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|Name of oral assessment task
|Description of a cycle
|EAL curriculum level range
|A2, B1, B2, B3, C1 , C2, C3
|Listening and responding/interaction and negotiation/oral presentation
|To assess students’ ability to describe a familiar diagram and known processes in a relatively formal academic context.
|Students review a diagram of a cycle relevant to their stage of schooling, such as the life cycle of a chicken, or the water cycle, and are asked to name the significant parts of the diagram, and describe what the diagram depicts.
|Assumed knowledge and description
1. Content knowledge: Familiarity with and understanding of a cycle relevant to the students’ ages and stages of schooling. For younger students this may be a life cycle of a familiar animal, for older students a natural cycle such as the water cycle. Students need to understand the main stages, and the nature of changes between different stages of the cycle, and relevant processes of changes between stages of the cycle.
2. Text type, genre: Formal spoken description of a natural cycle, with reference to a visual representation of the cycle being described.
3. Linguistic structures and features:
|Language centre/mainstream class
|Subject/key curriculum objectives, outcomes
Students should be given the diagram, and a few minutes to consider it and what they know about it, and then asked to give their spoken presentation, without rehearsal.
Time limit: five to seven minutes per student
Teacher intervention: Limited to response to student request for clarification, encouragement, or direct teacher question for clarification from student about any part of the diagram the student has not referred to.
Access to resources: The student being assessed has access to a copy of a diagram depicting the water cycle (at least A3 size).
Task procedure: (instructions for students) and stimulus/prompt: (rubric, visuals )
Give the students these instructions, in a format and style of language accessible for them. Provide support and scaffolding by pointing to particular parts of the diagram, or asking open or focused questions to elicit a description of the cycle from the students:
Look at the diagram and say whether you have seen something like this before, and whether you understand what it shows.
Study the diagram. for example, if using the water cycle, ask students to think about words that describe parts of the diagram and the things it shows. Think about how the diagram shows how water changes on the land, in rivers and seas, and in the air.
Discuss what the diagram shows, and how the water changes from liquid to gas.
Source: Cleland, B. & Evans, R. (1984) ESL Topic books: ESL Through General Science, Teacher’s Book, Melbourne, Longman Cheshiire.
Nature and purpose of the task
Home language: Burmese
Year level: Year 3
Home language: Burmese
This is also a quite heavily teacher scaffolded conversation following the same stages as in Sample 1. The student is quite communicative, despite some inadequacies in his control over grammatical structures. He is quite competent in turn taking and interaction with the teacher, nodding and giving feedback, and making appropriate eye contact with his conversational partner. He has a relatively wide range of vocabulary, but in describing the life cycle of the chicken, he uses short basic utterances this one here is laying, and turn into hen again which contain some grammatical errors. He uses simple present tense it turn into.., but omits the third person singular ‘s’, and present continuous it’s laying (again possibly influenced by the form of the word on some of the cards), but makes some errors, including sometimes omitting the auxiliary verb in present continuous, it hatching.
When the conversation moves to the diagram of the water cycle he is also not really daunted by his limited topic specific vocabulary, describing parts of the diagram by pointing to them and using pronouns such as it go up here. There is a similar pattern of verb errors as in the earlier parts of the conversation. He has more vocabulary river, ocean, clouds, warm, than the students in Sample 1, and uses the term recycling to flesh out his explanations. He also attempts a statement to describe the overall process it tell us how the rain come.
The student’s pronunciation is very intelligible, with only a hint of an accent influenced by his home language.
The marked criteria sheet shows that his performance of the task is mostly at level 2 on the criteria sheet. However, some problems with subject-verb agreement are consistent with level 1 descriptors, while his pronunciation meets the level 4 descriptor.
The student’s English language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level B2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Year level: Year 2 (both students)
Home language: Burmese
Because of the young age of these Year 2 students, the teacher restricts this conversation to life cycles the students are familiar with, and doesn’t use the water cycle. The conversation begins with some questions about the mealworms the students currently have in the classroom – as well as in the staff room refrigerator! A series of questions elicits the students understanding of the changes in the mealworm life cycle, but it is not discussed as explicitly as a cycle before pictures of the life cycle of the chicken are introduced.
The students are quite fluent in describing the life cycle of the chicken. They have quite a broad range of vocabulary to describe the cycle, Student B, lay egg, Student A, … and some turn to a rooster. They consistently use simple present to describe the actions, but make some errors with first person singular ‘s’. However, as they often speak of third person plural they, this is not a major problem most of the time. The idea of a cycle, as a circle, is introduced at this part of the conversation. They are very fluent and motivated in interaction with the teacher, giving enthusiastic and quite fluent responses to questions, such as when talking about the mealworms in the fridge, activities, as when they sequence the pictures of the chicken life cycle, and explanations, as when Student B explains the chicken life cycle.
Their pronunciation is very intelligible and fluent throughout the conversation.
The marked criteria sheet for this sample shows that this performance is mostly captured at level 2, while their pronunciation is consistent with the level 4 descriptors.
