Most traditional schools around the world base their curriculum largely on standardized forms of testing. In the ESL classroom, this culture encourages students to merely memorize sequences of words and synonyms for vocabulary- not to mention, it can get pretty boring and soul-crushing for the youngsters. Utilizing classroom performance activities is a great way to ‘test’ your students’ knowledge while igniting their creative flames. A performance-based classroom uses activities that require students to perform in front of their peers and teacher. While it may initially be daunting for some of the shy students, it has been shown in studies to build self-confidence. Plus, practicing and performing enhances students’ knowledge of the subject(s) and themes, developing their vocabulary and forcing them to really focus on pronunciation through repetition and rehearsal.
Performance-based learning has similar methodology and roots in task-based learning, in that the focus is on encouraging students to practice applying their knowledge to real world situations. This style of teaching and assessment allows students to be creative when acquiring, developing, and demonstrating their language skills by giving them a task that they can make their own. The tasks can be cumulative, building upon earlier vocabulary and grammar knowledge as well as all the language skills that the student possesses. Students retain information and develop better habits when the information or task is meaningful to them, so encouraging the use of a creative platform is infinitely beneficial. While the tasks can certainly be fun, it does not mean that they are a blow-off. Performances are an effective manner of testing and assessing what the student has learned. While traditional tests answer the question, “Does the student know it?”, performance-based assessments allow teachers to look at how well the student can use what they know. Both styles of testing, as is the case with all styles of learning, are integral to the process and present many opportunities for learners. However, where ESL is concerned, the goal of learning is is not just knowing, but also using. With this in mind, performance-based activities become critical tools for skill development, practice, and assessing growth.
These types of activities and tasks cover a wide range. They can be short, lasting only a few minutes and with minimal preparation time required of the students, to long, with polished projects that the students have practiced for months. In the beginning and with younger learners, it is best to start with shorter activities that can lay the groundwork for longer performance-learning tasks. Obviously, if a student or an entire class is not yet accustomed to performing or speaking in front of a group, they will require basic activities that can build these skills before moving on to more complex tasks. Many students prefer these kind of activities because they are not called upon randomly and put on the spot; they get the opportunity to prepare ahead of time and often collaborate with their classmates.
There are a variety of performance activities that can be utilized across the age and ability spectrum. Puppets are a timeless and limitless tool that teachers can use with kindergarten students, but elementary and even middle school-aged children can get very creative when putting on a show for their class. Being hidden behind a stage gives the added advantage of allowing students to prevail over any shyness while being intrinsically forced to project their voice and focus on pronunciation.
Any type of theater or stage play is bound to be fun, entertaining, and an incredible opportunity to practice speaking. Allow students to craft their own short plays in groups, or recreate a story that you’ve read in class. The only challenge with using bigger plays is that shyer/weaker students may often feel marginalized into a smaller role that requires less speaking while stronger, confident students go for the lead roles. As a teacher, it’s your job to assess and attempt to mitigate this situation, ensuring that everyone is both challenged yet comfortable. Monologues are also a great way to promote responsibility and independence, in addition to being a route for assessing students on a more individual level and not as part of a group. Dramatic monologues, poetry writing, riddles, jokes, storytelling, and songs are all dynamic ways of assessing your students’ English skills. Plus, it means that you don’t have to take any papers home to grade- a win-win!