Testing, Testing


Testing, Testing

You’re in a class with one of your students when they share the news that they are thinking of going abroad soon to really put their English skills to the test. Then they ask you the question that you know was coming: Which test should I take to prove my English level?

A slew of acronyms starts filling your head--TOEFL..or was it TEFL? IELTS? TOEIC? TOEIC-Bridge? FCE? CAE? PET?

Then they ask even more questions: Does it matter which test I take? Is one cheaper? Is one less difficult? Which one is recognized more? How do I prepare? How soon can I take the test?

If you’re not sure how to answer any or all of those questions, keep reading.Also be on the lookout for part 2 of the proficiency tests workshop next month that will go into more detail for teaching the strategies & skills required to pass the tests.


The most important factors are the student’s current level and the amount of time they have to dedicate to preparing for the test.

In order to be successful on any of the standardized English proficiency tests, a student needs to have a strong intermediate or upper intermediate level (B1-B2). If they have an advanced level, that’s even better. However, while the tests measure proficiency in English, they also measure a test taker’s ability to deal with various types of challenging, multi-step tasks in a fast-paced, timed environment.

If a student’s level is below an intermediate level, it is highly recommended that they first study general English to increase their level before attempting any proficiency tests. A student could choose to take the TOEFL, IELTS, or TOEIC because they can’t fail it; they would simply receive an A1 or A2 level. However, most institutions requiring proficiency or employers looking at proficiency as a factor will not accept anything below a B1 level. The Cambridge Exams, on the other hand, test a specific level only. Therefore, if a student attempts the First Certificate Exam (FCE-B2 level), they can very well fail it if they get a score lower than 60%. Ask your student if they are willing (and financially able) to take this risk.

Once it can be determined that a student has a proficient base level to work with, attention should be turned to how much time the student has to prepare and how much time they can dedicate to classes and studying. Generally speaking, a student with a strong intermediate level still needs at least 1-2 months of intensive studying and practice in order to feel confident going into the test and to achieve a good score. It may be possible in less time if a student is advanced, very familiar with the test’s format and tasks, and is highly motivated to study. However, it is best to allow for more time instead of cramming.

   Use this flowchart to help your student determine     if they are ready to take a proficiency test.

Use this flowchart to help your student determine if they are ready to take a proficiency test.

OVERVIEW OF TESTS: Which one should a student take? 

Deciding which test to take may be a very short process if the reason a student is taking the test is to be approved for a visa or entry into a university program. In these cases, a specific test and minimum score will be stipulated and you can start preparing.

However, if there is no specific guideline given, start by asking if the student will use the proficiency test for purposes in Chile or abroad. If they have a particular region in mind, you can suggest a test that is more commonly recognized in that region. While there are plenty of exceptions, the general rule of thumb is that if a student wants to use the test in the US, they should take the TOEFL or TOEIC. If they plan to go to the UK, they should take IELTS or a Cambridge Exam. If a student is going to another country such as Canada, New Zealand, or Australia, you can check with immigrations to be sure, but generally IELTS will be more accepted.

If a student decides that they will only use the exam for purposes in Chile, such as a new job or a work promotion, they will need to decide if they would like to demonstrate an academic or general proficiency. They should also consider whether or not they have a preference for a computer-based exam or a paper-based exam. Do they have basic computer skills? How is their handwriting? Are they comfortable speaking to someone in person or would they prefer to record themselves responding to prompts with a headset and microphone? Do they need the exam to be valid for a lifetime or is 2 years enough time?

  Use this flowchart to help your student determine which proficiency test to take.

Use this flowchart to help your student determine which proficiency test to take.



Effectively Teaching Grammar in Context


Effectively Teaching Grammar in Context

Effectively Teaching Grammar in Context

Get in the zone--the Zone of Proximal Development that is! Much like Krashen’s i+1, Vygotsky’s ZPD reminds us to aim for the happy place between what a student has acquired and what they are capable of acquiring at that time. While i+1 focuses more specifically on Second Language Acquisition, the ZPD can be used in nearly any setting where learning takes place. Either way the warning is the same: reach too far, and you’ll likely spend a frustrating class trying to explain something  above the student’s head that cannot yet be taken in as input. Why is this important?

