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Learn Chinese with Tasks: Formative Assessment for First Graders

May 13 2015

Assessment and TBLT (Task-based Language Teaching)

In a task-based language classroom, assessment can take place flexibly before, during, or after the task cycle. The goal of assessment in a language classroom is to help teachers adjust teaching plans according learners’ needs, provide effective feedback, track students’ learning progress, and measure student learning outcome.

Assessment can be classified into summative and formative assessment. Summative assessment is to provide a summary of students’ language competencies. The purpose of a summative assessment is to make a one-off measurement. This kind of test include final exam at the end of a semester or the standard placement test.

Formative assessment, on the other hand, aims at providing information for both teachers and students. Through formative assessment, teachers can gather information about students’ learning progress, thus making adjustments on their teaching plans. During the process, students receive teacher’s feedback and revise their work, which provides opportunities for further improvement and better learning outcomes. Formative assessment happens frequently in classroom. A brief conversation can be accounted as formative assessment if a teacher has a clear purpose for this conversation. Other types of formative assessment include portfolio assessment, task-based assessment, etc.

Doing Formative Assessment: Reasons and Rationale

What type of assessment that a language teacher chooses should be based on the goal of the curriculum, the cohort of students and his/her teaching approaches.

In my case, the goal of my Chinese curriculum is to trigger students’ interests in learning Chinese and have them taste the joy of learning another language. Therefore, using formative assessment enables me to give regular feedback in multiple forms and through various tasks that could increase my learners’ motivation, meet students’ needs, and effectively demonstrate their language performances.

Types of Formative Assessment

1.    Tic-Tac-Toe


Description: It is adapted from a very simple game. Students are usually divided into two groups. Students from each group take turns to choose a grid and come up with any word that belongs to this category. If the meaning and the pronunciation are both correct, the teacher can mark this grid with a circle or a cross as a label for this group. The group wins if they first line up four grids.

Reflection: My students are familiar with this game in English. It is easy for them to understand how to play it in Chinese. The competition stimulates students’ interests in recalling words they have learned. In addition, this game also promotes children’s higher level of classification skills in this stage as I mentioned in my previous blog.

Extension: Based on students’ language and cognitive skills, teachers can adapt this game by using certain picture in one grid and ask students to think of the corresponding word.

2.    Mind Map


Description: In a mind map, the teacher sets the topic in the center (“color” as demonstrated in the example). Students are asked to think as many words that belong to this category as possible. They are required to draw out the image and then present to the whole class in Chinese. In the example, students need to say the words “红色,绿色,黄色,黑色”. If the topic is fruit, they can draw apple, banana, or other fruits and present the corresponding words with Chinese.

Reflection: Mind map helps students to focus on relevant information and organize information coherently. Teachers can also test students’ prior knowledge of certain vocabulary words. Similar to tic-tac-toe, it is engaging and flexible.

Extension: In addition to vocabulary words, teachers can also use mind map as a tool for students to think about phrases they know in a certain context. For instance, teachers can set the topic as “conversation in a restaurant”. Then students can come up with phrases as “你吃什么”, “你喝什么”, “谢谢”, etc. If students are familiar with pinyin and character, mind map can also be used as a tool of writing assessment.

 3.    Board Game

Description: Students are divided into several groups. They take turns to roll a dice or draw number cards, which decides how many steps they can go. They are required to follow the instruction on the grid they stop. If they cannot complete the task, they have to go back to the previous place and then roll a dice next time. The group who first arrives the finish grid wins.

Reflection: The adoption of board game captivates students’ attention and increases their participation of the task. A single board game map can incorporate many tasks such as role-play and imitation games. It provides teachers with abundant opportunity to assess students’ language competencies (vocabulary, sentence structure, pronunciation, etc.) and evaluate their performances (communication, completion of tasks, etc.)

 Challenges & Resources
One of the challenges in doing formative assessment is the development of assessment rubric. The picture above is a sample rubric for formative assessment (adapted from Better Immersion Classroom Set). Standards and tasks are presented at the beginning of the form with specific indicators of how well students performed within each task. Differentiated instruction can also be implemented when teachers fill in individual students’ name and record their performances in the box. Remember to allow a column of Notes for additional comments or instructions.

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