Figuring out English Language Learners' Proficiency Levels is an important step in differentiating for your ESL students, but it doesn't have to be difficult!
Pre-Emergent, beginning, starting, elementary, level 1... you've heard them all, haven't you? Terms for English Language Learners proficiency levels seem to be different everywhere you look! I don't know about you, but the differences sometimes have me screaming "What ARE the levels of English proficiency?!?" While there may not be a consensus on the terminology, students tend to progress in a fairly consistent manner.
I've outlined the English Language Learners proficiency levels below! Just find where your students fall, and match them up with the terminology your school/ district/ program/ state uses. You've got this!
Level 0- Pre-Literacy
This is a pretty specific category that is often overlooked. Students at the pre-literacy stage generally have not received schooling, or have minimal schooling, in their home language. In my experience, this tends to be students who spent most of their lives in a refugee camp that did not provide school support, or who lived in very remote areas without access to education in their home country.
Students at this level cannot read or write in any language. They may have a more difficult time learning the alphabet and phonics, and may need practice on basic skills. Start simple with tracing letters and basic phonics! These students have the farthest to go, but will also have the easiest time tracking their progress. Celebrate the little wins!
Level 1 - Pre-Emergent/ Beginner
Students at a pre-emergent level generally can read and write in at least one other language, but have minimal understanding of English. They can respond non-verbally to simple words and commands, and may be able to answer simple yes or no questions.
Students at this level are often considered to be in the "silent period," because they do not speak much in English. These students are taking in language and listening, and probably understand a lot more than you realize! Encourage speaking, but don't force students into speaking too quickly. Offer yes or no questions along with lots of visuals and acting.They will become confident in their speaking abilities and start to blossom soon!
Level 2 - Emergent/ High Beginner
Students at an emergent English level are beginning to speak! They can understand and respond to short, simple sentences about every day activities and common routines. They still have many grammatical errors, but their meaning can generally be understood.
Students at this level generally rely on memorized words and phrases and are not yet ready to manipulate vocabulary. Support them by repeating answers back using correct grammar and expanded vocabulary! (i.e. "I likes math." "You like math class!")
Level 3 - Basic/ Developing
Basic students are beginning to participate in casual conversations and manipulate English vocabulary. They still speak with many grammatical errors, but are generally well understood. Students are developing academic vocabulary and beginning to participate in academic conversations, though generally only when they have strong background knowledge of the topic.
Students at this level can communicate their emotions and ideas, though they may struggle to communicate more complex thoughts and feelings. Students at this level benefit from picture dictionaries, feelings charts, and assistance in naming emotions and ideas. (i.e. "I see you're having a hard time with your book. Are you frustrated? When we're frustrated, we are mad and annoyed. Is that how you're feeling?")
Level 4 - Intermediate/ Expanding
Intermediate students are able to participate in academic conversations. They can communicate clearly in social situations, but may still struggle with complex sentences and advanced vocabulary. These students are also able to communicate about unfamiliar topics and experiences. However, figurative language and dual meaning vocabulary still remain especially difficult.
Students at this level benefit from pre-teaching of challenging topics and figurative language. With a little bit of support and extra processing time, they can participate alongside their general education peers!
Level 5 - Proficient / Advanced
nStudents at this level can speak fluent English and fully participate in a general education setting. Though some vocabulary, experiences, and figurative language may still be difficult to understand, they can generally comprehend new topics with minimal additional explanations. Proficient English Language Learners no longer need ESL support.
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