Reporting Student Progress

Evaluating Students’ Work

An important part of any evaluation system is the manner in which information is reported to students, parents, teachers and administrators as it relates to the communicative performance of students during the course of a lesson, a unit, a semester, or the entire year. Moreover, it is equally important that reporting instruments be reflective of the philosophy predicated by the program of studies, in addition to being congruent with the manner in which students have been evaluated. Therefore, all evaluative instruments and reporting procedures need to mirror each other in order that the same type of information is transmitted. In this sense, reporting procedures will need to provide information which has been derived from evaluation instruments which have measured the language skills both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Nevertheless, the methods used for reporting student progress will vary, either by the school jurisdictions’ evaluation policy and/or the grade level of the student. However, student progress does not necessarily need to be limited to a mark. Anecdotal reporting procedures provide another alternative to quantitative grading, by describing to parents what a student can do in French. Observation or objectivation charts are excellent tools which can be used effectively for reporting student progress on a continual basis or anecdotal reports can be prepared for report card use. Below are two examples of anecdotal reports which could be written on the comments section of a report card. These comments are based on formal observations and on the completion of a particular communicative task.

This type of information is useful to parents as it provides them with insight as to what kinds of concrete activities the students are carrying out in the classroom. However, most schools will expect teachers to prepare a formal mark (letter grade or percentage) which is based on a number of evaluation activities, including the final mark on educational projects and the accompanying listening, reading, writing and speaking activities of these projects. In fact, this mark will more than likely be based on a wide sampling of student work and will need to be balanced out so that it properly reflects the amount of time spent on each language skill.

However, in order to provide students with a better understanding of their language development, other forms of reporting need to be provided. This involves assessment procedures which go beyond the standard notation format (e.g., percentages) and are composed of a variety of evaluative instruments which provide students with information on their progress over the course of the school year. In order to carry out this type of assessment successfully, it is important to formalize an evaluation plan which identifies how the data will be gathered and the recording procedures which will be used to quantify and qualify this information. These assessment procedures can be carried out in a number of ways. One of these is through the use of task-based assessments which principally judge students’ performance by means of criteria, indicating what they know and how well they are be to apply this knowledge. Other formats include self-, peer evaluations and portfolio assessment. Assessment of this sort focuses on learning and student success. Moreover, it also assists teachers, students, parents and administrators in identifying the students’ weaknesses in a more positive fashion and in turn, facilitating in the identification of more effective teaching and learning strategies. This can result in student improvement in these areas and help decrease the chances of learning deficiencies remaining undetected.

A reporting procedure which is becoming increasingly popular as a means of discussing students’ progress is through the use of portfolios and language competency profiling. A portfolio involves the organized collection of a variety of examples of students’ work in the four language skill areas which is illustrative of the attainment of instructional objectives and performance-based outcomes. The examples are also accompanied by an analysis and description of each piece of work for two purposes:

  • 1) to relate to students important information regarding their success in different areas and
  • 2) to provide diagnostic information to future teachers regarding the students’ language proficiency.

The portfolio, then, contains examples of how students are demonstrating their oral and written comprehension in a variety of texts and examples of what students are capable of doing orally and in written form. Thus, portfolios represent the “students’ language learning journey” (Powell) as they progress through the proficiency levels and are made up of selections of the students’ most representative works and not every piece of student work.

The annotated descriptions which accompany the portfolios are given in holistic terms which inform students, parents, and any other interested parties of the range of authentic communicative tasks which the students are capable of carrying out and to what degree. In addition, the portfolio illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the students’ abilities as they relate to each of the language skills and the components of the program of studies. Portfolios also include students’ reflections on their own work and may include parental feedback if so desired. Including students’ participation in the development and maintenance of the portfolio requires students to actively participate in the learning process and the acquisition of the language skills. Portfolios also allow students the autonomy to decide what should be contained in their portfolio as a means of making them more accountable for their own learning. Thus, the use of portfolios provides teachers, students and parents with an overview of what has been accomplished in terms of students’ learning over a period of time and promotes active student participation and responsibility in the learning process.

The advantage of portfolio assessment is that the language samples can be used for placement as well as diagnostic purposes. In addition, this type of assessment demonstrates to students, and others who wish to view the portfolio, the progress which has been made in concrete terms, as opposed to the sole reliance on a mark for information. This can be quite motivating for students, because they can trace their progress from the beginning to the end of the school year, or semester, or from year to year. It also allows them access to their own communicative growth, so that they can see how the same communicative tasks can be carried out at different language levels and how the same tasks will vary in their richness and precision as students move along the levels’ continuum. This information should be shared not only with students, but also with parents, other teachers, administrators and future employers as an indication of the students’ language proficiency as it relates to the program.

The process of incorporating a portfolio assessment procedure into an already established evaluation plan can often be a complex and arduous task, which takes time and careful planning, but once in place, becomes a routine rather than a burden. However, in order for portfolios to have educational value, an organized system for gathering examples of student work and a marking schema must be in place from the start. Students must be informed right from the beginning as to what will be contained in the portfolio and what criteria will be used to judge the portfolio. Students also need to know the reason behind the use of portfolios and how they fit into the entire evaluation schema; i.e., what value is being attributed to the portfolio, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in relation to other summative evaluation instruments, such as the marking of assignments and tests. Further, they need to be informed of the fact that portfolios can also be used for placement purposes as it relates to the next proficiency level. Thus, it is very important to determine the role of the portfolio and to indicate to the students how the portfolio will be evaluated and used to inform others of their progress and language development.

To facilitate the assessment of the portfolio, a “Language Competency Profile” can be used to describe what students are capable of doing in each of the four language skills and to what degree. It provides a global picture of students’ language performance as it relates to the learner objectives of the program of studies. If necessary, the global statements can be quantified using a rubric system which will further define whether the students are performing at the desired level or not. “Language Competency Profiles” can also be used for each language skill. In this way, they can be used for diagnostic or reporting purposes such that they can detail the students’ strengths and indicated areas which are in need of improvement for a particular language skill. What is most important to bear in mind, though, is that portfolios can consume a lot of time in their evaluation if evaluation checklists are not prepared beforehand and a maximum amount of time is allocated to their evaluation. Thus, the use of portfolios must be planned for in advance otherwise its use can become a harrowing experience for both the teacher and the students. However, if portfolio use is well planned, it can become an enriching experience for all.

What follows are examples of how student data can be profiled for assessment purposes. The first example (Figure 20) illustrates how a teacher could write a profile for a particular skill, in this case oral production, based on data gathered from a formal evaluative situation. One reason for reporting students’ progress in this manner, may be to assist a student in gaining confidence with the language in a way that is less threatening than a mark. Or, it can be used in addition to the mark, so that students can see where they are doing well and what areas need to be improved. Or, the profile could be sent home so that the teacher could communicate to the student’s parents how their child did in a particular communicative situation as a means of reporting student progress in between formal report card periods. Although Figure 20 is presented in a qualified manner, language competency profiling can be quantified in terms of percentages or through the use of a point system. This decision will need to be taken by the teacher in keeping with school jurisdiction requirements.

The second example demonstrates how a year-end language competency profile may be written so as to provide information on placement for the following year, in addition to describing the degree of attainment of the level as it relates to the achievement standard (Figure 21). This type of reporting can be valuable for the students, their parents, other teachers and administrators, especially in the case of placement. This information defines, in clear terms, what the student is capable of doing in all four language skills and in relation to the objectives of the program of studies.

As the examples will demonstrate, reporting student progress is no longer limited to a mark; rather, it requires that a number of different methods be used in order to inform students of their progress, to let them know where their strengths lie and to indicate what areas are in need of improvement. This form of reporting, then, will assist students in not only improving their ability to use the language, but will increase their confidence and motivate them to learn.

Formative Evaluation Techniques

Evaluating Students’ Work

Formative or as it is sometimes referred to informal student evaluation is an integral and ongoing part of the learning process and needs to be a part of one’s daily classroom routine in order to provide students with valuable feedback on their learning. Some of the evaluation techniques presented in this section can be carried out on a daily basis (ongoing evaluation techniques) whereas others will have to be specifically planned for when unit/educational project plans are being made. Various techniques will be described and suggestions as to how they can be carried out and when it is appropriate to use them will also be provided. Figure 9 provides an overview of these different techniques and how they relate to different steps in the instructional process.


Observation is an important formative evaluation technique, since it gives students direct access to information regarding their learning and language development. This technique involves teachers in playing the role of facilitator by freely providing individual guidance and error correction as the students interact in both communicative and experiential/communicative activities. This type of technique can be easily integrated into daily teaching practices as it can be applied immediately to any situation to provide students with information on their progress on a continual basis.

Observations can be done informally or formally, depending on what kind of data the teacher wishes to gather. Informal observations do not involve a recording process; rather, students are given immediate feedback on their learning, either in the form of praise, encouragement or error correction. Informal observation practices allow teachers to evaluate both the learning activity and the students’ performance by ascertaining whether or not the designated activity is unfolding as it should and whether or not the students have the sufficient linguistic elements required to carry out the task. This is done by listening to individual or group language samples to determine if students are on track. If sufficient numbers of students are experiencing difficulty then adjustments can be made to the activity or the task. Teachers can also focus their attention on individual students by supplying these students with the help they require in order to carry out the activity. Another important aspect of this technique involves providing students with language correction to ensure that students are using the language they have learned as accurately as possible. When students are being observed using the language it is important to know when it is appropriate to provide students with linguistic corrections which will foster their language use and not discourage them to take risks. In essence, this technique, when used informally, allows teachers to encourage students to tolerate ambiguity and to take risks, by praising them for their efforts and giving them constructive feedback on their language knowledge in an environment which is positive and where errors are considered a part of learning.

Observations can also be carried out in more formal ways. Checklists or observation charts, which are based on either general or specific learner objectives, are used as a means of formally providing students with information on their learning. These checklists can be maintained and carried out periodically in order to monitor students’ language development over the course of the year. This observation data can be used by teachers to inform parents and administrators of how the students are progressing. Or, for reporting purposes, this data can provide teachers with additional information which can be used in the writing up of students’ language proficiency profiles.

Record-keeping can be done when students are working in pairs or as they are working in small groups such as in a cooperative learning activity. It is not necessary to evaluate every student all at once; rather, one group can be done in one class period and others in different classes, providing that the checklist provides that kind of flexibility. An observation checklist or chart is developed, based on what kind of information is to be shared with the learners. Thus, an observation checklist can be very general in nature, if the information is pertaining to a student’s overall performance for a given level (as shown in Figure 10) or more specific, if the type of information is dealing with a student’s ability to perform a given task (Figure 11), or it can be tied to specific language learning strategies (Figure 12), which will be observed during the entire course of the year. The checklists should be written up in such a way that both students and parents can easily understand what has been observed. Therefore, it is important to leave a section for writing comments which can be used to provide more precise information relating to the student’s knowledge, abilities and attitudes.

Formal observations play an important role in language development in that they can be used for diagnosing students’ strengths and their weaknesses. This information can then be shared with each student or their parents as a basis for a discussion on the student’s language performance. Further, these observations can become the basis for anecdotal reporting if required. This data gathering process can also assist teachers in making instructional decisions as to whether the students are ready to continue on or whether they require more work on a specific linguistic element or language task. Therefore, this form of evaluation is a powerful means of gathering data for both instructional and evaluative purposes and is one which is easily incorporated both formally and informally.

Error Correction

This technique is an important part of ensuring that students will be able to use the language with precision. Yet, teachers face the dilemma of deciding between promoting spontaneity in communicative growth and encouraging accuracy of expression. In this light, the resulting question becomes, if errors are totally ignored, then, will they become fossilized; i.e., will the grammatical rules and language structures that are stored incorrectly in memory remain that way (see Selinker, 1972 for more information on this process)? However, the other side of the coin becomes, when I decide to correct what should the role of error correction be in the classroom? The answers to these two questions are not easy ones and will depend largely on the nature of the task and the learning situation. Nevertheless, the decision to correct students’ errors should not be taken lightly; rather, teachers need to be aware of the consequences of too much correction or too little and to develop their own personal philosophy which coincides with good instructional practices and the objectives of the program of studies.

