TC Quick Tip: Last to First: A Fun Vocabulary Game for All
This vocabulary game, for adult learners of any level, is a fun warm-up game, and it's adaptable for all language abilities and varying class sizes. Get all students involved, and try using one of the many variations for an easier or more challenging spin on the game.
Audience: Adult learners of any level
I came across a vocabulary game called Shiritori while practicing Japanese, and it has proven itself useful as a fun warm-up game. Its adaptability makes it useful for all language abilities, and I have used it with all levels of adult learners and varying class sizes. Because, as English language teachers, our learners come from all parts of the globe, it seems fitting to give it a descriptive English name, so let’s call it Last to First.
The teacher begins by writing a word on the board. It could be random or based on a previous or current lesson topic. In a class of fewer than 10, students take turns adding a new word to the list that begins with the last letter of the previous word. For example, if the teacher writes Hamburger on the board, the next student needs to think of a word that begins with the last letter of Hamburger—in this example, it is the letter r. Hence, the last letter becomes the first letter of the preceding word (last to first). What develops is a student generated vocabulary list that could look something like this:
After each student gets three turns, check comprehension. If a student doesn’t know the meaning of the word, solicit its meaning from the student who added it to the list or provide the definition yourself. You could finish the game here or continue by adding other elements, altering the difficulty, or incorporating other challenges.
- Increase the challenge by excluding one or more letters from being the last letter of the words. This is what is done in its original Japanese form where the /n/ (ん) sound is excluded. For example, if we excluded Y the word Windy in the example above would not be allowed. You could either skip the student that gave that response or have them try again.
- Limit the amount of time each student has to respond. If a student cannot respond in the allotted time, move on to the next student or provide some type of verbal or nonverbal scaffolding to help them.
- Have the students write the words on the board themselves to practice spelling.
- After the students have generated their vocabulary list, have them use one or two words from the list in a sentence. Each word can only be used once, after which the other students must choose from the remaining words.
- Limit what words can be used by category, for example “Food,” “Words with two or more syllables,” or “Adjectives.” If you choose to do this, make sure the categories are broad enough to contain a deep vocabulary pool.
- In large classes, divide the students into groups of four to six and have them generate their own vocabulary lists (beginning with the teacher’s word) on scratch paper. Groups can use their own list or groups can exchange lists to create sentences as outlined in variation #4.
- For an easier, phonetic challenge, have the students use the end sound of each word to begin the next word. E.g., sail, laugh, phone, nice, sand.
These and other variations ensure the activity suits the class’s English language ability. It is a fun game to help the students transition from their L1 to English as well as practice various fundamentals of the language, depending on which variation you decide to incorporate. I hope your students will enjoy Last to First as much as mine do.
Kent Hatashita holds a Master’s Degree in TESOL from the University of Southern California. He has more than 13 years of teaching experience in Japan.
TESOL Launches Governance Review of Association
The TESOL International Association Board of Directors has appointed a task force charged with evaluating the current governance of TESOL International Association and—if warranted—propose changes to improve its efficiency and efficacy at meeting the needs of the membership.
Over the course of the last 2 years, the TESOL Board of Directors has been discussing a variety of issues around governance within TESOL International Association. Governance for associations refers to the various components of the organization and their relative powers, authorities, responsibilities, and composition (Tecker, Frankel, & Meyer, 2002). In other words, governance is comprehensive: It includes systems, structures, processes, and culture.
As an association’s membership changes, or as it faces different challenges, a system of governance that served well at one time may no longer be satisfactory. Best practices in association management recommend a periodic review of governance to evaluate its efficiency and whether it remains effective to meet the needs of the membership.
Although TESOL International Association has made various changes to its governance in its history, these have been mostly ad hoc adjustments to discrete components. “There have been small changes, such as to specific committees or interest sections, or larger ones such as the Board reconfiguration that occurred several years ago,” explains President Suzanne Panferov. “There has not been a large-scale, comprehensive review of the governance of the association in at least two decades, perhaps even longer.”
Task Force Appointed
After discussions at several meetings, the Board of Directors decided to move ahead with a governance review and appointed a task force late last year. The task force is charged with evaluating the current governance of TESOL International Association and—if warranted—propose changes to improve its efficiency and efficacy at meeting the needs of the membership. Because of the nature of the work involved, the process will not be swift, but will move at a deliberate pace. Final recommendations from the task force are not expected until early 2014.
