ESL Curriculum Development Series: Assessing ESL Students

Posted by MK Argo on Oct 18, 2018 10:15:00 AM

What’s the most important part of any ESL Curriculum? The content of course. Now that you have taken care of all of the preliminaries of ESL curriculum development, you can dig in and begin crafting and compiling the perfect resources to make your ESL school successful.

Set Student Goals and How They Will Achieve Them

In the article on the preliminaries of curriculum development, we discussed how to discover your student audience and their personal and academic objectives. Now let’s put that information to good use by identifying learning goals for your students and the objectives they need to achieve to gain competency within each target. This step will help you identify your course content and create academic roadmaps for your students.

Establishing Goals for Your ESL Curriculum

The goals of your curriculum should describe the intended learning outcomes of the course. They should be realistic, student-centered, and describe real-world student behaviors and attitudes. Mainly, ensure the learning goals of your ESL curriculum will align well with the variety of classrooms within your school.

The first step in creating curriculum content should be to ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you want the students to accomplish?
  • What level of proficiency should the students reach to consider the goal complete?
  • What type of assessments will you utilize to determine the progress of your students?

Your answers to the first question, “What do you want your students to accomplish?” will be the aims of your curriculum. Your ESL curriculum goals should align with whatever standards your successful school follows. Your curriculum should include goals for listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Here are sample goals for intermediate ESL students:


  1. The student has gained the ability to extract crucial information from written text
  2. The student can comprehend English version and translate it into their L1
  3. The student is capable of reading complex sentences quickly
  4. The student can skim and scan material
  5. The student has gained the ability to use a dictionary correctly
  6. The student has acquired the basic knowledge of common Western fictional and nonfictional stories, myths, society, culture, and legends


  1. The student has the ability to say a short, simple phrase such as greetings, farewells, and introductions.
  2. The student is capable of telling simple stories in conversation and during role-play
  3. The student is able to clarify and repeat important information about oneself and others
  4. The student can express one's interests using an extensive vocabulary range
  5. The student can construct simple and more complicated sentences accurately
  6. The student demonstrates proper pronunciation
  7. The student utilizes a vast vocabulary and cultural knowledge correctly in conversation


  1. The student has developed a broad grammatical and vocabulary range
  2. The student demonstrates the ability to write quickly
  3. The student has gained the ability to write about their Western cultural knowledge
  4. The student can write about personal experiences and creatively
  5. The student is capable of taking accurate notes
  6. The student is able to organize written material
  7. The student can proofread and self-edit written material


  1. The student has developed an extensive cultural understanding
  2. The student has the ability to recognize a variety of vocabulary words when spoken
  3. The student is capable of understanding basic communication in different dialects
  4. The student has gained the skills to clarify misunderstandings in conversation
  5. The student has acquired a well developed professional and personal vocabulary
  6. The student has an understanding of basic spoken grammatical structures

These objectives are the destinations on your student’s academic roadmap. Each target should have a clear list of goals the students must achieve before they complete the goals. These goals should align closely with the latest ELT standards.

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Creating Student Objectives for Each ESL Curriculum Goal

The purpose of creating clear student objectives is to give your educators, and their students, benchmarks for success. Breaking down your overall curriculum goals into smaller objectives will help your teachers prepare and enable your students to not become overwhelmed.

Your academic objectives should always relate directly to a goal and be stated, precisely taking into consideration what the students will achieve through this goal. Much like the overall goals, the objectives should be cut down if necessary to ensure their attainable during the course.

Here are four important things to consider when writing student learning objectives:

  1. Determine the vocabulary your students will need to speak, read, write, or comprehend the topic of the lesson materials through listening. These terms can be technical or more informal terminology but should be clearly defined.
  2. What are the skills the student will need to carry out the particular objective? How will you help your student to acquire these skills? How long will it take them to attain these essential abilities?
  3. What language will be involved in the assignments depending on what skills the student must acquire? Identify the learning strategies often associated with the particular lesson topic.
  4. In addition to the common vocabulary necessary for the topic, be sure to include the essential grammatical structures and concepts.

Following the creation of the ESL Goals and Objectives of your curriculum, an important step to take is to reduce these goals by 30%. Often curriculum developers will get caught in an idealistic mentality regarding the goals students are capable of achieving during the school year. It is important to remember your curriculum should include a variety of supplementary materials for teachers which will lengthen the lessons. It is much more harmful to confuse students through the needlessly dense material than it is to pad lessons with outside activities.

Creating Rubrics and Assessments for Your ESL Curriculum

There are several systems teachers can use to set standards and measure the achievements of students throughout the school year. Let’s begin by talking about rubrics, which are one of the most important steps in crafting an efficient system of assessment for your ESL school when developing curriculum.

Creating Rubrics for ESL Curriculum

When creating rubrics for your ESL program, begin by writing basic systems of measurement for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Each of these areas within the language should have different criteria within the rubric. Below you will find sample rubric categories and the importance of each measurement.


