Explaining Proficiency Levels to Students

Posted by Kara Parker on August 8, 2012 in 4 Assessments, First Days, Proficiency

This interactive activity by Sylvain F. (a former JCPS French teacher) will clearly explain proficiency levels to your students. I generally use this during the first week of school and it really sets the tone for the goals of the class. It is all about what you CAN do in the language!

Before class, print the cards. In level 1, you do not have to use the Intermediate Mid or High cards.

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In class introduce the daily goal to students. I chose this goal because they have to understand the levels before they can set their own. You can download these proficiency cards here.


Create 4 groups of students or more if you use all the cards. Give each group one piece of large paper and one card with a proficiency sub-level (Novice Low, Novice Mid, Novice High, & Intermediate Low). If you have a large class, you may want to create two groups for each task. Show them the “assessment.” Personalize it! You can change “your school” to anything you want that they are talking about now: state fair, circus, taco, a current pop band, a yummy candy bar, etc.

Students follow the instructions on the card and write it on the paper. Each group presents to the class, and then puts it on the wall. After the groups present, you can explain how the proficiency levels correspond to the text types they heard from each group. We talk about what I expect them to be able to do by the end of the semester. This sample picture is from Kim W.’s classroom about the circus.


After the explanation, you can have the students describe what proficiency means in their own words or set their own words. I will keep these up for awhile as a reference. Hopefully students will have a clear understanding (and maybe some relief!) of the class expectations. Below is how I explain what novices will be able to do:



You can download these proficiency cards now… they really help students understand your expectations and what each step of language growth looks like along the way. (Perfect for Back to School open houses or parent night, too!) We also have a week of lessons to set the “proficiency tone” on www.AdiosTextbook.com that includes an updated version of this activity with a deeper explanation.

How will you explain the proficiency levels to your students?

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30 comments for “Explaining Proficiency Levels to Students”

  1. Katie G says:

    I love this idea! Thanks so much! I’ll definitely be doing this for the current school year in my Spanish I classes.

  2. CS says:

    I can’t tell you how much I love this! Thank you! You guys are awesome! 🙂

  3. Amy says:

    This is great. It will lower their apprehension as well. Thanks for a great idea.

  4. Thank you for the great ideas. I am always trying to renew and refresh and your blog’s format is clear and easy to search and follow. BTW, I was lead here because of your post to FLTEACH.

  5. Martina Bex says:

    Great!! Thanks ladies!! This fits in great with @musicuentos Proficiency & Tacos …will be using for sure!!

  6. Kathy says:

    Thank you so much for the great ideas! I couldn’t find your free download- what is it called? Oh… and where should I send the pics of my bulletin board?

    Gracias : )

    1. Kara says:

      Welcome! Here’s a direct link to w PowerPoint. http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Powerpoint-and-Activities-to-explain-a-Proficiency-based-Classroom
      Send the photos to creativelanguageclass.gmail.com
      We are loving all the great ideas! Can’t wait to share ’em.

  7. HCPS Languages (@HCPSLanguages) says:

    This is a great exercise and really makes the levels concrete. I’m going to share it with our @HCPSLanguages teachers during staff development!

    1. Kara says:

      Yay for sharing!

  8. I love all of the rubrics that your district uses for assessments. I have seen them online- can I have your permission to adapt them for my classroom use? I have also looked at others as well as the actfl guidelines for guidance – but yours just hits the mark in everything I am looking for.

    1. Kara says:

      You can do whatever you would like with them. I don’t have an editable version though. If you want to give JCPS /ACTFL credit, you can put a small “adapted from…” like we did at the bottom.

      1. CrystalD says:

        Do you have what students should be able to do in levels 2, 3 or 4? Thanks

        1. Kara says:

          We don’t have powerpoints to explain it, but I show them the rubric, point out their new goal, and the corresponding student profiles from the site: https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=28f7c805d5a3213d&sc=documents&wa=wsignin1.0&sa=343767067&id=28F7C805D5A3213D%21154

  9. Karla Loya says:

    HI! I was looking for another activity you had shared before using ice cream to explain proficiency levels. Would you mind sharing that activity again?