Brock Brady, previous TESOL president, is serving as chair of the Governance Review Task Force. The other members of the task force represent a diversity of leadership experience in the association, including former Board members, interest section leaders, and affiliate leaders:
- Misty Adoniou, Watson, ACT, Australia
- Denise de Felice, Brasilia, Brazil
- Kevin Knight, Kawasaki, Japan
- Joe McVeigh, Middlebury, Vermont, USA
- Denise Murray, San Jose, California, USA
- Allison Rainville, Lunenburg, Massachusetts USA
- Renate Tilson, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The task force began its work by reviewing authoritative literature in association governance and spending time discussing what can be a very abstract concept. To execute the review, the task force will be developing research tools to analyze and collect data on the current governance of the association. This will include extensive opportunities for feedback and input from current and past association leaders.
Goals and Outcomes
Although the task force will be conducting research into the governance of TESOL International Association, the purpose is not to evaluate the performance of individual components such as specific committees or interest sections. “The purpose of the review is to look broadly at the whole system, and see if it continues to serve the best interests of the members and field,” clarifies Brady. “One of the main questions the task force will be examining is whether and to what degree the current governance system of TESOL International Association effectively maximizes member value.”
While this is a new initiative for TESOL International Association, other associations have undertaken similar initiatives. In recent years, organizations such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and NAFSA: Association of International Educators have undergone governance reviews and implemented changes to their systems.
Underlying this process is a recognition that the environment today in which TESOL International Association operates is a very different environment than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Members have different value expectations and new demands on their time in the 21st century, so associations must adapt and evolve accordingly. This not only impacts an association’s programs and services, but its governance system.
The final outcome of the task force will be a set of recommendations based upon their research. Prior to developing their recommendations, the task force will report on their research findings to the Board of Directors and leadership of the association. Their ultimate goal is to make recommendations on how TESOL International Association can meet the following vision for effective governance.
To create a governance system that:
- fosters a culture of knowledge, trust, and nimbleness within TESOL International Association;
- ensures that all entities within TESOL International Association are high impact and add value to the association;
- supports efficient, effective, and strategic decision-making that is responsive to the needs of members and the TESOL profession;
- increases the ability of members of the professions to identify and discuss issues and to have input into governing actions that impact them;
- supports a leadership pipeline for members; and
- maximizes the benefits from time and financial investment of members in TESOL International Association governance.
“The authoritative literature in association management and governance describes the most successful and effective associations as embodying a culture of knowledge, trust, and nimbleness. This is quite powerful, and I feel that it is something that we as an association should strive for,” explains Panferov.
Brady agrees, “A culture of knowledge, trust, and nimbleness can be a very strong and powerful asset for TESOL International Association. However, it’s important to understand that these three aspects are intertwined, and must be addressed cohesively. Similarly, association governance encompasses structure, process, and culture; three intertwined components that must be addressed cohesively.”
The task force is currently developing a proposed plan for how the review will be conducted that will be presented to the Board of Directors and leadership at the upcoming 2013 TESOL International Convention and English Language Expo. Additional information will be reported in future issues of TESOL Connections.
Tecker, G. H., Frankel, J. S., & Meyer, P. D. (2002). The will to govern well. London: Eurospan Group.
Free Issue of TESOL Quarterly
The March 2013 issue of TESOL Quarterly is free! In volume 47, issue 1 of TQ, read up on the latest research in English language teaching with articles such as "English Language Learners' Access to and Attainment in Postsecondary Education," by Yasuko Kanno and Jennifer G. Cromley, and "Desire in Translation: White Masculinity and TESOL," by Roslyn Appleby.
In This Issue
Diane Belcher and Alan Hirvela
English Language Learners' Access to and Attainment in Postsecondary Education
Yasuko Kanno and Jennifer G. Cromley
Desire in Translation: White Masculinity and TESOL
Brief Reports and Summaries
Use of Technology in an Adult Intensive English Program: Benefits and Challenges
Carolin Fuchs and Farah Sultana Akbar
Using Collaborative Tasks to Elicit Auditory and Structural Priming
Pavel Trofimovich, Kim Mcdonough and Heike Neumann
Response to Biber, Gray, and Poonpon (2011)
Pay Attention to the Phrasal Structures: Going Beyond T-Units—A Response to WeiWei Yang
Douglas Biber, Bethany Gray and Kornwipa Poonpon
Considering Emotions in Critical English Language Teaching _____________________ TQ Subscribers can access all issues for free here. TESOL members can subscribe to TESOL Quarterly here. To become a member of TESOL, please click here, and to purchase articles, please visit Wiley-Blackwell. © TESOL International Association.