The traditional categories of measurement for ESL reading are:

  • Reading type
  • Reading length
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension
  • Reading strategy
  • Reading speed
  • Cultural references
  • Ability to retell the story
  • Can formulate questions about the material
  • Comprehension
  • Ability to identify essential information
  • Active listening
  • Cultural References
  • Ability to retell the story
  • Can formulate questions about the material
  • Understands colloquialisms/references/slang
  • Responds appropriately
  • Understands different dialects/accents


The traditional categories of measurement for ESL writing are:

  • Task achievement
  • Introduction
  • Thesis
  • Formatting
  • Body (research/evidence/examples)
  • Conclusion
  • Sentence structure
  • Grammar & spelling


The traditional categories of measurement for ESL speaking are:

  • Pronunciation
  • Stress & intonation
  • Vocabulary use
  • Sentence structure
  • Grammar
  • Fluency
  • Response timing and accuracy
  • Volume
  • Tone
  • Physical expressions


The traditional categories of measurement for ESL listening are:

  • Comprehension
  • Ability to identify essential information
  • Active listening
  • Cultural References
  • Ability to retell the story
  • Can formulate questions about the material
  • Understands colloquialisms/references/slang
  • Responds appropriately
  • Understands different dialects/accents

Thanks to advances in educational technology, there are many different types of rubric creation software on the market today. Experts typically agree, however, that creating your own rubrics for your curriculum is the better choice because many of the programs generate standard, generalized rubrics. You can still use rubric creation software, but it is necessary to adjust the templates to meet your school personalized standards.

Tips for Creating Tests for Your ESL Curriculum

Many teachers argue about the effectiveness of traditional testing when determining the skills of students, and ELLs in particular. However, at this time in the education industry, no other standardized method has been widely accepted. Therefore, it is crucial for you to understand the current best practices for creating tests for your ESL curriculum.

Follow these eight steps when creating tests for your ESL curriculum:

  1. Plan the timing between each test.
  2. Choose which content goals to include in the tests.
  3. Decide on the types of testing for each objective.
  4. Write and review questions.
  5. Assemble your test.
  6. Consider examining the quality and the function of the tests in your curriculum through a sample group.
  7. Create “study guides” or other forms of test preparation for students.
  8. Reassess the test materials and edit them to ensure they are user-friendly and easy to grade.

At this point, you should already have generated the necessary information to determine your student and curricular objectives, so it should be fairly easy to create your tests. There are many different online (paid and free) programs that make creating test materials easier for educators. As with rubrics, however, many of these programs can produce content that is too general or is prone to typos and other errors. Since this is the case, always be sure to proofread the material generated, and adjust it according to your needs or preference.

Incorporating Informal Assessments Into Your ESL Curriculum

Particularly for ELs, informal assessments are extremely important for educators to understand if students are grasping and retaining the mechanics of the English language.

These types of assessments are often used as alternatives to testing and have been proven useful. They can, however, supplement traditional tests. Using these types of assessments allows educators to check in on the ongoing progress of every student, allowing them to catch misunderstandings in their early stages.

Informal assessments come in many different forms, but here are the most common types of informal assessments and their functions:

  • Role-playing - This type of informal assessment is prevalent because it allows students to utilize every skill they have learned during their classes. Roleplaying should be structured by the teacher or the curriculum development team to ensure the ease of the activity. Interviews are a popular form of role-playing in ESL classrooms.
  • Storytelling - It can be useful to have students tell a variety of stories. Whether they make them up on their own or they’re retelling content from provided materials, this can help educators determine how much information students are grasping from lessons or text. The stories can either be creative of factual and can be given as a verbal or a written assignment.
  • Editing - providing students with ample opportunities to edit prepared passages or peer reviewing the work of their classmates allows teachers to examine the student’s critical thinking skills. The ability to edit is a significant aspect of language development, and your ESL curriculum should cultivate these abilities.
  • Reading journals - This activity is similar to storytelling because it gives the student the opportunity to share what they comprehend about their assigned reading and how well they can express that on paper.
  • Non-verbal activities - Games like charades or Pictionary fit perfectly into this criteria. The teacher can assess another level of understanding in the student by examining how well they can act out or draw their topic in the game. This is an excellent time for educators to teach culturally appropriate gestures and facial expressions.
  • Student self-evaluation - When developing your ESL curriculum, it can be helpful to include work pages with student self-evaluations, because having a way for the students to express feelings about their progress can be very useful for teachers.
  • Teacher observation - This intuitive step should be taken by your teachers at all times. It may be helpful for you to include teacher observation checklists into your curriculum during the development stage.

Creating goals, objectives, rubrics, and testing methods for your the curriculum for your ESL school is the most time consuming and tedious step. It is also, however, the most important step in the process. Avoid the common pitfall of curriculum creation by giving yourself plenty of time to work on these plans, and bring in other educators to fill in whatever gaps you might overlook.

If you continue working hard during this process, then you are guaranteed to provide your educators with a carefully crafted curriculum that will meet their needs and will be user-friendly. The next article in the ESL Curriculum Series will discuss how to use technology in the classroom, and finally how to perfect your curriculum.

On the Your Agora platform, there are many tools which make grading and testing simpler for your educators. When creating your ESL Curriculum, do not forget that all of the valuable ESL education tools on Your Agora are completely free for the student and the teacher. Utilizing this platform will help decrease the amount of time spent on ESL curriculum development as well as the time your teachers spend grading.