Tips to easily grade young learners in the ESL classroom

Assessing YL with no stress

Assessing YL with no stress


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Have you ever noticed that children of different age groups have different perceptions of assessment? For example, in middle school, they are much more likely to look forward to an upcoming test with nervousness and dread, while younger learners show some excitement and even pleasure in being able to demonstrate what they have learned.

Parents also often place great importance on how successful their children are in learning English. All these factors pose new challenges for teachers and educators because they should be taken into account when we check the level of students' knowledge.

Why can't children be assessed as adults?

It's no secret that a child's psyche is different from an adult's. They need more attention, more games, and more activities at home, at school, and in language courses. So, how about considering that information while assessing their knowledge?

Young Learners are usually children from 5 to 17 years old. Agree, this is quite a wide age range. So they are all quite different and behave differently. Therefore, it is worth dividing them into three more age subgroups:

  • 5 to 8 years old;
  • 9 to 12 years old;
  • aged 13 and above.

Within each of these groups, speaking skills, attention spans, and behaviors can vary greatly. Everything affects their language test scores and the types of tasks they may like and be able to do.

Struggling with making YL speak?

Two researchers asked teachers how they usually assess their students. Here is what came out of that:

  • Grammar and vocabulary tests
  • Single sentence exercises
  • Gap-filling
  • Vocabulary matching
  • Restricted dialogues to test speaking

Are such assessment methods effective?

The answer is obvious because there is a risk that the described types of tasks and tests may not be the best in terms of motivating and stimulating children. 

Secondly, they can be too difficult to understand. 

And thirdly, these tasks can be boring and can affect the enjoyment of learning English.

Satisfaction is important for students of all ages, and therefore very careful thought should be given before using assessment methods designed for adults when working with younger students and teenagers.

Assess according to age

Let's take a look at each age group separately.

5-8 years old

At the age of 5-8, children explore the world around them with their native language in particular. They also learn to write, speak and use the grammar of their native language correctly, and learn many new words. Children of this age can be compared to parrots because they repeat everything you say. That is why the words they know are the starting points for testing students' knowledge.

Because children at this age memorize new vocabulary through repetition, they can demonstrate their knowledge by saying the word or pointing to a picture with the word. If the teacher slowly reveals the picture and shows it to the children, they will happily call out their guesses, including the correct answer.

 Do they realize that this is a knowledge test? Of course not. If the children feel relaxed, the teacher can see how well they have mastered the material.

9-12 years old

Between the ages of 9 and 12, children's vocabulary grows rapidly. They also understand and can explain more complex concepts. Their knowledge of the world around them also develops rapidly and their attention span increases. The only thing that doesn't change is that they still like having fun and playing games. Therefore, tasks for control should be entertaining and not too long.

For children at this age, their friends become important. Therefore, tasks can look like work in pairs, discussions with a partner, and role-playing games. For example, students can make a shopping list together and then play seller and buyer.

The key to teenage motivation

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If the games they play every day become the basis for assessment, students will feel more comfortable and confident. This will also affect their motivation to complete the test tasks.

13 years old and above

Teenagers go through a lot of changes that we sometimes forget about. At the age of 13 and above, teenagers are interested in everything around them.

They like to learn about different cultures, new inventions, ideas, and the life of people from other countries. These topics are great for reading and writing assignments.

Friends and relationships with peers become even more important. Sometimes children at this age are afraid of adults or keep away from them. Therefore, the best way to test speaking skills may be a task where they can speak in pairs or groups, rather than answering the teacher's questions.

Making your classroom student-centered

Since we develop our language skills until we are almost 30 years old, many words and expressions can still be incomprehensible to teenagers. And therefore, the vocabulary that we test at this age should be different from the vocabulary used by adults.

Of course, many students at this age can already have a fairly high level of English. However, it is better for them if the test contains tasks and activities that they usually do at school.

A great example is the Cambridge YLE tasks, which are designed for 7-12-year-olds, and the Cambridge English For Schools exams. The latter differs from adult exams only in content. That is, the topics of texts, audio, and exam tasks are interesting especially to teenagers.

In addition, teenagers do not have as much life experience as adults. Therefore, it can be difficult for them to speak. Therefore, the teacher should provide them with more support that will help them complete the task.

How to test knowledge and skills without a test?

Is it even possible to test knowledge and skills without excessive stress and testing? How can assessment be integrated into regular classroom work?


A teacher can observe students in class. This is a fairly flexible way to test knowledge and skills that does not require intervention. You can do this when students are working individually or in pairs. Many textbooks have checklists that the teacher can use to test students' skills.


Children can be encouraged to evaluate themselves. This is a peculiar part of the learner-centered approach.


A portfolio is a collection of student's works. Such a portfolio can be physical or digital.

A digital portfolio allows children to include a wide range of materials. They must understand the criteria for selecting works for the portfolio. Creating a portfolio can be very motivating and also help children realize what they are capable of. By creating a portfolio young learners can get accustomed to independence in the learning process.

Does assessment at the online classes differ?


Project work can combine all four language skills and motivate weaker students through the opportunity to learn from classmates

At the same time, it can motivate stronger students, as they have a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Of course, each age group has different needs and develops at different paces. However, what they have in common is that they all want the tasks to test their skills to be interesting and fun. It is under such conditions that they will be able to demonstrate their knowledge in the best possible way!

Students' vocabulary grows rapidly at the age of 5-8.

Groups tasks and peer checking are great types of activities for kids above 13.

Article authors & editors
  • Yulia Chorna

    Yulia Chorna


    DELTA Module 1, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English



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