B. Design the Task

Performance tasks, oral presentations, investigations, projects, and original creations are important ways in which students demonstrate their abilities to make connections and to apply their skills and understandings. These assessments may take several days or even weeks to complete. They are often referred to as "authentic assessments," because they mirror expectations that students will encounter as adults. Sometimes classified as complex applications and other times separated into different assessment categories, these assessments share the similar aspect of students making connections and integrating their learning.

Proponents of these methods point out that the assignments mirror and measure what we say we value in education. They involve higher-order thinking and require that students be active workers, not passive tests takers. They are said to be accessible to students with different learning styles, different backgrounds and experiences, and varying abilities. These assessments are more like learning activities than traditional tests.

The preceding section is reproduced from Classroom Assessment: Linking Instruction and Assessment, p. 52-54.

As noted above, authentic assessments look more like learning activities than tests. However, according to Lewin and Shoemaker, they differ from activities in two critical ways:

1. Tasks must clearly assess the oral targets being measured; that is, they must be valid.

2. Tasks must have clear scoring criteria, so that teachers can fairly, objectively, and, most important, consistently evaluate them; that is, tasks must have reliability.

Great Performances, p. 28.

Therefore, teachers can utilize many of the classroom oral activities for assessments, as long as these assessments are focused on the language targets and have clear scoring criteria. The concern that there is not enough time to conduct oral assessment is partly addressed when instruction and assessment go hand in hand. In this way, no additional time is taken away to develop and administer more traditional tests.

Oral assessments can be formal and informal. During informal assessments, students are involved in regular instructional activities and may be assessed by teachers, peers, or self-assessment. Formal evaluations are usually planned ahead of time, as teachers decide what they are going to look for and how they will record their observations.

The following chart outlines some possible suggestions for assessing oral language.

Assessing Oral Language

Constructed Responses



  • Short Answer Sentences or Paragraphs in Oral Form
  • Reports
  • Lab Reports
  • Stories/Plays
  • Poems
  • Projects
  • Models
  • Video/Audio Tapes
  • Oral Presentations
  • Oral Interviews
  • Demonstrations
  • Dramatic Readings
  • Enactments
  • Debates
  • Musical Recitals
  • Panel Discussions

Adapted from Creating ‘Effective’ Student Assessments. p. 17.

Following are some sample strategies which can be used for formal and informal assessments:

  1. Oral Interview

    An interview is a strategy for gathering information. Formal and informal interviews can be part of the classroom. Informal interviews can be student- or teacher-led. Formal interviews such as the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) or the Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview (SOPI) require someone who has been trained and who is knowledgeable of the process.

    1. The Oral Proficiency Interview is a formal interview; it is a direct speaking test geared at assessing a student's level of speaking proficiency.

      The Oral Proficiency Interview is delivered by a trained interviewer. It is made up of several parts:


      1. The warm-up phase is designed to put the student at ease and to get an indication of his/her level of speaking.
      2. The level check is designed to look for the student’s oral strengths.

      3. The probe tries to find oral weaknesses.

      4. The wind-up is the final portion of the interview. It gives the student a feeling of accomplishment and it ends the interview on a friendly note.

        Effective interviewing involves a variety of questions such as either/or questions, "wh" questions, hypothetical questions, opinion questions. Another good technique to use is to have the student ask the questions, to role play, to use visuals during the conversation, and to involve the student in oral dictation.

        During the Oral Proficiency Interview, the student's proficiency is rated in accordance with a rubric.

    2. Another kind of formal interview is the Simulated Oral Proficiency Interview which is a semi-direct speaking test based on the oral proficiency interview. The SOPI consists of a tape with six different parts ranging from questions from a native speaker about simple personal background to more complex questions aimed at assessing the student’s proficiency level.

      An informal interview can involve students preparing and asking a set of questions to others and then reporting their findings to the class. Once again, during the SOPI, students are rated according to a rubric.

  2. Picture-Cued Descriptions or Stories

    Pictures are ideally suited for eliciting oral language from students. For this reason, they can be included in the oral assessment of individual students.

    To prepare, obtain a variety of black and white or color pictures or photographs that elicit the kind of language you want to assess. It is essential to carefully select the pictures which are going to be used in the assessment. Some pictures may be very pretty, but may not lend themselves to a variety of language, as illustrated in the two sets of pictures which follow.

    The first set of landscape pictures are very limiting, but would be suited to students beginning the study of the language. Students could say, "It is winter. It is snowing. There is a house. It is little. It has three windows. There are three trees. The trees are green, etc."


    First Landscape

    Second Landscape

    The second set of pictures allows for more sophisticated language on the part of some students, while others may still limit themselves to brief descriptive sentences. Students could say, "There has been an accident. There are four people in the picture with one person who appears to be hurt. Three paramedics are surrounding the wounded person and are giving him (I think) the necessary care…."



