Practical tools, activities, and resources
to guide instruction


Identifying Learnersí Language Needs

Students in a classroomGiven the complex lives that adult English language learners lead with the variety of spoken interactions that they encounter, it is important for teachers to focus on some of the essential communication needs of their learners.

Needs Assessments

When learners enter a program, they are usually given an assessment of some kind to place them in a class that is appropriate to their current proficiency level. This may be a standardized assessment, such as BEST Plus, or a locally developed placement test. These assessments are helpful in learning about studentsí language skills, addressing questions such as Do they have some knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary? Can they provide some basic information about themselves by responding orally to simple questions or by filling out a personal information form?

However, these diagnostic measures may not provide essential information about studentsí backgrounds, interests, language use in their daily lives, and goals for learning English. Meaningful adult ESL instruction should address not only the studentsí language skills, but their purposes for learning the language and the contexts in which they see themselves using the language (e.g., communicating with a supervisor or participating in a community activity). You can get at this information by periodically conducting your own classroom-based needs assessments. See the sidebar for examples of needs assessments that you can use with your students to learn more about their oral communication needs.

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Information iconPractitioner Toolkit for Working with Adult English Language Learners: Needs Assessment and Learner Self-Evaluation Activity Packet Adobe PDF icon

Information iconWhat Did You Do Over the Weekend? Needs Assessment ToolAdobe PDF icon