TQ Subscribers can access all issues for free here. TESOL members can subscribe to TESOL Quarterly here. To become a member of TESOL, please click here, and to purchase articles, please visit Wiley-Blackwell. © TESOL International Association.
A Lesson Plan From the TESOL Teacher of the Year
by Anne Marie Foerster Luu
The winner of the 2013 TESOL Teacher of the Year Award, presented by National Geographic Learning, shares a 3-part lesson plan for young learners on descriptive language.
Helping Students See That We Can Help Each Other:
A lesson about descriptive language
Students in Elementary ESOL are challenged to understand themselves and their relationships with others as they navigate the murky waters of transitioning to a new culture. There are often challenges of miscommunication that leave a youthful heart defensive and toughened by the “unresponsiveness” of peers, the stern glance of a teacher, and the helpless sighs of parents who are challenged by their own transitions. Elementary ESOL students and their teachers have to find ways to communicate without words: with body language and facial gestures, with predictable patterns of behavior, and with wordless stories. This lesson plan was developed based on the curricular expectations of Grade 2 as well as the specific social and emotional needs of a learner who was struggling to transition to being a student in the United States. (Read about how I addressed the issues faced by that struggling student in my TESOL blog.)
• Mystery box with several objects available to put inside and a picture of each object
• Chart paper and markers
• Picture of an elephant (enough copies for each student), each picture cut into 4–6 pieces
• Seven Blind Mice, by Ed Young (multiple copies if available)
• Sticky notes and a marker
• Number cards that can be moved as you count down from 7 to 1
• Storyboard graphic organizer
|Audience: Grade 2 beginner/low intermediate|
|Objective: Students will be able to discuss, sequence, and retell The Seven Blind Mice.|
• Students will be able to use specific sentence constructions.
• Students will be able to negotiate meaning and develop descriptive language.
• Students will understand: How do small pieces come together to make a larger whole? Can we each have a different understanding of the same thing?
|Duration: Three 35-minute sessions|
Prior to the lesson sequence:
- Introduce yourself to Ed Young and his story Seven Blind Mice, which is the story of how seven blind mice, each feeling a different part of a “strange something” near their pond (an elephant), describe that part to the rest of the group. It is only through combining their disparate perceptions that they are able to see the whole.
- Prepare a mystery box and collect objects to put inside. Take a picture of each object and print it with space left at the bottom for students to add descriptive vocabulary during the activity.
- Prepare one envelope for each student. In each envelope, place the cut-out pieces of an elephant picture, attaching one piece to the outside with a paperclip.
- Prepare a piece of chart paper with selected vocabulary and structures. Keep the marker available to add student contributions. This list will serve as a lesson-specific word wall.
- Prepare a storyboard graphic organizer with eight boxes on a PowerPoint, ActivInspire, or on chart paper; copy it for each student. The first box should be completed with “The red mouse thought he touched a pillar.” The second box should be a cloze that reads “The _____ mouse _____ he touched a _________.” The next five boxes should be left blank. The last box should be another cloze with “When the mice touched the whole thing, they learned ____________________________________.” (Download a sample storyboard graphic organizer; PDF)
Getting Started (Session 1; 35 minutes)
Have students settle at a table or in a circle on the floor. Use the mystery box to pre-assess students’ descriptive vocabulary and negotiate new vocabulary. Keep the chart paper (with pictures of objects to pin onto it when appropriate) handy in order to add new vocabulary as students discuss the objects in the mystery box.
Begin with one object in the box. Invite a student to reach into the box and describe the object while others guess what it is. If the student is not able to express enough descriptive language, ask him/her to invite a friend to put a hand in the mystery box. You can use the pictures to scaffold the discussion as necessary. “Does it feel like this (picture A) or like this (picture B)?”
Pin pictures of the object on the chart paper and record descriptive language specific to the object. Some descriptive language they might use would be:
fuzzy, hairy, hairless
After each student has gotten a turn with the mystery box, briefly discuss the challenge of describing an object or correctly guessing what it is when only using the sense of touch.