Consequently, in the context of a multidimensional curriculum, teachers need to be aware that error correction is no longer limited to linguistic code corrections, but includes more subtle and indirect methods such as providing students with language learning strategies which will assist them in improving their ability to understand and communicate in French. Error correction also involves finding ways in which to encourage students to develop their language skills while at the same time applying their linguistic, cultural and strategic knowledge in as precise a manner as possible.

When students are working on communicative or experiential/communicative activities, teachers will need to find helpful and unobtrusive ways to guide students in accurately clarifying their communicative intents. In these situations, error correction should not be primarily focused on pronunciation and accuracy of specific linguistic elements, as this can become disruptive and threatening for students as they are attempting to convey personal meaning while at the same time trying to sustain the communication. In these instances, teachers need to be judicious when correcting students and should resort to techniques such as providing the student with the correct word or linguistic form if the comprehension of the message is being impeded by these factors. Or, teachers can verify students’ intent by paraphrasing or repeating what they have said or by questioning them in much the same way as would be done in natural discourse in order to facilitate the comprehension of the message.

Further, before students are asked to understand or produce something, they might be given checklists to use along with the activity or task, in order to encourage them to reflect upon the way in which they are going to plan for learning or to use reference materials, such as their notes or dictionaries which will assist them in achieving this precision. In addition, students can be given certain language formulae which they can use for asking for assistance. In all these cases, students are given the opportunity to learn and to develop the language in a non-threatening manner. As such, the teacher’s role is that of facilitator and coach whose primary task is to encourage students to use their language knowledge to understand and express themselves to the best of their ability.

However, error correction can also occur in a more controlled fashion. In this case, teachers will need to pay particular attention to the way in which students are using the language both orally and in written form. In these situations, students are more than likely working on contextualized linguistic activities which will assist them in learning how to manipulate a certain grammatical structure. When students are involved in these types of activities it is important to note, on a consistent basis, what it is the students are doing in order to provide then with immediate feedback regarding the accurate use of the structure. This is a vital step in ensuring that students will be able to properly store the structures for use in real-life communicative tasks.

Therefore, the most important aspect to bear in mind with error correction is that it needs to be seen as a valuable part of the learning process and a needed element for the acquisition of the language. Furthermore, error correction needs to be carried out in an accepting and supportive environment so that learners feel that making a mistake is not something to avoid, but, rather, is a natural part of language hypotheses testing. Effective error correction, then, assists students in becoming better language learners who are willing to tolerate ambiguity and to take risks.


Even at the very beginning stages of language teaching/learning, teachers are encouraged to use the target language as much as possible. In this way, each class will involve further development of listening comprehension skills as teachers carry out direct instruction, learning activities or classroom procedures. To further enhance this development, teachers will also need to use, on a consistent basis, a verification procedure which involves paying careful attention to what students are saying and doing and how they are reacting to a particular learning activity. By verifying how students are functioning with the instructional process, teachers are able to begin a new activity, to continue the current one they are working on or to stop to rephrase instructions and redirect students’ attention in order to ensure that all students are actively engaged in what is going on in the classroom. Teachers can also confirm if students have understood instructions for a class activity by asking verification questions such as: “A quelle page es-tu?”, “Qu’est-ce que vous devez faire?”, Est-ce que tout le monde est prêt?”, “Est-ce que vous avez compris?”, “Avez-vous des questions?”, or by asking students to paraphrase instructions either in French or English. In this way, teachers can ascertain that all students will be able to actively participate in the learning activity.

When students start group work, teachers can begin verification procedures by asking a quick question to the group or by listening attentively for a moment to verify that students are on task. This type of technique will usually provide sufficient evidence that students have understood what it is they are supposed to do. Continuous verification is necessary to monitor classroom dynamics and to ascertain that both the teacher and students are always “on the same wavelength”. Thus, this type of formative evaluation can assist teachers in providing them with immediate feedback as to how the lesson is proceeding in order to determine if any quick changes will be warranted so as to meet the needs of the students. It is also an efficient means of determining who is experiencing difficulty so as to be able to assist this student in becoming an active member of the class, without singling out any particular student. Finally, it is possible to easily incorporate this technique on an ongoing basis, and it is an effective means of keeping students attentive and on task.


This form of evaluation involves the act of reviewing what has been learned during an activity, a class, or a unit/project. It is recommended that teachers involve students in reflection activities on a regular basis in order to obtain feedback on the learning that has taken place. This type of evaluation is an opportunity for teachers to verify the perceptions of students, to review what they have been doing and to determine to what extent they have learnt the material being presented. For teachers, this kind of feedback provides the input required to make revisions so as to meet students’ needs. As for the students, this type of evaluation can help to acknowledge their efforts and to give them confidence to continue taking risks with the language.

Reflection/feedback activities can take place at specific points in the unit/project or during closure activities at the end of a class. They can be as simple as a discussion of the learning activities carried out during the class or they can relate to the lesson plans for the next day. Such a discussion could involve teachers in asking students what they did in class that day so as to review not only the content covered but the language skills developed and to discuss how they can use this knowledge in the development of their unit/project or other communicative situations.

Another form of feedback could involve teachers and students in talking about how a particular set of learning activities that will be carried out during the course of the next day or days will be tied to learning activities that they are presently working on so as to assist the students in developing a mental and written framework. A brainstorming activity could be carried out in which a semantic map is created so that students now have a visual image of what progress they will be making at the end of specific points in the project. As each class goes by, students can add the activities they have been carrying out to the framework in order to be able to view the progress they have made in their language development. Brief discussions as to the success of each activity can also be carried out in order that students develop the ability to reflect upon their work and attribute value to what it is they are doing. These are only a few of the kinds of activities which can be carried out, but in essence, all of these types of activities will provide students with an opportunity to think about what is they have been learning as a means of developing metacognitive learning strategies. As can be seen, this form of evaluation involves students in becoming directly involved in their learning and helps them to take responsibility for what they have learned.

This technique is also quite simple to incorporate into one’s daily teaching practices and, as has been demonstrated by the examples given above, an effective means of making transitions between classes. However, it does need to be planned for so that teachers can obtain information from the students which will assist them in being able to determine the effectiveness of the lesson or unit/ educational project so that further instructional decisions can be taken to meet the needs of individual students or groups of students, such as the development of remediation or enrichment activities.

Self-Assessment/Assessment by Peers

Self assessment, or self-evaluation as it if often called, is a technique which provides students with the opportunity to reflect upon the degree to which they believe they can perform a given task. Or, it can be used to allow students to reflect upon their general behaviour as it pertains to the learning of the language. In essence, this technique involves students in judging for themselves the degree to which they have progressed in the acquisition of the language. This type of reflective process can provide students with the opportunity to develop more self-confidence with the language as they are being given the chance to think about how well they are able to carry out a task prior to being evaluated summatively. If, at this stage, they continue to be unsure of themselves, they can ask for assistance in order to be able to improve in those areas in which they are experiencing difficulty. This moment of reflection, then, can motivate students to do better by being more confident in themselves.

Self-evaluations can be administered at any given time during the instructional process, but it is always useful to do so just prior to the presentation of the cumulative task in the unit/educational project so that students may be given the opportunity to think about how successful they will be in carrying out the task. However, self-evaluations should be used sparingly as students will soon grow tired of the same routine. In this sense, it is recommended that self-assessment procedures be administered no more than three to four times a year so that students can truly feel as though they have progressed.

Self-evaluation checklists are created in terms of what students are expected to be able to do and are derived from a specific unit’s objectives or they can be written based on desired student behaviours. They can include as many columns as necessary for the self-assessment, in addition to a comments column which will allow the teacher an important opportunity to also reflect upon what the students see as their progress. The checklists need to be written in such a way that they encourage students to indicate the degree to which they can perform the various tasks. Older students may indicate their degree of success according to a predetermined scale, whereas younger children can indicate satisfactory or unsatisfactory performance through symbols such as happy/unhappy faces. Figure 13 is one example of how students might assess themselves in relation to a task and Figure 14 is an example of how students might assess desired behaviours.

Self-assessments, then, can also serve as an important mechanism for opening andialogue between the teacher and students or the teacher and parents as it provides a basis from which to discuss certain concerns the teacher may have already noted in the student’s language development. Using the students’ selfassessments may also help confirm for some students that they are in fact experiencing difficulty with a certain aspect of the unit/educational project so that further instruction can be carried out to address these needs.

Therefore, self-assessments can be used in a number of ways which allow students to self-diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, in addition to providing valuable information to the teacher concerning the students’ selfconcept and learning needs.

Peer evaluation is another means of obtaining valuable information on student progress. Instead of assessing themselves prior to their presentation, the students can have their peers verify the degree to which they can perform the required task. As indicated above, these checklists can also be based on the specific unit’s objectives or they can be based on desired student behaviours. The purpose of peer evaluation is to also give students the opportunity to obtain feedback from another source before being evaluated summatively. This process also develops valuable strategies such as being able to point out errors in another person’s work, to work cooperatively with a peer and also to selectively attend to the task by being actively involved in assisting peers to edit their work.

Peer evaluations can also be used to actively engage students in their peers’ oral presentations. In this form of peer evaluation, students are asked to give their opinion on the presentations (see Figure 15). The benefit of this type of evaluation is that it can assist students in taking more responsibility for their work by giving their best performance. However, Once again, it is recommended that this form of evaluation be used sparingly as it could also intimidate some students into not wanting to perform at all.

In essence, then, these two techniques can be used to obtain other forms of information on students’ language development and acquisition.


Objectivation is an evaluation process that encourages students to step back from their work and reflect on the learning that has taken place. This technique can be carried out as either a teacher-led discussion or through the completion of a checklist. In this process students are involved in examining objectively what they have learned (knowledge, skills, attitudes, or strategies) and whether they have been able to apply what they have learned to the task at hand.

Objectivations, done either individually or as a class, can help in determining what was successful, what was unsuccessful, and how learning can be improved. This technique differs from self-assessment in that students must think about what it is they have learned and analyze it in terms of whether or not they have been able to apply it. On the other hand, self-assessment asks students to reflect upon how well they think they know what they have learned by using a rating scale to qualify their degree of success. The strength of the objectivation process, then, lies in the fact that it is carried out in a non-threatening manner by giving students the opportunity to assess their own work before it is formally evaluated. Furthermore, objectivations help students develop important metacognitive strategies such as self-monitoring and self-correction.

Objectivation checklists can be developed directly from the learner objectives for a specific task or unit. Each element that is to be included in the preparation of the task is listed and the necessary instructions for the completion of the checklist are also given. The use of yes/no is the usual format (see Figure 16).

Objectivation checklists, such as Figure 16, can be given to the students at the beginning of a unit or educational project in order to direct their planning and to guide their learning during the instructional/learning sequence. This encourages students to take greater responsibility for their learning and to further develop strategies which will lead them to become more autonomous learners. Moreover, the objectivation process assists students in acknowledging whether or not all the necessary steps leading to the successful completion of the task have been covered. By going through each step, students are given the chance to improve the quality of their work and to feel more successful in what they are doing. In the beginning, though, students will need to carry out this technique with the assistance of the teacher and will need to be encouraged to take on this task by themselves.

Objectivations also provide the means for a discussion between the teacher and the students in those cases where students have not understood what may have gone wrong in the carrying out of the task. Through the use of an objectivation checklist, the teacher and students can revisit the task by discussing each step needed to carry it out and together pointing out any steps which may not have been performed. This process assists students, then, in seeing where they have been successful and unsuccessful, in addition to becoming aware of the value of using the objectivation process as a means of verifying that one has indeed followed every step. By going through this process, students will become more cognizant of the importance of the use of objectivation as a means of verifying one’s work.

Finally, objectivation grids can also provide teachers with useful information in their preparation of anecdotal comments for report cards, in that objectivations can indicate what students can do successfully and what needs more work. The data gathered from objectivations can be transferred to teacher notes so that more explicit information can be reported to both students and parents as it relates to the students’ language development and acquisition.

