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How Should I Effectively Evaluate Speaking Skills?

Maureen St. George

Speaking is usually the most difficult and last skill that students master when learning English. Depending on space and time, it may be difficult for teachers to have adequate one-on-one time with each student. In order to properly mold and evaluate students’ speaking skills, teachers can choose from an array of ideas.

1) The most traditional way is a one-on-one test. If time and space allows, have students come in one at a time for an oral test. Depending on the level, it can be a general conversation or a more structured Q&A. An individual setting helps the teacher talk to shyer students with no distractions and get a better focus of students’ all-around strengths and weaknesses. The downside to this is that if it’s a big class, the one-on-one time may be quite restricted, and a structured test may only show off how well a student studies, not their true speaking abilities.

2) Having weekly evaluations is another option. This could be in the form of games, one-one-one sessions, group sessions or something more kinetic, like a scavenger hunt where students need to speak correctly to receive the next clue. Giving a bigger goal (finishing the scavenger hunt) that overrides the nerves related to the smaller tasks (speaking correctly) may help students relax and speak without thinking too much. Plus, it reinforces the idea that speaking is fun rather than a chore. The one thing teachers would need to look out for is that every student speaks, rather than hiding behind their group.

Giving a bigger goal that overrides the nerves related to the smaller tasks may help students relax and speak without thinking too much. Plus, it reinforces the idea that speaking is fun rather than a chore.

3) Speaking games like Taboo further add an element of fun, and can be played in groups or teams of all sizes. If there’s no budget for the actual game, this can easily be adjusted for a simple warm-up. During warm-ups, simply note that students can’t use words or phrases that they often overuse. Have them dust off vocabulary notes and think outside the box for standard answers. Teachers can start small by saying that the phrases “bored,” “boring,” “the same,” ”work,” etc. are not allowed when answering “How are you?” and “What did you do today?” and move on to more in-depth questions or descriptions later.

4) Organizing one-on-one sessions or class-long games can take quite a bit of preparation, so for the weeks when those just aren’t possible, a review (whether or not a test is coming up) is in order. Thursday can be a broad review of what was taught Monday-Wednesday, and Friday is a further review but this time focusing on oral skills. Students do not necessarily have to speak in front of the whole class. They can divide into groups and the teacher can walk around, spending a few minutes with each group to evaluate each member’s abilities.

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Follow up

Teachers should keep list of students’ progress for their own notes and reflections as well as in order to give well-rounded feedback to students. Scheduling one-on-one feedback sessions may be difficult, so another way is to hand out evaluation forms with suggestions and encouragement once a month or after every few units, and let the students know they are welcome to email the teacher or set aside some free time for students to come by.

Obviously, in order to keep up with each student, it’s best to do a speaking activity every single class, so that they gain confidence with the grammar point or social skill at hand as well as get used to just speaking English on a regular basis.

How do you evaluate your students’ speaking skills?

About the author

Maureen is a US-born, Hong Kong-based freelance editor and writer who has taught ESL all over the world. Traveling is her main hobby, and there's nothing she enjoys more than having a carefully planned trip go completely awry.