choice of pronouns can create closeness or distance.  In this example, the salesperson uses 'you' and 'your' to make the customer feel involved - almost as if he owns the item already:

In this example, we see the pronoun of involvement used in an academic setting - a hotel and catering college:
Modality can express degrees of formality and degrees of imposition.
Looking at corpora for incidences of 'can I ...?' and 'could I ...?', we see a huge difference in the number of times these are used in spoken informal English.  We can also see that there are no examples in Cancode of 'might I ...?' being used.  Corpus enables us to see the degree of formality these forms express, but also in what context they're used.
Ellipsis, the non-use of items normally considered obligatory, in conversation reinforces directness and closeness.  For example:
To conclude:
Incorrect choices can project the wrong relationship in terms of the degrees of directness and imposition.  The grammar discussed in this webinar is all very common and is normally taught at low levels, but we need to look at it again at higher levels to explore the subtleties.  Good teaching materials should include this grammar of choice to enable students to communicate effectively.


Friday, 27 December 2013

Joined up listening – how to understand natural speech

Johanna Stirling
This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Cambridge University Press and presented by Johanna Stirling.  What follows is a summary of what she had to say.

Why don’t students understand natural speech?
·         It’s too fast for them to process.
·         The words aren’t spoken clearly.
·         They aren’t listening properly.
·         They don’t know all the words.
·         They panic.
The first two are probably the main reasons for non-comprehension.
How do we teach listening?
1. Skills development:
·         predicting
·         listening for gist
·         listening for specific information
·         inferring
2. Practise
These are important, but they are not enough.  Following on from practice, we need to analyse the wrong answers.  We need to find out why students got the answers wrong. 
Micro-listening – receptive pronunciation

It's important to focus on specific parts of what the students have already listened to, as in this example from Face2Face:

Pronunciation is normally associated with speaking, but receptive pronunciation is vital for listening.

Difficulties when listening

1. Ellipsis - incomplete sentences, which are very common in spoken English, are extremely difficult for learners to cope with.  We can give students conversations like this:
and ask them to supply what's missing, or give them the whole conversation, listen and cross out what they don't hear:
2.  Weak forms - where we have strong stress on one word and the others all get squashed, it is very problematic for learners.  We need to show students weak forms to help with their comprehension.  They don't necessarily have to say it that way themselves, but they need to recognise it.

3.  Elision - when we put words together, we often lose the last phoneme.  We need to raise students' awareness of this.
4.  Linking - it's often difficult to tell where one word ends and another starts - mad_idea_about, for example.  Look at how these combinations can sound to an untrained ear:
We should introduce linking to our students at pre-intermediate level at the latest.  It's really never too early to show students what's happening in joined-up speaking.
5.  Assimilation - some sounds change when they're near other sounds.  For example, 'sunbathing' sounds like 'some bathing', 'sandwich' becomes 'samwich', and 'handbag' sounds more like 'hambag'.
To conclude:
We need to make our students aware of all of these anomalies in spoken English through the practice of micro-listening and receptive pronunciation.


Sunday, 22 December 2013

I've been tagged by Marisa Constantinides

This is my contribution to a chain blog in which one blogger tags you on their blog, challenges you to answer some questions and then asks you to pass the ball to eleven more bloggers!

Marisa Constantinides tagged me in this blogging meme.  I got the tag on Monday morning, at the start of what has probably been the busiest week of my year, so it has taken until now (Sunday) to get around to replying!  Apologies!!  Anyway, this is what the challenge involves:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger - in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
11 random facts about myself
  1. During my gap year (many, many moons ago!), I worked as a supervisor on the pitta bread production line in the largest bakery in the Middle East!
  2. One of my hobbies is genealogy and I have discovered that an ancestor of mine was 'an aerated water bottler and small animal preserver' - this is made even more bizarre because every single one of his neighbours in the Durham village were coal miners!
  3. My favourite band is 'Beautiful South'.
  4. I met my husband whilst on holiday in Crete - he was there alone and I was there with my first husband!
  5. I love going to the cinema, but I hate horror movies.
  6. To help pay my way through university, I worked behind the bar at 'Cornerhouse', a famous arts complex in Manchester.  I started there when it first opened and was lucky enough to meet lots of stars of stage and screen.
  7. My husband and I own a 17th century watermill in France, but we can't live in it due to an ongoing legal case.
  8. I was once part of a team which won a national wine-tasting competition - the prize was a week in a French chateau drinking fine wine and eating food prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.
  9. As a child, I appeared on stage with 'Diddy' David Hamilton, and sang a song with him.
  10. I am rubbish at learning languages!
  11. I love reading, especially biographies and historical novels.
The 11 questions that Marisa asked me