Presenting the Challenge (Session 2; 35 minutes)
Explain to the students that they are going to read a book together and tell them that they will first complete a puzzle. Give each student one of the prepared envelopes, and have them describe what they see on the single piece of the puzzle attached to the outside of the envelope. Use an anecdotal record sheet to note the vocabulary used by each student as you circulate.
Next, give them a chance to put their puzzles together. Discuss how the large object is made up of smaller pieces. Depending on the size of your group, you could also give each student only a single piece of the puzzle and challenge them to work together to solve it. I recommend using only the elephant with a beginner/low intermediate–level group. A higher-level group could use a variety of pictures and focus on guessing the objects as you read the book.
Review the parts of a book (cover, title, author, illustrator, spine, back cover) and preview only a few of the pages with the students to give them an idea of the pattern of the book. Don’t go beyond the green mouse because it is apparent that they are talking about an elephant with the next page. They should understand that the blind mice are wondering what has come to their pond. There is no picture of a pond in the book, so consider providing a picture of one and using the term setting when you discuss how it fits with the story.
Ask how many mice are in the story and point out that each mouse explores the object on a different day. Point out that this is related to the calendar and use the number cards to count the mice. Use patterned language such as “The first mouse explored the object, how many mice are left?” This will help you integrate math-related vocabulary and patterns without specifically doing a math lesson. Ask questions such as “Do they agree or disagree?” This will help you pattern questions that they might encounter in social studies or reading/language arts.
If you have multiple copies of the book, provide one to each student. If this is not possible, use an Elmo to project the pages on a Promethean Board or use an internet resource to project the pages on the board. Have students find specific words or constructions within the text. I focus on “It is a pillar,” and “It is a snake,” directly from the text. For each mouse, stop and ask the students questions like “Why does he think it is a pillar?” to practice descriptive language using these constructions “The leg of the elephant is like a pillar because __________.” “_____________ feels like (looks like).” “_____________ is as __________ as ____________.” Explore the other structures in the objective as your students build on their success with these. You will know which students will thrive with this challenge and which will need more support.
Count down as the mice are introduced in the story. Move the number cards and say things like “On day 1, mouse number one thought he touched a pillar.” Use this patterned language for each mouse to review the story as you proceed. Ask the students to guess what came to the pond.
Retelling the Story (Session 3; 35 minutes)
Depending on whether you used chart paper, a Promethean flip chart, or a PowerPoint, how you support having students retell the story will vary. In this lesson I have students use the flip chart and drag a sentence into the first box of the story map. Then we use the pen to write a cloze in the second box. A student fills it in.
Once the students complete the organizer, meet with each individually. Ask him or her to tell you what happened in the story. They may tell you the order of the mice and what the mice thought their parts of the elephant to be; however, challenge them to move off the graphic organizer. Open the book to a random page and ask the student what happened. Ask him or her what happened in the beginning of the story or the end of the story. Keep a checklist to record if the student independently used any of the target language. Note what language was used. Note if the language was in sentences with or without prompting. Before you finish with the individual student, ask him or her “Does everyone always have the same idea?” Try to prompt a quick conversation that will lead to a class meeting discussion.
Making It Matter: Discussion
Each of the three sessions in this lesson sequence will have a closing that helps you determine what the students learned and what they can say about what they learned. In addition, it is important to build relationships and make the learning matter to the students. For the final closing activity, gather the students for a class meeting. Prompt a discussion about how no one sees things exactly the same way. Depending on the level of your students, this conversation will be supported best with body language and facial gestures.
As this lesson sequence opened doors to new opportunities, students will learn about the structure of a problem/solution story. Students in my class used the same graphic organizer from this lesson to map an original. Using the fish in our classroom as a prompt, they wrote a book about two fish friends who don’t always see eye to eye; in fact, one is a bit of a bully. Read about how I used the writing of this original story to help a new English language learner transition from one culture to another in my TESOL blog.
Read about Anne Marie, her award, and her classroom:
The 2013 TESOL Teacher of the Year”
Anne Marie Foerster Luu is currently a National Board Certified ESOL teacher working in a public K–5 setting and serving as an adjunct in a MA-TESOL program. She is the 2013 TESOL Teacher of the Year.
Profiling Excellence in Research
Interview of Andreea Cervatiuc
by Tomiko Breland
Dr. Andreea Cervatiuc, recipient of the 2013 TESOL Award for Distinguished Research, presented by ETS TOEFL, discusses her work and gives some advice to emerging researchers.
