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?


The questions in regards to the techniques that Liz uses in the classroom that I would incorporate into my own would be her informal assessment activities.  The simple needs questionnaire.  Maybe allow students to choose 3 themes from the textbook.  For each major unit create a list of 8-10 objectives.   In regards to the question, have I ever used any of the activities in my classroom the answer is yes.  I have used end of the unit projects as well as group and pair work in order to observe.  I have used journal writing as well as exit tickets.  The results are always well worth it.  I am able to make better decisions for individual students as well as the class as a whole.

Hi Jantae, Thanks for sharing your reflections on the ELLU formative assessment course. It's great to hear that you can incorporate some of the assessment techniques into your instruction. Journal writing and exit tickets are great strategies. Could you tell us a bit about what these look like in your class? How do you structure journal writing? What does a typical exit ticket look like in your class? Thanks so much!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

I feel I have experienced success in the overall idea of assessments.  Learning the different approaches.  The scenarios gave me a lot in terms of revisiting what I knew and learning what I do not.  I feel I will implement everything that I got out of this course and I printed almost every page as well as downloaded activities and guidelines.  I could improve on implementing more strategies into my own assessments.

I do use curriculum.  But I see now that I can include my students' objectives in the planning of lessons, and that will help them see their own progress.  That's really important.

What's an exit ticket?

Hi Laura, That you now plan to integrate learners' goals into your teaching is a wonderful outcome of your taking this ELLU course. Best of luck to you with this effort. Please let us know how it goes.

You asked about an exit ticket. In essence, an exit ticket gives learners a chance to reflect on what they learned during the class and/or to ask a question of the teacher. Students fill out their exit ticket and hand it to the teacher as they leave class. The exit tickets give the teacher a sense of how students are progressing as well as what questions they may have.

For the exit ticket I'm using currently with a class of high beginners, I list the activities we've engaged in during class and students check whether they think they can do the task or whether they need more practice.

Here's the content of the exit ticket from this morning's class:

  • I can talk to partners and write their answers.
  • I can talk and write about my goals.
  • I can listen to a story and understand.
  • I can read a story and understand.
  • I can talk about evidence in a story.
  • I can spell words in English.
  • I can listen to questions and write answers.
  • I need more help with ...
  • I have a question:

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP



Formative assessments are crucial for allow students be aware of their academic and language process. I would implement more active participation of all my students. I will be more involved in their small group reviews and projects.

Hi Erika, Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the ELLU Formative Assessment Course. It's great that you want to be more involved in the learners small group reviews and projects. I'd love to hear how these reviews and projects work in your class.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition


I used to have some issues about Assessments. I am thankful for the way evaluations and formative assessment is studied here, it has helped me to get rid of my former issues and work better to better help my students. Not only did I learn techniques and methods but also I received a conceptual backup for Assesment that usually is not provided and is very need.

With which parts of this process have you experienced success?

I have experienced improvement in my formative assesment as soon as I begun to give feedback to my students. Which I didn´t do so often.

What areas do you feel could still be improved upon?

I still need to think about the ratio and rubrics.

I have used the Practitionar Toolkit from CAELA in a Teachers Academic Conference with one of the biggest Center of English Teaching in my country. I used the Line Dialog activity and had attendees facing each other. I also had some funny questions and answers written on the board. It gave me an inmediate idea as of:

  • Who were the faster readers
  • Who had problems understanding simple instructions (kistening)
  • Who were not willing to participate in a speaking activity
  • Who had problems reading 
  • Different levels in the classroom

  I enjoyed it so much. I leave you the example. Enjoy!

What´s your favorite part of the body?                               My dog and my left toe

What´s your favorite sleeping position?                             I don´t know, it makes me dizzy

What day of the week you hate?                                       I do like a lot to squish them

How old were you at your 1st kiss?                                   Pre-heat them and eat them

How many beauty marks do you have?                            Are you serious? I hate them all!

As you may have notices, there are not right answers. The activity was followed by having them figuring out the questions for such funny answers and it proved to be a very good assesment as well as communicative abilities activity.


