Skip to main content

Assess proficiency with word-level analysis questions

March 20, 2016

I enjoy coming up with (or discovering) different kinds of questions to ask my students. It must be some sort of a sick teacher thing, because I can’t think of any reason that my students would be excited that a new question type popped up on their most recent assessment. I guess I like finding different angles from which to view my students’ proficiency; different ways for me to ‘get in their heads’ and really understand what they understand and are able to do. As I sit here thinking about it, though, it’s easy to see how our profession has developed a testing addiction. I have to be careful to not let my intellectual curiosity overshadow the need for learning.

Right now, I am really digging ‘Word Analysis’ questions: questions that require students to interpret the meaning of words or phrases (CCCS Anchor Standard R.4). Each question consists of a passage with a highlighted word, phrase, or sentence within it. The students must read the passage and think critically about the meaning of the highlighted word, phrase, or sentence within the context of the passage, and then they choose from a list of options the phrase that could be substituted without impacting the overall meaning the passage.

For example:

Read the following passage, then select which of the following phrases would have the least impact on the overall meaning of the passage when substituted for the underlined phrase:

My mom has recently developed an addiction to Amazon. In the last week, she has sent me a bathrobe (so that I can put my old one in the guest room for when she visits), a new sweater (so that she doesn’t have to pack one when she visits in a month), and a present for our daughter’s first birthday (she hasn’t been born yet).

  1. challenged herself to be more generous

  2. come into a large sum of money

  3. started keeping a secret from my dad

  4. discovered the joys of online shopping

This kind of a question makes an excellent addition to a reading comprehension assessment, because it will show you whether or not a student understands individual words AND the meaning of a passage. They must understand both the meaning of the underlined phrase and its role in the passage in order to respond to the question correctly. Plopping one of these questions on a short reading comprehension assessment will help you to separate the students with a ‘Proficient’ understanding of the text from the students that have an ‘Advanced’ understanding of the text.

You can certainly use questions like these in a reading activity, but let’s get real: the kids aren’t going to be posting on Facebook about the inspiring activity that their Spanish teacher came up with today. And since we never want to make reading feel like a chore—that’s a great way to kill a student’s future as a reader—we must be really judicious about which and how many activities we use for any given text. Reading activities have great value when they require students to re-read a text in order to complete them, because students are receiving more comprehensible input. But let’s get real! They can also bore and otherwise disengage students from not just the activity, but the text as well.

I believe that the best use of my planning time will always be finding compelling content, comprehensi-fying it, and choosing engaging activities to explore it. Finding better ways to assess my students’ language acquisition is not a bad use of time—it’s certainly necessary and requires a lot of thought—but it’s not the MOST important thing. But for today…well, why not!? Here’s a quick 10-question Word Analysis quiz with excerpts from Chapter 2 of my favorite reader—La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth! I love a good comprehensible mystery!! If you’re reading the novel, go ahead and use it! If not, then use it to see examples of Word Analysis questions (if you understand Spanish, anyway!) I put the questions in quiz form and in poster form, so that if don’t want to give your kids a pen-and-paper quiz, you can post the signs around the room and have them write down their responses, or you could project them one at a time and have students hold up their answer (A-D), something like that. You know, just trying to pretend like it’s not an assessment ;-)

Read Mike's full thoughts in the comments section below!

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to 150+ free resources for language teachers.

Subscribe Today