My answers are in red.

1. How long does it usually take you to draft and finalise a blog post?  It depends - if I'm posting a summary of an #eltchat or a webinar I've attended, I tend to write it quite quickly.  If I'm writing something original, about teaching or travel, it tends to take longer as I like to check my facts.
2. Which ICT tools do you actually use with your classes?  I use Edmodo as my online classroom and, through that, use a lot of tools and sites such as YouTube, Voxopop, Mailvu, Audioboo, etc.
3. What is your absolute dream job?  Travel company researcher - visiting places all over the world and reporting back on hotels, restaurants, facilities, attractions, etc.
4. Which classroom activity do you absolutely enjoy using with your students? One is all I need  It's difficult to choose one, but it would probably involve using film, as this always engages students.  I often use lessons created by the fantastic Kieran Donaghy at Film English.
5. How many of your current friendships  were started through a social network?  Quite a few!
6. Which household chore do you hate the most and which one do you love the best?  I hate all household chores except cooking, which I do enjoy.  Fortunately, I have a 'house-husband' who does all the housework, so I don't have to do any!!
7. Name your 10 desert island CD’s  Wow, I love music and find it really difficult to choose only 10!  I'm assuming that Marisa means albums when she says CDs - not singles - so I can have more music!  My 10 albums would be:
  • 'Blue is the Colour' by Beautiful South
  • 'Peachtree Road' by Elton John
  • 'Songs in the Key of Life' by Stevie Wonder
  • 'Graceland' by Paul Simon
  • 'The Osmonds Greatest Hits' (not cool, but such a big part of my childhood!)
  • 'Breaking Glass' by Hazel O'Connor
  • 'Hits from the Musicals' compilation album
  • 'Painted Desert Serenade' by Joshua Kadison
  • 'Swing When You're Winning' by Robbie Williams
  • 'The Best Country Album in the World .... Ever!'
8. Do you wish you had studied something other than what you did study? Do say what, if the answer is yes.  Not really - I try not to have regrets about what happened in the past - after all, I can't change it!
9. Describe the naughtiest thing you have ever done – within reason, of course  Probably, getting together with my husband - see above!!
10. What artistic aspirations or skills do you have?  I love doing cross-stitch and enjoy creating my own designs.  I like to personalise them and give them as gifts for people.
11. Which TV series or film do you keep watching again and again?  The film we watch every Christmas without fail is 'Love Actually' - and today's the day for this year's viewing!

11 bloggers tagged in this post

Because I'm so late responding to this challenge, some of the people I would have tagged have already been tagged by others.  Still, I'll include a couple of them in my list, just in case they want to respond to my questions!
  1. Russ Pearce (@rrruss)
  2. Kristina Klug (@teacherkristina)
  3. Michelle Fulton (@mitchefl)
  4. Mike Griffin (@michaelegriffin)
  5. Alex Walsh (@AlexSWalsh)
  6. Sharon Hartle (@hartle)
  7. TJ Vargas (@HerDailyDigest)
  8. Ozge Karaoglu Ergen (@ozge)
  9. JC Vargas (@kingceejay)
  10. Vicki Hollett (@vickihollett)
  11. Jason R Levine (@FluencyMC)
My 11 questions
  1. What's your favourite Christmas song?
  2. Who would you most like to meet (dead or alive) and what question would you ask them?
  3. What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you in the classroom?
  4. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  5. What would you like your epitaph to be?
  6. Which film is the most likely to move you to tears?
  7. What's the highest altitude you've ever been at on earth?
  8. What was the first record you ever bought?
  9. Do you still write anything by hand?  If so, what?
  10. Silver or gold?
  11. If you were offered the opportunity to travel into space, would you take it?
I hope some of you answer my questions - I look forward to reading your responses.

