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Chinese parents are looking for progress in their child’s English language acquisition. As teachers, we ask ourselves, “How do we know students are making progress?”. The answer is by using assessments. In the ESL classroom, formative assessments can occur at any time during the lesson, with learners trying to understand the new content and then integrate it into what they already know (Pesce, 2019). In this article, Quick Ways to Check Understanding in ESL Classes, different formative assessment strategies will be shared.

Asian Elementary Students In Class
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Why do we collect data on student understanding? The data collected provides the feedback needed to make changes in our teaching and determine our students’ strengths and areas in need of improvement. Formative assessments are mindful assessments, meaning rethinking the relationship between teaching and learning and assessing the crucial skills students need to succeed now and in the future (Watanabe-Crockett, L. & Churches, A). A formative assessment is “an approach to teaching and learning that uses feedback as its centerpiece in a supportive classroom context. Providing feedback and redirection to students is the best type of tool teachers have in helping English language learners advance their literacy development.” (Montalvo-Balbed, M., 2012)


 Formative assessment is ongoing and often done through activities that provide the feedback we need. An example might be when introducing a new topic. The teacher might front-load the language and connect it to the students’ lives and experiences to help bridge the connections they are to make with new words or concepts (Montalvo-Balbed, M., 2012).


In this article, Quick Ways to Check Understanding in ESL classes, several types of formative assessments will be discussed. Many Chinese students get nervous in class, thinking their reading and speaking skills are not very good. As teachers, we need to be cautious and remember this doesn’t mean they aren’t proficient in oral skills. 

One way to assess oral skills is to have students’ role play. Students take turns reading the text and asking and answering questions about the text. Another example of role-playing is for one student to ask a question such as, “What did you do on your last holiday?” The other student would then answer. You can do this activity with each student taking on the role of either the questioner or the responder.

Sometimes our students are shy or aren’t as proficient in English as the other students. Teachers need to get creative in finding ways to help shy students demonstrate their English language skills. Charades is a strategy that is both useful and engaging. In this scenario, the teacher gives students a vocabulary word from the lesson to act out to determine if they understand the meaning or concept of the word. Miming would be another way for them to show their understanding (Licain, S., 2016).

Another strategy is the use of pictures. After students have read the text, teachers can have students draw a picture to show their understanding of the text. If the picture leaves out a few details, the student could be having a vocabulary issue (Licain, S., 2016). 

As a teacher, it is essential to use open-ended questions to get the students talking during the lesson. Avoid using yes/no questions and phrases such as, “Does this make sense?” Many times, a student will respond with a simple “yes” (Teach Thought Staff, 2018).

Throughout the lesson, teachers can also implement choral reading, where students read aloud in unison with the teacher. This strategy helps students develop fluency, differentiate between the reading of statements and questions, and practice phrasing, pacing, and reading dialogue (Teach Thought Staff, 2018).

Having students self-reflect before leaving the lesson is another strategy one can use to assess a students’ English language skills and understanding. The teacher can ask the student to state what they learned and to consider how they might apply the concept or skill. 

Students love to play games. One game teachers can play with students involved rolling dice either physically or virtually to prompt students to briefly answer a question based on the number rolled. Some examples of questions one could use are:

  1. Something I learned today…
  2. I want to remember…
  3. One new word I’m excited to start using is…
  4. Something I already knew…
  5. I’m still confused about…

With formative assessments, teachers can determine whether students were able to understand the instructions, story, or tasks in the lesson. The data collected provides teachers with how well students were able to take the ideas and put them into their own words after a listening activity or reading experience (Montalvo-Balbed), 2012). There are many types of formative assessments that can be used in the lesson. It is important to select a variety of assessments in order to get a clear picture of what the student does well and what needs improvement. Remember, Chinese parents want to see that their child can use more English words, expressions, and sentences in their speech (Pesce, 2019). Formative assessments provide the data to help guide our instruction as students move toward the goal of becoming fluent, English speakers.

References for Quick Ways to Assess Understanding in ESL Classes
Licain, S. (2016). Watch them grow: 5 Non-test alternatives for assessing English language learners. Retrieved from
Montalvo-Balbed, M. (2012). Using formative assessment to help English language learners. ASCD. Retrieved from
Pesce, A. (2019). Assessment in the ESL classroom. Retrieved from
TeachThoughtStaff. (2018). 20 Simple assessment strategies you can use every day. Retrieved from
Watanabe-Crockett, L., & Churches, A. (2019). Mindful Assessment. Retrieved from

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