Online Course: Formative Assessment to Inform Quality Adult ESL Instruction

Use this discussion thread to post your response to the question below from the ELL-U online course, Formative Assessment to Inform Quality Adult ESL Instruction. Please share your comments and feedback on the course.

  • What is one important thing you are taking away from this online course? What do you hope to implement in your classroom?


I am most interested in activities that guide my students' self assessment, such as logs or journals. I will start those in class immediately. 

I am sold on formative assessments for learning however turning these assessments into successful class practices takes some work. I have several examples of assessment activities that have only worked partially. 

When I tried one of the formative assessment activities suggested in the activities section of the course, picking two students to attend to during the class. I like this idea for many reasons, especially for my students who try to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. However, when I put this in action, it was difficult. My attention was drawn away to instruct the class, address questions from extroverted students, redirect lost students, and other matters. Any suggestions with this activity would be helpful, even though, the short amount of class time I was able to do it, I was able to incorporate information from the one on one meetings I had had with them and put it into action. 





I teach a group of international students at a local community college. I often hear students complain about issues in the dorm. Referencing Goal 2, I will use some of those dorm issues in an assessment to check my students'  ability to communicate using correct grammar with the focus on using correct verb tense in a conversation. After a discussion about adjectives that describe a dorm room, I'll show a picture of a very messy room and ask a student to imagine it's the way his roommate is while the other student is the messy roommate. The will be asked to try to solve the problem of the messy room in a discussion using the correct verb tenses. I will note any time a wrong tense is used and develop activities for further practice.


Joan, Thank you for describing a classroom activity that deals with an issue your students are familiar with. Could you say a bit more about the type of feedback i.e., formative assessment, you provide to the students? Do students also engage in assessing themselves?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Adult English Language Learners CoP

Working with low level learners that are just beginning to communicate verbally in English: We do lots of paired activities as information gap (completing forms, ordering pizza, calling to make and appointments) sometimes this is done with a peer and sometimes with a volunteer. Peer interviews are good practice - especially when we are working on job  interviews - first one students works from a script asking the interview questions and the other student answering then they reverse the rolls. We a focused on helping our students to be able to communicate their needs - rent an apt., pay bills, call for a bus pick-up, talk to their child's teacher, make appointments. Role play in various forms help them become comfortable and willing to try.

 Very informative - I need to work more on tying the long term goals to the short term goals. We have been so focused on setting the short term goals hoping it will keep the students motivated as they "check off" these skills that they may have lost sight of the big picture. 

I have been using formative assessment, but everything has been very informal.  For example, periodically I do an assessment of how a student is progressing in speaking by having the student respond to a prompt, and I evaluate our conversation based on use of vocabulary, ease of speech, ability to express thoughts, etc.  While this is a regular practice, I have not converted my results into data I can use at a later date.  Instead, I merely get an impression that guides my lesson planning.  I will be doing formative assessments more methodically, and using data to record progress and guide planning.  Journals are another activity I want to incorporate into my teaching.  It would be a good way to see what and how my students are thinking.

"What strategies, activities, or methods have you used as a culturally competent teacher?"

As a new learner of how to teach ESL I have not really had the opportunity to use any culturally competent lessons or instruction.


"What have you observed in other teachers?"

I have not yet had the opportunity to observe other teachers.


Big C Items Little c Items Star Wars by George Lucus A McDonalds Menu Beloved By Toni Morrison A Groupon Voucher Madonna IPods Betsy Ross' Flag A Bus Ticket The Great Gatsby By F. Scott Fitzgerald A Coke Can The Great Depression FaceBook Baseball   The White House   Jeremy Lin      

Debatable Items:

McDonalds Menu-- because although MCD is always changing with the times, it has been around a very long time and is easily recognizable with its 'golden arches'

Coke Can- Same reason, Coca-Cola has been around a very long time, though its can has changed significantly over the years. 

iPods-- the name is recognizable around the world, but because it is an electronic device, the OS system changes depending on the needs of the consumers. 