Thanks, Marisa - I've really enjoyed writing this!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

What makes a good coursebook?

Robin Walker

This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Oxford University Press and presented by Robin Walker.  What follows is a summary of what he had to say.

What makes a good coursebook?

According to Tomlinson and Masuhara in an article published in the ELT Journal (67/2), a good coursebook must:
  • engage the learner effectively
  • engage learners cognitively
  • help learners to make discoveries about how English is typically used
  • help learners to use English after the course has finished
  • help learners to use English as a lingua franca
Four main criteria that make a good coursebook
  • Input texts (reading and listening)
  • Grammar syllabus
  • Pronunciation
  • Language as communication
1.  Input texts

Informative - a good coursebook tells you things that you don't know.  You are improving your general knowledge as well as learning English.

Engaging - good coursebooks have texts which are relevant to students.  Students are therefore engaged and want to listen and read.  Engagement should be way beyond a linguistic level.  Students must participate in the text and discuss the issues raised as they would do in their mother tongue.  Texts need to stimulate our students.

Authentically sourced - texts should be adapted from newspapers, magazines, etc.  Totally authentic texts, with no editing whatsoever, are often impenetrable for learners, so adapted texts are a perfect compromise.  They make the text accessible and introduce the quality learning we're looking for.

THINK ------------- READ -------------- (EXPLORE) -------------- REACT
2.  Grammar syllabus
Pedagogical - a good coursebook needs to bring existing grammar knowledge out.  Students need to be able to test themselves.  If the whole class already knows a particular aspect of grammar, the teacher doesn't need to waste time - he or she can go straight on to the output exercises.  If, on the other hand, students discover that they can't do the exercises, then the teacher can spend more time presenting the grammar.
Communicative - there need to be exercises that allow students to use the grammar in an engaging way - to generate genuine communication.  Learning grammar and using grammar need to go hand-in-hand.
3.  Pronunciation
Pronunciation should be integrated into a coursebook, so that students can communicate.  If students can't pronounce words correctly, they can't use them effectively.  The pronunciation part of a coursebook should lead on to a speaking activity.  It should be a facilitating tool to allow students to speak.  There should be good coverage of pronunciation in any coursebook.  From the lowest levels, we need to practise not just sounds, but linking, sentence stress, connected speech, etc.
The English File app
A good coursebook needs to deal with sounds in contrast.  For example, /ʊ/ versus /u:/.  Also, classifying sounds and associating sounds with different things - pictures, symbols, colours, etc. - are very useful ways of helping students to learn pronunciation.  New English File does these things very well.
A coursebook also needs software to help students practise pronunciation in their own time - particularly, in these days of mobile devices, an app.
4.  Language as communication
Personal - the output activities in coursebooks should be personal.  Students need to be able to talk about themselves and people they know.  Teachers need to be careful, though.  Some students, particularly teens or business people, may not want to talk openly about personal matters.  In these cases, teachers need to ensure that students work in pairs or small groups.
Possible - output tasks should be possible.  There needs to be enough structure so that students aren't intimidated about getting into the task - give them 'useful phrases' to use, for example.  There needs to be enough for them to say.  Don't give students a too open-ended task.
Purposeful - output tasks need to have an outcome.  If there's no end point, it's difficult to know when the task is finished!
  • Input texts - informative, engaging and authentically sourced.
  • Grammar - flexible, pedagogical, meaningful.
  • Pronunciation - integrated, thorough, varied, mobile.
  • Communication - personal, possible, purposeful.

