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Teaching English Learners: Strategies for Reading Assessment

By Keren Perles

When students have limited English skills, it may seem difficult to assess their reading comprehension. These reading assessment strategies for English learners will help you figure out how to decide whether your ESL students have understood what they've read.

Reading Response Notebooks

If you’re interested in a less formal reading assessment strategy for English learners, you may want to consider assigning reading response notebooks. Have students take shorthand notes in their response notebooks while reading the book. Some students may simply write down quotes from the book that they found interesting or thought were important. Others may ask questions that they have as they read the book. Encourage students to write at least a couple of lines in their response notebook at the end of every chapter. To make sure that they are reading effectively, collect their notebooks periodically for a quick check.

Pictorial Assessment

Some students may benefit from pictorial assessments. For example, you may ask students to draw a picture of the main character or of a specific scene in the story. Alternatively, you may ask students to draw several sketches of scenes in the story to make sure that they understand the storyline. For nonfiction texts, you can ask students to describe the most important ideas in the text through pictures. For example, if the text is about the life cycle of a caterpillar/butterfly, the student can draw the various stages of the insect’s life cycle.

Gestural Assessment

Students with a much higher level of receptive vocabulary than of expressive vocabulary might benefit from a gestural assessment. This can take many forms, from giving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to a question to showing a number of fingers to answer a number question. Most students are too self-conscious to give a more comprehensive gestural assessment, such as acting out part of a story.

Oral Assessment

ESL students who are being assessed orally should be given the words that they will need to answer the questions correctly. For example, there might be a list of possible words that they can use to answer the questions. Alternatively, you might give them several choices as possible answers to each questions. Of course, yes or no questions are usually acceptable as oral assessment as well.

Open-Book Assessments

Open-book assessments may be necessary for some students who can answer more complex questions but need to cull the words from the text. Make sure that when using open-book assessments you begin with lower-level questions and move to higher-level questions. That will ensure that students have a basic understand of what they have read before assessing whether they can comprehend the text on a deeper level.