    Adding Machine

    Students can either describe or tell a story about the pictures. If the teacher wants to see if they can describe people, then the selected pictures must allow for that kind of language and structure. An excellent way to prepare and to verify the usefulness of the pictures involves the teacher in an actual rehearsal of what the typical student in his/her class would say. Also, teachers may want to give students several pictures from which to choose, to put them at ease with their ability to communicate and to show what they can do with the language. The purpose of assessment is to uncover what students can do with the language, not to find out what they cannot do.

    Students can also be given pictures out of sequence (as in the AP tests). They must sequence the pictures and tell the story orally.

  3. Oral Prompts

    Oral prompts should be open-ended to allow for a variety of language. Following are a few sample oral prompts:

    • Greet Panchito and tell him three or four things about yourself in Spanish. (Duplin County, 5th grade)

      Think of three questions to ask Panchito. (Duplin County, 5th grade)

    • Your teacher is sick today and cannot speak. Help him/her by asking the class at least four questions about the calendar and the weather. (Duplin County, 8th grade)

    • It is the first day at your neighborhood school, and, like everyone else, you must stand up and introduce yourself to the class. Tell your classmates at least five things about yourself, including your age, nationality, personality, and where you live. Try to make your introduction as unique as you are. (Montgomery Public Schools, middle grades)

    • You are just coming back from meeting your blind date. Call your best friend to describe your date’s physical and personality traits.

    • Select, discuss, and solve one of the problems facing your own community.

    • Tell about something significant which happened. Tell why it was significant and how it affected you.

    • Outside of your own country, what is the best place in which to live ? Give supporting details to justify your answer.

  4. Text Retelling

    Text retelling is a useful technique in providing students with skills in either oral presentations or in writing (CALLA Handbook, p. 111-113). When engaging novice and intermediate students in text retelling, teachers will want to pay close attention to the following guidelines. They should:

    • Select an appropriate text passage to read to the students. The text should contain content and language that are challenging to the student, but not be so difficult that they will fail to understand the information. Students should have some familiarity with the topic.
    • Read the text aloud using a natural pace and intonation, pausing at commas and periods. Teachers may ask students to try to listen selectively for the main points, sequence of events, name of characters, or other important items appropriate to the text.

    • Discuss the text with students in any convenient grouping. Students may respond to questions about the main points, sequence, ideas, characters, and may identify any vocabulary, concepts, or information they do not understand.

    • Read the text again at the same pace as before, enabling students to answer any questions they had raised about the text or to fill in any missing information. At this point, students may take notes if they have sufficient writing and note taking skills.

    • Students retell the story orally or in writing. They are allowed to use their notes in their text retelling presentation. If the retelling is done orally, students may retell to the entire class or in the same small group with which they discussed the story earlier.

    • The rating criteria is determined by the teacher in advance. The teacher can rate the same points as were emphasized previously: main points, sequence, etc. The teacher can also rate aspects, such as coherence and content knowledge. If the retelling is done in a small group, other students can rate their peers and provide them with feedback provided that the teacher communicates the criteria clearly to the raters.

  5. Role Playing

    Role playing involves at least two students in an oral presentation where they have been assigned a role and a task to accomplish.

    Judith Liskin-Gasparro in Testing and Teaching for Oral Proficiency suggests the following guidelines:

    1. Guidelines for creating role-play for Novice speakers
      1. Connect the role play to theme and language that students have recently learned. Reduce the need to say something that they have not yet learned.
      2. Direct the conversational exchange.

      3. Write the instruction, so that students repeat a pattern of structure several times.

      4. Incorporate courtesy formulae.


        Your older brother is calling home from college for the first time.

        a. Greet him.

        b. Ask him if he likes his roommate.

        c. Ask whether he likes his classes.

        d. Ask about things he does on the week-end.

        e. Say good-bye.

    2. Guidelines for creating role-play for Intermediate speakers

      1. Pick a context. First line of introduction sets the scene and is addressed to the student.
      2. Write broad, open-ended instructions for the student's part. Student has to create with the language.

      3. Make sure the student asks most of the questions.


        Two students act out a role-play between a parent and a teenager who has just been offered an after school job.

        Student A: You are a teenager who has just been offered a job at a local fast food restaurant for 20 hours per week. You talk to your parents.

        a. Tell them about the job - where it is, the hours, etc.

        b. Answer their objections, giving them your reasons.

        Student B: Your teenage child tells you about an offer of a job at a local fast food restaurant.

        a. Ask for details about the job - where it is, hours, etc.

        b. Express your concerns about the job - homework, fatigue, etc.

    3. Guidelines for creating role-play for Advanced speakers

      1. Setting can fall within a broad range of survival or social contexts: airport, train station, etc. The complications should be realistic: a lost ticket, a missed plane, and so on.
      2. The instructions should be more open-ended. Listing information that should be included will encourage students to talk in more detail.

      3. Provide a note at the bottom to remind students to do the best they can to be understood, even if they do not have all the vocabulary they need. The skill of circumlocution (i.e. a roundabout, indirect, or lengthy way of expressing something) is developing in Advanced level students.


        Your are on your way to work and have a car accident. A police officer arrives to take the report. Explain how the accident happened and convince the officer that it was the other driver's fault.

