Skip navigation

Category Archives: speaking

Below is a link to six speaking samples of two college students. What score would you give them?

6 samples rar

Please listen to each sample carefully and score each individually. They may have been made at different times.

For business topics the student is speaking from a prompt card that had a topic and the student had 3 minutes to prepare. The student had no access to any materials to prepare, only time to think and plan. For personal topics the answers were spontaneous to the questions.

Give one score per sample. If you want to use the IELTS scale, you can find the band descriptors here: IELTS Speaking Band Descriptors. Please say what scale you are using.

Generally, it is expected that students can speak about familiar topics, like family or friends, better than unfamiliar topics like business. So the difficulty of the task has to be considered in scoring.

Now you can try it: Can you rate speaking?

Please do not discuss your scores on the List until all of the scores have been published after the one month waiting period. If you have any questions or problems, please contact Dave Kees at: davekees[at]gmail.com.

Write your scores in the “Leave a comment” section on the left side of this page or click here: Comments. All score submissions will be withheld for one month and then published. This way submissions will not be influenced by previous submissions.

Your score:

What scale?:

Sample 1:
Sample 2:
Sample 3:
Sample 4:
Sample 5:
Sample 6:

(Special prize for the submissions that are closest to the average scores. The prize is Uncle Dave’s Tie Score Tie. Yes, now you can be the envy of your school and own one of these specially designed high-quality silk ties perfect for teachers who do oral English testing. While the student is talking, the teacher can adjust the gold tie clip up or down to indicate to the student how he is doing and as a reminder to the teacher of how the student performed! Note: This offer is void in countries outside of China and in all areas inside of China.)

Mark Richards, Teacher – James Lyng Adult Education Centre, Montreal, Quebec

A teacher asked, “I have this one learner in my class who cannot understand one word of English…How do you reach this child?”

I only work with zero beginners. Start with survival English. What does this kid need to be able to say to survive day to day in your school? In your community?

Think old school: function/notion. Be physical, use your whole body as a means of communication and encourage him to do the same. Make a game of stand up/sit down and Simon Says.

Involve other kids in the teaching process. Use some simple American sign language for the deaf (with pictures) and then speak at the same time.

The motor cortex is located in the same general area as Broca’s and I find that encouraging students to use sign as they speak helps them assimilate and retain vocabulary faster. (For example, look up the signs for apple, banana and milk on the net and you will see there is a visual connection between the sign and the word). If you do the sign for go, repeat the word and then physically leave the room and he will understand. And then have him do it and have other kids do it.

And if you don’t have the time because you’re too busy managing the other students in your class, get some other kids to help out thereby creating a cooperative and inclusive learning environment. By having him repeat the sign with the words, he can start to communicate in telegraphic speech. Hanging around the other kids will help him fill in some of the gaps.

Here are some verbs which are very easy for students to learn using sign and they are basic everyday survival vocabulary: go, come, eat, drink, see, have, give, buy, help, show, forget, teach, learn, read and write (and don’t forget washroom).

I understand that this may seem a little weird for many people here, but most of my zero-beginner students end up understanding close to 30 verbs within the first three days of class. There is a little resistance at first, but we have a deaf student in our program and after the first few days I have him come to visit my class.

Once the students understand that they are actually communicating with him through sign, they really get interested. Remember VAKT – visual, auditive, kinetic and tactile. The more senses you involve, the more the brain is engaged and the more likely info will be transferred from short term to long term memory.

Simultaneously, you create multiple pathways back to the information so there is more chance he will be able retrieve it later (Whole Brain Teaching). For phonics and sound/letter correspondence: Dr Seuss (Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, The Foot Book, etc.)

Draw pictures on the board and use a ton of pictures in the class. I agree 100% with Mert on this one: pictures, pictures, pictures and repetition, repetition, repetition. Furthermore, anything you say, write it on the board and anything you write on the board, number it. Within a short time he will be able to use the numbers as a reference to what you are referring to. Use music. In another thread, there is a discussion about music in the classroom. Here’s a little reworded version of Frere Jacques that my students enjoy:

Easy English

Could you give me a paper please?
May I have a paper?
I would like a paper please.
Could you repeat that?
I didn’t hear!
Could you speak more slowly?
Thank you very much!
I am looking for the office.
Where is it?
Could you tell me where it is?
I don’t know!