In essence, this section has discussed a number of ways in which students can be given feedback on their work. It is important for teachers to determine which of these techniques can be incorporated into their daily teaching practices in order to provide students with data which will assist them in constantly improving their language development. The following section will discuss formative evaluation methods.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Purpose of Evaluation

Evaluating Students’ Work

Student evaluation is an integral part of the teaching/learning cycle and consists of a systematic process which provides students, teachers, parents and administrators with information about student learning. This evaluation process encompasses the gathering of evidence in a variety of ways, as it pertains to what students know about the second language they are learning and to what degree they are able to apply their skills and attitudes at any given moment in their language development. A strong student evaluation plan involves both students and teachers in measuring, analyzing and interpreting this data at various points in the instructional cycle in order to make decisions as to the nature and direction of future learning activities and as means of describing a student’s overall language learning. In essence, an effective student evaluation plan includes a variety of means of gathering information about students and their learning and also ensures that these procedures are congruent with the learner objectives as they are defined in the program of studies.

Since language learning is a continuous process and cyclical in its acquisition, students need to be made constantly aware of their progress so that they can continue to improve and refine their language use. Students also need to know what they are expected to achieve, whether or not they have been successful in achieving these objectives and to what degree. An evaluation process, then, which incorporates a proficiency-based, multidimensional perspective will capture the true essence of students’ knowledge and their ability to perform in the second language. Therefore, regular, systematic evaluation encourages students to do their best, to be involved with their learning and to focus their attention on the language skills being developed and the knowledge they are acquiring. By using a wide range of evaluation techniques, students will be able to recognize their language growth and the development of their communicative abilities. Evaluation activities, then, provide important systematic feedback to teachers and students which will ultimately enhance the learning process and the acquisition of the language.

For the teacher, the gathering of this data is also invaluable, since this information will determine how well the objectives have been met and whether or not the activities used to develop the language have met the students’ needs. Assessing learning effectiveness can lead to either improvement in teaching/learning strategies or adjustments in instructional needs and activities, such as remedial or enrichment activities to reinforce learning. Furthermore, this information can assist in making decision about student placement, achievement or even the awarding of credits. This information can also be useful when discussing students’ progress with parents and administrators.

In light of this, the process of second language teaching/learning is undergoing constant change and is continually evolving as more information on language acquisition becomes available. Consequently, in order for evaluation techniques to be valid and consistent with this evolutionary process, student evaluation techniques also have to reflect these changes. Thus, student evaluation must not only test what students know about the second language, but it must also place emphasis on measuring students’ language development in terms of their ability to communicate meaningfully within a variety of contexts so as to determine their language performance. In this vein, the evaluation of language use must move towards a holistic assessment of natural, authentic communication where students can demonstrate their ability to integrate a wide variety of language skills within the context of the fields of experience they are studying. When evaluation assesses the meaningful use of language in context and involves students in self- and peer evaluation, language learners are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own ability to communicate. Thus, the process of student evaluation should help students to gain everincreasing confidence in their ability to communicate meaningfully and should provide multiple opportunities for second language learners to successfully demonstrate their growing knowledge, developing language skills, and evolving attitudes.

This entire section, then, is dedicated to explaining the numerous ways in which students can be evaluated in order for them to become fully aware of their own learning so as to refine what they do well and to work on the areas that need improvement. It will also discuss ways in which this information can be reported to students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Summative and formative evaluation

Evaluation information is available in two forms, formative and summative, both of which will provide learners with information on their learning and language development. However, the difference lies in the type of information which is obtained and the different feedback which is given to students. Both these forms are valuable, but need to be planned for within the instructional cycle. The following is a brief description of the two forms. Formative evaluation is an activity within the teaching/learning process which directly ties instruction to evaluation. It monitors student progress and provides immediate feedback to students as to the degree of success they have had in carrying out a specific task and providing students with immediate help if necessary. This feedback is also important to teachers for making decisions on the nature and direction of future learning and the planning of other evaluation activities. In essence, formative evaluation practices constantly assess and diagnose student performance as a means of gathering information which will guide instructional decisions and ultimately assist in improving student performance.

Even at the earliest levels of language learning, students should become involved in formative evaluation activities. These activities will help students to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses with respect to the specific objectives of a given unit/project. Actively involving students in the evaluation process will encourage them to assume greater responsibility for their learning, while at the same time developing important learning strategies such as self-direction and selfevaluation. Research by Oxford (1990) has shown how formative evaluation activities carried out by students, such as reflection and analysis, can be instrumental in the development of metacognitive awareness which is a level of thinking characteristic of successful language learners. Therefore, teachers are encouraged to engage students in participating in this form of evaluation as it will provide them with valuable insight into their own learning and the processes they use to learn a second language. As such, there are different types of formative evaluation which will provide varying sorts of information. These formats will be discussed later on in this section.

Summative evaluation, on the other hand, focuses more on the accumulated results of learning. For the most part, it involves providing information on student performance, mostly in a quantified fashion, as it directly relates to learning outcomes. It takes place at specific times in the instructional sequence such as at the end of a project/unit, a term or a course, in order to determine the degree of success students have had in attaining the program’s objectives. Students’ progress can be reported by way of a mark (e.g., percentage, letter grade), an anecdotal report or a language proficiency level. The report usually goes to the student, parents and/or school administration. This information is often used to make decisions about promotion or the awarding of credits (at the senior high school level) and can be used to inform teachers about the effectiveness of the program.

This type of evaluation is often equated with culminating activities such as progress tests which are designed to provide students’ with specific information on their cultural, language and strategic knowledge. Performance testing, on the other hand, is intended to give a more global perspective on what students are able to do with their communicative, cultural, linguisitic and strategic knowledge. This form of test attempts to analyze the degree to which students are attaining the program objectives for a sub-level or level of language proficiency. These tests and their development will be discussed later on in this section.

In essence, then, students can receive information on their learning in a number of different ways, both qualitatively and quantitatively. A good evaluation plan involves both forms so that students can be given access to information which will assist them in recognizing what they do well and becoming aware of what areas require improvement. Teachers need to plan for evaluation in the same way as they plan for instruction. In fact, they are inherent and as teachers are planning lessons, they should also be thinking about which activities will be evaluated formatively and which summatively. Furthermore, some evaluation activities will become a part of one’s daily teaching practices, while others will be given at specific points in the unit, during the course of the term/school year or at the end of a sub-level. What is important to know, then, is what kind of evaluation will take place when and what kind of information can be obtained from a specific evaluation format.

Two Guiding Principles for Student Evaluation in Second Language

To assist in the implementation of a systematic evaluation scheme, a program of student evaluation needs to be based on principles which are consistent and congruent with the philosophy of the program of studies. To that end, the following guiding principles are proposed:

1. Overall student evaluation procedures need to reflect an integrated, multidimensional approach to language learning as outlined in the Second Language program of studies (1994).

2. Evaluation of students’ language learning needs to be comprised of a balanced combination of formative or ongoing evaluation techniques, in conjunction with summative appraisals, which are to be used for purposes, such as student placement, grading, reporting on student progress, awarding of credits and so on.

Practical Application of the Principles

Principle 1

An integrated, multidimensional approach to language learning reflects the complexity of language through the integration of the four components (experience/communication, culture, language and general language education). For each of these components, the program of studies outlines a progressive sequence of objectives from the Beginner level to the Advanced level. Within each of these language levels, objectives pulled from a sub-level can be developed through specific teaching units or educational projects. These objectives become the basis for lesson planning, language instruction and the evaluation of language development. In order for the program’s objectives to be properly and effectively evaluated, teachers need to know how the components can be evaluated in an integrated fashion and how each component will have a different focus in its form of evaluation, depending on what kind of skills, knowledge and attitudes are to be evaluated. In this perspective, the evaluation of students’ proficiency is best carried out by performance-based testing which will mainly focus on the experience/communication component with the three other components playing a lesser role in this type of testing, whereas cultural, linguistic and strategic knowledge will best be evaluated by progress tests or classroom activities, where the focus can be specific and isolated. The following discussion will explain in more detail the main aspects of this principle.


Student progress in this component is mainly assessed by measuring the students’ ability to comprehend authentic texts and to produce oral and written messages which are related to real life and in keeping with the field(s) of experience under study. Since the teaching methodology should be based on the development of communicative growth within given contexts, evaluation instruments need to reflect the same orientation; that is, this component is best evaluated in terms of authentic tasks in context. Further, this component focuses on how well a student has performed on a particular task. As a result, the nature of these tasks is determined by the field of experience, a real-life context, the students’ linguistic level and cognitive maturity.

To evaluate listening and reading comprehension, teachers will need to use authentic texts and have students carry out tasks which replicate the ways in which these two skills are used in real life. The most common means of using these two skills is in the form of note-taking. This can involve filling in missing information or pulling out information in order to complete a form. For example, in the field of experience “Food”, Beginner level students can be asked to jot down a list of food items needed for a party so that later the students can decide who will bring what, whereas in a unit on “Crime and Violence”, an Intermediate student might take down information left on the school’s answering machine regarding the theft of some school equipment so as to be able to pass this information on to a police officer. In both these examples, the tasks involve the students in carrying out authentic tasks for real reasons.

The same principle holds true for reading comprehension. In a unit on “ Clubs and Associations”, Beginner students might be asked to fill in a registration form in order to join their favourite club, whereas Advanced learners, having studied the field of experience “Politics”, might be asked to read two different articles describing opposing positions and decide which of the two sides they support in preparation for a debate with political candidates running in a Federal election. Information that is cultural in nature can be pulled out of a text, but only if its extrapolation is done so for authentic reasons. For example, if the students have been studying “The International French-speaking community”, they might be asked to read articles pertaining to Francophone language rights in a minority situation to determine the varying points of view in order to write up a summary for their local francophone newspaper. However, with these two language skills, the evaluation of language use and in many cases, general language education is subsumed, since what we want to determine is what is it the students have understood, given the context, and how much they have understood.

On the other hand, oral and written production tasks are more integrative in nature. For example, in a unit on “Domestic Animals”, students might be asked to read and respond to a newspaper ad on domestic pets. Beginner students could be asked to leave a message on an answering machine regarding the purchase of a particular animal. In this case, students would be evaluated on the contents of the message, based on the criteria given to the students, such as leaving their name and telephone number, describing the animal they want to purchase, etc. The other components could be included in this evaluation, but to a lesser degree, by asking students to include a culturally appropriate conclusion to their message (culture), properly pronouncing their words and using the correct form of adjectives when describing the animal (language) and the strategy that could be evaluated would be taking the risk by leaving a message on an answering machine. This example illustrates how an oral performance task can be carried out in an integrated fashion.

Written production can also be integrative in nature. For example, Beginner level students can be asked to write a classified ad in order to sell their used bicycle. Students could be asked to include in their description, the colour of the bicycle, the type of bicycle, the selling price, which in this case would mean placing the monetary symbol in the correct position, thus evaluating culture, possibly adding the appropriate expression for “if you need more information, call”, etc. They would then have to write out the ad as it would appear in the classified section, evaluating their knowledge of text types which forms a part of the general language education component. Advanced level students, on the other hand, need to be given tasks which will demonstrate their ability to link a number of ideas together in a coherent and cohesive fashion. For example, after having studied a French-Canadian novel, students could be asked to write a critique, which would include a summary of the main events of the story and a discussion of the student’s impression of the work. The students’ work would be evaluated on the students’ ability to logically link ideas, with accuracy of expression playing a part of the evaluation, in addition to evaluating the students’ ability to follow the standard format of a critique.

Thus, it is these kinds of tasks which will assist students in becoming more involved with their language development if they are assessed according to meaningful, real-life communicative situations which they might confront outside the confines of the classroom. Evaluation of this type adds a dimension of motivation as to how students will perceive their language development and the evaluation of their language performance.


In this component, students are expected to be able to identify, research, analyze and interpret cultural knowledge meaningfully, effectively and in context. The degree to which this can be done will depend on the language level and cognitive maturity of the students. Therefore, evaluation in this component will focus mostly on students’ cultural knowledge and will best be evaluated in progress type tests or classroom activities. However, students’ cultural knowledge can also be evaluated in performance tests in that their sociolinguistic knowledge can be measured directly by the manner in which it is being used. For example, teachers can evaluate if students have used appropriate social conventions for beginning and closing a formal telephone conversation or if the students have used the appropriate closing for a formal letter. As can be seen, both cases are productions and naturally lend themselves to this type of evaluation format; however, for listening and reading comprehension this knowledge becomes subsumed, unless the task asks for the extrapolation of this information in an authentic fashion. Therefore, the type of context and task will determine if culture can be evaluated directly or indirectly.