Description: Describe your observations in concrete and specific ways (what you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel).


Interpretation: Interpret your observations (what you think about what you observed).


Evaluation: Evaluate your emotions about your observations (how you feel about your interpretation of what you observed).


Source used: Dejinta Beesha: Multi-Service Center – Site  is broken—sends me to a site in Russian to download music and game torrants and pornographic movies.

Second Source: Eid Around the World. 

D: This was a series of 17 pictures from all around the world, showing Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr Out of the 17 pictures, only 3 depicted women or girls.  Most of the pictures showed men together in groups in some sort of prayer pose.   Despite the 15 counties displayed, most of the men were in the same attire around the world as well.

I: I think I have observed men (for the most part) participating in the religious aspect of an obviously very important celebration

E: I was not shocked by the fact that the women were not allowed to worship with the men, however, I was in fact disappointed that despite the changes in the worlds that they live in, the countries they inhabit, that this small piece of sexism still exists in the Muslim culture.


  • What did you discover about your own assumptions?
    • That what I assumed about the culture was correct
  • How has going through the DIE stages helped you see new perspectives?
    • It did not in this case, as Musilm culture is something that has become widely advertised. 
  • What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them? Were any of the stages more difficult than others?
    • Seeing how women were not allowed to participate with the men-- or that the camera operator (who was probably a man) was not allowed to photograph the women in their celebrations except for in a few countries, and no pictures of women in a mass group like that men.  I was curious to see how the women celebrated as well.
  • How can you use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in classrooms with adult ELLs?
    • We can talk about what the pictures make us feel.
    • Ask if there is something similar in other cultures to the celebration after a religious holiday of fasting and prayer/contemplation



Culture plays a critical role in teaching and learning. How has the content in this course helped you better understand your own cultural investments, perspectives, and values? What are some strategies you will use to facilitate a culturally inclusive learning environment and facilitating (cross) cultural understanding among all members of the class?

Growing up in Fresno, California and then moving to North Carolina at the age of 13 was a HUGE culture shock for me.  I can relate to some of the things that international students feel when moving to a foreign country, because believe it or not, California IS a foreign country compared to North Carolina.  

Some strategies I would use are the DIE method.  I like the idea of showing pictures and letting student interpret them in their own words, thoughts and ideas.  I would go further and actually teach the cultural significance of what the students were seeing after they explained how they feel so that they can better understand what they saw.

Take a few moments to reflect on Liz's lessons and how she used the feedback loop to connect formative assessment to ESL instruction.

Which of the techniques would you incorporate into your lesson plans? Have you ever used any of the activities in your class? If so, what was the outcome?

I would have done just what Liz did.  Students tend to "vote with their feet".  Meaning, if they aren't being served in the way they need or want, they will walk away.  Her approach to finding out what the class wanted to learn as a whole and breaking those things down into easy to understand lessons (with quizzes to show understanding) is the approach I would also use.


I have never had the chance to use this, as I do not currently teach ESL.

Formative Assessment: Techniques and Strategies Activity Summary

Call in Sick to work—

Students will be able to call into work in order to inform their employer that they are not feeling well.

Student will first start with the vocabulary of illness.  Words might include: Fever, headache, nausea as well as other describing words.

Students will also work and creating simple sentences to describe how they are feeling (or potentially feeling) to their employer as a reason to not come in to work.

Example:  I have a bad fever.  I cannot come to work.

Finally students will practice their sentences with each other, by “making a phone call”.  They will correct each other’s work or help each other with new words or phrases. They may use a dictionary or thesaurus.

I may even make it a game to see who comes up with the best excuse for not coming into work.

Another Real world application: I will ask students to call me if they are sick and cannot come to class.