  6. Other Oral Informal Assessments

    Informal assessments can involve any students' oral output. The informal assessments can be in the form of oral classroom participation (e.g., asking questions in the target language, responding to questions, volunteering comments), or they can involve the observation of students working individually, in groups, pairs, cooperative learning, presentations, skits, etc. Cooperative learning activities are of particular benefit with advanced students, as they allow the teacher to observe students negotiating meaning and asking questions. When engaging in classroom observations, teachers will want to:

    1. Observe on a regular basis.
    2. Include all students, not necessarily on the same day.
    3. Keep notes.
    4. Observe students more than once.

      Characteristics of Good Performance Tasks

      A good performance assessment task exemplifies the following characteristics:

      It has a meaningful context.

      • It asks learners to create, perform, or produce something.
      • It rewards skills development, creativity and linguistic accuracy.
      • It assesses practical use of authentic items.
      • It involves tasks that are communicative, not mechanical.
      • It taps higher level thinking skills and problem-solving skills.
      • It is ongoing throughout the year.
      • It involves changes in instructional techniques which must be linked to changes in assessment.
      • It explains the task, required elements and scoring criteria to the students before they begin the activity.
      • It provides meaningful feedback to learners.
      • It may involve self-and/or peer-assessment.

      Source: A.S.A.P, Fairfax County Public Schools, August 1996.

      Sample Oral Performance-Based Tasks

      Following are some sample oral activities which can be used for assessment purpose provided they are accompanied by well-defined scoring criteria.

      1. Students share likes and dislikes with peers.
      2. Students talk about the weather today.

      3. Students recite a nursery rhyme.

      4. Students sing a song from the target language.

      5. Students prepare illustration of an animal and describe it to their peers.

      6. Given a French menu and 100 Francs, two students order two well- balanced meals, they demonstrate the proper way to eat in France, they ask for the bill and they leave the amount of money included for the tip.

      7. Following an introduction to televised news media, students, in groups of 4-5, are responsible for presenting a ten-minute news broadcast including the following: name of station, motto, logo, music, world news, local and regional news, commercials, weather, and sports. Newscast can be recorded or presented live.

      8. Student A gives a series of commands to student B who performs the appropriate actions. After a few commands, students switch roles.

      9. Given a map of a city (or of the subway), student A tells student B how to arrive at a specific location. Student B listens to the directions and indicates the directions by drawing arrows on the map. Students change roles and use a different set of directions.

      10. Students create and illustrate their own pattern books to reinforce a special concept. They include an audiotape of themselves reading the story. Finally, they visit another school/class, read their story, and donate their book to the school/class.

      11. Students prepare and present a HyperStudio or a PowerPoint presentation detailing how-to-do something. They present their information orally (or using the prerecorded features) to the class which follows the instructions step by step.

      12. Students, alone or in pairs, create a pictograph or a graphic organizer to show important information and present it to the rest of the class along with an explanation of the information.

      13. Following a study of a specific country, individual students choose one aspect of that country, research it, and present their findings to the class in a brochure, video, report, rap, or any other mode which has been agreed upon by student and teacher.

      14. Students compare two concepts or two stories and draw graphic representations of the comparison. They present their representations orally to the class.

      15. Students prepare a small autobiography and present it to the class using props and/or pictures.

      16. Students leave a message on an answering machine to cancel and reschedule a dental appointment.

      17. Two students exchange some personal news and respond to it in a roleplay situation.

      18. Students prepare a presentation on how they feel about a current issue. They include reasons to support their opinion.

      19. Students, individually, give an oral report for an accident (or a robbery) they have just witnessed.

      20. Students give advice to incoming freshmen on how to succeed in high school.

      21. Students act as docents in a museum for an art display in the classroom, library or on a field trip. Each student describes an art piece.

      22. Students, with props, attempt to convince other students to buy a product they are advertising.

      23. Students explain their country to newly arrived limited English proficient students.

      24. Students select a current event of significance to the target culture (or to the student) and report on it orally to a smaller group, which then discusses the event.

      25. Two students choose a topic to debate, with each student representing opposing views. Students research their topic and prepare their arguments. Each pair presents its side to the class which decides, using a rubric, who had the most convincing arguments.

      26. The entire class is given (or chooses) a problem (e.g. how to protect endangered animals, how to save the environment, how to limit urban growth, how to limit poverty, how to stop homelessness, how to combine work, school and play, how to find enough money for college, education, immigration). Each student orally proposes a solution to the problem. Other students rate each presentation according to a rubric. (Rubric could include: feasibility of solution, cost, comprehensibility of presentation, etc.)

      27. Students choose a familiar folktale from the target language and retell it in front of the class or on tape (both video or audio). Encourage students to use props.

      28. Students demonstrate in front of the class how to do something (tying a shoe, learning a special dance, setting a table, playing a sport, drawing a special figure, cutting out paper to form a figure - origami). The rest of the class follows the instructions to accomplish the task.

      29. Pairs of students present a critique of a film they have seen recently. They rate the film with a thumbs up or down.



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