    1. Kara says:

      I don’t think we did a full post on that, but here’s the link to the powerpoint that refers to it:
      I hope this helps a little.

  10. Tina Beard says:

    Are these your own interpretations of the proficiency levels? Your department’s? I ask because it seems as though your novice indicators are for level one and the Intermediate are for level two. If a teacher must be at Advanced low to teach the language, that is not saying much based on your intermediate high expectation. I was just wondering and understand I love your site and posts. This is just something that has been bugging me. Thanks for any answer, Tina

    1. Kara says:

      Here is a quick answer (your question really takes a whole conversation to answer!): These are from ACTFL http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/actfl-proficiency-guidelines-2012
      There is a big difference between IH and AL, but it took the OPI training for me to thoroughly understand it.

    2. Kara says:

      Actfl quote: Only 6% of America high school students reach intermediate mid. Interesting, huh?

  11. Jennifer says:

    Do students find it interesting to discuss proficiency levels?

    1. Kara Parker says:

      For one day, yes. They like that they know exactly what is expected to get a specific grade. The proficiency card activity is fun and a good “get to know your classmates” activity. I like to give a scenario that is very connected and interesting to them. They usually have some anxiety about learning a new language, and they feel relieved that it is not about being perfect, just communicating.

  12. Heather says:

    I’m pretty late in finding this, but just wanted to say thank you so much for all that you have shared!!

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Never too late to do this! Welcome, and glad we can help Heather. 🙂

  13. Lori says:

    Hi Ladies. So I’m at Starbucks on a beautiful Saturday about to go through all my Spanish II students’ writings from the “Show What You Know” activity. I inherited ALL of these students so I have no idea where they are on their path to proficiency. I told them that this writing activity was not for accuracy, rather completion and to that end would give me idea of what they’re able to do with the language. So my question is, would you mark errors and grammatical mistakes or just assign a proficiency level? I wish I could share a photo example here so you could give me specific advice. Then again, that is asking a lot, right? I’m just so grateful for all your help, sharing, and guidance. I’ll try to resist coming here every time I have a question, but you guys are the Proficiency Gurus in my opinion. I bow down with humble respect. 🙂

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Ah the smell of coffee and grading pens! I would not mark errors, only put the level. 1 – It contradicts the message that this is just for completion. And 2 – I have not seen research (nor based on my own class observations) to show it helps students grow. I would make notes for myself though of what they do well and what they don’t. Then track how many I have at each level (NL – 5, NM – 10, NH – 5, etc). There are LOTS of errors that are natural at novice level (like n/adj agreement) that disappear as they gain control in intermediate levels. Why a textbook thinks that is a level one thing is beyond me. If they are novices (which was most of my level 2s), growing vocabulary, adding details and getting more input are my top priorities.

  14. Lori says:

    ¡Ay crapito! Sorry, it’s a phrase I made up. I’ve already been through two classes and made red correction marks. ¡Ay! I wasn’t going to score them lower, rather just refresh their memory on the correct way to state the phrase that they learned last year (or I assumed they learned). I am new to this type of assessment (grading via the ACTFL guidelines), so forgive me please… But as always, thank you for helping me (all of us) along on our PBAs path. I need to find those places on your website where I’ve seen examples of a PBA and you ladies wrote notes/comments to the students at the bottom of the rubric. If you know where to direct me to find those examples, that would be a great help. Thank you so much for always being SO helpful.

    1. Kara Parker says:

      Welcome! It’s a journey! Explain that to them just so they know. But I think that shows a big “Ah” right there. Those errors represent what didn’t stick. Now to process why… Does the error interfere with communication? Is it a natural error for a language learner? (I think about children acquiring first language. They will apply a rule to everything when they try to create – “I goed to the toy store”) Is that something they should know/control at their proficiency level? (Or did they learn it because it’s in a textbook or curriculum?) Here are all our posts on Assessments- http://www.creativelanguageclass.com/category/assessments/ Just the feedback- http://www.creativelanguageclass.com/teacher-talk/give-em-some-good-news/

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