Hi Tessa, Having students call in when they can't make it to class due to illness is a way to build in a real world connection. Letting students know that we expect them to let us know when they are unable to come to class also makes it clear that attendance is important.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Developing and using formative assessments is a complex process that requires the ability to develop short and long-term goals for students, and observe, measure, and assess progress towards these goals. With which parts of this process have you experienced success? What areas do you feel could still be improved upon?

As stated before, I have not yet had the chance to teach a class.  Therefore, I have not ever had the chance to develop feedback and error correction strategies.

I can say that I have had the privilege of knowing many international students throughout my college experience.  I have found that direct and immediate correction has been the most successful in helping persons learning the English language.  For example:  My friend Tolkun once asked "When you go to The Wiley's can you get the juice?" She was asking for me to pick up some apple juice for her, however as you can see by her sentence, that was not at all what she asked.   I had no idea what juice she was talking about, or if she was asking if I was going to drink  or if she wanted me to get it for her. So I used questions to ask what she meant exactly and then we worked towards a better sentence.  The next time she wanted juice from the campus restaurant she simply said "Can you get some apple juice for me when you go to Wiley's?"


Hi Tessa, Thanks for sharing this anecdote about your communication with your friend. What you are describing is a great example of negotiating meaning which is a key aspect of language learning. Ideally, English learners would have many opportunities to negotiate meaning-- both in class as well in the community.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

What strategies, activities, or methods are you already using related to each of the topics listed below? What could be added to your practice? 

If I were to teach an Second language course I would include:

  • creating learning objectives based on learners' communicative needs
  • using authentic materials
  • creating opportunities for learners to get to know each other
  • using topics that are relevant to students' lives and goals

This course has shown me a variety of ways formative assessment can be used with my students to strengthen their learning and engage them in real-life language tasks.  It is a complex process involving both group and individualized goals and will take some practice to master juggling the many strands and elements.  However, it is clear that this will be invaluable to my students learning and their confidence in handling authentic interactions.

Hello Fiona, It's good to hear you say how essential formative assessment is in teaching. Through effective formative assessment--which, as you note, is differentiated according to student needs--, teachers gain useful information to guide our next steps in teaching and learners are fully engaged in assessing themselves.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I have used them, since I always give pretests.  This way students can be given the different types of assignments. 

students review goal to understand what is required

students review in home language and in English what is done elsewhere, schema.

students review vocabulary

students do cloze activity and matching for vocab.

students think pair share always.

students role play and eventually in a culminating activity role play with mock phones; recorded, presented on a oak tag or trifold to be placed in a center...

Hmm. where have I experienced success, and where am I lacking? Well, I have always followed the process of pretest, instruct, posttest, reflect, adjust based on backward design using state standards and Adult Ed. guidelines.  I need to find ways to answer students while getting all involved in the possible outcomes based on error analysis.  I presently use the does it look right? equals spelling; does it sound right? equals grammar or syntax; and does it make sense? equals semantics: self correct percentage? 

Hi Stephen, Setting learning goals for ourselves, as you do here, is important to continue growing and improving as teachers. Good luck to you as you seek to learn more from your students about how to enhance your practice.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP


Hi, everyone, I just read Stephen Lux comment on this matter. I know it is not a recent one, but I have to say I found it very honest and helpful. I like the details he offers regarding how to analyze through specific questions different areas of teaching and learning English. I really appreciate his input.

I felt this was a very comprehensive program from which I have learned much, and have a much clearer, systematic idea of how to actually assess and how to create lessons around the skills of the students

thank you!


Hi Karen, It's good to hear you valued this course. I agree that the course helps a teacher to see how to effectively integrate formative assessment to support English learners to build their skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Take a few moments to reflect on Liz's lessons and how she used the feedback loop to connect formative assessment to ESL instruction.

I have also asked students to "vote" on the topic(s) they would like to cover in class by using a needs assessment.  I think students are much more likely to consistently attend class if the topic is of interest to them.

