Lesson 1 of 0
In Progress

8.7 Placement and Grouping

durenmgmail-com November 9, 2021

A significant step in being a successful adult education ESL teacher is student assessment and placement. Adult students must be placed appropriately; otherwise, they will quickly lose interest and drop out. If the material you present at any EFL/ESL class level is too easy, students will become bored. If it is too difficult for them, they will not come back for the second class.

Regardless of the placement technique applied for adult students, the first impression is an influential one. Many adults will come to the class with many fears. In some cases, their previous experience with school was negative (e.g., they may have left school as teenage dropouts). Consequently, the teacher must establish a friendly, enthusiastic rapport free of any academic pretence. This welcoming social approach is especially crucial for more undereducated adult students. Even though their panic level is very high, it can be broken down by a warm smile and friendly small talk.

How to place adult students according to their oral ability?

The most popular approach to determining adult students’ oral proficiency is to place them in appropriate classes and start a brief oral interview. For non-literate students, this method is particularly valuable. The following questions are suitable for this interview:

  1. What is your name?
  2. What day is it today?
  3. Where do you live?
  4. Are you married?
  5. Do you have any children?
  6. What are your hobbies?
  7. Where were you born?
  8. How long have you lived here?
  9. Where do you work?
  10. What kind of work do you do?
  11. What do you feel you need the most help in? Reading, speaking, or writing?
  12. Why do you want to study English?
  13. Tell me something about your family.

At all times, be friendly and relaxed with them. Make them feel comfortable. Reassure them that this is for placement purposes alone, and it is not an examination. Repeat the question or statement if necessary. You may explain a response or even assist the student in helping them feel more at ease. Teachers can rate the students by giving them points. If they provide an accurate and precise answer in English, give them two points for each item. If they provide an unclear, irrelevant answer, give them one point. For no response, give them a zero. Add up their points for a total score.

  • Beginner classes are for students with a total score of about 0- 10.
  • Intermediate classes are for those with scores of about 10-20, and
  • Advanced classes are for those who score above 20. These scores are only estimations. The examiner must discern the class levels appropriate for each person, particularly those whose ratings fall near the breaking points.

Literary Assessment

In addition to oral assessment and placement, it is crucial to assess if the student is literate in his native language and find out if the student has some writing skills in English.

To evaluate the individual’s literacy skills, simply ask them to write the answers to the questions that appear on a questionnaire. Encourage the students to write their responses in either English or their native language, whichever they find easiest. (You may need interpreters to assess the level of your students’ native literacy.) Again, make your students feel comfortable. Repeat the fact that the goal is only to place the student in a suitable class. Encourage them to answer as many questions as possible.

How do you place more literate students?

Once you find out that you have a group of somewhat literate students in English, you may need to evaluate their literacy level. There are several ways to do this. You may want to administer a cloze test or a dictation test.

The cloze test

One test that has proven successful in determining written English ability is the cloze test. This test consists of a written passage that has missing words. The student is asked to supply the missing words.

When you correct these test papers, give one point for every word that the student supplies identical to the missing word from the original passage. Other words may seem appropriate to you, but experiments have shown that your placement will be mostly the same if you only accept the original word. Students can be divided into groups according to their scores. Those with low scores would form the beginner group. Those with perfect or nearly perfect scores should be screened out to create a more advanced class.

A dictation test

Choose a passage of about 100 words from a commonly used text in your classroom. Tell your students to listen carefully. Read the passage aloud to them at an average speaking rate to give them an overview of the passage. After this first reading, let students ask questions about the passage and write one or two of the most unfamiliar words on the board. Now, tell your students to write what you read. Tell them that you will read slowly but that you will not repeat anything. Reread the passage pausing every 5-9 words (at places for regular speech pauses, such as at the end of phrases) so the students have time to write. Do not repeat any phrases. Finally, read the passage a third time at an average speed, have the students make corrections or additions they desire, and then turn in their papers.

To score the papers, simply put a check for every word left out, every error in grammar. Count the number of checks and give the paper that total score. You can then divide the class according to scores. Those with the most checks would be in the beginning group. Those with fewer checks would be in the intermediate group. Any with very few or no errors would be in an advanced group. (Quite often, you will discover that the students fall very naturally into groups.)

What other ways of deciding on placement are there?

You may wish to use several other methods for placing students in different groups instead of the tests listed above. For example, many school districts have standard EFL/ESL tests that you could use.

If your students’ age range is extensive, it might become the basis for grouping. Students under 30 usually get along all right together. There is often not much difference in students from 30 to 50 or 55, so they might form a group.

Essential Considerations for Teaching Adult ESL Students

When teaching a class abroad, you need to be conscious of local sensitivities, particularly appropriateness in different gender situations.

  • Sometimes, the class is quiet and attentive when a male student is talking, but students are restless and become talkative when a female student takes her turn at the front.
  • While your school may have men and women learning in the same room, you will notice that sometimes students have a strong tendency to separate themselves based on gender. If you ask them to pair off, you may observe signs of uneasiness or anxiety in some students.

What can you do about it?

  • Be adaptable when arranging the class, without necessarily letting them become lazy and work with their same preferred partners every time.
  • If they have suitable language skills, you could open up a class discussion about it.

Strategies for Getting Adult ESL Students to Speak

Students will need to speak out loud individually and not just follow along in their heads while others talk. It is not good enough for them to only grumble along with the crowd as in a drilling activity.

Here are some possible speaking opportunities that you can give your students:

  • Take part in a whole-class debate or discussion. (Make sure everyone participates. Often the more reserved students will sit back and not participate in this.)
  • Be engaged in small group discussions where reserved students are less likely to get left out.
  • Stand up in front of the class and present something with a partner.
  • Be part of a group doing a roleplay or drama in front of the class.
  • Be engaged in pair work where every student must communicate with a partner.

It is also essential to lay the groundwork outside of dedicated speaking exercises. While young students are often comfortable diving directly into new tasks, adults may want to see it done first and mentally equip themselves.