Teaching online

Nicky Hockley
This is a summary of a video featuring Nicky Hockley, made in her capacity as consultant for the Cambridge English teacher website.

Blended learning can be:
  • only a small part of the course online
  • half online
  • most online
  • the whole course online
Whichever it is, there are five main things to bear in mind:

1.  Which platform?

The most important factor here is to establish the aims of your course because these will inform the method of delivery.  For example, if you're teaching writing online, it would make sense to use a blog, whereas if you're teaching speaking, you might want to use a synchronous tool such as Skype.  If you're offering the entire course online, you should probably use a VLE.

2.  The livewire

The livewire are the people.  As an online teacher, you need to be present and helpful online.  You need to respond to students' comments in a forum, or written work submitted, in a timely manner.  Twelve hours is a good target to aim for.  You need to praise and encourage students as you would in a face-to-face situation.  In the beginning, you need to respond to all forum posts by students, but as the course goes on, you can respond less and less as students begin to support and help each other.  Even then, though, you should still aim to reply to about one in three posts.  If you're not going to reply to posts, you need to tell students at the beginning, so that they're not waiting for you to do so.

3.  Socialisation

Here, we're talking about getting to know each other online.  This is vital for creating a group dynamic.  You need to have specific socialising activities early on - 'My top 5', for example, where each student posts their top 5 of something.  Such socialising activities need to continue throughout a course.  Also, make sure you include pairwork and groupwork in your online course.

4.  Variety

It's important to use a variety of media - images, audio, video, etc. - and a variety of activity types - quizzes, forum discussions, getting students to produce things, etc.

5.  Start small

Start with one class as a pilot course.  Get feedback from students and evaluate yourself as you go.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Planning for the future and how we deal with it

This was the title of the first in the series of 'Jeremy Harmer Lectures' hosted by Pearson.  What follows is a summary of what Jeremy had to say.

The planning pyramid

                 POSSIBILITIES             FIT                                                    
            ACTIVITIES     TIMINGS         PROCEDURES      INTERACTIONS       
What students will be better able to do.
Class description
It's important to know who you're teaching - the size of the class, age, level, type of learner, etc. in order to be better able to anticipate problems.  Think yourself into the mind of the student, be problem ready and have solutions available.
Additional possibilities
Extra staff - just in case!
Timetable fit
How your lesson fits into the scheme of work, curriculum and syllabus.
These are difficult to plan for as we don't know what's going on inside our students' heads, but it is important to have measurable outcomes.  When the students have done the activity, what will have changed for them?
What will you do?  You need to vary and balance the activities to engage and motivate students.
Very difficult to plan accurately, though it gets easier with experience and through knowing your students well.
How are you going to do something?
S-S, T-S, etc.  The best lessons have a variety of interactions.  Don't worry about having too much TTT - TTT is a rich source for students' listening comprehension.  It's the quality of the TTT which is important.
Language exponents
Grammar, etc. - what you plan to teach isn't necessarily what ends up emerging in the lesson.
Language skills
What do we want students to work on?  The best lessons are often those which integrate all the skills.
Personal aims
It's important that the teacher has aims for him/herself, as well as for the students - action research, for example.
Classroom technology - whiteboard, coursebook, computer, projector, pens, IWB, etc.  It's not what you've got that matters - it's what you do with it.  Think carefully in planning about what students will use, not just you as the teacher.  Think about BYOD - using mobiles in class, for example.
Planning for a series of lessons using topics and themes
Look at this example of a series of lessons for young learners, using the topic of bananas!
How we think about a lesson (what metaphor we use) affects how we plan for it.  For example, if we think of a lesson as a journey, we plan for how we're going to get to the destination.  If it's a meal, we think about how to combine the best ingredients for maximum enjoyment.
The planning paradox - if you plan too much, you stifle the creativity every classroom should have.  If you don't plan enough, you lose sight of the aims.
Teaching unplugged (dogme) - this is where you don't plan very much - rather, you use the emergent language from the students to teach with.
Some say a compromise would be to plan your door into the lesson and a door out and not to worry too much about what's going to happen in the middle.
The planning pyramid is vital, especially for trainee teachers, but perhaps the door analogy is best for experienced teachers.  Moreover, it could be argued that the door out is more important than the door in.  People always remember more what happens at the end of something.  A teacher needs to be able to summarise what has happened in the lesson so that students take away the right message.  We need to end our lessons in different ways in order to engage and amuse students and make them want to come back.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

Let's go with the first ELT Blog Carnival of 2014!!