  1. Select a performance learning goal - Call utlility to ask for a given service
  2. Identify the assessment goal you are trying to fulfill - Understand spoken English on the phone, probably interaction with answering machine
  3. Design assessment activities that include the following information:
    • Student language proficiency level - Determine if student can understand instructions on the phone or can explain his situation
    • Learning objective
      • The desired result of this objective is that… the student can change his plane ticket (day of departure - includes, nombers, ID numbers, schedules, procedures, steps to follow) 
      • Therefore, I need evidence that students can… understand instructions in English on the phone, follow instructions, understand english spoken by an answering machine
      • So, my assessment task needs to include some things like… instructions, recorded voices, questions related to plane ticket info and flights or airlines
  4. Describe the formative assessment tasks you will use. Performance tasks should simulate real-world tasks, be level appropriate, and provide students with opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and skills - I will have my students call an airline and try to change the departure day of a certain flight
  5. Create observation measures (evaluation criteria) for providing feedback to students.
    • What criteria will you use to evaluate performance? - can they explain clearly what do they need from the service? Do they try to talk to the answering machine or understand that the voice is recorded? Are they frustrated to talk to a machine?
    • What rating scale will you use to measure performance? - How many minutes do they spend on the phone to explain what they need? How many more to get what they need from the airline? How long does it take to realize it cant´be done?

So, the results on this one were fun to observe, I had a total of three students acting as the passenger, five more where either the answering machine or the airline perssonel and six other were "advisors" to the clients.

Stage 1: Answering machine. Lots of frustrated people. Lots of laughs. 1 success out of 3.

Stage 2. Local airline perssonel. In fact this was even more frustrating because it was a person who could not see the plane ticket and therefore could not help but all three attemps left students with a bitter feeling.

Stage 3. International airline perssonel. Still more frustration, but 2 people succeded out of 3.

When I told my students that the excercise was based on a real life situation they felt a bit more relieved, they also felt better when I told them that the 1st person, an native English speaker also was frustrated when he couldn't solve his problem. (a plane ticket issued by a travel agency linked a local airline ticket to an international flight. So, the local service could NOT see the flight in their system and the international airline COULD NOT find it when consulted on the phone. The answering machine did reffer the client to a human perssonel because it could not find the flight on a 1st time. Finally, the Travel Agency e-mailed the client the flight code so that the local AND international airlines could change the departure day).

Hello Dorcas, Enhancing our teaching is a life-long effort. Good for you working on improving the way you provide feedback to learners. Targeted feedback is definitely a critical aspect of our work.

I, too, have focused instruction on understanding recorded messages when calling businesses. Thankfully, it's easy to bring actual recordings to class for students to work with.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

I'm really glasd to follow this online course and to share experencs an thought with other proffesionals. I know that it's a great effort for all of us since I lack of time but online courses are really convinient.

Teaching English to Adults is quite different from teaching children, but always rewarding when your students' faces start brighting when they realize that they can use effectively the new language they are learning.

Since they have busy lifes as us it is important to have as many tools to teach them well. I loved the module on teaching to emerging readers, because I'm feeling that many people in my country trying to start making bussiness abroad wnat to learn English, and I realized that mamy of them are emergent readers.

Dear all:

I'l choose as goal. HOW TO MAKE A 911 CALL.

I'll teach related vocabulary about accidents and problems at home and in the neighborhood, also we are going to practice giving directions, describing places and talking using simple past. We will look at newspaper articles about issues that needed a 911 call. We are going to role play  a conversation giving to all the class in worksheets. Then students in pairs will prepare their own 911 call conversation to report an accident and to ask for help.

There I'll do an ongoing assessment through the lesson. while learning the vocabulary, imperatives, and sentences in simple past, student are going to be assessed simoultaneusly. also there will be an evaluation of their product: the call to 911.

It will be done in class with a duration of 1 hour and a half.


Hello Elena, It's good to hear you have found the ELLU online courses so helpful. Regarding your lesson on calling 911, I really like the idea of using the newspaper to find instances of when we might call 911. Drawing from authentic materials is important. Good luck! Let us know how this lesson goes!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

I always start my class with a journal, it does not matter what the level of the student is. It's a way to see how much they know in regards of vocabulary,grammar structure, personal interest or worries, etc. I can see where I should start with each student trying to meet each individual need as much as possible. Also as time goes by, students can see how much they have grown in regards of vocabulary, grammar etc. They enjoy to see their growth. 

