Methods of Assessment
Accommodating Complete Beginners during a 60 minute Placement Test
It is important to detect who the complete beginners are, before leaving them with 60 minutes in which to complete an impossible task.
In an ideal world, language schools would know the names and host families of learners who have no previous knowledge of the English alphabet and would be able to send them directly to classrooms where teachers are equipped to focus on basic literacy. These classes need special resources, which would not be appropriate for learners who are already familiar with the Roman alphabet.
True beginners, who have no previous contact with the Roman alphabet, need to be taught in very small groups using materials such as those listed below or the free handwriting worksheets I have provided in the basic literacy section of this site. Plenty of teacher time, input and encouragement will be needed before these learners will be ready to progress to very elementary general course books such as:
- Headstart (a good foundation course for those needing a gentle pace)
- Classic English (simple English, good use of narrative and strong on cultural information) or
- English File 1 (a rich source of ideas for the teacher)
Schools ready to offer English to true beginners should have a bank of literacy materials to provide for their special needs and staff with experience in teaching basic literacy. There are good phonics handbooks on the market now that look and say methods alone have proved insufficient and phonics have undergone a revival. Although many of these materials are intended for children, they are a good source of ideas for developing your own worksheets for adults. The BBC is also a source of materials for adult literacy: e.g. BBC Adult Literacy Handbook edited by Chris Longley 1975 (amazon.co.uk listing).
Published handwriting practice materials
- Start By Writing - suitable for Arabic language backgrounds - John Naunton [88 pages: Longman 1985]
- Basic Handwriting in English - suitable for Arabic language backgrounds - Bernard Hartley & Peter Viney [62 pages: Nelson 1982]
- Handwriting: Work Book - Bright and Piggot [32 pages: Cambridge 1976]
- Handwriting: Teachers Book - Bright and Piggot [34 pages: Cambridge 1976]
- Practical Punctuation - Ian Gordon [80 pages Heinemann 1978]
- Collins Good Punctuation - Graham King [192 pages: Collins 2004]
For young learners
- Rainbow 2000: Beginning Handwriting Skills - young learners within an Arabic-world context [24 pages: Macmillan ELT 1991]
- English Punctuation (Usborne Better) - well illustrated rules and practice for young learners aged 12 to 16 [32 pages: Usborne 2003]
For small children
- Handwriting Skills: Copybooks (Paperback 1994) | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | - Christopher Jarman [32 pages: Nelson Thornes Ltd 1994]
- Learn Cursive Writing - Jillian Harker & Geraldine Taylor [32 pages: Ladybird 1994] - National Curriculum English Stage 1 (children)
- Learn Reading Skills - Jillian Harker & Geraldine Taylor [32 pages: Ladybird 1994] - National Curriculum English Stage 1 (children)
- Learn Phonic Spelling - Jillian Harker & Geraldine Taylor [32 pages: Ladybird 1994] - National Curriculum English Stage 1 (children)
- Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 1 - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1988 ]
- American Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 1 - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1990 ]
- Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 2 - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1988 ]
- American Get Ready!: Handwriting Book Level 2 - for very young children - Felicity Hopkins [32 pages: Oxford 1990 ]
Graded reader for beginners and elementary with practice exercises
Classroom activities and games to encourage reading and writing
The following materials were written with children in mind, though the tasks are functional and can easily be adapted to the needs of other age groups.
Many books about teaching writing focus on "what?" and "how?". Jill and Charles Hadfield believe that in order to encourage children or adults to write, lesson tasks should emphasize "who for?" and "why?".
- Simple Reading Activities - by Charles & Jill Hadfield [ 72 pages: Oxford Basics 2000]
30 activities at elementary level, complete with ideas for boardwork and pictures teachers can copy. All the activities are simple and adaptable. They are particularly well-suited to classrooms where there are few resources apart from a board, paper, and pens - and of course the teacher and the learners themselves.
- Simple Writing Activities - by Charles & Jill Hadfield [ 72 pages: Oxford Basics 2001]
The two Oxford Basics books (above) are organised into 30 useful topic areas eg. numbers, food and drink, describing people. Each book has the same format with units clearly laid out in the form of an actual lesson plan giving ideas for activities, checking comprehension, pronunciation points and follow-up activities.
- Reading Games - Photocopiable ELT Games and Activities by Charles & Jill Hadfield [114 pages: Longman Nelson 1995]
pairwork, small group and whole class games and activities, using reading texts from newspapers, magazines, notes, maps etc.
- Writing Games - Photocopiable ELT Games and Activities by Charles & Jill Hadfield [116 pages: Longman Nelson 1997]
contains descriptions, brainstorming, poems, story writing, postcard exchanges, etc. Review.
Literate, but very low level beginners
If learners are already familiar with the English alphabet, but are clearly very low-level beginners, it may still be unfair to make them suffer the same Placement Test that you give to others. As soon as it becomes apparent that these learners are struggling, another task could be given (i.e. a useful holding activity) instead of the test. Good schools will be equipped for this. As an alternative to the Placement Test, the back up kit could comprise:
- a very easy reader containing useful illustrations
- a gap-fill worksheet that matches the text of the reader and an audio-cassette containing the full spoken text.
The task might be to fill in the words omitted from the worksheet.
My own unpublished manuscript First Time In England was designed with these beginners and very elementary students in mind. The linguistic content and situations reflect the survival needs of a beginner or elementary student visiting England for the first time, attending a language school and staying in an English-speaking family. First Time In England is set on an incline of difficulty which rises with the level of progress I would expect a beginner (with knowledge of the Roman alphabet) to make if they were receiving 25 x 45 minute lessons per week over four weeks. I would not recommend a complete beginner to book a full-time course in an English Language School for less than 4 weeks.