Dr. Andreea Cervatiuc is the recipient of the 2013 TESOL Award for Distinguished Research, presented by ETS TOEFL. Andreea was awarded US$1000 and a fully funded trip to present at the 2013 TESOL Annual Convention & English Language Expo, among other prizes. She is also the recipient of the 2009 International Award for Outstanding TESOL Article. We asked the award-winning researcher some questions about research, the practical implications of her own research, and what advice she would give to emerging researchers.
Dr. Cervatiuc at a Glance
She works as…researcher and instructor in the Faculty of Education, at the University of Calgary, in Canada
1. How did you get interested in English language teaching and research?
I situate my interest in English teaching and research within the context of multilingual TESOL. I have long been fascinated with the phenomenon of multilingualism and with the intricacies of multilingual identities. I speak several languages and I have a hybrid cultural and linguistic identity. Before I became a researcher and teacher trainer, I had taught English and Spanish to speakers of other languages in Canada and in Romania. I believe that all ESOL classes should promote multilingualism, and never the acquisition of English at the expense of suppressing students’ mother tongues or other languages that they may speak. In Canada, many immigrant multilingual speakers are turned into monolingual speakers through suppressive English-only policies, while some schools attempt to transform English monolingual students into multilingual speakers, by introducing the compulsory study of a foreign language.
2. You won the 2013 TESOL Award for Distinguished Research for your article titled “Curriculum Meta-Orientations in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada Program.” How did you get interested in research on newcomers, specifically?
Before I became a TESOL researcher and teacher trainer, I was an ESL instructor in a college in Calgary. My students were newcomers to Canada. As I listened to their stories and integration challenges, I got the motivation to conduct in-depth research in order to explore the English learning journeys of adult immigrants and refugees.
3. Can you tell us about your study?
The article is based on one of the large-scale research projects that I conducted as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education, at the University of Calgary. Dr. Thomas Ricento, who is an English as an Additional Language (EAL) Research Chair at the University for Calgary, is the coauthor of this study.
We evaluated the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program from various perspectives: curriculum, teaching materials, program accessibility, and language assessment. We collected data from a variety of sources: interviews with LINC students, instructors, and program managers, focus groups, class observations, and teaching materials. The article focuses on the hidden or implicit curriculum in the LINC program, which represents only one aspect of the larger research study funded by the EAL Research Chair.
LINC instructors all over Canada have access to an online curriculum document, which constitutes the written or the explicit curriculum. I define the hidden curriculum as a reflection or byproduct of teachers’ ideologies, as opposed to an intentional effort of a certain group to impose their views on students. Educators teach according to their beliefs, underlying ideologies, and educational views. The article explores the ideological messages embedded in the hidden curriculum of the LINC program, as reflected in instruction, approaches to teaching Canadian culture, and instructors’ self-perceived teaching roles.
The findings of our research study indicate that in spite of the mandate stated in the written curriculum regarding the role of the LINC program in promoting immigrants’ and refugees’ integration, newcomers to Canada are encouraged to adapt rather than integrate. According to Freire (2005), adapted people are passive and domesticated, while integrated people are active, creative, and capable of making personal and social changes. An adaptation-oriented hidden curriculum leads to submission, passivity, and an uncritical frame of mind. An integration-driven hidden curriculum would promote social participation and the development of critical consciousness and it would be more in sync with a multicultural society like Canada’s.
4. What are the practical applications of the research that you report on in this paper?
The most important practical application of this article is that it gives ESOL professionals a framework for articulating and becoming aware of their educational beliefs, underlying ideologies, and curriculum meta-orientations. The article makes the case for a transformation participatory curriculum in ESOL programs for adult immigrants and refugees, because it would respond to the real issues that immigrants and refugees face in their first years after settling in a new country. Research indicates that the major social issues that newcomers to Canada face are:
- lack of recognition of foreign credentials,
- difficulties in finding adequate housing,
- unemployment, and
A participatory-transformation teaching role would include facilitating students’ access to social networks outside the classroom so they can make positive changes in their lives and a difference in society. For instance, a participatory-transformation ESOL instructor would help students strengthen community ties by referring them to various organizations, encouraging them to participate in community and school organizations, and inviting guest speakers to class who can affect students’ lives, such as various professionals, landlords, and potential employers. Students would have the opportunity to use the language in order to find solutions to real-life problems. English learners would be engaged in a “conscientization process” (Freire, 2005), in which language learning is intertwined with thinking critically of how to make positive changes in their personal lives and in society.