The ultimate goals of teaching within your student’s “Zone” are:

       1) Students acquire language and don’t just learn to memorize.

        2) Students’ affective filters (emotions) are appropriately & adequately acknowledged.

        3) Students move from other-regulation to self-regulation. 

        4) Students tap into their built-in syllabus of language learning.


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FAQ About Teaching Grammar:

1. How do I teach grammar?

There are many answers to this questions. However, to simplify it a bit, you can divide teaching grammar into 2 main approaches: deductive and inductive. Deductive teaching of grammar means that you start by giving the explicit rule, followed by several examples to practice the rule. Inductive teaching, on the other hand, means that you provide several examples and other input in order for the student to notice the grammar and arrive at the rule themselves--or the guided hand of a great Dynamic teacher.

So which is better?

Dynamic methodology strongly favors inductive grammar teaching as this tends to be more natural and interactive in nature. However, there is a time and place for deductive grammar teaching. Some students won’t comprehend any input if they are stuck thinking about the rule--they just gotta know! Also, if you feel confident explaining the rule and it is rather succinct, go ahead and use the deductive approach.

Regardless of the method, FREQUENCY AND QUALITY OF INPUT is everything! Students need to see and practice using a structure a minimum of 10 times---no not 10 exercises, but in 10 different contexts to be able to use the structure. This could even be as many as 30 times or more--it depends on the student and other variable factors.

**Pro Tip: When you aren’t sure of the grammar rule yourself, use the inductive approach right alongside your student and “discover” the rule together!**

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2. How do I make grammar more exciting and interactive?

Grammar can easily be broken down into form (often seen like a formula: s+ verb + ing = present continuous) and function (Why/how do we use it?--to talk about things happening right now). The ultimate goal is to teach both of these within a real world, meaningful context.

For example, you could get a real-world context from one of these conversation starters here. You can teach the form & function deductively or inductively (see previous question), but either way, you need to teach it in a context that is related to the student’s real life interests & experiences.

Once in a while, you can add in a quick game as brain break or to test automaticity. Then, practice, practice, practice! Practice makes permanent.

Do: Assign grammar exercises as homework and use that grammar to interact in class. Give real world examples of how and when grammar is used. Answer student questions to the best of your ability.

Don’t: Spend more than 5-10  minutes doing book work/exercises in class unless the student specifically requests this--and even then, try to encourage interaction. Ignore student questions.

3. Is there a specific order in which students acquire language structures?

There is something called a built-in syllabus. First language acquisition (i.e. native speakers) follows this in terms of developmental milestones, but guess what--this exists for second language learners too! It isn’t always as clear cut because it can vary depending on a number of factors, but examples of the “syllabus” can be found in the Dynamic Teacher Resource Drive here.

4. What factors affect the progression of second language acquisition?

  • L1 (1st language) influence

    • Too similar: Get stuck in a stage

    • Too different: Avoid the stage altogether

  • Linguistic complexity

    • Is its structure easy to understand?

    • Are there clear rules?

  • Semantic transparency

    • Its function is clear

    • It has a real-world connection

  • Salience

    • Do students notice it?

    • Are they ready to notice it?

  • Frequency of input

    • How often have students seen the structure?

    • How often have student used the structure?

  • Affective filter

    • Student’s emotional state

    • Prior experiences

5. Should I teach slang or other informal language?

Yes and no. First, what are the student’s goals for learning English? What is their base level? It is definitely okay to teach slang and informal language because that is how people actually talk; this is known as descriptive grammar. However, just like with anything else, one must know the rules before they are able to break them. Therefore we also need to be sure that we teach prescriptive grammar--that is to say the by-the-book rules.

How often have we tried to participate in a conversation in Spanish--or whatever your second language is---and we thought we knew all of the vocabulary and grammar needed, but then we got thrown a chilenismo or people didn’t pronounce the words like we were taught, but now we’re totally lost. The benefit of a Dynamic English course is that we have flexibility to go off the grid a bit and get into the nitty gritty of how people actually talk so that your students are prepared to take a formal test OR have a conversation in a random bar or sporting event with native speakers who have never encountered non-native speakers. The opportunities are endless!