Everyone is welcome to join the next ELT Blog Carnival which will be hosted here on my blog.  The theme of the 38th carnival will be 'New Year Resolutions'It will be published during the first week of January, 2014.

Before you get too involved in all the lovely festivities which are coming up, please take the time to share your posts on anything and everything to do with new year resolutions - lesson plans, reflections on past resolutions (successful or otherwise!), or your teaching resolutions for 2014.  Let's make the first carnival of the year a huge success!!

If you want to participate, you can use the easy submission form and send me your blog list or you can contact me from here or twitter (I’m @worldteacher) if the form doesn’t work.  If you don’t blog, you can still join in. I’ll be happy to host your posts on my blog.  I look forward to reading all your submissions!

Please make sure you visit the 37th Blog Carnival hosted by the wonderful Eva Buyuksimkesyan.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and I'll see you back here in the New Year!

Photo by


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Teachers as writers

Tessa Woodward
This was the title of a recent webinar hosted by Cambridge English Teacher and presented by Tessa Woodward.  What follows is a summary of what she had to say.

As teachers, we need to make sure that all of our writing is clear and accurate.  We need to proof-read everything we write and be strict about self-editing.  As good writers, we need to use lexical variation and avoid repetition.

These are some of the types of writing that teachers do:

Writing on the board

We can be creative even with the most basic writing we do, as in the example above where the lesson plan is displayed as a menu, with homework as a takeaway!  We can use colour to highlight information.
Comments on students' work
We need to vary our praise words and not use 'good' all the time!
Lesson plans
These are usually written just for ourselves (unless for observation purposes), so we tend to develop our own idiosyncratic ways of writing.
Logs, reflective diaries and journals
These are indubitable proof of your own CPD and should be written in such a way that they can be referred to by others.  You can use the Cambridge English Teacher website to keep your journal.  Critical Incidents in Teaching by David Tripp is a good reference source for this topic.
Writing with our students
Here, we are talking about interactive dialogue journals, where each student has a notebook in which the teacher writes a letter to him or her.  The student replies with a letter of their own written in the notebook.  This is an ongoing conversation and serves as a record of your learning relationship.  You can read more about this in Joy Peyton's book.
Materials creation
  • Adapting coursebook exercises - making examples more relevant to your students, for example.
  • Writing your own reading texts.
  • Adapting authentic texts.
Writing for other teachers
  • Get an idea first.
  • Pilot it with your students.
  • Think it through and read around the topic.
  • Write it down as if you were explaining to a colleague (clear and informal).
  • Read it out loud to yourself and others.
  • Change any muddled parts and make them better.
  • Spell check, grammar check, and note the word count.
  • Look around at local, regional, national and international periodicals for language teachers - look at websites for teachers, too.
  • Read their guidelines as to readership, length, style, format, etc.
  • Edit your piece to make it fit the periodical you've chosen.
  • Send it in with a pleasant cover note.
  • Expect your idea to be edited!
  • Idea first
  • Then write
  • Then think about publishing
It's important that your motivation to write is clear.  You should be writing for you and for your students first and foremost.  Then, you want to share your ideas with colleagues and then the wider industry.  If this is the case, then rejection doesn't matter.
We write a lot as teachers and we learn incredibly useful writing skills by doing it.  We already are writers!


Friday, 29 November 2013

Principles of testing for the classroom

This was the title of a Cambridge English Teacher webinar presented by Shakeh Manassian and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

What is a test?