A participatory-transformation curriculum is not only morally and philosophically sound, but also a very practical and useful model for adult immigrant English learners, because it is relevant to their socioeconomic needs and interests and it impacts their lives beyond the classroom. It motivates and encourages newcomers not only to learn English, but also to overcome challenges and barriers in order to better fulfill their life roles as parents, workers, community members, and human beings in the sociocultural context of their new country.
Another important implication of this research study is the recommendation for TESOL programs to offer courses that draw on critical applied linguistics (CAL). CAL emphasizes the need to link language teaching to context, social transformation, “ethnicity, culture, identity, and discourse” (Pennycook, 2001).
5. What advice do you have for emerging ESOL researchers?
I hope that more ESOL researchers will conduct studies aligned with the principles of CAL and will contribute to the multilingual turn in TESOL. We need to transform second language acquisition from a discipline that is still biased towards monolingualism into one that promotes multilingualism. The field needs more concepts, models, and theories that support multilingual TESOL (See resources on multilingual TESOL; PDF).
6. What are you passionate about outside of teaching and research?
Outside of teaching and research, I am passionate about mindful and holistic living, self-actualization, yoga, and various natural healing modalities. I love travelling, meditating, and spending time in nature.
Freire, P. (2005). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum.
Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah, New Jersey & London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Attending the 2013 TESOL Annual Convention & English Language Expo in Dallas, Texas? Stop by Dr. Cervatiuc’s session where she presents on her paper, “Curriculum Meta-Orientations in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada Program.”
Saturday, 11 am–11:45 am
Dallas Convention Center, Room D171
Interested in Dr. Andreea Cervatiuc’s work? Check out some of her publications:
Cervatiuc, A. & Ricento, T. (2012). Curriculum meta-orientations in the language instruction for newcomers to canada program. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 24(2), 17–31.
Ricento, T. & Cervatiuc, A. (2010). Language minority rights and educational policy in Canada. (Ed.), International Perspectives on Bilingual Education: Policy, Practice, and Controversy. Greenwich CT: Information Age Publications, 21–42.
Cervatiuc, A. (2009). Successful second language vocabulary acquisition. Germany, Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.
Cervatiuc, A. (2009). Identity, good language learning, and adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 8(4), 254–271.
Cervatiuc, A. (2008). ESL vocabulary acquisition: Target and approach. The Internet TESL Journal.
Cervatiuc, A. (2008). Deconstructing the environment: The case of adult immigrants to Canada learning English. Journal of Identity and Migration Studies, 2(2), 67–86.
Cervatiuc, A. (2007). Assessing second language vocabulary knowledge. International Forum of Teaching and Studies, 3(3), 40–47.
Tomiko Breland received her BA in English from Stanford University, her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University, and her certificate in TESOL from Anaheim University. She is editor & publications project manager at TESOL International Association.
Self-Assessment and the Process of ESL Writing
by Nehal Sadek
When writing, revision is a problematic area for many English language learners; integrating self-assessment can promote learning and raise students' awareness of their abilities.
Teaching writing in the ESL classroom has undergone dramatic changes over the past decades. Traditionally, writing instruction focused on the final written product. With the advent of the Process Approach to writing in the seventies, however, ESL teachers started to respond to writing as work in progress rather than a final product (Murray, 1985). In other words, writing is no longer viewed as a one-shot activity starting with the assignment of a certain topic and ending with the submission of the final product (Hafez, 1996).
The process of writing, as defined by Murray (1985), consists of three main stages: prewriting, writing, and rewriting. The prewriting stage includes everything that takes place before writing happens, including brainstorming and research for the purpose of generating ideas. Writing is the act of producing the first draft, during which learners focus on ideas and the organization of these ideas. The final stage in the process of writing is rewriting, which is concerned with the revision of content, organization, and language.
A problematic area for many ESL learners, the revision stage of the process of writing has received particular attention in ESL-writing pedagogy over the last three decades. The reason for this increasing interest is that many learners complain about not knowing what to consider while revising their essays. A possible reason behind this complaint is that they lack the criteria employed by teachers in evaluating their writing performance, whether assignments or achievement tests. One technique that can guide ESL learners while revising their draft is that of self-assessment. That is, ESL learners could use a set of criteria covering the different aspects of writing to revise their own writing.