For evaluation at the Beginner level, then, students need to demonstrate their ability to identify concrete aspects or facts concerning francophone cultures and other cultures in their surrounding area. These facts can be related to such information as the identification of: French names in the class, school, or local telephone book, streets with French names, flags, newspapers or signs in national parks. Evaluation activities can require students to list, check off or describe the elements of francophone cultures they have identified. If the task is performance-based, students can be asked to demonstrate the application of their sociolinguistic knowledge pertaining to simple tasks such as using the appropriate greeting when beginning a simple informal conversation with a friend.

As students grow in communicative ability they can be expected, at the Intermediate level, to describe the differences and similarities between their own culture and local, national and international francophone cultures, in addition to other ethnocultural groups within and outside of Canada. Evaluation activities at this level could require students to design a chart highlighting similarities and differences in a specific area of life for a particular francophone or aboriginal culture. Or, students could be asked to write a paragraph describing similarities and differences between their culture and a particular francophone or aboriginal group in a given field of experience. At this level, students can demonstrate their knowledge of these differences or similarities by appropriately selecting the conventions which are in keeping with the task, such as using all the appropriate conventions employed in a formal letter.

At the Advanced levels, students are required to research, interpret and analyze the contributions of francophone cultures. For example, students might be asked to research and reflect upon such topics as the historical roots of the Quebecois nationalist movement, the advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism for Canada, the peoples and lifestyles of worldwide francophone cultures and/or variations in francophone dialects. Evaluation at this level might take the form of written responses where students are evaluated on mainly the basis of content, the depth of the analysis or development of their argumentation through examples and logic and to a lesser degree on accuracy of expression. In terms of performance, students could demonstrate their cultural knowledge in an oral production by presenting their opinions in a video letter to the Prime Minister of Canada, in which case they would have to use the appropriate register for the letter and employ a more formal tone to their presentation.

Evaluation activities for this component, then, need to be designed so that they lead students to develop heightened cultural awareness as they reflect on the similarities and differences between their own culture and the cultures they are studying. These activities need to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in real, authentic contexts, in addition to providing them with the opportunity to apply this knowledge to carry out authentic, purposeful tasks. Thus, evaluation of this component needs to focus on ways in which students’ knowledge and understanding of themselves and of other cultures can be effectively tested.


The language component develops students’ ability to use the linguistic code accurately and appropriately as a means of achieving meaningful and purposeful communication. It is a tool that is developed and refined according to students’ communicative needs and to the type of communication taking place. An important dimension of this component, then, is knowing that the message is generally given priority over the form (use of the linguistic code). This does not mean, however, that linguistic accuracy is not important. Rather, a student’s communicative ability is viewed as the effective realisation of a communicative intent and the accuracy with which the message is expressed.

The evaluation of linguistic elements will depend on the language level of the learner, the task, and the field of experience. Evaluation at the Beginner level will focus more on the accuracy of pronunciation/spelling, appropriate vocabulary use, accuracy at the word level, and the correct order of words as it relates to the message. At the Intermediate level, students will continue to focus on appropriate use of vocabulary, agreement between words and correct word order, but they will also be expected to pay increased attention to correct verb tense usage in the present, past and future as it pertains to messages composed of a series of connected simple and complex sentences. At the Advanced level, students linguistic usage will continue to focus on grammatical accuracy developed at the lower levels, while including complex tense usage, and the development of fluency (the ability to communicate freely and coherently). Most importantly, though, one must bear in mind that the task will determine which linguistic elements will become the focus of the evaluation, since not everything can be evaluated nor do we want to discourage students from wanting to take risks with using the language they are presently developing.

Further, just as linguistic elements are presented and developed within a context and based on the students’ communicative needs, the evaluation of this component will also need to follow the same principle. This means that linguistic elements will also need to be evaluated in context. How they are evaluated will depend on what the focus is: knowledge or use. Therefore, the language component will need to be evaluated in two ways. One way will involve evaluating students’ language knowledge through the use of progress tests or contextualized classroom assignments. The other will involve evaluating the students’ ability to apply their knowledge in different situations and contexts through the use of performance-based testing. The following example will illustrate the difference between the two formats.

For example, students could be asked to identify the location of different objects in a room (testing their knowledge of prepositions and related vocabulary), by having the teacher read a descriptive paragraph relating to the location of these objects in a room. The reason would be so that students could leave a map for the painters, so that they could put the objects in the same place after painting the room. Students would paste the items in the correct location as they are described or write the name of the object, depending on their linguistic and cognitive level. In this case, the students would be evaluated on their accurate location of the objects and the correct recognition of vocabulary and in the case of writing, the correct spelling of the objects. On the other hand, to test their ability to use these same linguistic concepts in a similar situation, students could be asked to give the instructions to the movers who have just brought their furniture to their new home so that the movers can place the student’s personal objects in the correct place in the new bedroom. The language which would be evaluated would be the correct use of the imperative, the choice of appropriate vocabulary and the correct use of prepositions. As these examples have shown, when teachers design evaluation instruments for this component they will have to decide whether it is linguistic knowledge they want to evaluate or language use. This decision will determine whether a progress type test or a performance instrument will be used.

At the beginning stages of language learning, then, it is especially important that students be encouraged to take risks and experience the satisfaction of communicating messages that are personally meaningful. However, as they progress in their ability to express themselves more fully, students will need to recognize that, as they become more accurate in their language use, they will become more efficient and better communicators. Evaluation procedures, therefore, will need to reflect this progression towards desired accuracy of expression, keeping context and task in mind.

General Language Education

The general language education component includes a number of generally proven language learning strategies which can help students become more efficient and independent language learners. The key to evaluating growth in this component is the inclusion of objectives relating to this component in lesson plan preparation and in the construction of evaluation checklists for the unit/ project under study. Depending on the objective(s) to be taught/learned and evaluated, students can be asked to demonstrate the skills or strategic knowledge they are developing through a variety of techniques.

Like the culture component, language learning strategies can be directly or indirectly evaluated, depending on the context and the task. Once again to test strategic knowledge directly, it is best to use a progress test or a specific language activity, since it is often quite difficult to isolate or control specific strategies in authentic ways. For this same reason, in the case of performancebased tests, these strategies are most often subsumed. However, metacognitive strategies such as self-correction or the use of organizational strategies such as objectivation checklists can become a part of the test instrument in that students can be asked to reflect upon the processes they used to carry out the task. Further, in the case of performance testing, students need to be allowed to use the strategies that best suit their learning style in order to be successful in carrying out the task rather than attempting to restrict the types of strategies available to the students.

In light of these limitations, here are some examples of how language learning strategies can be evaluated directly. For example, to have students demonstrate their recognition of cognates (Beginner level) in reading, they can be asked to underline them and then use them to attempt to determine the essence of the message. Recognition of cognates in a listening exercise can be demonstrated by having students listen to an announcement which contains the listed words in front of them. Students would check off which words were said and later determine which ones mean the same as the English counterpart. As in the reading example, they could be asked to use these words to guess the main meaning of the announcement. Guessing the meaning of key words at the Intermediate level might be evaluated by having students list the key words relating to who, what, where, when, and why as these five W’s relate to the text they have just heard or read in order to determine its meaning. Or Advanced level learners may be asked to hypothesize the meaning of linguistic nuances as a means of better understanding the text. As can be seen by these examples objectives which, for the most part, relate to the use of cognitive strategies can be evaluated by assessing the product of the strategy being used.

On the other hand, objectives geared to developing the use of socio-affective and metacognitive strategies will focus more on process. For example, an objective such as “voluntarily correct mistakes or errors pointed out by someone else” (Intermediate level) may be assessed best by having students complete evaluation checklists or by teacher observation of the student in a communicative activity. In fact, most of the socio-affective objectives will need to be evaluated in this way whereas the metacognitive strategies can be evaluated through the use of self-evaluations and objectivation checklists. In essence, while some informal, unrecorded observations and evaluations will always be going on, well-developed observation and evaluation checklists will need to be used in order to formally evaluate these strategies. Through the use of student completed evaluation checklists, both teachers and students will have a clearer picture of which strategies are becoming automatic and which ones need more practice.

Thus, this component will best be evaluated in a teaching/learning situation and within the unit/project being developed. The use of observation, self- and peer evaluation checklists will assist teachers in fully evaluating this component. If teachers want to summatively evaluate students’ strategic use, it is recommended that progress test instruments or classroom activities be used, since a product can best be attained with this type of evaluation.

Principle 2

Student evaluation in the second language classroom needs to focus on the process of language learning, by making use of a wide variety of methods and strategies. Student evaluation also needs to encompass all dimensions of the learning process so that students can see that they are progressing in their learning and in their ability to use the language for meaningful and purposeful communication. Therefore, evaluation practices will need to be balanced between formative and summative activities. Therefore, a systematic evaluation schema must be incorporated and elaborated while learning activities are being planned.

The next two sections will discuss an overall evaluation plan and the different techniques which can be used to evaluate both formatively and summatively within this schema. The following table provides some of the key points to remember when developing an evaluation plan within the framework of a unit or educational project or during the course of a school year.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Daily Lesson Planning


There are all sorts of ways to plan a lesson. The format you choose will depend on your teaching style and philosophy. The format for daily lesson planning presented in this section is derived from the philosophy articulated in the program of studies and is only a suggestion which can be tailored to suit your individual needs.

In essence, daily lesson planning reflects teaching methodology in practice. Generally speaking, there are three main steps in the development of a daily lesson plan:

  • 1) the introduction to the lesson,
  • 2) the lesson’s activities, and
  • 3) lesson closure.

When these three steps are linked directly to the suggested teaching methodology discussed previously in this document, they take on the same roles; i.e., the introduction can either represent the preparatory phase or the reinvestment phase depending on where that particular lesson is situated within the educational project. Thus, lesson closure can either represent the reflective phase or evaluative phase of the teaching cycle, again depending on where it falls in the process. As can been seen, daily lesson planning replicates in a more detailed fashion the suggested teaching methodology.

More specifically, the introduction can play two roles in a lesson. First of all, one of the roles consists of an activity that ties the students’ background knowledge to the language experience which is to be presented later on in the lesson. The activity that is chosen is intended to motivate the students such that they will want to actively participate in the lesson. The introduction’s second role should be to tie together the previous lesson’s attainments with the objectives of the current lesson. Thus, one must keep in mind that the purpose of this step is to recycle and reinvest constantly the knowledge and skills being developed. Hence, the roles of the introduction are to initiate learning and set the tone for the remainder of the lesson.

The activities are all the mini-tasks needed to attain the objectives described in the lesson or as they pertain to the educational project. Normally, the procedure is to develop the receptive skills before developing the productive skills. In addition, it is equally important to include, as much as possible, a variety of activities from each component as well as in each language skill as a means of sustaining the students’ attention and also respecting the number of different learning styles that are present in the classroom. In this regard, the activities that are chosen must ensure the constant recycling and reinvesting of students’ knowledge and skills to appropriately develop the use of the language.

The final step in the lesson is closure. Its purpose is to tie together the elements of the lesson in a reflective manner. One can proceed in a variety of ways such as asking a question which summarizes the lesson, evaluating the lesson formally or by reflecting on the lesson’s activities using grids as a guide for this reflective process (see Evaluating Students’ Work for grid information). Another possibility is to initiate an activity which would set the stage for the next day’s lesson. Essentially, then, this step ensures that each lesson is linked to the next, while at the same time providing the teacher with an opportunity to evaluate the lessons’s level of success.

Depending on whether the ultimate planning outcome is an educational project, an integrated unit, or a “stand-alone” lesson, one must delineate the specific objectives for each lesson. For example, if one is following the process suggested in the development of an educational project, the specific objectives are already described on the major activity work sheets. However, if one decides to follow another means of lesson planning, it will be necessary to formulate the specific lesson objectives to suit this manner of planning. Therefore, the following examples illustrate two possible ways in which daily lesson plans can be developed. The first example pertains to an educational project and the second one will assist teachers who choose to use another means of planning.

The sample lesson is from the field of experience “Fashion” from sub-level Intermediate 3, illustrating the steps mentioned above. The framework for this lesson is a television talk show much like the one hosted by Oprah Winfrey. The activities described in the plan will show which components and steps are being focused upon in the lesson. The numbers used correspond to:

1) experience/communication,

2) culture,

3) language, and

4) general language education.