The students’ English language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level A2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Year level: Year 7
Home language: Italian
The conversation begins with the teacher requesting the student explain the diagram, without any further direction or focus. The student responds with a long turn, in which he describes the main features and processes of the water cycle. He begins with a general statement about the cycle, describes the parts of the diagram and cycle, and finished with a statement about the nature of the cycle. The teacher then refers to particular parts of the diagram to elicit further more detailed explanation about particular parts of the process, which the student answers.
This student has control of much more technical vocabulary than the younger students, although his pronunciation breaks down to some extent in trying to say precipitation. This student shows good control of subject-verb agreement and tenses as he provided his explanation. He also uses adverbials to sequence the processes, at first, then. At times he lacks vocabulary or structures to say what he wants to, but he uses strategies like naming places, Alaska and Egypt to show his intended meaning, which is something like ‘the position in the world’ or ‘the latitude of a place’. He is also able to directly state when he is unsure of the answer to a question he is asked. However, he is still partly dependent on teacher scaffolding to give an explanation of all details of the cycle.
While his pronunciation is quite intelligible, there are some noticeable influences of his L1 on his production of sounds, and often in his stress and rhythm, such as incorrectly stressing the final consonant in condensed.
The marked criteria sheet shows his performance of the task is mostly consistent with the descriptors at level 3, although his pronunciation meets the level 2 descriptor.
The student’s English language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level 2, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Year level: Year 7
Home language: Greek
As in video Sample 4, the conversation begins with a request from the teacher for the student to explain the diagram. She does this in a long description in which she explains the diagram using quite academic language, including terminology like radiates, precipitates and transpires. She loses some fluency when she struggles with the pronunciation of precipitate. The teacher then asks some questions about the different parts of the description, but the focus of the questions is mainly to elicit from the students more everyday terms, like rain, for some of the more technical terms she has used, like precipitation. Some questions also ask for more detailed description of parts of the explanation, like transpiration. She does this on the whole, but some scaffolding is needed to assist her in doing this. Her grammar is generally accurate in the different stages of the conversation, and her pronunciation is intelligible and clear, despite a slight L1 accent.
While she gives a reasonable explanation of the cycle in a long turn, her use of academic language she is still partially dependent on the teacher scaffolding to fully explain details of parts of the process.
The marked criteria sheet for this sample shows the student meets the description of communication and pronunciation at level 3, and others at level 4.
The student’s English language use in this task is consistent with the descriptions of students at Level C3, Victorian Curriculum F-10 EAL.
Using this assessment for further learning
1. Subject-verb agreement
The following procedure would be useful for students who make noticeable errors with subject-verb agreement.
- Remind students of the following patterns
I go; You go; It, she or he goes; We go, They go.
I fall; You fall: She, he or it falls; We fall; They fall.
I change; You change; Water changes; We change; They change.
- Build on this basic pattern to remind the students of significant forms that should be used in the cycle(s) they have described, such as:
Hens lay eggs; The hen lays an egg. The egg hatches, the eggs hatch,. Water vapour condenses. Mealworms grow; the chicken grows.
- Ask the students to build a written list of the subject and verbs they should use in their descriptions. (This needs to done in way that is suitable for the age of the learners. e.g. as game for younger children, as matching exercise for older students).
- Ask the students to watch or listen to their explanation, and note where they both make errors, and get right the subject-verb agreement in what they say.
- Ask them to repeat the explanation, being careful to get subject-verb agreement correct in what they say.
(Audio recording may help student to separate the focus on production and focus on monitoring this involves.)
2. Using present tense or present simple to describe what is shown in a picture.
- Explain the practices and contrast between the way we use simple present to describe things that are true, e.g. eggs hatch, chickens grow, water evaporates, water vapor condenses, rain falls. Contrast that with how we use present continuous to describe something in a picture, when the picture is in view and being referred to, e.g. the egg is hatching, water is evaporating, rain is falling.
- Ask the students to refer to the picture they have used as the prompt for their description of the cycle.
First point to the relevant parts of the diagram, and describe what is happening, talking about the picture, and using the present continuous.
- Next, ask the students to describe the cycle, without reference to the picture, using the simple present. Explain that they are now describing something that is always true, without referring to a specific picture or diagram. (With younger children this might involve getting them to match sentences with pictures and highlighting verbs.)
Technical and everyday words.
For younger children:
- A two-way activity for younger children to match pictures and sentences. One child has the pictures and one child has word cards with the technical words and they work together to put the cycle in order. E.g. one child says first the chicken lays the egg, the other student then finds the picture of the relevant part of the cycle and so on.
For students at more advanced stages of learning who may be expected to use technical terminology:
- Make a list, matching technical terms and everyday language, relevant to their cycle. Make the list as comprehensive as possible.
- Put the students in pairs.
- Ask the students to explain their cycle to their partner, first in technical language, like they would to their teacher, or an expert who knows about these things.
- Next, ask them to explain the cycle to their partner, assuming their partner not to be a technical person (such as friend, a younger brother or sister, or even their parents), using everyday language, so they can make their explanation as simple and clear as possible.
- Partners alternate in each type of presentation.
- Information gap type activities using missing everyday words or academic language could be used. E.g. one student has the cycle in the academic language and the other has it in the everyday language and they need to match the synonyms.