ESL Development 7: Grading a talk or oral activity

"Marianne Raynaud deals with questions related to how we should grade oral work. All the material comes from "QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book 2.0". Stimulating and unbiased testing of oral skills can be hugely motivating for the students.

Marianne Raynaud

We will now deal with questions related to how we should grade oral work. Stimulating and unbiased testing of oral skills can be hugely motivating for the students.

We have already insisted that the essential aspect of our work is to teach "language" so that students can partake with pleasure in the activities we propose. Language skills should be practiced regularly and thoroughly. We cannot expect students to perform correctly if they are not given the "linguistic tools" they need. Language acquisition is the bottom line for students to become operational!

Grading a Talk—A Difficult Task

A colleague recently wrote me to ask how she should grade a talk. She wondered whether "content", "fluency," "accent," and "spontaneity when answering questions" were good criteria. This is what I answered.

Evaluating by Using a Grid

It is a very delicate task to grade talks fairly, as there is always an element of subjectivity. You can use a grid like the one I developed for 12-minute talks plus workshops. It is very detailed and perhaps too complicated to be user-friendly—but it can be shown to students to give them an idea of the criteria being evaluated. If you do use it, chances are it will give the students a good idea of what they did right and what needs to be improved.

PDF - 59 kb
Talk Evaluation Grid

Grading by Using Questions

With my team of teachers, we elaborated questions which we applied in our evaluation. I encourage the teacher to print them in their students’ booklets so that student can use this checklist when preparing:

  • Did they speak without notes and with only keywords on the visuals? (Reading a paper was an obvious fail.)`
  • Could we easily understand what the speakers were saying?
  • Was their English correct? In other words, did they use the appropriate language (i.e. the right tenses, prepositions, adverbs, .etc)?
  • Did the topic they chose interest most of the students?
  • Did they alternate speaking throughout the talk?
  • Did they look at the audience while speaking?
  • Did they appear friendly and enthusiastic—even when their partner was speaking?
  • Did they use the language presented in the instructions?
  • Were all their handouts well presented and interesting?
  • Had they asked their teacher to correct the handouts ahead of time and were these perfect when distributed in class?
  • Did they answer the questions put to them without getting annoyed or acting impolitely?
  • Did they animate the group well at the end during the "Workshop"?
  • Did they choose stimulating activities for the "Workshop"?
  • Did they get everyone to participate?
  • Was there good teamwork among the speakers?

Very Detailed Instructions

The best way to assure the success of a talk is to help the students before their performance. If you give advice, show by example, and correct student work prior to a talk, then you can sit back and ENJOY! And give the high grades the students deserve for all their work!

The trick is to give very detailed instructions. We printed ours in the booklets, and the students knew that if they did all we expected of them, they would get a good or very good grade. In the version of QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book , you will find files with explanations and advice that you can customize to suit your specific needs..

Giving a Talk is Not an Easy Activity

Giving a talk can be a very stimulating experience for learners—an experience that they will never forget. Usually, students put a great deal of work into preparing, and the actual presentation can be tough on their nerves. That’s why we must be very careful with the evaluation. My colleagues and I realized how difficult it was to give a good talk, so the grades we gave were generally high—if our students had followed the instructions. I think it is better to grade written work severely and be more "generous" with oral work. You want to encourage the type of autonomous work involved in preparing a talk as well as build up their confidence. Public speaking is one of our top fears, and it is even worse when you must perform in a foreign language you are learning. It is easy to criticize, but being creative and appealing to an audience can be most challenging.

Grades Must Reflect Your Commentaries

One last point: be sure you give a grade equivalent to your comments. The French system is based on a perfect score of 20 and a passing score of 10:

Excellent: 18 or more (19, 20)

Very good: 16

Good: 14

Quite good: 12

Just passing: 10

Weak: 8

Very weak; 6

Insufficient: 4 or less

If you say a talk is "very good," you must give an equivalent grade, in the case of an English course in France that would be 16. If a talk (or any written work for that matter) is near perfect, it deserves a "20." French teachers will never give a grade of "20" for any work, but I feel we should give high or very high grades when the students have met all the requirements and spoken beautiful English for over twenty minutes while explaining their topic and animating the class.

In QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book 2.0 you will find pages of explanations and advice for the students. There are also examples of student outlines. Giving learners the opportunity ahead of time to see what others have done and what we expect of them is a good strategy. Very often students will produce materials that are even better than those they have been shown. And listening to students speaking near faultless English always gives us teachers enormous pleasure.

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