Teachers can find blank repromasters of these lesson plan formats in Appendix


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).


Planning an Integrated Unit


Integrated units, or as they are often referred to, educational projects, are recommended as a form of planning which ensures that the four language skills and the four components are integrated and balanced in terms of the program’s objectives.

The development of an educational project involves three main steps that organize the teaching/learning of a field or fields of experience in a logical and congruent fashion. Essentially, these three steps are:

Step One:

• select a field of experience or a combination of fields of experience,

• brainstorm, in a general way, the objectives to be attained, which will be derived from the program of studies, the main activities which will be carried out, and the learning resources needed in order to create the educational project;

Step Two:

• describe in a detailed way, the specific objectives and mini-tasks for each major activity,

• arrange the major activities in logical order; and

Step Three:

• plan daily lessons on the basis of the major activity sheets.

To make sure the procedure is clear, the following paragraphs will serve as a guide to the work sheets that are found in Appendix A.

To begin the process, first take the page entitled “Step One – Idea Sheet” found in Appendix A and select the field of experience or combination of fields of experience to be explored and fill in the Field(s) of Experience circle. Then begin the planning process by choosing the circle which you feel most comfortable with and brainstorm the elements needed to complete that circle. For example, if you feel more comfortable beginning with the program objectives then you start there by defining what objectives from the four components will be taught. In this circle the components are labelled in this fashion: e.c. = experience/ communication, c. = culture, l = language, and g.l.e. = general language education. Once this circle has been completed you move on to either the major activities circle which describes, in general terms, the main activities which will be carried out in the four language skills or the learning resources circle which describes the resources needed in order to be able to fulfill the needs of the educational project. Step One is completed when all four circles have been filled in. If you prefer, you may start by referring to Appendix B: Suggestions for Educational Projects to find ideas which may assist in stimulating the brainstorming process.

The second step involves taking each major activity listed on the brainstorming sheet and describing, on the page entitled “Step Two- Major Activity Sheet”, the specific objectives and mini-tasks required to complete each of the major activities. As the planning process is being carried out it is advisable to check off the language skills and components being covered by the mini-tasks as a means of ensuring a balance between the language skills and the four components. The language skills have been coded on the major activity sheet in the following manner: listening comprehension (L.C.). oral production (O.P.), reading comprehension (R.C.), and written production (W.P.). The four components have been coded in this way: experience/communication (e.c.), culture (c.), language (l.), and general language education (g.l.e.). in chronological order and numbered accordingly. Once they are in order, you can begin to develop the daily lesson plans following the suggested methodology or adopting a planning process which best suits your needs. What is most important, though, is that each lesson should include an introduction, a number of activities, including real-life tasks, and a conclusion to tie all aspects of the lesson together. This process will be explained further in the following section on daily lesson planning.

The work sheets for creating an educational project can be found in Appendix A. You may wish to reproduce all or only some of the work sheets, based on your planning needs. To recap the use of these sheets, “Step One” is for the brainstorming phase as it relates to the program’s objectives, the major activities, and the learning resources. The “Step Two” sheet is used for describing the specific objectives of the major activity and the mini-tasks to be carried out to ensure that there is a balance between the learning activities, the components, and the language skills being developed. Finally, the “Step Three” sheet is for daily lesson planning. As part of the planning process, it is important to keep in mind and decide when and how formative and summative evaluations will take place throughout the project. Evaluation activities must be planned for and should be a part of the entire planning process. (For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Evaluating Students’ Work.)

Appendix C contains examples of educational projects which will provide you with a better understanding of the development of an educational project. They will show you how to integrate the program’s objectives, the suggested teaching methodology, and available learning resources into a sequenced learning package.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Yearly planning


Yearly planning is based on the arranging of learning activities and the assessment of students’ language acquisition. Teachers will need to select a logical sequence in which to present the fields of experience, bearing in mind such factors as the students’ grade level (elementary, junior high, or senior high), the students’ proficiency level, the time allotted to the French as a second language program by the school district and the human and physical resources available.

Using the program of studies, teachers will start by selecting the fields of experience which are available to them at their language proficiency level. Then they will take into account the factors mentioned above in order to determine what kinds of educational projects or modules can be developed for the selected fields and subsequently, to order them chronologically. (See Appendix B entitled “Suggestions for Educational Projects” for some ideas.) Next, teachers will need to decide approximately how much time should be allotted to each project. It is not necessary to plan in detail all of the projects at the same time, but organizing them chronologically ensures that all of the fields of experience will be dealt with during the school year or by the end of the sub-level.

The “ Year Plans” which follow this explanation demonstrate one way of organizing the school year. This is not the only way, but it does provide an idea of how to proceed. These three year plans show how the different levels can be planned, based on the students’ cognitive level and the time allotted to the program. These yearly plans are solely for illustrative purposes and do not imply that this is the only order to follow. Rather, the teaching order for the fields of experience is up to the teacher. At each sub-level a minimum number of fields of experience is recommended for each level. Teachers need to refer to the program of studies for the required number of fields for each sub-level. In order to make a yearly plan, a blank repromaster of this year plan format appears in Appendix A.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).



Planning consists of the organization and coordination of the program’s objectives, the learning resources available and the time allotted in order to deliver the program of studies in a practical teaching situation. As such, there are three ways in which planning can be carried out:

Yearly planning:

Yearly planning, in keeping with the philosophy of the program, involves choosing a minimum number of fields of experience which correspond to the sub-level being taught and the order in which these fields will be presented. For example, a minimum of five fields of experience out of the seven listed for each of the sublevels at the Beginner level is recommended and if time permits and based on students’ interest and their physical and psychological development, other fields of experience may be added to suit these varied needs and interests. The ordering of the fields of experience should be done in a logical and coherent fashion and in keeping with the learning resources available and the time allotted to the program by the school board.

Planning an Integrated Unit:

Integrated unit planning consists of setting selected objectives in keeping with those outlined in the sub-levels of the program of studies, deciding the activities required to achieve these objective and determining the evaluation criteria against which the students’ progress and success in regard to the objectives will be measured. To apply the program’s philosophy in the classroom, the educational project is suggested as the most effective way of integrating the four components of the program and for developing the four language skills.

The educational project is a unit of organized learning activities of varied duration in one of the fields of experiences prescribed by the program, in which the aim is to provide opportunities for learners to fully experience the language and the culture. The educational project is very flexible in that teachers will be able to adjust their teaching strategies to the students’ cognitive, socio-affective and metacognitive levels as well as to their needs and interests.

Teachers need not develop an educational project for each field of experience. When appropriate and possible, teachers can combine or integrate two or more fields of experience. For example, at the Beginner level it is possible to combine the fields of experience “The Senses” and “The Environment” into one educational project called “Faire une présentation sur l’utilisation de nos sens pour mieux connaître notre environnement”, which would include a variety of experiential activities in a number of environments. Thus, by combining fields of experience larger or more in depth educational projects can be carried out instead of a number of smaller ones.

It is important to note that when an educational project is being planned, the program’s objectives will need be adjusted for each field of experience. In addition, the intent is not to cover all the objectives within each project. Rather, the important thing is that the students have acquired all of the objectives of the sub-level before preceding onto the next level. The amount of time allocated to the program will be a factor in both planning and determining how long it will take to cover all of the objectives successfully and to ensure that students have sufficiently acquired the skills, knowledge, and attitudes assigned to the sublevel.

Daily Lesson Planning:

In this regard, daily planning is the sequential development of the language skills (listening/reading comprehension and oral/written production), cultural and linguistic knowledge and learning strategies which will provide students with the necessary tools to engage in language experiences. In each lesson, the teacher must try to integrate activities which will treat all four components as much as possible while at the same time following the proposed teaching stages:

  • 1) the preparatory phase (introduction to the project, development of necessary knowledge, presentation of the context),
  • 2) the experience phase ( integration of communicative/experiential activities/tasks as they relate to the four language skills – listening/reading comprehension, oral/written production),
  • 3) the reflection phase (verification, feedback and formative evaluation of the language experience),
  • 4) the reinvestment phase (recycling knowledge and skills in another context or situation), and
  • 5) the evaluation phase (formal or informal feedback given to the students pertaining to their performance).
  • By following these stages, the teacher can be sure that the integration of the program’s objectives has been attained and that an appropriate teaching methodology which is conducive to experiential/communicative teaching is being carried out.

The following pages contain explanations and examples of yearly plans, educational project ideas, and daily lessons plans which are intended to be used as guides and suggestions only.

Written Production

Second Language Teaching

Written production is a skill which requires ideas to be formulated and expressed as printed output. Like its oral production counterpart, written production is developed sequentially in terms of the kinds of texts to be produced by the learner; i.e., from copying and formulating simple words or phrases to create simple messages to drafting autonomous works which involve the expression of numerous thoughts in a coherent and cohesive manner such as one would find in essays or short stories.

As with oral language, there are also two main types of written texts. Interactive texts involve at least two people who are actively engaged in written communications with each other, giving the texts the flavour of spontaneity or a lack of preparedness which is often typical of two-person journals or friendly letters. Noninteractive texts are those texts which the writer produces but does not necessary expect a direct reaction to what he/she has written. This type of writing is almost always prepared either fully or partially and is often followed by a number of drafts which have been edited and rewritten. This latter process is one which is generally used for the publication of books or articles or relates to academic tasks such as compositions, book reports or essays, requiring students to demonstrate their ability to argue a point coherently while showing cohesion of thought and expression. Prepared texts often exhibit the following kinds of characteristics:

  • 1) clearly organized thoughts,
  • 2) rare usage of incorrect words or expressions , and
  • 3) argumentation which is logical and sequential.

Spontaneous written texts, on the other hand, are often characterized by:

  • 1) point form annotations of thoughts,
  • 2) incomplete sentences with more errors present than would normally be accepted in formal written communications, and
  • 3) overt evidence of self-monitoring as some words are slashed and replaced with others as thoughts and ideas are quickly reworked. Because of these distinct characteristics, the type of written text will depend on the context and purpose for writing the message.

Written production is, by its very nature, generally prepared and more precise in its expression than its oral counterpart. This is so because written communications, even so-called spontaneous ones, will allow the writer the time to reflect upon and mentally rework the intent behind the messages before producing them. As well, once the messages have been drafted, their visual presence allows writers the opportunity to read and reread the manner in which the messages were written in order to determine if the sentence structure, word usage, and grammatical forms have been correctly used to communicate the messages in the best way possible. If, at this point, writers find that the written messages are flawed in some way, they can rework the idea(s) until the words, sentence structure and grammar all reflect the manner in which the messages were intended to be communicated. On the other hand, oral production is often not afforded this luxury, since messages are often quickly exchanged and meaning immediately negotiated as is the case for interactive texts.

When these concepts are applied to the classroom situation, it becomes increasingly evident that teachers will need to become familiar with the characteristics demonstrated by these different types of texts so as to be able to help students differentiate between the appropriate use of spontaneous, unprepared written communications and formal prepared written communications. Therefore, at the classroom level, written production activities will depend upon three factors:

  • 1) the purpose of the writing activity, be it experientially-, communicatively-, or linguistically-based,
  • 2) the type of written production activity that is planned, and
  • 3 ) the communicative/linguistic level of the students.

Bearing this in mind, Beginner level students will generally carry out simple writing tasks, such as creating want ads, which are very structured in nature, following models, and focusing on language precision at the word level. Intermediate students will build on these written tasks and will add others to their repertoire which will now require the development of a series of sentences to create short paragraphs for newspaper articles or simple business letters for example. Advanced students will move towards the development of more complex and lengthy written communications which demonstrate the ability to elaborate ideas in a coherent and cohesive fashion as would be the case in the writing of an essay.

In order to appropriately develop the written production skill, it is important to note that there are often two aspects which cause second language learners difficulty and they are:

  • 1) recognizing and applying the sounds known orally to the written symbols which evoke these sounds and
  • 2) the correct syntax patterns of the language.