I would like to use the technique of asking my students what topics are priorities for the majority of them. We just had a hurricane coming by and before the hurricane they wanted to know vocabulary and important phrases and information about emergencies so we modify the class to fulfill this need. Then after the hurricane I asked to write about their hurricane experience and we had an oral discussion of what happened to them.

I feel that I need to work more closely in developing short and term goals with my students and to make sure that we agree on a measurable evidence with which they are comfortable with but that is challenging enough to reach his/her goals. I would also try to use more implicit error corrections with some students who are more sensitive to explicit corrections. I will also make sure that they will self-correct their class journals and write what grammar rule they are using, etc. 

Hello Ana, It's clear that you are sensitive to the needs of the learners in your class.I certainly hope everyone is safe after the recent hurricane in your area. I applaud your interest in helping students to set long and short term goals and supporting them to achieve those goals.

Good luck with your class!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

I appreciate the importance of incorporating formative assessment into every lesson, and I also appreciate the need for including a variety of assessments so that students remain interested. I do several of the assessments that Liz in the scenario does, but a few I would like to try are having one student review a vocabulary word and doing more dictation practice. From this online course so far, I have learned what a "feedback loop" is in teaching, though it turns out I was already familiar with the concept but not the term. This course is very informative so far, and I look forward to applying what I learn in my own classroom.

Hello Rachel, It's good to be affirmed for the things we are already doing and to be inspired to try out some new instructional practices. I'm glad you are finding the formative assessment course valuable.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

The "Liz" scenario was full of best---and very familiar---practices for a seasoned Adult ESL instructor.  Much of it was so familiar, including the culminating final project at the end of each thematic unit.  Some of the daily, informal assessments that instructors do have become such a part of the routine that he/she may be unaware that "Formative Assessment" is taking place.  For example, I routinely start class with "warm-up" cloze dialogues based on weather, events, or weekend activities; these dialogues review previous or introduce new grammar structures and vocabulary.  The least vocal students are encouraged to walk to the board to complete the cloze; we practice the dialogue together, and then everyone "mingles," using the dialogue; finally, individuals "report" on other classmates' responses.  This is formative assessment, as over the course of weeks or months, the instructor can observe (1) growing confidence in using English; (2) increasing knowledge of grammar; (3) areas needing improvement.  

One new idea I picked up from "Liz" would be focusing on one or two students in particular each class and monitoring their progress.  Great idea! 

Hi Kathryn, I agree that we teachers are doing formative assessment all the time rather automatically. It is so gratifying when we see learners' "growing confidence" and their "increasing knowledge" of the language." Plus, as you note, this ongoing assessment guides our next steps in teaching. Thank you for sharing your insights!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Englisih Langauge Acquisition CoP


(Re-posted under the proper "Group")


For beginning-level ESL learners, I might try to note the frequency of "deer in the headlights" expressions, blank looks, or non-responses when I'm speaking or asking questions.  (And of course I correspondingly slow down, simplify, and rephrase.)  The teaching of simple clarification phrases ("Excuse me..?") naturally come in here.

For more advanced learners, I stop and ask for a "recap" of what was just heard---calling on whole class, individuals, etc.  Likewise, it's telling if these recaps are accurate or totally off-mark.  I also provide a more complex list of clarification phrases ("Would you mind repeating that?  I didn't quite catch that," etc.) and explicitly practice those phrases.


At the lower levels, I'm mostly paying attention to content---Is the learner on-topic?  Do we understand the gist of what he/she is trying to say?  Are basic vocabulary words at his/her disposal?  Is there a growing development of "Subject + Verb" sentence structure?

At the upper levels, I expect not only appropriate content but more complexity.  Can the learner go into more detail?  Explain or paraphrase if we don't understand?  Is it a jumble of speech, or is there a clear idea that emerges?


The beginners often struggle with basic pronunciation issues - T/TH, SH/CH, M/N etc., depending upon L1.  I also teach intonation very explicitly at this level: "I'm fine.  How are YOU??" Over time, I am looking for "retention" of these patterns.

