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ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > Placing according to CEFR - how helpful?    

Placing according to CEFR - how helpful?


Placing according to CEFR - how helpful?
Dear Teachers,
especially those who deal with adult learners,
what tools/experience do you use to appropriately place your learner?
I have been doing this basing on the reults of the Placement Test in out school, but recently I have been growing unhappy with it and am thinking of changing it altogether (the Test, not the school).
First of all, tell me do you find this Level Decription CLEAR/useful? Cause I don īt:
level description
A1 Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
A2 Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
B1 Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
B2 Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
C1 Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
C2 Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
It īs amazing how many in-between levels I meet during assessment, sometimes I find it hard to place a student...Unhappy
The student whose writing is Intermediate but whose speaking is slow/rough/with bad errors / Pre-Intermediate is still Pre-Intermediate, right?
The student whose writing is Elementary, but whose speaking is Intermediate is Pre-Intermediate, right?
Or am I wrong? Please, let me know cause I want to get it right once and for all.
I used to rely on my intuition and common sense, but recently I īve been having doubts...
The new Placement Test I have in mind is like this: it would have Grammar/Vocab questions plus the phonetics and writing section. One page for one level: if the person easily goes through Beginner questions, then obviously he/she will go to a higher level than that, and so on. Then the student īs level would be the one that causes him/her most difficulty.
The trouble is what if a student makes mistakes on simpler levels, but does well on higher levels?? Cause sometimes they do that.
My questions are these:
1. Do you have your own level description which you find helpful?
2. What do you think of my new Test idea?
Thank you!

14 Aug 2009      


I basically place my students as those who can speak English and those who can īt . 
Those who can fit into 3 categories.  1.  Those who have a basic command of the language, but need to "mature" their English, 2.  Those who speak fairly well, but want professional/business English, 3.  Those who speak well, but need a specialized course, for example, negotiations or presentations.
Those who can īt, fit into two categories.  1.  Cannot speak at all.  2.  Have a basic vocabulary. 
All of the categories have those who have English, but are afraid/embarrassed to use it.
When I make up my classes, I not only try to match English speaking ability, but also age, background and culture.
Hope that helps.

14 Aug 2009     

United Kingdom

I agree with you Lana. As you you know we In England use the ESOL national core currciulum devised diagnostic assessment , you can see the full test here.


It is on the whole quite suitable for placing students into appropriate levels but I have students from all over the globe with different levels of literacy and the assessment results are never ideal. I always have students in my class whose spoken English is say entry 2 but their literacy is entry 1 so they are placed in an entry 1 class. What I try to do with these kind of students is to see if they can pass their writing exam as early as possible so that they can be moved to entry 2.
That is the best we can do because personally I don īt think you can ever have a one level class where every student is exactly the same in all the skills - there are too many variables for this to be possible.


14 Aug 2009     





(Social & Tourist)


CAN make full and accurate notes on all routine meetings.

CAN make full and effective use of dictionaries for productive and receptive purposes.

CAN keep up casual conversations for an extended period of time.


CAN draft a set of straightforward instructions.

CAN assess appropriacy of source material quickly and reliably.

CAN show visitors round and give a detailed description of a place.


CAN write a non-routine letter where this is restricted to matters of fact.

CAN scan texts for relevant information, and grasp main topic of text.

CAN ask for advice and understand the answer, provided this is given in everyday language.


CAN write a simple routine request to a colleague.

CAN assess whether a textbook or article is within the required topic area.

CAN go to a counter service shop and ask for most of what (s)he wants.


CAN leave a simple message giving information.

CAN understand simple visuals on familiar topics.

CAN express an opinion about food.


CAN write a simple routine request to a colleague, such as īCan I have 20X please? ī

CAN read basic notices and instructions.

CAN ask simple questions of a factual nature and understand answers expressed in simple language.

I have got this from the British Council booklet, I wonder if it could be of some use.

14 Aug 2009     


I īve also seen and heard (and used) cathegories such as A1a, A1b, A2a, A2b, etc. This is what you refer to as all sorts of layers and not being sure where to place students... I know what you mean. But I consider these levels simply guidelines, and we have made these a,b, c, markings to sort of layer the levels.  In my country, some people(not teachers, but adults who need a certificate of how much they know) still call them 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. level, and since some of them have 10 levels in their heads, imagine how confused they are to see these A1, C1, etc. markings... As with all guidelines, adhere to them as much as you can, but in accordance to what you know about sts. What might help more would perhaps be which grammatical areas are covered in each level, because then you could say, e. g. OK, he/she can īt use Past Simple, so they are still A1, but then again - I know lots of people whose tenses are horrible but who manage a conversation fantastically, and many people who manage tenses well but whose pronunciation and natural flow of conversation are almost non-existent... So, as with everything - it resides upon you to use the guidelines as best you can and sign on certificates as responsibly as you can vouch for sb īs knowledge...

14 Aug 2009     


this CEFR was supposed to make sure that because we are now supposed to teach students how to communicate and not teach them purely grammar and shakespeare we could assess what we taught them. now the system is very ambiguous: whilst we have teach language as a whole now (and not just tenses, voc...) we are supposed to fragment the way we assess! figure that one out??

In France kids at the end of year 8 (the second year of secondary school here) are supposed to be up to date with the A2 level, but we only assess if they have reached that level 2 years later (to make sure that they know a lot more so it is rare not to give them good marks...except at my school where they don īt care or maybe I īm a really bad teacher !)

From next September we (the english team) at my school are going to experiment with a little booklet type thing from the beginning of year 7: booklets get stamped whenever we are sure they know such or such thing: it makes them aware of the fact that it is an important document and that if they want to succeed all they need to do is work a little bit at home... we īll see.

14 Aug 2009     


Thanks Judy, you were the first one to answer, Aftab thanks for sharing my frustration, I did follow that link, I also found something interesting here for all of you interested:
I agree: a perfect set of Elementary students is a utopic dream. I īll take it easy.
Maker1, thanks, this is indeed more helpful and the right way up: with A1 at the bottom and C2 at the top, as it should be, really.
Anita, jamiejules, thanks girls, you īre great, Thumbs Up Heart at least I know I īm not the only one, you wrote something very insightful both of you, please pm any time you have something on your mind in regards to this, I īll be happy to know if there are updates. Anita, you īre right, precisely, there are students that can īt use the Past Simple, but can use the Past Continuous, so where does it take them??. I always thought that Past Simple is the first and easier to learn, at least because it consists of one word, not two as Past Cont does. The way people acquire English is changing rather rapidly nowadays, don īt you find? They know the expressions from films and songs, but not the irregular verbs. I personally think Language Confidence and Awareness must be one of the factors on which to judge a student īs level.
JamieJules, I am trying to figure that out, but I won īt be trying anymore, since it all repeats again: those in the European Council never really face real school situations and thus are detached from the difficulties teachers have.
I īll keep working on that test of mine, once it īs done I īll show it to you to gather your opinions.
Thanks again, you īre the best all of you!

15 Aug 2009