These two aspects are best developed and learned through guided practice exercises. However, these types of written activities are not considered communicative nor experiential, since they do not convey authentic messages which are relevant to the learner nor are these exercises a consequence of an information gap. Nevertheless, these types of written drill exercises do play a vital role in the development of students’ linguistic abilities as they provide a knowledge base for the use and application of these linguistic structures. Still, there lies one danger in using these types of activities, in that they often do not reflect authentic language use and are almost always decontextualized. Therefore, it is very important that teachers be aware that these types of written activities only develop linguistic knowledge and that their application is limited to the mechanical use of the language, meaning that it will not necessarily transpose itself automatically to real communicative/experiential language usage. Rather, this can best be achieved when the communicative tasks which are assigned to the students are real-life based, using a procedure which employs examples of authentic models and is followed by guided practice sessions based on these models. Thus, an important step in developing students’ writing abilities is to determine if the activities the students are going to carry out are focused on real-life tasks or are simply language exercises, since the type of activity will determine the kind of “product” and its authenticity.

The way in which an activity can be deemed communicative/experiential is whether a communicative intent is present and whether the intent can be carried out authentically in writing or not. For example, an authentic writing task would be to write a postcard to a friend whereas a non-authentic writing task would be to write out a face-to-face conversation which would otherwise be carried out orally. Therefore, in order for a writing activity to be deemed communicative, it must essentially exhibit authentic language use in a meaningful and relevant context, which requires students to supply needed or missing information in order to meet the needs of the communicative intent and to be experiential, it needs to be carried out in a true-to-life fashion. Authentic written tasks could include drawing up a grocery list, creating a want ad, creating a publicity poster, writing a friendly letter or a business letter, writing a newspaper/magazine article, or writing a brochure, guide or manual. All of these communications are authentic and fulfill communicative needs which occur in real life. The types of written tasks assigned to students will, however, be based on the communicative/linguistic abilities of the students. Beginner level students will be limited to tasks which centre around the use of words and simple sentences, such as the drawing up of lists, creating want ads, simple announcements and simple publicity posters. Intermediate students, on the other hand, will be given tasks which will require the development of paragraphs, such as a small article for the newspaper or a simple guide for babysitters, whereas Advanced level students will write more elaborate articles and stories based on the field of experience being developed. Thus, not only will the tasks need to be tailored to the level of the students, but the students will also need to have the necessary communicative/linguistic abilities necessary to be able to carry out the task.

As with the other three language skills, three phases are also being proposed:

  • 1) a pre-writing phase,
  • 2) a writing phase, and
  • 3) a rewriting phase.

This proposal is in keeping with the view of writing as a process more so than a product activity. As with the other skills the pre-writing phase involves the “setting of the stage” in which students are engaged in activities which will assist them in carrying out the communicative task to be assigned in the writing phase. The purpose of the pre-writing phase is to develop the necessary linguistic elements in a contextualized fashion which will later be recycled in the communicative task. This phase is composed of guided practice sessions which will lead students to be able to replicate the same task at the writing stage but on a more individualized basis.

In helping students start their written communications, it is important for them to understand the purpose of what it is they are to write. In other words, the need for communicating must be made clear and evident. Further, the writing task needs to reflect the authentic ways in which writing occurs in real life. Thus, by knowing the purpose, students’ writing will begin to take shape and will define its form of expression. To begin this phase the following activities could be carried out:

  • 1) brainstorming ideas which are involved with a particular writing topic,
  • 2) helping students define the types of ideas they might want to include in their work.
  • 3) helping students organize their ideas by working out some of their language problems,
  • 4) reviewing or developing pertinent vocabulary,
  • 5) writing reflective journals about the writing process, and
  • 6) developing semantic maps to demonstrate the flow of ideas and how they are connected.

In the case of semantic mapping, a good activity for developing coherence of thought is to ask students to connect or “map out” their ideas by drawing lines and arrows to form idea clusters. These clusters can then become the focus of paragraph development as students trace the beginning of an argument and seek out the ideas which can be used to support the argument. Any ideas which are irrelevant or do not serve a direct purpose are then eliminated. This process then allows for students to actually “see” their ideas in terms of relationships relative to the argumentation they are developing so that they can begin to visualize the organizational patterns which could form the basis of a draft version of their ideas.

Another activity which can be carried it out is to use authentic documents. Students can use these documents as examples of correct models of communicative expression and grammatical usage. In this case, students carry out a guided analysis of the elements of the text and the type of expressions used to communicate ideas. Students can now use these frameworks for developing their own messages based on the models presented. Or, these authentic documents can serve as informative reading to provide students with insight as to how others express themselves regarding the same topic. Students can be involved in a comparison activity in which they can discuss the different ways in which the same subject has been treated and the different writing styles which have been used to reflect these same ideas. In essence, then, the prewriting phase serves the purpose of “setting the stage” in that students are guided through all the necessary steps needed to carry out the task, whether it be linguistic or communicative in nature.

The writing phase is the moment when students actually begin the process of carrying out the written communicative task. First and foremost, students need to be given a situation or reason for carrying out the task. They will also need to go through a guided and modelled session before they will be able to carry out the task on an independent basis. Thus, this phase is viewed as the development of a series of drafts where students reflect and carry out the revision of ideas, grammar usage, and the overall organization of the work. This phase is an important one in the development of effective writers since students need to see themselves playing two roles: the writer of the text and the reader. In other words, they have to ask themselves the question: Does the reader understand the messages as written by the writer? The answer they come up with will determine the extent of their revisions. Thus, it is through a reflective process and analysis of their work that students will become more competent writers. Consistently, it has been demonstrated that persons who are more effective in their written communications are those who possess the following characteristics:

  • 1) they are willing to do more planning, rescanning, and revising of their work,
  • 2) they will concentrate on the essence of the message instead of getting bogged down with grammatical accuracy or searching for justthe-right word, and
  • 3) they understand and accept that an important part of being a good writer is composing several drafts.

Assisting students through this process is often tedious, but is vital for them to realize that good writing is not one that occurs “off-the-cuff”, but requires extensive revisiting if students intend to improve the manner in which they express themselves. Thus, the role of reader of the text becomes an integral part of the revision process as students analyze and reflect upon what it is they have written and attempt either individually, with another student, or with the assistance of the teacher to discern the difficulties which are presenting themselves on paper. This revision process, then, is an important stepping stone in making students consciously aware of the need to find solutions for improving their work. This process may be accomplished through the use of objectivation grids or self-evaluations which ask the students to think through the process and to consciously make corrections by referring to their notes, dictionaries, both unilingual and bilingual, thesauruses, verb tense references, etc. as a means of revising and improving the work.

The rewriting phase is the transition point when students are ready to finalize the written communication. This stage involves students in correcting any final aspects of the work to produce a refined and polished product. It is at this point, as well, then, that students receive feedback as to their success and are asked to reflect further on the writing process they have just gone through by relating in concrete terms all the steps they carried out to arrive at this point. This process can be discussed as a group and a chart of students’ reactions can be made so that the next time the students are asked to carry out a similar task they will now have a referential framework that they can resort to in order to be able to carry out the task on their own.

To better understand these phases, it is best to walk through the process with a concrete example. Authentic written productions for Beginner level students will focus on guided and structured tasks which centre around the use of words, such as grocery lists, menu writing, posters and simple announcements, whereas students at the Intermediate and Advanced levels will engage in written production tasks which will require more thought and organization of ideas as students at these levels will want to express more elaborate and sophisticated thoughts. Therefore, the following example is intended mostly for these two levels, but the application of the ideas are equally applicable to the Beginner level.

A very popular field of experience for students at both the junior and senior high level is “The World of Work”, since students are very interested in obtaining parttime jobs. At the pre-writing phase students can be asked to participate in any number of activities. For example, in simulating the filling-out of a summer job application, students might be asked to brainstorm a list of summer jobs which they might be interested in. A subsequent step might be to have students read summer want-ads and to select the one which interests them the most. Then, they can be asked to write a letter to express their interest in the job. At this point, however, it is important to ensure that students have the requisite knowledge necessary to write a formal business letter. Teachers need to walk the students through the business letter writing process by using an authentic example to pinpoint the different elements and the manner in which they are expressed, such as the placement and correct format for the date, the placement and format of one’s address or the address of the person to whom the letter is being sent to, the correct salutation usage and any other formal expressions which might be used in the body of the letter, such as “Je vous prie d’agréer, cher Monsieur/chère Madame, l’expression de mes saluations distinguées”, to make the letter more sociolinguistically acceptable. Having gone through this step, the students now have sufficient information to move on to the next phase. move on to the next phase.

At the writing phase students could be asked to brainstorm a list of characteristics which are important to have in order to be able to apply for a certain position. This activity allows students access to a variety of adjectives and expressions which they can later use in the class letter and in their own letters. Next, in order to ensure that the students have fully understood the letter format and are able to apply their knowledge to the writing of a job application letter, a letter is done collectively so that students can go through a guided practice session prior to carrying out the task on their own. Students can be asked to provide the information as the teacher writes down the ideas. At this point, the teacher can also go through revision techniques by demonstrating to students how to use a dictionary to ensure that words are correctly spelt and are being used appropriately. Students can also be shown how to use a series of reference materials in order to ensure that their messages are being correctly communicated. Once these steps have been completed the students can be asked to carry out the task on their own. When students have completed their first draft, they can share their work in pairs or in small groups as a means of determining if all the requisite parts of the letter are present. The purpose of this revision process is to ascertain if the students have truly integrated in their own letters the elements which were previously discussed and to see if they are able to distinguish these parts in a fellow student’s work. The editing process, then, is a means of verifying if in fact students have been able to apply the requisite knowledge and to what degree they have been successful.

The next step is to have students write their revised letter in the rewriting phase, which will reflect the entire writing process which the students have passed through in order to be able to arrive at a polished product. At this stage, it is important that students receive a response back for the effort they would be to telephone the business and set up an interview time. This extension activity now involves the use of the oral production skill.

In essence, then, the development of the written production skill begins with structured and modelled exercises, leading to the application of this knowledge to simple writing tasks which are found in real life, such as lists, newspaper articles, and so forth. As students progress through the communicative/linguistic levels , they will gradually move to more sophisticated writing tasks which need to follow a guided practice format in which students will collectively go through the process before embarking on their own. Once they have completed this step, they are now ready to freely communicate their ideas by applying their linguistic knowledge to relevant, real-life tasks, which can now be integrated with the other language skills in order to complete the students’ language development.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Reading Comprehension

Second Language Teaching

Reading comprehension, like its listening counterpart, is also a receptive skill, which once again involves the active processing of messages. This time, however, these messages are found in print form. This form differs greatly from oral discourse, too, in that written discourse is characterized by the observance of correct grammatical usage, coherence and cohesion in thought, and wellconstructed sentences which demonstrate the planning and organizing of ideas, much of which is often lacking in oral discourse. Therefore, efficient readers do not only decode and decipher written symbols, but, also, and more importantly, interpret and construct meaning from these symbols. In this process, ideas, thoughts, concepts, and values are actively extrapolated and internalized by readers so as to determine the communicative intent behind the messages. During the reading process, readers search for all kinds of clues and resort to a number of resources in order to assist them in the construction of meaning, using such strategies as, sound-symbol relationships, grammatical, semantic, contextual, and visual clues, their own experiences, and so forth, as a means of determining the meanings behind the symbols. In addition, readers need to be able to relate with the originator of the text, i.e., the author, in order to negotiate the meaning of his/her communicative intent(s). Thus, as with the listening skill, reading comprehension also has a twofold purpose:

  • 1) to participate in discourse, and
  • 2) to obtain information; i.e., reading serves a need or a purpose.

Thus, the kinds of activities and real-life tasks that are used to develop this skill must represent the need for reading a text by employing such processes as problem-solving and information-getting.

To carry out these processes it is important to be able to read for meaning which is contingent upon grasping key contextual clues. Furthermore, without a context, meaning is difficult to interpret, construct, or reconstruct. For second language learners, it is important that they be given a context so that the deciphering and interpreting of meaning can be facilitated. Here again, it is useful to recall the five basic elements of any context (Tremblay, 1989), which are:

  1. the participants;
  2. the relationship existing between the participants;
  3. the communicative intent(s) used for participating in the speech act;
  4. the medium through which the information is transmitted (e.g., personal letter, informal note, instruction sheet, novel, and so forth); and
  5. the significant background factors pertinent to the context which will affect the speech act. (See the section on listening comprehension for further information on these elements.)