Her routine helped me realize how to integrate assessment into the classroom schedule without it appearing like anything other than a lesson. This is a good way to help the student review what was learned on a previous day and to also provide feedback to the instructor for future lessons.

Hi Marilyn, When you say that formative assessment "provides feedback to the instructor for future lessons," you are right on target. This is one of the key aspects of formative assessment. When we carefully observe how students respond to a lesson, whatever aspects of English the lesson entails, i.e., listening, speaking, reading and/or writing, we get useful information to guide our next steps in teaching. We may need to reteach a specific point or give students more practice. Or when students demonstrate their understanding and perform well, we recognize that it is time to move on to the next thing.

Thanks for your comments!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

Performance Learning Goal: Interpret Simplified Job Advertisements

Assessment Goal: Students can successfully apply language to realistic use outside the classroom (real, authentic job ads)

Activities will include use of the JobFlash report, teacher-created job advertisements, and authentic job ads from the local newspaper and online listings.  Assessment tasks will include matching and comprehension activities with common abbreviations (PT, exp. pref., ref. req., hrly., mgr., etc.) as well as role-play activities to be completed in pairs.  Comprehension activities will be handouts that will be evaluated by the instructor; role-play activities will be evaluated with a rubric.

Hi Melissa, The assessment activities you have planned sound quite useful. I especially like role plays, and I would like to include more of them in my own teaching. Having a rubric to provide feedback on the role plays should be very helpful to students. What criteria are you using for this rubric? Will you have students evaluate themselves as well?

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I haven't created the rubric yet, but things I will include are eye contact, pronunciation, vocabulary, grammatical errors, hesitation, and maybe others.  I like this rubric: I do like the idea of having students evaluate themselves as well.

Hi Melissa, Thanks for sharing the link to this fluency rubric. I think many teachers can find this tool useful. Let us know if you how it works after implementing it with students in your class. Also, I appreciate your emphasis--as recommended in the ELLU course-- on evaluating students on the authentic language students know and can use rather than on facts about language. That is a valuable distinction and a great take-away for you!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

One thing that really stood out to me and answered  a lot of my class management questions was :"Students don't come to ESL class to EXPLAIN the difference between the prepositions  to , at, on & in.  They attend class so they can, for example, describe locations, indicate days/times, give directions,etc.

Another eye opener was related to assessments being tailored to the learner's needs  and the impact that a student's culture may have on assessment activities.  I wondered often why some of my students seemed uncomfortable with activities that required them to use English for communication, cooperative learning, team projects, role plays,etc.  Some of them only wanted to learn grammar and to have homework to turn in.  Now I understand why and that I need to research my students' background in educational practices and try to ease them into activities that may make them uncomfortable, while leading them to more communicative assignments.  Lastly, I loved the "HOT SEAT"  game  on the site.   I'm going to use that to teach and practice  classroom protocol and behaviors.

Hi Brenda, This is such a valuable reminder: "Students don't come to ESL class to EXPLAIN the difference between the prepositions  to , at, on & in.  They attend class so they can, for example, describe locations, indicate days/times, give directions,etc. Also, as you note, learners come to us with important differences that teachers would be wise to become aware of.

Please let us know how the "hot seat" activity trecommended in this ELLU course goes when you try it out!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I learned a lot from this course.  The most significant thing I hope to gain from this course is to remember that "students should ultimately be evaluated on the authentic language that they are able to produce and use in appropriate contexts--rather than on the "facts" that they might know about the language."

Performance Learning Goal: Call 911 for natural disaster emergency, identifying the nature of the emergency, your location and personal information.

Formative assessment goal: Students will be able to apply language and content in real-life situation.

Learning Objective: Students will be able to communicate natural disaster emergency to 911 dispatcher evidenced by a role-play activity.

Task 1 (listening activity is intended to scaffold role-play activity): Students are 911 dispatchers. They are given 911 report forms to complete. Students will listen to 3 phone conversations of the people talking to 911 dispatcher about natural disaster emergencies twice and complete the forms with the information they received from the caller: emergency, phone #, location, injuries. In pairs, students exchange their dispatcher reports and evaluate their peers’ performance.

