ESL Development 7: Grading a talk or oral activity

The essential thing is to teach "language" so that students can partake with pleasure in activities. Language skills should be practiced regularly and thoroughly. We cannot expect students to perform correctly if they are not given the linguistic tools they need. Language acquisition is essential for students to become operational! This tip is about grading a talk.

Grading a Talk—A Difficult Task

A colleague recently wrote me to ask how she should grade a talk. She wondered whether "content", "fluency", "accent" and "spontaneity when answering questions" were good criteria. This is what I answered.

Evaluating by Using a Grid

It is very difficult to grade talks, as there is always an element of subjectivity. You can use a grid like the one I developed for 12-minute talks plus workshops. It is very detailed and perhaps too complicated to be user-friendly—but it can be shown to students to give them an idea of the criteria being evaluated. If used, it can give the students a good idea of what they did right and what was missing.

PDF - 59 kb
Talk Evaluation Grid

Grading by Using Questions

With my team of teachers we elaborated questions which we used in our evaluation. I encourage teacher to print them in student booklets so that student can use this check-list when preparing:

  • Did they speak without notes and with only key words on the visuals? (Reading a paper was an obvious fail.)`
  • Could we easily understand what the speakers were saying?
  • Was their English correct? In other words, did they use the appropriate language (i.e. the right tenses, prepositions, adverbs…)?
  • Did the topic they chose interest most of the students?
  • Did they alternate speaking throughout the talk?
  • Did they use the language presented in the instructions?
  • Were all their handouts correct and interesting?
  • Had they asked their teacher to correct the handouts ahead of time and were these perfect when distributed in class?
  • Did they animate the group well at the end during "Question Time" and during the "Workshop"?
  • Did they look at the audience?
  • Did they look friendly and enthusiastic—even when their partner was speaking?
  • Was there good teamwork?

Very Detailed Instructions

The best way to assure the success of a talk is to help the students before their performance. If you give advice, show by example and correct student work prior to a talk, then you cn sit back and ENJOY! And give the high grades the students deserve for all their work.

The trick is to give very detailed instructions. We printed ours in the booklets, and the students knew that if they did all we expected of them, they would get a good or very good grade. In the QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book you will find files with explanations and advice that you can customize to suit your specific needs..

Giving a Talk is Not an Easy Activity

Giving a talk can be a very stimulating experience for the learner—an experience that he/she will never forget. Usually, students put in a great deal of work preparing and the actual presentation can be tough on the nerves. That’s why we must be very careful with the evaluation. My colleagues and I realized how difficult it is to give a good talk, so the grades we gave were generally high—if students had followed instructions. I think it is better to grade written work severely and be more "generous" with oral work. You want to encourage the type of autonomous work involved in preparing a talk.

Grades Must Reflect Your Commentaries

One last point: be sure you give a grade equivalent to your comments. The French system is based on a perfect score of 20 and a passing score of 10:

Excellent: 18 or more (19, 20)

Very good: 16

Good: 14

Quite good: 12

Just passing: 10

Weak: 8

Very weak; 6

Insufficient: 4 or less

If you say a talk is "very good", you must give an equivalent grade, in the case of an English course in France that would be 16. If a talk (or any written work for that matter) is near perfect, it deserves a "20". French teachers will never give a grade of "20" for any work, but I feel we should give high or very high grades when the students have met all the requirements and spoken beautiful English for over twenty minutes while explaining their topic or animating the class.

In QualityTime-ESL: The Digital Resource Book you will find pages of explanations and advice for the students. There are also examples of student outlines. Showing learners ahead of time what we expect of them is a good strategy in my opinion. Very often students will produce materials that are even better than those they have been shown. And listening to students speaking near faultless English gives great pleasure to all teachers.

Best wishes,

Marianne Raynaud

Back to the list of articles in the ESL Teacher Development Course