Top tips for placing students

Where to put students?

When you welcome new students through your doors, what do you do? Some of you reading this will have a fairly refined placement process and others of you won’t, especially if you currently only have one English conversation group. Whatever your situation, we do hope the ‘Top Tips’ below will help you assess what you do. We surveyed some of you and found that the placement test by Linguahouse is a popular choice so we’ve featured it below. To give an alternative option, we’ve also given details about the Skills For Life test used by those at Cornerstone Church in Nottingham. And if a formal test seems too much at the moment, you’ll see our third option for those just getting started.

 

  • See this as a God-given opportunity to welcome and show love, rather than something to ‘get over and done with’
  • Have a person(s) tasked with placing people
  • Make the most of that first meeting when a new student arrives. Smile, show warmth and make them tea. Tailor your registration form so that you can get
    to know the student a little and take interest in him or her. For example, get the student to write a little about him or herself and then ask them about it. (See the registration form referred to below as an example)
  • Be flexible! Once you have placed the student give it a couple of weeks and then review whether you think they are indeed in the correct group
  • Do use some kind of graded test to help you, especially if you teach different levels
  • Be aware of cultural tendencies. For example, in Japanese culture, the emphasis would be more geared towards getting the answer right rather than ‘having a go’. This can mean students from Japan might prefer to be in a lower level group and/or may not speak much for fear of making mistakes. This can make assessing their verbal capability tricky!
  • Prioritise speaking ability if, as in most cases, your classes are conversation classes
  • Take time to introduce the new student to their teacher and at this point you could give the student a ‘welcome pack‘ including term dates, invitations to any upcoming events and anything else you want to pop in such as information about church toddler groups if appropriate.
  • Be encouraged! Some of the best chats have been with students during the registration/placement process
  • Review the process each year

Examples of two placement tests

Name: Linguahouse Quick Level Placement Test
Used by: Bridges English Language School at Carey Baptist Church and also at Argyle Community Church in Reading.
What: 60 multiple choice questions testing grammar and vocabulary skills. There is also a speaking test with questions divided into the four levels. Students complete the written part first before we have a little interview (chat!) with them to test speaking and listening ability.
Benefits: It’s easy to get an idea of which level would be most suitable by tallying points. Also with the speaking, you can just pick out a few questions from each ‘level’ and then the level soon becomes apparent.
Anything else? If there’s a big discrepancy between skills such as a student who is a fairly fluent speaker but has a much lower level in written and reading skills, we give more credence to speaking as our classes are fundamentally conversation classes. People are placed every week that there are new students. Prospective students turn up most weeks and we always have someone who is not teaching that session who is available purely to welcome new students, explain the test and sit with them.
Find it here but you need to become a Linguahouse member and login to be able to access the test (you can do this free of charge)

 

Name: Skills for Life Placement Test
Used by: Learn English at Cornerstone (Cornerstone Church, Nottingham)
What: We use three different levels of test – Entry 1, Entry 2 and Entry 3. We have to decide quite quickly which level is appropriate for a new student by having an initial conversation with them on arrival. Each level starts with a multiple choice Listening task. They then move on to Reading (gap fill and multiple choice comprehension) and then Writing (at each level, they are asked to write a little about themselves, their country, their reasons for coming to classes).
Benefits: There is a test for each level so if students think they are ready for the next level they can take the relevant test to check. We do find this helps us place our students in one of our four levels.
Challenges: In its original format it’s too long so we adapted it for our use. Speaking is not tested.
Anything else? It is helpful to have time to chat to the students before the test, to get to know them a bit, and to get a general idea of their speaking and listening skills. Some students are obviously beginners and cannot attempt the EL1 test, so are taken directly to the Pre-Entry group. Students who feel they should be in a higher level group are given the opportunity to take the next level test (maybe once a term). Once students have finished the test we take them to one of the groups for the last part of the session. We explain that their results will help us choose the right class for them the following week. Placing students isn’t an exact science and needs to be kept under review!
Find it: You need to register here and then go to this website: On that page, you’ll see ‘Web link for this resource’ : RWP Legacy files .docx. Open that file and scroll down until you get to the ESOL part of the table. There you find links to what they call the ‘diagnostic assessment’ for each level.