**Be sure to identify these contexts with students. For example, say “this is only for an informal context..or among friends, while this one you can use with a potential client or your higher ups.” **

6. How do I teach grammar to beginners?

Teach a structure in multiple contexts with a sentence frame. For example s + to be + complement. You can teach this with a variety of vocabulary categories such as: emotions, physical descriptions, personality descriptions. Be sure to teach 10-20 new vocabulary words a class/ a week, and use them multiple times.

Then switch to another verb s+ verb + complement. Be sure to teach the affirmative statement, the negative statement (at least the short form), and the question form of each sentence frame/structure. Get students speaking and using these sentence structures in every class. Assign repetitive grammar exercises for homework. Don’t teach isolated words or grammar points---always contextualize them!

7. How do I teach grammar to advanced learners?

Think about the different branches of linguistics, or the study of languages. We often focus just on morphology (vocabulary), semantics (vocabulary meaning) and syntax (word order and grammar). However understanding pragmatics is essential for truly mastering a language. While it is important at any level, it is especially important for advanced learners. They already know the forms, the rules, and the functions---or do they?

What if the context, the speaker, the tone, the country, the gender, the degree of power, etc.changes? Can these learners still hold their own or do they stumble into faux pas after faux pas? Do they know when it is appropriate to use slang or shortened forms of speech? When they need to use the traditional, prescriptive form? When to be direct and when to beat around the bush? Do they know what all of these idioms mean in various contexts? There is always more to learn--even if you’re a native speaker!

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8. What grammar resources are available?

English textbooks: Essential English, English Results, Advanced Grammar




How will you know?

Essential Questions:

  1. How can assessment be used effectively?

  2. When does error correction impede or improve communication?

  3. What factors affect language learning and acquisition?

  4. How do we balance accuracy and fluency?

Understanding by Design (UbD, McTighe and Wiggins 2005) tells us that there are 3 main stages to educational planning. They are:

  • Stage 1. What is worthy and requiring of understanding? (A.G.O blog post)

  • Stage 2. What is evidence of understanding? (Assessment & Feedback)

  • Stage 3. What learning experiences and teaching promote understanding, interest, and excellence? (Individual learning activities)

Welcome to stage 2!

Now that you have a plan for the course and an idea of the course objectives, you need to decide how (and when) you will know that these objectives are met.

Part 1A: Kinds of Assessments

Just as there are multiple learning styles, there are multiple teaching styles; there are also multiple types of assessments.However, it’s important to remember that while all tests are assessments, not all assessments are tests. A summary of the 4 main  types of assessments can be found below. Please note that for each there are “traditional methods” and “alternative methods.” The communicative approach we use at Dynamic tends to favor the alternative approach, BUT there is always some room for traditions.


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Part 1B: Integrated Performance Assessments (Summative)

An Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA) is a summative assessment that is comprised of three tasks. Each task corresponds to one of the three modes of communication--Interpretive (receptive), Interpersonal (spontaneous) and Presentational (planned and productive). The tasks should all build upon each other.

The three tasks are aligned within a single theme or content area, and they reflect how students naturally acquire and use the language in the real world.  Research shows that the brain learns and recalls learning through connections and relationships. The more teachers make connections,patterns and relationships explicit and accessible for students, the easier it will be for the brain to integrate and retain new information.

IPAs are designed for students at the elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels of proficiency. They are standards-based, performance-based, and developmental and integrative in nature.  IPAs are designed to be used with scoring rubrics that rate performance in terms of whether the performance meets expectations, exceeds expectations, or does not meet expectations for the task. See the Dynamic Teacher Resource Drive for more information.

***Each IPA task can replicated in shortened form for formative assessments***

Part 1C: Supporting Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Theories to Consider


  • Learning vs Acquiring (Krashen) and Noticing (Schmidt)

Learning language is different than acquiring language. Learning is concerned with explicit knowledge that is consciously studied. Many times we focus on learning grammar rules and vocabulary words, but we don’t focus enough on the context of when and how to use this knowledge. To learn grammatical features of a language, students need to first notice them. Noticing alone does not mean that learners automatically acquire language; rather, the hypothesis states that noticing is the essential starting point for acquisition. (Richard Schmidt 1990).