Talking mainly about summative assessment, a test is/has:
  • a tool or device
  • an activity which helps to elicit certain types of performance
  • a measure of learner performance - evidence of what a learner knows, understands and can do
  • a defined duration
  • a clear purpose
  • a standard delivery format
  • tasks which relate back to what was taught and learned
  • a variety of task types to ensure fairness
  • an evaluation of the evidence with reference to a set of criteria or a standard (this could be our own or an internationally recognised one, such as CEFR)
  • marks which are indicative of the learners' underlying ability
  • results which are used to make inferences about the ability of the learners
  • these inferences must link back to the purpose for testing the learner, and the skills and abilities we thought we were eliciting
Purposes of testing

A clear purpose helps to identify:
  • the kind of evidence we need
  • the task types
The purpose also links to the way we:
  • mark the learners' work
  • interpret learners' performances
  • make inferences about learners' abilities
  • report our findings
  • make decisions
The purposes of testing include:
  • giving feedback
  • checking progress
  • analysing learning needs
  • deciding what you're going to teach next
  • selecting for a particular course
  • assessing suitability for the next level
The purposes of international language tests will be different from those you use in the classroom.  In most cases, the purpose is generally to report on the performance of candidates in such a way that organisations that use the results can make decisions, for example, for selection.

Qualities of good coursebook learning tasks
  • Focused
  • May come before or after a presentation of new language
  • Are part of a series of learning tasks
  • Fit in with the curriculum
  • May lead to freer activities
  • Often have an example at the beginning
  • Are repetitive
  • Help learners understand what has been taught
  • Give learners an opportunity to practise
All of these things make learning tasks very different to testing tasks.  Such activities are not suitable in a testing context, not least because they repeat the same piece of language many times.

What makes a good testing task?
  • it has a clear purpose which is stated in writing (for example, in a syllabus or handout)
  • it's linked to a given model of language teaching and learning
  • it makes the best use of the time available
  • it tries to be authentic
  • it isn't focused on a single element of language
  • it has a clear marking scheme
What makes a good reading learning task?
  • it exploits the reading text
  • it develops a variety of reading skills
  • it takes account of the classroom context
  • it tries to develop other learning skills
  • it tries to develop other language skills
What makes a good reading testing task?
  • it tests a variety of reading skills.
  • questions are ordered in the same order as the information appears in the text - we are testing comprehension, not information location.
  • questions are clearly worded and are appropriate to the level.  All students should be able to access the questions - we are testing their ability to find the answers.
  • questions should be unbiased.
  • questions shouldn't contain the same wording as the text - we should paraphrase so that students have to demonstrate their understanding of the language.
  • each question should test only one reading skill.
  • all options in multiple choice questions must relate back to something in the text.
  • there needs to be a clear indication of the marks being allocated to each response.
  • questions must have the right level of difficulty.
  • texts should be interesting to our students and as authentic as possible.
  • texts must allow us to test the kind of skills we're interested in.
  • the selection of the topic and the sources should reflect the purposes of testing.
  • the length of the texts should be appropriate for our purposes and for the time available.
  • a variety of texts and question types should be used to be fairer to the students and to enable us to make broader inferences about what a learner can do.
  • the test must allow the comparison of performance across huge cohorts of candidates.
Testing speaking
  • there needs to be a clear purpose.
  • we need to have a clear idea of the performance we want to elicit.
  • there needs to be a clearly defined format.
  • the testing tasks and questions must be clearly designed.
Conclusions - some principles of testing

We need to have:
  • a clear purpose
  • a clear understanding of how the results will be used
  • a clear identification of the performance to be elicited
  • designed tasks that elicit enough of this performance
  • tasks that are fair to learners
  • a set delivery format
  • clear marking criteria and marking schemes
  • a clear approach to the interpretation of the results
We also need to:
  • know what each of the questions we've designed is testing
  • make sure that we're testing key skills more than once, but that we're not overtaxing the learner
  • be able to relate the results back to the skills we've tested
  • be consistent in our approach each time we test our learners
  • document decisions and actions