Self-assessment is defined by Claxton (1995) as “the ability to recognize good work as such and to correct one’s performance so that better work is produced” (p. 339). In the revision stage of the writing process, if teachers give students their own list of assessment criteria, self-assessment can provide students with the foundations for informed writing evaluation.
Self-Assessment and Process Writing
The integration of self-assessment in the ESL learning context was introduced by Oskarrson (1980). Oskarrson encouraged self-assessment in ESL classrooms because it has multiple advantages. First, it promotes learning by training learners in evaluation, which results in benefits to the learning process. Second, it raises all parties’ awareness of the different levels of abilities. Oskarrson differentiates between two forms of self-assessment: 1) Global self-assessment, which is the learner’s ability to make an overall impressionistic evaluation of his or her performance; and 2) Criteria-based self-assessment, in which learners evaluate specific language components that build up to give an overall evaluation of a certain ability using writing rubrics.
The Advantages of Using Self-Assessment as a Revision Technique
Exploiting self-assessment as a revision technique relieves teachers of feeling the need to correct every single writing mistake, and it helps learners understand the basis of their writing evaluations. In addition, self-assessment can help learners identify their own writing mistakes rather than viewing mistakes through a teacher’s marks, which can sometimes be vague and discouraging.
Self-assessment can also be seen as a technique that may help in enhancing learner autonomy, a major component of learner-centered classrooms, through allowing ESL learners to participate in their own learning process. In other words, the ESL learner can be an active participant in the learning process rather than a passive recipient of information provided by the teacher.
Despite the numerous advantages reported by research on the effectiveness of both types of self-assessment, global and criteria-based, a number of criticisms are leveled to it. Much self-assessment debate, for example, focuses on the issue of reliability and feasibility factors. However, if self-assessment is employed as a form of “assessment-for-learning” rather than “assessment-of-learning,” as many researchers like Stiggens (2005) advocate, the issue of reliability should not be of concern because the objective of self-assessment would then be to promote learning rather than simply measure it.
Implementing Self-Assessment in the ESL Writing Class
Although some may believe that self-assessment might only be suitable for advanced proficiency levels, I believe that a rubric can be modified to suit any proficiency level. In fact, the key to a successful implementation of self-assessment is not which proficiency level it is used with but rather careful planning, practice, and, most important, patience.
Many ESL and EFL students around the world are not used to the idea of evaluating their own work; therefore, teachers should not be discouraged if students initially resist evaluating their own writing. One way to overcome this potential problem is by carefully designing a self-assessment instrument with clear guidelines that students can follow. Download a sample self-assessment rubric here: (PDF) (.docx). The rubric includes three main sections: content, language, and organization. Because many students have problems judging the effectiveness of the content and organization of their essays, the content and organization sections of the rubric were designed in the form of a checklist to facilitate the process. As for the language section, it was designed in the form of a table where students count the number of errors they made and assign a score accordingly.
- Make sure the rubric and the directions are clear; students need to know exactly what they are expected to do.
- Go over the different sections of the rubric with the students before asking them to apply it.
- Model the use of the self-assessment rubric with two sample essays; one weak and one strong.
- Introduce the self-assessment rubric gradually into your class and integrate it with your other teaching writing techniques. Remember, not many ESL students are comfortable evaluating their own writing.
- After students become familiar with the notion of self-assessment and applying the self-assessment rubric, make sure to use it frequently in your class to reinforce learner autonomy.
- Require students to rewrite their essays after they apply the rubric.
- Provide constructive feedback on students’ drafts and completed self-assessment rubrics
- Have patience and faith that it will eventually work!
Claxton, G. (1995). What kind of learning does self-assessment drive? Assessment in Education, 2, 339–43.
Hafez, O. (1996). Peer and teacher response to student writing. Proceedings of the first EFL-skills Conference: New Directions in Writing, 159–65. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.
Murray, D. (1985). A writer teaches writing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Oskarrson, M. (1980). Approaches to self-assessment language learning. Oxford: Pergamon.
Stiggens, R. (2005). Assessment for learning defined. Retrieved from http://www.assessmentinst.com/wpcontent/uploads/2009/05/afldefined.pdf
Nehal Sadek earned her PhD in composition and TESOL from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and has taught numerous ESL courses in a number of universities including the American University in Cairo and Columbia University in the United States. She is currently working as an assessment specialist at Educational Testing Service (ETS).