Teaching speaking #9 – Evaluating performance on speaking activities

Jack Richards

In the final part of Interchange author Jack C. Richards’ series on teaching speaking, Jack explores how we can evaluate speaking performance, and draws some conclusions.

The third issue involved in planning speaking activities is determining the expected level of performance on a speaking task and the criteria that will be used to assess student performance. For any activity we use in class, whether it be one that seeks to develop proficiency in using talk as interaction, transaction, or performance, we need to consider what successful completion of the activity involves. Is accuracy of pronunciation and grammar important? Is each participant expected to speak for about the same amount of time? Is it acceptable if a speaker uses many long pauses and repetitions? If a speaker’s contribution to a discussion is off topic, does it matter?

As the above questions illustrate, the types of criteria we use to assess a speaker’s oral performance during a classroom activity will depend on which kind of talk we are talking about and the kind of classroom activity we are using. In a report on teaching discussion skills, Green, Christopher, and Lam (2002:228) recommend assigning one student to serve as an observer during a discussion activity, using the following observation form:

Observation form

Observation form

A speaking activity that requires talk as performance (e.g., a mini-lecture) would require very different assessment criteria. These might include:

  • Clarity of presentation: i.e., the extent to which the speaker organizes information in an easily comprehensible order
  • Use of discourse markers, repetition, and stress to emphasize important points and to make the lecture structure more salient to the listeners


Different speaking activities such as conversations, group discussions, and speeches make different types of demands on learners. They require different kinds and levels of preparation and support, and different criteria must be used to assess how well students carry them out.


I will conclude with a set of questions I use to guide myself when preparing speaking activities for the classroom or for textbooks. I also use these questions with teachers in workshops that focus on developing and reviewing classroom materials.

  • What will be the focus of the activity – talk as interaction, transaction, or performance?
  • How will the activity be modeled?
  • What stages will the activity be divided into?
  • What language support will be needed?
  • What resources will be needed?
  • What learning arrangements will be needed?
  • What level of performance is expected?
  • How and when will feedback be given?


If you’re interested in carrying out some extra reading, check out References and Further Reading for this series of posts!

Share your ideas for a post below.
We're looking forward to hearing about it
and will be in touch once we've had a read.
0/5000 characters

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

We will take a read through your ideas and be in touch shortly.