By George

To accurately test my students, I give them oral exams which are recorded on tape. These exams have two parts. The first part is Q&A covering things we have covered in class. They almost always have a memorized response for the basic questions. I tend to ignore these. I focus on their responses to the followup questions. For example, I’ve told them that we might discuss their grandparents, so I might ask

“Are your grandparents alive?” “How many children did they have?” How many boys and how many girls.? “Do you know your aunts and uncles?” “O.K let’s talk about your youngest aunt.” Here is where they begin to breakdown because they didn’t think to prepare for a discussion about their youngest aunt. I’ve also begun asking about a favorite middle-school teacher and them focus on the teacher they liked the least. Once I gotten to the real subject I’ll begin with what is the person’s name, age etc. and gradually lead to more complex questions. Then I start looking for syntactic, grammatical and vocabulary failure. In many cases the exam has ended in 2 or 3 minutes and some have gone as long as 30 or 40 minutes. In all cases I use subjects they are familiar with. Family, School, Friends and Hometowns. If I knew more about sports I would dwell on that. I have been know to ask a student to explain what a mid-fielder, a striker or a goalie does if they play those positions in football or the role of Guards, the Center or Forwards in basketball. I’ve even asked guitar playing students to explain how to play a particular song. In short they give me a guitar lesson.

To test for middle school, determine what is grade appropriate and start from there.

Again, start simple and progress to the complex. At what level do they abandon an answer or the topic entirely. The second part is a short oral reading which incorporates most of the English phonemes. I sometimes give the samples to practice with but they get a new reading for the exam. The must read cold.

Also, I’ve just begun developing a set of reading passages that will begin at about fifth or sixth grade level for native speakers using Flesch-Kincaide RGL measures and which become progressively more advanced. This way I can determine the level at which they begin to break down, identified by their rate of word abandonment. In the first year I will be mainly concerned with phonetic identification and production. As we progress, stress and intonation will become more of a factor.

Oral exams can be quantified, but I don’t like using them as the basis for a grade. I tell the school that grades should be considered as a report of a student’s speaking level and how much they have improved. In my classes, the only ones who actually fail are those who only show up for exams and the rare film. Those who come to class but aren’t there count as absent. Our school weeds them out pretty quick. Last term eight of my students flunked out including two who were pretty good English speakers. Six were expelled for cheating on Chinese teacher’s exams.

By Jennifer Wallace – Anhui Gongye Daxue, Ma’anshan City, Anhui Province, China

When I came to teach here, although I‘d been a speaking test examiner for more than 10 years (for UCLES exams) I‘d actually never had to set an oral English exam before. I’d taught always in situations where the students were either taking no exam or were working towards an external exam. So if I did have to set tests, they were very much on the mock-exam model. I’d never taught a modern language within a university/college setting where this was the student’s main subject (major). Although I had a short training specific to coming to this post in China, provided by the NGO who sponsor my post, I came with some sort of assumption that there would be a syllabus, there would be designated attainment targets (although not necessarily expressed in that way). Well, you all know the reality here. I was timetabled for first year Oral English classes who were provided with one of the ORAL ENGLISH WORKSHOP series of books. If anything, I found that was worse than arriving to nothing. It implied someone somewhere thought the content of this course book was what my students should be mastering.

Anyway, after a semester of muddling along and getting some sort of impression about what might be possible, I realised that the lowest of the UCLES EFL exams I’d been a speaking test examiner for was probably within the reach of everyone in the class. I’d been warned about the tradition of everyone in the class passing the exams. Remember I’d done those UCLES tests for years. I could remember the type of tasks set in the exam, and I produced a parallel. Those UCLES tests are taken in pairs, but I chose to give each student an individual exam – partly as a public relations exercise about oral exams within my department. I was interlocuter as well as assessor. So I recorded all the exams and marked them from the tapes. I was right in that all my students were capable of attaining that first level in the UCLES hierarchy, which means that in a grander scheme of things they had all achieved the Council of Europe Basic User level. The descriptors for this (in summary) are:

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very personal and family information, shopping, local geography, environment).

Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.

Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters of immediate need.

At the end of the first semester all my students could do that – although a good number could only just do it with a very sympathetic interlocutor. Others walked through it. Which gave me a good spread of marks. And on that basis I decided to model the exam at the end of the second semester on the next level up (which I’d also done examining work for). By that stage my classes had included a fair amount of group work, and so the exam was done in small, randomly selected groups of 4, not including me. This year I’ve done lots more group work, but am actually planning to give one-to-one exams at this stage instead – partly for comparison.

So my decisions were based on a combination of what was within my own capabilities as well as the students. I’m not an expert on language testing. My only teacher training is a CELTA, and in the past when I’ve had to devise and construct college tests it was done under the supervision of a very experienced head of department. But also I’m not into re-inventing the wheel. The Council of Europe stuff – which relates to ALL the languages taught in Europe (and that includes teaching non-European languages) – is the result of mega-input from experts over heaven knows how many years now. I feel I’d be deluding myself if I thought I could devise any better sort of structure to work within – so I’m using it. I do also like it – I find it clear and easy to get my head around.

>By Erlyn Baack – ITESM, Campus Queretaro, Mexico

A teacher asked about “Listening/Speaking exams to assess low intermediate students if they are ready for high intermediate level and then high intermediate students if they are ready for advanced level of ESL. Putting an emphasis on better academic preparation, in Listening we stress listening to lectures and note-taking, and in Speaking, we stress academic vocabulary, grammar correctness, and presentation techniques. We consider (1) exam content, (2) testing efficiency considering the number of students, (3) a rubric for Listening/Speaking, (4) involvement of outside instructors to make testing more objective.

The teacher asked a whole series of interrelated questions involving testing of 40 low intermediate and 80 high intermediate students, and while the questions were specifically about “Listening/Speaking exams, the emphasis is much broader including listening and note-taking and academic vocabulary, grammar correctness, and presentation techniques.

Those questions, therefore, are all-encompassing questions that must be asked early on in the semester or even before the semester begins.

Teachers at both levels and the school administration should ask themselves (1) What do we want the students at each level to know (or be able to do) when they finish the level, (2) how are we going to teach it, and (3) how are we going to test it? Essentially, therefore, teachers at both levels should be (or should have been) addressing these questions in their lesson plans and classroom activities since the beginning of the semester. If daily or weekly classroom activities are designed for students to achieve the successes desired by the time of the final exam, their probability of success is high.

It would seem to me that listening to lectures and note-taking would be the easiest to teach and test although it takes collaboration among teachers and administrators on setting it up. For a simple classroom activity, I would recommend going to a website like Living on Earth at http://loe.org , download some MP3 files of radio stories, play them for the class while they take notes, and then test using ten multiple choice questions, for example. (Parenthetically, it is EASY to get written permission from LOE to use their MP3s in this manner, even including putting their files on CDs for the reserve in the library or for free distribution.) After the quiz (or before in some instances) students at both levels should have the opportunity to discuss the stories because they are interesting, sometimes polemic, and they can generate a lot of discussion. The last radio show is at consisting of seven stories ranging from three minutes to 17 minutes, and finally, an additional benefit is that the text is always available to these MP3 stories as well.

Regarding testing, to be fair, academic vocabulary and grammar correctness can be taken from materials (like Living on Earth) that students have already been exposed to. The text can be used for that, and at the levels Inna Braginsky is asking about, students can always benefit from focused attention toward S-V agreement, pronouns, modals, simple, compound, and complex sentences, adjective clauses, parallel structure, etc. It is up to the teachers and administrators to address the most obvious weaknesses at each level and focus on a few specifics students can study, so when they take their multiple choice texts on these things, they can succeed. (No apologies for multiple choice tests here! 😉 )

The hardest part is the speaking exam because it requires an enormous amount of consensus among TRAINED teachers.

