Elementary level students are just starting out their journey in learning English. It is at the A1 level that basic foundation blocks are laid and therefore it is crucial that students have a good grasp of these building-blocks, for such a grasp will either help or hinder them later. In considering a project-based assessment for this level, it is important to not overwhelm the students. Small steps toward a larger aim ought to be taken.
Some skills that A1 students are expected to acquire are:
- Using to be to introduce and talk about themselves and tell time.
- Ask and answer short simple questions.
- Describe actions that a happening using the present continuous.
- Talk about habits, routines and states using the present simple.
- Use countable and uncountable nouns to talk about objects.
- Make polite requests.
- Understand imperatives and how to give and receive directions.
- Describe places and people as well as compare them.
- Talk about the past using the past simple.
- Describe experiences using the present perfect.
- Talk about the future using going to and future time expressions.
In addition to the grammar skills listed above, students at this level should demonstrate command of certain lexical structures such as:
- Personal descriptions that include times, dates and nationalities
- Various activities i.e. swimming – swim suite, diving board, pool
- Daily activities and routines
- Going to a restaurant
- Navigating a map and describing landmarks
- Applying for a job
- Family and friend relationships
- Past experiences and special occasions
- Going on holiday
These lists are by no means exhaustive, but rather they serve as a means to convey some ideas about which areas to choose to focus our assessments. What follows is a sample project assessment for this level. Bear in mind that A1 has two sub-levels, A1.1 and A1.2. Some of the skills listed about are appropriate to focus on for one level but not the other.
Students demonstrate aptitude with the to be and the present simple as well as answering simple questions. Students will demonstrate lexical knowledge pertaining to giving personal descriptions, describing their families and friends as well as describing activities in their lives. This project builds upon itself in three stages: First, an emphasis will be placed on basic knowledge of vocabulary; Second, students will demonstrate their ability to write short essays using this vocabulary and Third, students will speak about these topics.
The project is in three stages:
- A mind map about themselves which includes their interests, appearance, habits and relationships with their families and friends. The emphasis here is on demonstrating lexical knowledge.
- A short essay about themselves going into more detail. It is here that we can obtain enough information to evaluate their master of various grammar points, including to be, present simple as well as answering simple questions. At this point, either one or two essays focussed on specific topics are sufficient. For example, the first essay can focus on describing their appearance, likes and dislikes, while the second essay can focus on describing their relationships and what these people in their lives are like. The essays would be 3 paragraphs at most.
- A VLOG where students record themselves talking about their lives. This video log would be about 2-3 minutes and should cover the content of what was written in the essays, or a slight variation thereof. Students can use their essays to help come up with things to say in their video logs, but they shouldn’t simply read their essays out loud.
- Optional a short in-class presentation of their mind maps, where students share the mind maps they’ve constructed toward the beginning of the course with the rest of the class. Other members of the class have an opportunity practicing asking simple questions about the mind map while the presenter is given the opportunity to think on their feet to answer these questions. This would be a good challenge for stronger students.
The first part of this assessment is the mind map. After teaching the required vocabulary to construct such a mind map, the teacher should do a mind map of their own with the class. It is at this point that short questions, such as who is your mother; who are your friends; what do they look like? can be elicited. After the teacher models how to construct this mind map, this task can be assigned. Instead of waiting until the end of course to receive the mind maps, they can be turned in earlier and the teacher could share one or two of them with the class to further reinforce question elicitation. The students whose mind maps are being share would have an opportunity to practice speaking by answering questions from their peers.
To prepare the students for the essay, first basic paragraph writing needs to be taught. Students should have a grasp of how to write a decent topic sentence which clearly states what the underlying content of the paragraph is about, and how to write a concluding sentence which offers a brief summary. They then should practice the grammar which glues all the lexical elements shown in the mind map together. Finally, a sample short essay should be given to the students along with a simple template worksheet to help guide them in this process.
VLOGs present a couple challenges, one of them being logistical. How do students actually go about creating VLOGs in the first place? One way I like to go about it is to introduce the students to Youtube video upload or another platform such as Vimeo. Videos can be uploaded on these platforms and the links can be shared with the teacher on an asynchronous learning platform such as Edmodo. This is a great opportunity for students to practice following directions, as there are technical hurdles the teacher must guide them through.
After the logistics problem is addressed, the teacher should spend time on preparing the students on how to structure their video logs. Usually a short personal introduction is made, then the topic of the video is introduced followed by the actual content. It is here that students are encouraged to write short speaking notes – either using cue cards are short bullet points to help remind them of the main ideas they are going to talk about. It is here that emphasis on not reading word for word from a script is placed, as the students at this point in the course should feel somewhat confident enough to speak on their own with a little help. One thing that can be stressed about this project is that students have the opportunity to record themselves and watch the video to see where their errors are and to make more recordings until a comfortable level of error-free speech can be produced. Finally, it is important to provide the students with a teacher’s VLOG so as to model exactly what is expected of them.
The course is several weeks in length and the students would be given wide latitude in producing the components of their final projects. However, it is important to set firm dates for the various milestones to in effect evaluate a student’s self-discipline. Dates set for the milestones depend on the pace of the class and of the teacher.
For students at this level to complete this type of project, it is expected they will spend at least 3-5 hours. If the class is a stronger one and the tasks are too easy, the optional presentation task can be used, or an additional essay can be assigned. Furthermore, this 3-5 hour estimation is solely based on the student’s time alone on the project and not time spend addressing the components thereof in the classroom.
Monitoring and Evaluation
This project has three main components which build on one another. There is also a time-frame in which each component is expected to be delivered. I propose the following breakdown:
- Mind Map 30% of assessment grade
- Timeliness of delivery: 5pts
- Variety of vocabulary used: 15pts
- Demonstration of finding additional vocabulary outside of the classroom: 10pts
- Spelling: 5pts
- Essay(s) 35% of assessment grade
- Timeliness of delivery: 5pts
- Correct use of vocabulary and lexis: 10pts
- Correct use of grammar: 10pts
- Spelling: 5pts
- Punctuation: 5pts
- VLOG 35% of assessment grade
- Timeliness of delivery: 5pts
- Use of vocabulary and lexis: 10pts
- Speaking fluency: 10pts
- Speaking accuracy: 10pts
This is by no means an exhaustive breakdown but a rough guideline. One setback about assessing projects is that it is difficult to remain objective. It is us to each teacher to decide how to award points for each category appropriately. Sometimes breaking each category down further can be helpful – for example on speaking fluency, we can consider if the student is reading from a script or not as well as how much of a strain does their pronunciation place on the listener.
Thank you for reading. I hope you find this sample assessment helpful in your efforts to guide your students through their exciting journeys on learning another language. Please feel free to make comments and provide feedback on how to improve this framework.