Young Learners

In this R is for Rubric post, John writes about rubrics in a general way. He starts by giving a definition and then goes on to talk about (amongst other things) the importance of giving rubrics careful consideration and the need to keep them short and simple.

In this post we’ll think about rubrics for Young Learner materials, especially Primary or Very Young Learners. The key principles still apply but we also have to think about the following too:

The learners’ cognitive abilities

Unlike adult learners, children are still developing their cognitive abilities. Depending on the age, we can’t assume a child knows how to read in their L1, let alone in a second language. One area where this has an impact is on the rubrics in materials, as we can’t just write an instruction.


In materials for very young learners, we can use pictures to show them what they need to do. Just like written instructions, the best pictures are simple, and consistency is important. Sometimes we use one icon, for example an ear to indicate ‘Listen’.

More often we use two or three icons. If we want children to look and match by drawing a line, we might have an icon of an eye and a pencil, side by side.


If we are writing materials for children who will be learning English for the first time, it might be a good idea to provide a glossary of icons with their meanings for the teacher to use as an introduction.

Choosing icons

Unless you work for a publisher who will have a bank of icons at their disposal, it is up to you, as a writer to choose your icons. Here are a few considerations to take into account for your set of icons:

  • Are they simple and recognisable?
  • Will they be clear if they are copied in black and white?
  • Is the meaning obvious?
  • Do the icons share a similar style so that they work well as a set?

Where to get icons from

One useful place to find icons is The Noun Project. They have plenty of free images or you might decide to pay a fee to have more choice. The icons in this blog post were free to download and use. If you are going to use icons a lot in your materials, you might like to design your own so they are unique. Alternatively, you could pay an illustrator to design a set for you.

Older children

As children learn to read and write, we often continue to use icons to support written rubrics. There is no hard and fast rule but the icon will usually follow the words. Look at this example:

Spell it out

In John’s post about rubrics, he mentioned the importance of keeping them short and simple. This is also true for Young Learner materials. Sometimes we have to ‘spell it out’ very clearly. Numbering can help with this. Compare the two sets of rubrics below. Both are clear but the second one really spells things out.

Read the text again. Then underline the adverbs and write them in the correct column in the table below.
Follow the steps to complete the table.
1. Read the text.
2. Underline the adverbs.
3. Write the adverbs in the correct column in the table.

Rubrics for pair work and group work

The most complicated rubrics to write are often those which accompany a pair work or group work task. One way we can make this a bit easier (for us as writers and for YL learners), is to have two levels of rubric, the first a general instruction for everyone. Then separate rubrics for each partner or group member. Look at this example for a role-play activity.

Work in pairs, A and B.  

Student A
1. Read your role play card.
2. Make some notes.
3. Ask your partner for directions to the park.  

Student B

1. Read your role play card.
2. Make some notes.
4. Give your partner directions to the park.

Rubrics for project work or craft work

This is another area of YL materials which can be challenging to write, as there are often different stages and different levels of instruction. One effective way to approach such rubrics is to include sub-headings as part of the rubric. These instructions might also be accompanied by photos or illustrations for added support.

Make an animal mask  

What you need

– a piece of card
– scissors
– crayons
– a pencil
– string

Steps to make your mask

1. Copy the animal face from …
2. Use the crayons to colour the face
3. Cut out the animal face
4 Ask for help to make two holes in the mask
5 Tie string through the holes

Wear your mask!
Wear your mask and sing ‘The Animal Song’.  

What do you think?

Why not look through some YL materials and see what icons they have used? If you have more tips and advice on writing rubrics for Young Learners, please add them below in the comments.


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