First, teachers must agree on a series of possible questions or topics which may be announced beforehand or not, their preference. I think to be reliable the topic should come from topics students have already been exposed to, much like the Living on Earth topics suggested above (a dozen topics would not be too many for students to prepare for). After students are given three or four minutes to present a (1) SUMMARY or an (2) ARGUMENT for something or a (3) RATIONALE against something (for examples), teachers should ask a pertinent follow-up question or two, and both teachers/administrators and students should at least feel that the speech topic was fair; it was a topic the student was at least exposed to and had the chance to study.

Then, teachers should assess the speaking abilities of the students (both the prepared and extemporaneous parts), and ideally they will have worked together long enough with the parts of their rubric to arrive at a consensus independently. If four teachers, for example, assign the student a four of six points on an aspect of his speaking performance, they should be very proud of that!

I didn’t address bringing a bunch of non-ESL-trained teachers into the mix, but their opinions count! Spaces both formal and informal should be available for “mainstream” teachers to explain the “greatest weaknesses” of the ESL students, but I wouldn’t invite them to exams.

>By Karen Stanley – Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

– provide a list of interview questions, and have students use them to interview each other; better still, have the class generate questions (with your guidance) on a particular topic, and have the students interview each other using them (one example theme: questions related to the person’s carbon footprint). Make sure they don’t think they have to write complete sentences with the answer to each question – in fact, they don’t necessarily have to record the answer at all. Otherwise, they spend more time writing than talking.

– find a problem to solve in small group discussion; George Rooks’ “Who gets the heart?” is a classic example. The students are given a list of different people with different characteristics, all of whom need a heart transplant. They then have to agree on how to prioritize who gets a heart. So, on the list you have someone in his 90s who is a national hero (but probably won’t live long), a child who may or may not ever do anything of benefit (but who has a long potential life ahead of him/her), a woman in her mid 20s with not such a good lifestyle, but who has no relatives to take care of her three young children if she dies, etc. I recommend all three of George Rooks’ books. He provides limitations and details for each task.

Let’s Start Talking (lowest level; simpler, more practical tasks, such as planning a party)

Can’t Stop Talking (intermediate; example tasks: planning a travel brochure, deciding which person should get a Citizenship Award )

The Non-Stop Discussion Workbook (advanced; example tasks: Who Gets the Heart, Design a Product and an Advertising Campaign)

Other possible lesson plans from posts to this list can be found at:
http://teflchina.org/teach/speak/ideas-for-teaching-directions
http://teflchina.org/teach/speak/hotSeat.htm
http://teflchina.org/teach/speak/lostFriend.htm
http://teflchina.org/teach/speak/gamesMore.htm

>By Maria Spelleri – Manatee Community College, Florida, USA

One way to get a sense of structure with the evaluation of student oral production is by using a rubric. Here’s an example of a speaking rubric for an ESL program in a US elementary school system: RUBRIC and here’s a site with programs to help you develop a rubric: DEVELOP RUBRIC

To create a rubric for a speaking activity such as retelling a story, you need to break the activity down into its most basic elements. For example, speech is comprised of vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation/stress/intonation, logical meaning and order, purpose, and in the case of the story, an element of cohesion. For the specific task, you might want to also consider the accuracy of the retelling, the amount of detail included, number or length of pauses and inappropriate filler noises, etc. Then, for each category, set the possible performance/assessment levels, for example, “excellent”, “satisfactory”, and “needs improvement”. I prefer to work with a basic set of 3 as it is easier for me to break down a production into bad, so-so, and good instead of more subtle variations- although plenty of instructors use 4 and 5 categories.

If you do a Google search using key words like “ESL Speaking rubric”, you should find many ideas to help you create a rubric that will meet your needs.

By the way, I would suggest recording the assessment either audio or audio/video because it can be hard to listen to content, mentally evaluate, and complete a rubric at the same time. Replaying the audio gives you time to better analyze the students’ work and assess more fairly. Playing back the recording for the student who can then watch him or herself and compare the recording to the completed rubric assessment is a valuable learning tool as well.

>In Beijing, there’s a man called “Dawei” who established a small-scale movie-theatre in his house and invited a group of special viewers, the sight-impaired, to “watch”. The way he used was telling.

