Imagine a class where your students were not only talking with each other, but were also actively correcting each other’s mistakes and giving each other feedback. A class where students’ speaking and writing wasn’t just given a grade and a comment, but where students were aware of all the TEFL industry criteria by which they are judged. In a class with this kind of dynamic, students would become better at self correction and could have real goals for how to improve specific aspects of different skills.
Does this sound too good to be true? Are you having a hard time imagining turning your high level young learner, teen or adult classes into a class where everyone is an examiner and not just the teacher? Believe me, it’s not impossible. Where it may require a certain amount of work to create this kind of dynamic the rewards are palpable. Not only will your students improve more quickly beyond a pre-intermediate level, you’ll also find that planning for these classes is considerably easier. Read on for tips and strategies on turning your students into examiners.
When Can I Use this Strategy?
As I stated above, I wouldn’t recommend that you use this for low level students. Regarding young learners, I would recommend at least a Flyers 1 level (according to the Cambridge YL Framework). For teens and adults, I would only recommend this strategy for pre-intermediate level students and above. The reasoning is that lower level students need to build up their vocabulary and basic skills before learning complex industry terminology. A student who is struggling to give some basic information about themselves shouldn’t necessarily thinking about the diversity of their vocabulary; it will, by nature of their current level, be very basic.
Having your students act as examiners works well with activities in which you’re asking them to produce things. Specifically, it is for times in the lesson when you are working on writing or speaking skills. Where some activities that have your students critically examining each other could work during the practice phase of the lesson, I find it most useful during the production phase.
What is the Process to Create This Classroom Dynamic?
Let’s start by discussing how to use this strategy for speaking activities. Again, the goal is that students are judging each other during certain activities using the same criteria that you use. The first logical step then is to determine what criteria your students are judged by. You should have received training on this when you were inducted into your school, however, not all schools have the same training standards. If you aren’t clear on the criteria, ask your DoS.
If, after asking your DoS, you’re still not satisfied by the answer, then I highly recommend using the IELTS grading criteria for speaking. You can find a free copy of it here, with clear descriptions of each scoring band. It’s also important to be aware of how your students’ speaking will be judged in the future. For example, if your students are planning on taking a TOEFL speaking test in the future, it makes more sense to tailor your criteria to that. Regardless, there is a lot of crossover, so the important thing is to make a decision on how speaking is judged in your classroom.
After you’ve determined the criteria and terminology that you’ll be using, the next step is to teach it to your students. It may be a little difficult for them to understand terms like “fluency and coherence” at first, but if you give them some examples, they’ll get the idea. My trick is to give them a good and a bad example of the specific skill, then I ask how I could improve the bad example. This helps them get the concept.
Once they have a basic understanding of the criteria, create fun and engaging opportunities for them to judge each other. I wouldn’t recommend that they use scores (though with the right kind of class, this works), instead have them focus on ways to improve the specific skill. For example, if you are focusing on lexical resource (accurate usage of varied vocabulary), you could have students looking out for any repeated vocabulary or any times that a word was unsuitably used. They can then share this with their partner, and the two can improve it together.
Don’t have the students working on all the skills at once. Try and focus what the students are looking for in their classmates. This will make them more aware of this particular speaking skill and also increase the likelihood of success with finding mistakes.
The steps for turning your students into examiners with writing skills is a fairly similar process. Teach them the criteria by which their essays will be judged. Also, take some time to teach them shorthand for editing each other’s mistakes (e.g. ww= wrong word, wt=wrong tense, etc.). The way I do this is to give them a short paragraph that has one example of each type of mistake, with a partner, I have them find the mistakes and put the correct editing symbol above it.
When they are writing, make sure that they write double spaced so that there is room for the other student to put comments and mark the mistakes. I also use a writing template with an area at the bottom containing the shorthand editing symbols. You can download the template that I use in my classes by clicking on the button below.
What’s My Role in This and What are Some Things to Watch Out For?
Having your students act as examiners and give each other feedback doesn’t mean that you’ll never be looking at their work. It is still important for you to critically assess their speaking and writing beyond test-taking scenarios. While they might become quite good at judging each other in these ways, there’s no substitute for you, their trained teacher with much better vocabulary, fluency and grammar, taking a look.
While they are actually doing exercises where they are either assessing each other’s speaking or editing each other’s writing, your role is to be like a project manager. While you are actively monitoring the class, make sure that students are on task and either writing down errors during speaking activities or editing the other student’s work. During speaking activities, make sure to note mistakes you hear or common problems and address them after the activity is finished. During editing activities, make yourself available for questions that students have.
For example, last night my students were editing each other’s work on “describing a process”. About fifteen times during the ten minutes I gave them to edit their peer’s work I was asked the same question, “Is this right?” You can also walk around the room and take a quick look at the essays as well; pointing out things that the editor may have missed.
As I mentioned earlier, the most important thing to be careful of is trying to do too much too soon. Turning your students into examiners is not something that is going to happen during one lesson. Focus on one skill at a time and make sure that they understand what is meant before having them assess their peers. Take your time and be patient.
Another thing to be wary of is damaging students’ confidence. Make sure that you explain how to give positive feedback and not say something is generally bad. Also, be careful of how you pair the students. If you pair two students together that dislike each other, having them assess each other will probably get ugly.
Similarly, you don’t want to put two students together whose levels are vastly different. Put students together who can learn from each other’s mistakes and who, together, are better at that skill. If you do this, your students and your class will grow together.
Earlier, I said that one benefit of turning your students into examiners is that they become more aware of specific areas that they need to develop. One useful strategy for using this awareness is having them fill out monthly goals. You can download the monthly goals template that I use in my classroom, by clicking on the button below.
Try these strategies out in your classroom, and be sure to comment below on how it turns out. I’d love to hear about your classroom experiments.