Task 2: Students are given 20 minutes to work in pairs creating dialogues.

Student A: 911 dispatcher.

Student B: caller reporting natural disaster emergency.

Each pair of students is provided with a worksheet:

- three photos picturing natural disasters: tornado sighting, flood, and wildfire

- three sets of 6 vocabulary words about natural disaster emergencies

- three sets of 6 questions

Students will make a choice of 1 picture, name it and align it with a choice of 6 vocabulary words and 6 questions they will use in their dialogue.

Students practice their dialogue in pairs and follow up with acting it out for class.

Students performance will be evaluate by assessment rubric.

Criteria: vocabulary, content, clarity, language structures.

Score: 0 – 25 points.

Performance Learning Goal:  Ask for promotion/raise, citing examples of effective work performance.

Objective:  Students will be able to ask for a promotion or raise to earn more money or provide for better opportunity as evidenced in a role play.

To start the lesson, I would ask the class how many of them work.  How many of them like their jobs?  How many of them like the money/hours? 

Then I would ask them to brainstorm ways to improve their situations – answers would vary but some might want to go from part time to full time, some who don’t work may want to find a job, etc.  I would jog their answers on poster paper without commenting or correcting them.  I would think at least one would come up with “ask for a promotion or raise.”  If not then I would suggest it to gage their reactions.  (Some immigrants don’t want to ask for something when they feel lucky to have any kind of job).

Next I would ask “How would you ask your supervisor for a raise or promotion?”  And I would write down the example of questions they might ask.

“What are some skills you could use to improve your chances of a promotion?”  At this point, I would have a rubric grid drawn up and the students would design an easy scoring system that would include appropriate answers, making eye contact, keeping hands still, bringing “Completion Certificates” to prove they had extra training (say in First Aid/CPR, or had completed a number of classes in ESL).

I would then show them a couple of short videos of people asking for promotions or raises.  We would use the rubric to “grade” who to worker did.

After I would ask, how can you “market” yourself?  (In other words, why do you think YOU need a raise or promotion – what do you do well on the job?  How are you improving yourself?)

Then I would assign them to work in pairs and have them write 3 of the questions down and imagine what a supervisor might say.  In response they would write why they deserve a raise.

I often write conversations for the pairs to practice, the students know one line is in red, the other in blue.  I would have each pair write a conversation then practice having that conversation.

After practicing, I would call one pair at a time to demonstrate their conversation to the class.  The other students would use the rubric to evaluate the conversation/body language.  I would take notes on individual students.

PS  I have found a great way to evaluate students by jotting down notes.  Get a file folder laminated.  Use a post it note for each student. Stick the post it notes in rows in the file folder.  Just put the date and your observation of the student.  When their post it note is full, you can transfer it to their Working Folder.

I cannot think of just one thing.

I think, in order for students to feel "ownership" in their learning, they need to have a visual of how they are doing.  I love the idea of using checklists of skills or even something elementary as a thermometer bulb they color in to different lines when they achieve a goal.  I know that sound babyish, it's just an example.  We don't use grades where I teach and the only assessment is the testing that is done every 60 hours of instruction.  There is not way for the student to know how they are doing.  I also love the idea of self assessment - how comfortable are they in the different concepts we learn?  I would love to get ideas for teaching them from the class, however, we have benchmarks that must be met.

Normally I put the skills and activities the student complete for each class.  Tomorrow night I am going to actually go over them and on future power points I will type them as user friendly not in teacher "lingo."

I am really excited about using some of the communication strategies listed in the readings.

First Successes:

I like to motivate my students.  I want my class to be fun and I want my students to feel safe and secure and comfortable enough to respond.  Many students lack self confidence or perhaps they had minimal experiences in a classroom in their own countries.  I like to provide a variety of activities, such as, conversations, templates for writing, activities where the students have to get up and move around, team work, etc. 