As in listening comprehension, each of these elements plays an important role in defining the context that is needed in order to attain full comprehension of what is being read. It is by knowing the importance of context for purposeful reading that teachers can determine the kinds of reading tasks and activities which are appropriate and helpful in developing reading comprehension in the second language classroom. As a result, when choosing reading material it is important to bear in mind its context-appropriateness and the purpose for reading.

At the classroom level, generally two forms of print materials/resources are used: didactic materials or authentic documents. Hammerly (1982; 1986) suggests that didactic materials are prepared specifically for a second language clientele and for instructional purposes only. As such, their intent is primarily to teach and develop language elements, since the ratio of new linguistic elements (e.g., vocabulary, grammatical structures, etc.) to old/already known elements is very high, with limited focus being placed on reading for problemsolving or information-getting purposes in real-life situations. Recently, however, some didactic material is moving in the direction of reading for meaning, but it is important to note, nevertheless, that a real context is often lacking, as is an authentic reason for reading, making the material less purposeful. Teachers need to be aware of this in order to add a viable context and the carrying out of real-life tasks with the reading material that is being presented in these resources as a means of developing the skill appropriately.

Authentic documents, on the other hand, are prepared for a first language audience and should be employed in the second language classroom when an appropriate context allows for their use. These are documents which one would find in real life, such as telephone messages, grocery lists, pamphlets, application forms, poems, novels, and so forth. However, teachers must be aware that the use of authentic documents is often quite time consuming and involves much more planning for their use than didactic materials, since the ratio of new linguistic elements to old/already known elements will be much lower. This is where strategy use becomes a key factor in developing reading comprehension. Students will need to be shown how to tolerate ambiguity by focusing in on what they know and not on what they do not know. As a result, they have to be shown how to use learning strategies to interpret or construct meaning from print. For example, Beginner level students can be shown how to construct meaning through the use of cognates. Advertising often uses a number of cognates which students can be asked to underline or circle. Next, students can use these words to attempt to “guess” the message or messages which are being shared. This type of activity teaches students to tolerate the unknown, by building upon what they already know and gives them a strategy which will assist them in not getting bogged down in the deciphering of each and every word.

The use of authentic documents will also assist in developing “risk takers” who can then become efficient and effective readers, since they can resort to a variety of strategies to enable them to become less frustrated deal with a text which is unfamiliar to them. As with listening, many of the strategies, such as hypothesizing, predicting, and anticipating, which are used naturally in one’s first language, must be brought to a conscious level in a second language in order to develop and enhance reading comprehension. Other strategies which are particular to reading comprehension, such as scanning or skimming for information, will constantly need to be reinforced if students are to be able to use them efficiently. Still other strategies, such as using contextual and visual clues, will assist students in better anticipating the types of messages they will be reading. Students should also be taught how to use bilingual and unilingual dictionaries as a meanings of assisting them with words which are “blocking” full comprehension. Students need to be taught how to use the dictionary judiciously so that they are not looking up every single word which they are unable to discern. This is a time-consuming strategy and should only be resorted to when the word or expression impedes the students’ total comprehension. Students need to be shown how to glean meaning from a text without having to know the full sense of every word. By having access to a number of strategies, then, students can learn to become better and more efficient readers and interpreters of the second language.

However, unlike listening which involves both interactive and noninteractive text types (see the section on the program components – experience/ communication- for the definition of these terms), essentially all reading is noninteractive. In this sense, reading is often more difficult than listening because readers are mostly receiving information via one-way messages. Consequently, they do not have the immediate opportunity to stop and negotiate meaning or do perception checks with the communicator of the intent to ensure the meaning is being correctly understood. Furthermore, oral discourse is often embellished by nonverbal communications which will assist in the comprehension of the message, while written communication is limited, by the very nature of print, unless it is accompanied by a graphic, an illustration or a photograph, in assisting in the general comprehension of the message(s) being shared. For this reason, then, the types of reading tasks the students are asked to carry out must be realistic and purposeful and the types of texts chosen are both appropriate for level and the task. To assist in the development of reading comprehension, three phases are proposed:

  • 1) the pre-reading phase,
  • 2) the actual reading phase, and
  • 3) the post reading-phase.

The pre-reading phase involves two aspects:

  • 1) contextualizing the reading which gives students access to the information required to better understand the text by providing the situation and some background to the text and
  • 2) anticipating the elements of the text which sets the stage for reading by defining the purpose for reading the text, determining what kinds of information might possibly be found in the text, identifying a process which will assist in finding this information and deciding how it will be recorded.

This phase employs students’ past experiences as a means of anticipating the type(s) of information or messages which might be shared. Brainstorming is the most common form of anticipation, since it allows for all students to bring forth the experiences which they have acquired mostly in their first language and possibly in their second with written texts, such as grocery lists, telephone messages, business letters, legends, fairy tales, novels, etc. Further, brainstorming assists students in becoming consciously aware of the fact that different texts convey a variety of messages in various ways. The use of contextualization and anticipation, then, is an important aspect of the development of reading comprehension, since they provide students with an anchor which will assist them in decoding the text and deriving meaning from it.

The actual reading phase is composed of two stages:

  • 1) the verification stage which gives students the opportunity to verify what they have anticipated by using such strategies as skimming and scanning to determine if the information is present or not and where it is generally located and
  • 2) the comprehension of details which requires the students to seek out and identify specific information required to complete the communicative task.

The latter stage also provides students with feedback on their general reading comprehension, i.e. their ability to determine the gist of the main messages being shared. The kinds of activities in which students can be asked to apply what they have been able to extrapolate from the text could be as follows:

  • 1) completion tasks where students are required to supply missing information,
  • 2) summary guides in which students present in written or oral form pertinent information, or
  • 3) question/answer guides which demand more than just the recall of information, but rather focus on synthesis-type questions such as having students determine what would be the succeeding events based on the information they have at the present time, or on evaluation-type questions where students are asked to use their past experiences as the criteria for judging whether or not the passage, as they have understood it, was consistent with their own experiences.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of real-life tasks which students can be given in order to demonstrate what it is they have understood. As such, an important aspect of this stage is to provide students with appropriate and sufficient feedback as to what they have understood, as well as to determine the depth of their understanding, since with abstract texts there is often a fair amount of cultural information and nuances which are present that can possibly hinder or impede full comprehension of the messages being shared. To ensure, then, that full comprehension is being attained, students must be given tasks which will delve into the extrapolation of this information and which are different from those used in either the pre- or post-reading phases.

The final phase is the post-reading phase. This step consists of tasks that require the students to reinforce what it is they have just acquired and to relate it to previously learned material, while at the same time reflecting upon the strategies employed in the pre-reading and actual reading phases. This phase is also important, since it develops the students’ ability to take what has been derived from the reading text and to apply it to either a similar or different context (a form of transfer or “reinvestment”). The tasks used in this phase should be different than those presented in the previous two phases to ensure the recycling of knowledge. These tasks, then, will often require the use of other language skills such as related oral or written production activities. The kinds of oral and/or written production tasks which can be carried out would depend largely on the original reading text. For example, orally, students might be asked to summarize the reading passage or demonstrate their appreciation of the text by giving a critique. Writing tasks might include rewriting the ending of the article or story, writing the information from another point of view or writing an article for the newspaper based on the information presented.

Another aspect of this phase is an extension of learning which involves tasks that add new elements to the context so as to recycle and reuse what was previously learned. Once again, any one of the other language skills can be used to develop this portion of the post-reading phase. Thus, there are a variety of ways in which reading comprehension tasks can be combined with listening, speaking or writing tasks as a means of transposing and transforming the messages which were originally understood. These tasks, however, need to be in keeping with the communicative/linguistic level of the students as well as their cognitive level.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).

Oral Production

Second Language Teaching

Oral production is developed sequentially in terms of the kinds of texts that are produced by the learner, i.e., from simple messages such as a salutation to discourse that involves coherent and cohesive thought, which is present in such texts as oral presentations or speeches. Oral texts can be of at least four different types: prepared or spontaneous, interactive or noninteractive. Each kind of text type takes time to develop in the second language classroom and requires different teaching strategies in order to ensure this development.

First and foremost, it is important to be able to discern the different types of oral texts that exist. Interactive oral texts involve at least two or more people who are engaged actively in dialogue with one another. This type of discourse is often typified by spontaneous speech or unprepared speech, such as conversations or informal debates. Noninteractive oral texts are texts in which the speaker produces an oral message but does not expect a direct reaction to what has been said. This type of discourse is almost always prepared, either fully or partially, and often consists of texts such as announcements, narrations, presentations, speeches, etc. Most often, prepared speech consists of the following kinds of characteristics:

  • 1) thoughts are organized and clear and
  • 2) argumentation is evident.

Spontaneous speech is often characterized by hesitations, false starts, long pauses, incomplete thoughts or statements, a lack of coherence in the thoughts and statements made, grammatical errors, and a modification of statements as the speaker listens to what he/she is saying in order to sound intelligible (self-monitoring).

Although the two types of oral texts, interactive and noninteractive, have typical characteristics, there is some crossover in terms of the degree of spontaneity or preparation that can take palace. For example., if, before making a telephone call to a colleague, you jot down a few notes to remind yourself of what you intend to discuss in your conversation, you have demonstrated a degree of preparedness, since the topics of discussion have been established prior to your conversation. However, there is still spontaneity because the exact discourse patterns have not been rehearsed. On the other hand, you may have prepared a very detailed speech for a presentation and upon its delivery you find that your audience in not in the least bit captivated by what you are saying. Consequently, you abandon your speech temporarily and create as you go along. This scenario demonstrates spontaneity in noninteractive discourse. Therefore, the context in which the oral production takes place can be a factor in determining the degree of spontaneity or preparedness of the oral text.

In the past, in the general course of oral language development, the tendency has been to allow students plenty of time to prepare their dialogues, skits, presentations, etc., in order for them to present the best possible product. This teaching strategy has been and still is an important aspect of language development, but its main purpose is to develop the students’ ability to order their thoughts and choose the correct linguistic elements and grammatical forms in order to fulfill the communicative intent. These cognitive and metacognitive strategies are important in the preparation of noninteractive texts but do not necessarily assist students in making the transition to unprepared texts. Therefore, a special effort must be made in order to develop students’ confidence in producing such texts, whether oral or written, which will allow them the opportunity to deploy certain strategies that are for the most part found in unrehearsed speech. These strategies include: self-correcting, paraphrasing, refining and clarifying meaning by listening to oneself, negotiating meaning by becoming actively aware or conscious of one’s language use, using circumlocution or asking for help with a word or phrase even if this occurs in one’s first language. In essence, then, it is up to the teacher to assist students in moving away from a dependency on prepared speech to be able to communicate freely in a spontaneous situation, which is more the norm outside the confines of the second language classroom than is prepared speech.

In the classroom, oral production activities will depend upon three factors:

  • 1) the purpose of the oral production, be it experientially – communicatively – or linguistically-based,
  • 2) the type of production activity that is being planned, and
  • 3) the linguistic-communicative level of the students.

For the most part, Beginner level students will need time to prepare their oral productions in order to reduce frustration. Nevertheless, the teacher should engage Beginner level students in simple spontaneous exchanges so as to develop their confidence in this kind of speech act. Intermediate and Advanced level students should be given more opportunities to produce spontaneous speech; however, this will depend largely on the type of oral production task or activity and its purpose.

An oral production activity’s purpose will determine the kind of “product” the teacher can expect. For example, if students are given oral drill exercises, such as transformation drills (exercises that involve students in making linguistic changes in sentences from singular to plural, from one tense to another, from first person to third person, etc.) or completion drills (exercises in which the students complete the sentence with a word or phrase), the type of expected “product” is the correct answer, since the focus is on language knowledge and use. These activities are appropriate for linguistic development provided that the structures are relevant and are carried out in a contextualized fashion. Further, these language activities must be directly linked to the actual oral production task in order to be meaningful to the learner. However, these types of mechanical activities are not to be considered communicative, since they do not convey messages that are a consequence of an information gap (Paulston, 1975).