Each time his small cinema put on a classic Chinese or foreign movie, he let the audiences know about the movie by telling its scene. He tells almost all the necessary details from an actor’s gesture to a whole war. All the audiences listen attentatively and express their satisfaction about Dawei’s movie telling and say that they feel as if they were “seeing” the movie.

Actually, it isn’t an easy job to “tell” a movie because of the time limit within which s/he has to convey as much information as possible to the audiences in order for them to comprehend the movie. What often appears is that some details are lost when trying to talk about others. Luckily, Mr. Dawei has mastered this pretty well by practicing a lot.

From this, I suggest that this “movie telling” be introduced to English teaching, especially  oral courses. Specifically speaking, in the oral English class, the teacher plays a movie known to the students on a DVD and picks up students to relate what they see. The movie can be divided into several part according to the scenes, and after each “scene telling”, the teacher replays it and the whole class have a disscusion of the telling. In the end, students bring about a best telling version of the scene they think. Then the teacher makes a comment on it and proceeds to the next scene…

From the telling, students learn how to tell a story in English, how to pick the right or appropriate words to describe an action, an object, and how to use expressions as simple as possible since oral English prefers simplicity. They may feel time pressed to do the “telling” in the beginning period, but I believe they’ll accustom to it as time passes.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be movies, cartoons are OK as well. What matters is the difficulty students encounter when they perform their telling. After all, “hard” movies are no good for teaching.

Besides, this method can perhaps only be used among students with intermeidate and advanced level of English since their vocabulary and grammar is sufficient enough for the job.

>By Dick Tibbetts – University of Macau, Macau, China

Make sure the learners know the language learning objective(s) of the game but there is a bigger problem here that may negate even this approach.

The problem is that the institution does not really value spoken English and does not value the teacher of spoken English. Consequently, the learners don’t either. You therefore need to use motivating forces from outside the educational institution and this is not easy. Games fit the bill but in this environment even the fun of the game can work against you.

You want the learner to directly experience the benefits of being able to speak English. If there are none for these learners. If there are none and you are teaching the branch of ESP known as ENPP, English for No Particular Purpose then you are on a limb. You might get some hooked on chatting to visiting foreigners, if there are any, and you might get some to engage in voice chat on the web, if they have the equipment. Some might be motivated by interesting discussions and some by the status of starring in a debate, though the latter can only benefit a few. I have, on occasion, offered money to the best student for a task completion, praised the winner to the skies and then, with an innocent smile, admit I lied about the money. It got enthusiastic participation and a big laugh but you can only wave your 100 Yuan about once.

In short there is no one answer to the problem. Varied activities, some games, some tasks, some hard study work, some activities that relate to the world outside seems to be the best approach to hook as many differently motivations as possible.

[Photo: Students playing the “Alibi” game. “Where were you last night at 9:00?”]

>By Nik Bramblett – UCF, Orlando FL, USA

Sometimes we need to evaluate L2 socialization skills using an alternative assessment and not a paper test.

Here’s what I would do:

(a) Work with students (using appropriate combination of whole group, breakout small-group, and/or individual/paired strategies) to develop a rubric for a role-playing activity. Discuss what “socialization skills” means and how you might measure mastery of them. Let the students decide what’s important and what they will be graded on (with appropriate guidance from you as necessary, of course).

(b) Have students work in pairs or trios for the assessment… students would randomly select a social problem-solving situation from a collection that you created on cards or whatever… “You need make an important call [make up a specific scenario] and your cell phone is dead; there are two strangers nearby [perhaps it’s a bus stop or whatever]. Interact with those people to solve your problem.” for example. Students would have a brief period to plan/rehearse, and would then more-or-less improv a scene.

(c) Both you and the student audience would use the rubric you designed together (and reviewed clearly and modeled and practiced before these presentations began) to measure the ability of the students to perform whatever specific tasks, roles, etc. you had decided were the measurable objectives. Students’ ability to effectively judge their peers’ performance would (rightly) be part of the grade. This would not only measure the mastery of the skills but also the metacognition behind the skills.