  • Explicit Knowledge vs Implicit Knowledge

Then, to acquire a grammar form or vocabulary word, students need to make comparisons to their prior knowledge and current life. Slowly but surely, after at least 10-20 exposures minimum, the student will begin to integrate the grammar form or vocabulary word into their implicit knowledge. This intuitive and automatized knowledge is needed to communicate effectively. Explicit knowledge that is learned can most often be monitored or edited, but this may be impede communication and make the speaker sound less native. Implicit knowledge is acquire so monitoring is less frequent and more organic; speakers tend to sound more native-like.

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Part 2a: When and How to Give Correct Student Errors

Error correction is definitely needed at some point in the learning process. There are several individual factors that affect the implementation of error correction including: the learner’s age, aptitude, stage in the language process, proficiency level, motivation, anxiety, metalinguistic sophistication, individual preferences, learning styles, learning strategies and previous achievement. It is essential that teachers are aware of these factors in order to improve the learning process.

Useful questions to decide whether or not to let an error go:

  • Does the mistake affect communication?

  • Are we concentrating on accuracy at the moment?

  • Why did the student make the mistake?

  • Is it the first time the student has spoken for a long time?

  • Could the student react badly to my correction?

  • Have they met this language point in the current lesson?

  • Is it something the students have already met?

  • Is this a mistake that several students are making?

  • Would the mistake irritate someone?


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Part 2b: Factors & Processes to Consider

  • Krashen’s Affective filter hypothesis

A learner's attitude towards the target language, their motivation to learn, and the amount of stress they experience impact language acquisition. A learner who is comfortable with their learning has a low “affective filter.” These learners are ready to learn and take in new input. Pressure to perform, negative emotions or past experiences can set the filter high, blocking new acquisition. According to Krashen, this may explain why a group of learners vary in their language progress, even when they are in the same environment

  • How to Apply to Dynamic Teaching:

Find out about your student’s past language learning experiences and their motivations for learning now. Be mindful of your student’s body language and show an interest in them as people, not only in their learning. Be empathetic, sincere, and flexible!

  • Krashen’s Natural Order Hypothesis

This hypothesis believes that there is a fixed sequence for language learning later in life that is similar to acquiring one’s first language as children. For example, grammatical morphemes appear to emerge in a particular order, no matter the student’s first language or other factors.


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  • How to apply to Dynamic Teaching:

When correcting errors, keep these hypotheses in mind to help you decide when to correct errors, and when to let them go until a later date.




What's Your Plan?


What's Your Plan?

****Example of course objectives and May Workshop info below****

So you’ve received the materials for a new class at Dynamic English. The wonderful office staff tells you that the student is a B1. You think, “great--did I enter into a game of Battleship unknowingly?” Well, it could certainly be a hit or miss depending on your next move. What’s your plan?


When planning any course, keep in mind A.G.O. Aims, goals, objectives. Let me explain…

Start with the general aims of the course, and then adapt and personalize them until you get specific objectives. Aims are general statements that provide direction or intent. Goals are a bit more specific, but don’t go into detail. Objectives are specific statements that break down aims and goals into smaller, more manageable parts that follow an intended timeline. For example, let’s say your aim this year is to travel. Your goal might be to travel in Northern Chile. Your objectives are essentially the itinerary you create for this trip. This process is adapted and summarized below for a student learning English. 

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Writing Course Objectives

The good news is that the syllabus is provided by Dynamic (and online here: Dynamic teacher resources) and it already covers the Aims and Goals so your creativity and professional judgment comes into play in planning objectives.

A good objective includes: grammar + function + vocabulary/language strategy (see example below). Use this as your guideline to plan objectives for each class period, and share this objective with students. If you stray from the plan or topic, see what you can do to redirect the conversation to meet the objective. Alternatively, save the objective for later, and develop one that works for the moment. 

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The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Cornell Notes Master


The Top 5 Reasons to Be a Cornell Notes Master

Cornell notes establish a method to efficiently track student progress and areas for improvement. Learn how to use it as an excellent tool for providing feedback to your student during class as well as study material for them outside of class!