In order, then, to ensure that these types of activities do play an important role in the development of students’ linguistic abilities, teachers must choose pattern exercises that develop certain linguistic structures which are in keeping with the context and the oral production task to be carried out at a later stage. For example, if the field of experience is “Food” and you want to drill the verb “to take”, this should be done in such a way that the verb is contextualized in terms of food and not dealing with any of its other uses. This transfer will come when the next appropriate context predicates it. Thus, to drill the verb appropriately, a context needs to be set that is related to the verb’s authentic usage, such as in a restaurant situation where a waiter would ask customers what their order would be. Further, to drill the verb effectively, one must ensure that the type of drill questions used are within the experiences of the students. For example, if one asks the question “What do you take for dinner when you’re in a great restaurant?” to Grade Four students, they may have difficulty answering this type of question because it may not be within their realm of experience; however, Grade Ten students may be able to answer more readily since they may have experience this very situation. Therefore, it is also important that the type of oral linguistic exercises given to the students take into account the context, students’ interests, their experiences and their cognitive maturity.

In order for an oral production activity to be communicative, then, it must have the following characteristics:

  • 1) involve the transfer of information that is unknown or not well known to the listener(s),
  • 2) be task-based; i.e., it relates to an activity that occurs in real life,
  • 3) be contextualized; i.e., the speaker has information regarding who the audience is, for what purpose he/she is producing the information, any other circumstances surrounding the production, etc., and
  • 4) be meaningful to the learner; i.e., the activity is relevant to the speaker’s age group and life experiences (Tremblay, 1989).

In these oral communicative activities, students are required to supply information that is needed or missing in order to carry out the task, which may be either prepared or unprepared. Communicative activities consist of such techniques/procedures as brainstorming, role-playing, taking surveys, giving directions/instructions, playing games, especially those which are played in real life), carrying out impromptu conversations, interviewing and so on.

The same types of communicative activities can be done at an experiential level. The difference, however, lies in the fact that now students are making the decisions regarding the linguisitic knowledge and skills they will need in order to convey their own intents based on the context. In this sense, the language experience is taking into account the students’ experiences and interests by carrying out the activities which are meaningful and relevant to them. A brainstorming activity will help illustrate how the same technique/procedure can be communicative in one instance and experiential in another.

Brainstorming, when used as a communicative technique, has a very specific purpose. For example, in the field of experience “Food”, students could be asked to brainstorm all the food words they know in English which they think may sound the same in the second language and verify if they are similar or not. In this case, the students are communicating ideas, but the intent of the activity is very specific; i.e., the students’ knowledge is being directed towards the development of a food vocabulary list based on what they know about food in general. In addition, there is an information gap, since the students are not certain whether the vocabulary they are furnishing exists in the second language or not; therefore, their hypotheses are being verified and they are bridging the gap with the words they are supplying, albeit in their first language.

However, in order to make the same technique experiential, the teacher could ask the students to brainstorm the types of food they would like to eat at their end of the year class picnic. Once the list has been prepared, they could decide who would bring what item to the picnic. In this sense, the activity is experiential in that it is relevant and meaningful to the students, with their interests at the core of the activity. In effect, they are actually participating in making decisions that pertain to them. In addition, this same activity has a context and gives students a reason for communicating. Essentially, then, the distinguishing factors between a communicative activity and an experiential one are:

  • 1) the limitations placed on the activity, i.e., its function- learning (communicative) versus application (experiential), the presence of a communicative intent and a context,
  • 2) how relevant and meaningful the activity is in terms of the students’ interests and maturity, and
  • 3) whether or not the students are playing an active role in a decision-making or problem-solving process.

There are a variety of oral production activities and tasks which can be planned and used at all language levels (Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced). The difference in these activities will be determined by the complexity of the language used, i.e., simple language expression versus more sophisticated language use at the more advanced language levels. A useful example is a survey activity, which involves the reading comprehension skill, since surveys or questionnaires usually appear in print form.

At the Beginner level, a check-off format is most appropriate as a means of gathering information, since these surveys will focus mainly on language at the word level, For example, if the field of experience under study is “Clothing”, then the type of survey questions asked would relate to simple word usage such as “When it is hot, do you prefer shorts or a bathing suit?” Students would answer the question using a one-word answer which would reflect their choice. A full sentence is not necessary, because the purpose of this type of activity is to convey one’s message, not focus on the ability to create a sentence with the chosen word.

A follow up to this activity might involve having students summarize the results of the survey orally, followed by a written summary of the results in which the students would copy down the report as a form of guided practice in which knowledge is transferred to the written skill and reinforces what was learned orally.

At the Intermediate level, the focus will be more at the sentence and paragraph level, where students are asked to state their opinions, likes/dislikes, etc., in which their responses consist of a string of ideas. For example if the field of experience is “fashion”, a survey question at this level might be, “On weekends, what do you like to wear and why?” As such, students are required, then, to substantiate and elaborate on their answer, where they might use complete sentence or other appropriate rejoinders in order to maintain the flow of information. The survey would be made of question relating to other activities that students participation and the types of clothes they would wear for these occasions. Notes can be jotted down on the survey form as the question are being asked, replicating an activity done in real life. Once the data are collected, an oral or written class summary can be carried out, which could be used later on in the unit or the project.

At the Advanced level, students’ oral productions will focus on using sophisticated language forms in a more elaborated fashion, i.e., students will communicate their thoughts as a series of cohesive and coherent ideas, linked by discourse elements such as “seen that, for that, as,” etc. as a means of connecting these ideas and giving their productions more fluidity. As such, surveys at this level can take on the role of determining students’ knowledge and the ability to synthesize and evaluate it. If for example, the field of experience under study is “Being Independent” and the unit or project revolves around the creation of a pamphlet describing essential aspects of living alone, the types of questions asked would require the student to describe in detail an incident that he/she has experienced or a friend has experienced so that information can be gleaned from the scenarios. For example, one scenario could be “Imagine that you have been accepted to a university in Eastern Province and you should move. Describe what you would think is your new life. Explain what are your expenses, etc. The scenario type question then requires that students use more sophisticated language as a means of closing the information gap.

As can be seen the same type of oral text can serve a number of levels, what will change, however, will be the level of sophistication of the language use.

Brainstorming is a cognitive learning strategy that generally involves the process of generating or creating ideas to resolve a problem. In the second language classroom, this process can be used to generate vocabulary, expressions or, at more advanced communicative/linguistic levels, ideas for discussion purposes. This type of activity focuses on communicating thoughts, not on linguistic accuracy. Therefore, linguistic errors may be found as a product of this activity and should be accepted accordingly; however, if errors impede total comprehension, then the negotiation of meaning will be required in order that the students’ intents be understood. Error correction may even still be necessary if the error persists. This kind of activity can be done as an entire class or in small groups of between four to six students. Students will have to be reminded that the goal is the generation of words, expressions or ideas and that all answers should be accepted without criticism. This process can also be used as a pre-production activity or as will be seen later on as a means of communicating ideas as it relates to a reading passage or a writing assignment.

Role-playing or simulations are oral production activities which are often based on listening activities, which have already exposed students to certain linguistic and sociolinguistic patterns needed for this task. At the Beginner level, especially, it is advisable to demonstrate or model the process for students. This can be done by the teacher or through the use of audio tapes or videotaped scenes. In some cases, students can be supplied with cue cards that present the entire situation with only certain aspects missing, which are then filled in spontaneously by the students. Or, just the beginning of the dialogue can be supplied and students can complete the dialogue. In another case, cue cards would provide students information on what they are to talk about and no more.

It is up to them, then, to develop the conversation, following the appropriate protocol for the situation, such as formal versus informal language use, and so forth. Variations of this process include: partners switching roles, an audience member intervening and giving one of the characters advice, one participant actually playing one role while the other role is played by an “imaginary” person requiring the audience to determine what the “imaginary” person is saying, one person can play both roles or various groups can replay the same roles with the class listening for the differences/similarities in the simulations. For students at the Intermediate/Advanced levels, role-playing can replicate more difficult situations, such as giving a classmate advice on a problem he/she may be experiencing or simulating a situation in which one character expresses an opinion and must support it with documented evidence. These types of activities, then, allow students to recycle knowledge and experiences.

Conversations are similar to role-playing but differ in the sense that they relate more to unprepared discourse and to events that often occur in one’s daily life, such as asking friends about the movie they saw the night before or inviting a friend out to see a movie. Brainstorming is one activity which can be done as a precursor to the conversational activity so that the class as a whole or small groups can determine the kinds of words, expressions or appropriate social conventions they think they will need for the conversation. From there, depending on whether the teacher is dealing with Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced level students, he/she may wish to give them time to prepare mentally or to allow them to carry it out impromptu. The latter format assists students in becoming more independent and confident speakers as well as better risk takers in unstructured situations.

When students present their conversations to the class, those who make up the audience should be actively engaged in an activity that corresponds to the conversation. Students can be asked to do an activity such as those outlined in the listening comprehension section or they can be asked to evaluate the conversation (see peer evaluation in the section on Evaluating StudentsWork). Whatever format is chosen, it is important to involve students in their peers’ oral productions as this will assist them in directly developing their listening comprehension and indirectly in improving their oral production skills.

Interviews are a variation on conversations but require a preparation phase in which the types of questions that will be asked are often predetermined. For Beginner level students, the teacher may prepare a sequence of questions or the questions may be decided upon as a class. An example of this format is a game called Social Bingo (Omaggio, 1986), in which the students attempt to fill in their Bingo cards by interviewing fellow classmates so as to determine which situation belongs to whom. Once they have found the person, they write the student’s name below the situation. The teacher then decides what vertical or horizontal line, the X, and so on will be the winning combination.

At the Intermediate or Advanced levels, students can be allowed to prepare their questions in advance, in which case they would be creating a structured interview. This preparation process can be done individually, in pairs or in small groups (three or four students). When the students have decided upon their questions, they can be transferred to cue cards to help facilitate the interview process, which replicates a process that is often used on television. Interviews can also be unstructured, but this is probably best done at the Advanced level, since this type of activity will encourage students to be more spontaneous in the application of their language knowledge and to choose the best means of expressing themselves. This type of activity mainly requires the use of metacognitive strategies, since students are required to sustain the interview process by choosing the best linguistic expressions, monitoring their speech and self-correcting their message. This type of interview is used best for gathering general information, since it is more like a conversation than a question-answer session.

A debate is a production activity that requires high levels of language ability and is best carried out at the Advanced level, since students at this level will have a larger vocabulary and are able to access more linguistic structures. Furthermore, this type of activity requires critical thinking skills which are often associated with more mature students. This type of activity can involve two steps:

  • 1) researching the topic, and
  • 2) brainstorming prior to the debate.

The first step can involve a “reading for information” stage in which students gather data regarding the topic to be discussed, which would include the jotting down of notes which students could use to support their opinions during the debate. Alternatively, students may wish to interview key resource people who could supply them with information on the topic, in which case they also would be using interview techniques. Students could then be grouped according to their opinions so that as a group they could develop a defence for their opinions. Once students have pooled their information, the groups can be divided again so as to carry out a practice session to determine if their defence is solid enough. At the same time, they can determine what appropriate linguistic forms and vocabulary will be needed in order to best express their intents. Once the “mock” debate session has been completed, the second step can take place.

This step involves students in brainstorming linguistic items, such as “floortaking formulae”, i.e., expressions needed to agree or disagree, to show objection, to support an idea/opinion, to express an opinion, etc., so that they will have at their disposal the necessary linguistic formulae that will assist them in sustaining their communication. This type of activity also allows for the use of negotiation techniques, which can also be brainstormed so that students have access to ways in which they can clarify another’s communicative intent. Once the debate begins, the teacher’s role, as an observer, is to note frequent errors in communication which will be discussed at a later date but not during the process. Students not participating in the debate are also observers and should be given a task that relates to the debate, such as writing a summary of the key points raised by either side or writing an opinion from the observer’s point of view as to which side presented the best arguments. The summary can be given orally, followed by a discussion of what types of difficulties the students experienced in presenting their opinions, which takes the form of analysis and reflection. This activity, then, is probably the most difficult and challenging for students. Thus, students must be given ample time to prepare properly for this task.

The last type of oral production activity to be discussed is the use of games. Games are an excellent means of reviewing linguistic structures or they can serve as information gap activities. Games are highly motivational and students easily become involved. Games that are offshoots of well-known games or games which are broadcasted on television are particularly popular. The advantage of creating and using games that they are based on these models is that students are already familiar with the rules.


Government of the Northwest Territories (Canada).