More advanced learners may have some fossilized pronunciation or intonation patterns which I try to address in a deliberate way.  When my upper-level students give oral presentations, the audience always has a note-taking task (to ensure active listening) and a question/answer session afterward; these activities really put the presenter's communication skills to the test---as peers are our best critics!


I will definitely use the first session or two for the same assessment procedures: I will use the results of the speaking activity (when and where you use English outside the classroom?) - group work - as the initial evaluation of my students' speaking skills. Also, it can be followed by the writing activity of having students write (independently) everything they have just discussed and use these writing samples as the initial evaluation of their writing skills. 

Asking students about their priorities in choosing topics for semester is a great idea!

I am actually using the same framework in creating my syllabus: 1) I identify my learning objectives; 2) I make smaller instructional decisions leading to my objectives; 3) I use each session as a building block for reaching my objectives. 


Real-world purpose: To hear accurately in order to avoid misunderstanding 

Listen for: Sounds, words, phrases 

I always use this activity after we studied new vocabulary (at the previous lesson). I alter it though: I call it "How many words do you hear?" So, I dictate simple sentences that contain new vocabulary: before students write them down, they have to tell me - how many words they hear. If you use this technique regularly, it really helps with developing their comprehension skills in everyday communication. 

Performance learning goal: State in writing future job goals and reasons for wanting this job.

Offer students 5 job postings (consider students professional/educational experience first).


Assessment Activity 1: FREE WRITING

Use it in the middle of the unit (Employment/ Work/ Jobs …)

Assessment Activity 2: COVER LETTER

Use it at the end of the unit

Specific Tasks

What do you want your future job to be?  (topic sentence, 5 reasons, conclusion) Consider your qualifications, interests, life goals, financial goals, where/what kind of employer/company you want to work for.


Write a cover letter as a response to a job posting (specific job) by following the structure of a cover letter: why you are writing, what you have to offer the employer, your knowledge of the employer, your closing.

Measuring Success

Small group work: choose the best writing (topic sentence, 5 reasons, conclusion) and present it to the class.

1. Ss write their cover letters;

2. T revises them and have Ss type them and print them out;

3. Small group work: “experts” on a job posting. Each group of experts reviews all cover letters on a specific job and choose the winner: the most convincing cover letter.



Can the student organize his or her thoughts in a coherent way?

I strongly believe that regardless of level, coherent way of speaking comes from coherent way of writing. When I realize that a student is struggling with organizing his/her thoughts in a coherent way, I

  1. encourage him/her to organize ideas in L1 first,
  2. have him/her (literally!) translate it into English (without using Google Translate),

(At this point, when I look at the writing, I can see what exactly the student is struggling with: since he/ she still think in L1, the way of organizing thoughts transfers into English; so, I know how to push the student toward “English way” of thinking.)

  1. help him/her correct the writing making sure it looks more “English”, and
  2. have him/her memorize the writing.

If it becomes a regular practice, the student will soon

  1. learn to organize his/her thoughts in the “English way” without using L1, and
  2. start SPEAKING fluently by unconsciously embedding some memorized structures into his/her speech.

I have been using the basic principles of Backward Design for at least 3 years. Backward Design is a very effective tool both in planning your syllabus and instruction; it really works the described way: you identify your (long-term) goals, choose the form of evidence, and plan your instruction through the whole semester. Individual sessions are short-term goal blocks.

Yes, it makes sense to ask students about their individual goals in studying English in the beginning of the semester. However, it is hard to embed all of them into your instruction. The paradox is that it’s easier to teach them something that YOU, the instructor, have planned, rather than teaching them what THEY think they need.

I have been using the basic principles of Backward Design for at least 3 years. Backward Design is a very effective tool both in planning your syllabus and instruction; it really works the described way: you identify your (long-term) goals, choose the form of evidence, and plan your instruction through the whole semester. Individual sessions are short-term goal blocks.

Yes, it makes sense to ask students about their individual goals in studying English in the beginning of the semester. However, it is hard to embed all of them into your instruction. The paradox is that it’s easier to teach them something that YOU, the instructor, have planned, rather than teaching them what THEY think they need.

Ideally we can negotiate the curriculum with learners so that we are focused on what they need and want while also informed by our teacher wisdom and knowledge of second language acquisition and best teaching practices..