Student Oral Language Observation Matrix

This test was developed some years ago by the Foreign Service Institute and adapted for use with school-age students by the California State Department of Education. It is easy and useful for you to use with your English learners and it will give you a quick snapshot of your English learner’s oral proficiency. This matrix can be found online at:
Second language learners are usually not equally proficient in all aspects of language. This quick oral language test, which is found on the web site above, will help you understand your students’ strengths and areas of greatest need. Across the top of this matrix are numbers from one to five, indicating levels of proficiency, with five being the most developed. Vertically and along the left of the matrix are dimensions of language, including Comprehension, Fluency, Vocabulary, Pronunciation, and Grammar. Each coordinate in the matrix contains a descriptor that corresponds to the level of proficiency in that dimension of language. The teacher listens to the student’s language, then marks an “X” in the cell that best describes the student’s abilities for each of the five dimensions of language. For example, you may rate your student as a level 2 in comprehension, 2 in fluency, 3 in vocabulary, 3 on pronunciation, and 2 on grammar, for a total of 12 points out of a possible 25. It is important to do this assessment as soon as possible in the school year to establish a verbal baseline for your student. And, of course, make the interview as relaxed and casual as possible. We suggest you keep an audiotape of each of your English learners. If you can find time to tape record your student two times a year, you will be able to hear a substantial growth in verbal development, and your students will delight in hearing how they sounded some months earlier.
We also suggest that you consistently use the same questions for this oral assessment. These provide a stable baseline for judging language production across students and across time. You will be able to hear, for example, how a student is able to offer an expanded response to a question to which, months earlier, he/she could provide only a limited response.
Here are questions that we’ve developed for you.
Sample Questions
  1. What’s your name?
  2. How are you today?
  3. Can you tell me what day it is?
  4. Show me the . . .
  5. Who is your best friend?
  6. Tell me as much as you can about your best friend.
  7. What do you like about school?
  8. What have you been studying about in school?
  9. Tell me about some things you really like to do.
  10. Talk about what you like to do best at recess.
The first five questions will allow even a very limited speaker to respond and avoid embarrassment or frustration. The latter five questions permit a student to elaborate and to demonstrate verbal ability and growth over time. Notice we stayed with topics that are school related. This is because a student may not have the English vocabulary to discuss topics from home. In addition, some questions may not be appropriate in the home culture. An example is “How do you celebrate your birthday?” because not every culture follows the custom of celebrating birthdays.

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