Activating Content-Based Assessment

Katharine Isbell; Miyazaki International College


  • Key Words: Content-Based, assessment
  • Learner English Level: Low intermediate to advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: High school to adult
  • Preparation Time: Time for students to prepare questions; usually 15 minutes
  • Activity Time: Varies; usually 45-60 minutes depending on number of students

For the last few years, I have been using content-based teaching modules in my English for Academic Purposes classes. While a firm believer in using instructional strategies that promote active learning, I recently found myself slipping into the traditional "talk and chalk" lecture approach. Upon reflection, I realized that I had become fixated on the idea that the students had to master the content, and by focusing on this aspect, I was neglecting the development of the students' language and academic skills.

The following assessment activity is an attempt to integrate the two objectives, content mastery and skills development, while at the same time, allow more student involvement in the classroom. I last used this assessment activity when I was teaching a unit on folktales and myths. The students worked with a reading on some of the more prominent kami, or gods, in Japanese mythology.


You will need a reading on a topic of student interest. The students work cooperatively to learn the material, so the reading should be one that can be easily divided up into sections. (See Kagan, 1989; Johnson & Johnson, 1985; and Bourman, 1989 for more information on cooperative and jigsaw learning activities.)

Pre-Assessment Procedure

Since my class was small, each student had a different section of the reading. The homework assignment was for each student to read his or her section and be prepared to summarize the main points in a brief oral presentation to classmates. Students were encouraged to use their own words and not read from the paper. At the next class meeting, I stressed that all the students were responsible for all of the information, and as the students listened to each other's presentations, they took notes. After the presentations, I gave out slips of paper and asked each student to write three to five wh-questions on the information from the reading s/he covered in the presentation. As the students were writing their questions, I circulated checking on language and content accuracy, then I collected the questions. The presentations and question writing took one class period, and at the end of the class, I gave each student the complete reading.

Here are some examples of the students' questions: "Why did O Kuni Nushi go to the underworld?"; "How did Susanowo try to kill O Kuni Nushi?"; "Why didn't Tsuki Yomi like the meal that Uke Mochi made?"; "What does Daikoku do?"; "How did the other gods and goddesses get Amaterasu to come out of the cave?"

Assessment Procedure

  1. Divide the students into teams of four to six students. Arrange the classroom so that each team can easily work together. Each student will need the complete reading that s/he may refer to at any time except when competing as a contestant. Each team will field one contestant for each round. Place as many chairs as there are contestants near the quiz show host. The quiz show host may be either the instructor or a student.
  2. Explain to the students that they will be participating in a quiz show. Team members will take turns being contestants and will try to correctly answer questions on Japanese mythology. If the contestants cannot answer a question in the allotted time, they return to their teams and the question is returned to the question pile. The team then tries to prepare for the next time the question comes up by scanning the reading for the answer.
  3. Ask the first round contestants to come to the front of the class.
  4. Shuffle the questions and ask the contestants the first question. A contestant should indicate if s/he knows the answer by using an agreed-upon signal. In my class, the contestant had to ring a bell; however, a contestant could simply raise her or his hand. If the contestant answers correctly, a point is awarded to that team. If none of the contestants can answer the question, they return to their teams and the question is returned to the pile. The second round contestants are asked a new question.
  5. Encourage the teams to try and find the answer for unanswered questions in the reading so that they will be able to answer it when asked again later. Questions may be recycled as many times as needed until they are answered.
  6. Keep the pace of the quiz show moving and give everyone more opportunity to become familiar with the content of the reading by having a short time limit for answering questions. However, consider your students' language abilities when setting the time limit.
  7. Continue to go through the unanswered questions until they have all been answered, keeping score as you go. You may wish to score on both language and content accuracy.

Follow up

In order to determine individual accountability for the material, you could follow up with a short quiz on or a written summary of the complete reading. Group activities could include a survey of people outside the class and their knowledge of kami myths, a dramatic rendition of a myth or a research project comparing Japanese myths to myths from other cultures.




Bourman, A. (1989). 61 cooperative learning activities. Portland, Maine: J. Weston Walch.

Johnson, R., & Johnson, D. (1989). Cooperative learning: Warm-ups, grouping strategies and group activities. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

Kagan, S. (1985). Cooperative learning resources for teachers. Riverside, CA: University of California.