I have just started a Level 2 class and I am using unit tests - the old fashioned multiple choice with the bubble sheets.  Why?  Any one of them that decides to go back to college will have tests of these kinds.  The monitoring tests we give are this kind.  These are end of unit.  I do formative assessments throughout the lesson, listening and jotting down needs of the students, difficulties in pronunciation (for practice in our next class), grammatical errors etc.  At the first class I asked the students to think of 3 ways they liked to learn English (from previous classes).  That snow balled into what did they want included in this class?  Many want to work on pronunciation and listening skills, which I had not even considered when I began my planning.  I like the idea of the exit ticket, I have also used "3-2-1" which is, for example "Write 3 things you learned tonight, 2 things you want to know and 1 thing you will practice before the next class."  I post my objectives on the first slide of the power point then at the end I ask the students if they "did" these things.

Here's what needs improving - I need to use a better way to show ongoing progress - perhaps portfolios?  I would like to involve the students in this process.  I have used Direct Instruction for teaching Reading (not in ESL) and I like that the students could document their own progress and have a visual of how they were doing.  I would like to assess the student's confidence level in each unit.  This will give me an idea of what needs focusing on.


Hi Anne, Thanks for posting your lesson plan and reflections on the ELLU course on formative assessment. Focusing a lesson on asking for a raise is sure to be interesting. I think almost anyone could benefit from practicing that, including most of us teachers!

Your way of using sticky notes to record comments on student work sounds like an useful way to keep tabs on student progress. The 3-2-1 assessment strategy is an easy one to implement and gives teachers a great deal of useful information to guide their next steps in teaching.

Inviting learners to identify topics and skills they want to learn more about is important. I am certain the learners will benefit from your incorporating more listening and pronunciation into your lessons.

It's good to hear the ELLU online course was so helpful to you. Anyone interested in checking out the free, self-paced LINCS ESL courses, can find them in the Learning Portal on the LINCS home page

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP

I would like to take away strategies on how to make my esl students successful, not just in their academic literacy skills but also in how to use those skills in real-life situations like applying for a job.

There are numerous tools available for accomplishing the assessment and implementing indicated methods. One of the ways is to use the assessment tools in books such as WORK/LIFE ENGLISH, a six level program with 17 student books and 17 Instructor's books. Instructor's books cover Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and Grammar and have assessments at six levels. 

The books actually teach English in the context of work and daily living, helping learners to apply English to numerous aspects of their lives. 

See them at Or e-mail


I tried the Hot Seat activity with my more advanced ESL class and it went pretty well.  I modeled what is like to be in the Hot Seat and then had one of my students "volunteer" to be the first in the seat.  After a little coaching she did just fine and we worked on pronouncing Ed endings, which we had been working on in class.  This activity was a change from simply having them read aloud from a passage.  It was more interactive and interesting.  We had fun with some of the questions.  Has anyone else tried this activity?  How did it go?

I had my basic ESl students work on a labeling exercise in the classroom.  We started a s a group and labeled 10 things in the room, tables, desks, chairs, etc.  Students were then put in a modified Line Dialog and each given 5 stickies with the names of the objects written on them.  They took turns labeling objects in the room and practiced saying the words to each other after labeling.  For a final assessment individual students were given 5 stickies and asked to place them on the appropriate object.  The students were then encouraged to go home and label objects in their house (I passed out some more stickies to take home) and take a picture with their phone of any object they could not name (we also practiced this in class).  This lead to some interesting objects and conversations the next time we met.

I guess I instinctually vary my feedback to students and do the three types of feedback out of habit.  It can be hard to draw the line between how much correction you give a student/class.  I certainly try not to badger, or "pick on" one student.  The lower the class/student level the more explicit my feedback.  I would rarely use metalinguistic feedback on a lower level student, it's too much.