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53 Ways to Check for Understanding

Some useful documents on formative assessment:

Formative Assessments

Formative Assessments inform instruction and help the teacher decide whether a concept or skill needs to be retaught based on the responses of the students.

1 Minute Essay - Give students an open-ended question and one to three minutes to write their answers. Good questions: What is the most important thing we discussed today? Or What was the most confusing idea presented today? Collect the papers and use for promoting discussion, identifying misconceptions, or confusion. Photocopy samples of the papers to use with your reflections.

1 Sentence Summary - Students are asked to write a summary sentence that answers the “who, what, where, when, why, how” questions about the topic.

1 Word Summary - Students select or invent one word which best summarizes a topic.

3- 2 -1 Summarizer - Ask students to write 3 Facts they learned; 2 Questions they have about the topic; 1 Personal connection they can make to the information learned. These 3 items can be changed to any kind of information that you want to gather from students.

3 Minute Pause - The Three-Minute Pause provides a chance for students to stop, reflect on the concepts and ideas that have just been introduced, make connections to prior knowledge or experience, and seek clarification.

- I changed my attitude about…

- I became more aware of…

- I was surprised about…

- I felt…

- I related to…

- I empathized with…

4 More - Have students fold a sheet of paper into 6 squares. Ask students to summarize what they learned today by writing 2 key ideas in the 2 top boxes on the paper. Then ask students to interview 4 different students and gather 4 more key ideas about the topic. Students should then write the 4 more new key ideas in the remaining 4 boxes on the paper. At the end of the formative assessment, students will have 6 key ideas about the topic that they can use as a study guide or review sheet.

A B C Summaries - Each student in the class is assigned a different letter of the alphabet and they must select a word starting with that letter that is related to the topic being studied.

Analogy Prompt - Periodically, present students with an analogy prompt: (A designated concept, principle, or process) is like _because___

Anticipation Guide - The teacher prepares a guide with a list of statements or questions about the topic that will be taught. Students respond to the first section of the guide prior to reading or instruction. Students’ responses to the items are discussed in class. After the reading or instruction, students review their initial responses to the statements and questions and revise their responses as needed. This gives the teacher a better understanding of the depth of the students’ prior knowledge.

Application Card - After teaching a specific topic, the teacher asks students to write down 1 real world application that applies to the topic on a 3 x 5 index card. Students then share their cards and ideas with a partner.

Carousel Brainstorming - This is a powerful summarizing activity that engages all learners. Create list of important subtopics related to the theme r main topic of the unit. Write each subtopic on a separate piece of chart paper and display them around the room. Number the charts to indicate the order in which the students should move from chart to chart. Give each group a differed color marker and use it to write the facts that they know about the topic on the chart. Allow 2-3 minutes per chart and then bring all the students together for a whole class report out. As students “carousel” from chart to chart, they record ideas, details and illustrations that show their understanding of a particular topic or concept. In heterogeneous groups, students brainstorm together for a few minutes about a topic or question before they “carousel” to the next chart.

Choral Response - In response to a cue, all students respond verbally at the same time. The response can be either to answer a question or to repeat something the teacher has said.

Click Clunk Cards - Students receive 2 index cards attached to a popsicle stick. On card reads “Click.” The other reads “Clunk.” When the teacher asks whether students understand the topic being discussed, students raise “Click” to demonstrate full understanding. Or they raise “Clunk” to indicate confusion and the need for more instruction or explanation.

Concept Mapping- Provide small groups of students with a list of about 15 related words that might fit well in an outline. Give them small sticky notes to write the words on. Ask them to create a concept map by moving the sticky notes around on a piece of paper until they have them in the right place. Model for them on the board how to draw connections between words and emphasize that the connections should be labeled with words describing the nature of the relation (leads to, is an example of, sometimes goes with, can’t happen without, etc.). Walk around while students are creating their concept maps-ask questions about why they are placing words where they do. Keep in mind that the purpose of this exercise at this point is to find out what they are thinking, not for them to get the right answer. So don’t prompt them with correct answers. Collect the papers, analyze them to find out what students know, don’t know, and what their misconceptions are. Do not write on the concept maps, though you may want to photocopy one or two for your portfolio. If you do this, select interesting examples that helped you adapt your teaching. Create your own concept map- perhaps on overhead transparency. The next day-hand back the concept maps and show your concept map to the class. Emphasize that there is more than one way to organize a group of related terms. Ask groups of students to compare theirs to yours and explain how theirs are different and whether and in what ways they think they should change theirs.

Debriefing - A form of reflection immediately following an activity. Can be done individually, in pairs or small groups.

Colored Cups -

This formative assessment technique quickly allows the teacher to gauge the understanding of the learners in his/her classroom. The teacher gives each student 3 cups; one red, one yellow and one green. As students work independently, they display the appropriate color of cup to indicate their understanding of the concept.

A green cup means “I am working OK and encountering no problems.”

A yellow cup means “I still have some questions because I can’t do some of the work.”

A red cup means “I am lost and I don’t know how to proceed.” The teacher can work individually with students displaying the red cups, or bring them together for small group instruction. The same process can be used for the yellow cups, or a green Cup could be paired with a yellow cup for peer tutoring. This same process can be used with colored cards if cups are not available

Exit Cards - Exit cards are written student responses to questions posed at the end of a class or learning activity or at the end of a day.

Exit Tickets - Give students “tickets” – small pieces of paper designed to look like tickets, but with space for writing. Ask students two questions. One that requires a factual answer about the big idea of today’s lesson, but in their own words. A second question should require more explanation of a concept. Give students five minutes at the end of class to write their answers. Their names do not go on these exit tickets. They must give you an Exit Ticket to leave class for the day. Analyze the tickets to learn how many students got the big idea and how they understand it or misunderstand it. Photocopy 4-6 on a single sheet of paper for your portfolio. Select ones that you learned something about your students from that you didn’t know before reading the Exit Tickets.

Fact Storming - This is a summarization activity that begins with a whole class review and leads to individuals, pairs or small groups reworking the information to make it their own. Write a topic on the board that students have been studying such as immigration, birds or poetry. Then ask students to generate terms related to the topic either on the chalkboard, a whiteboard or overhead transparency. This is a form of brainstorming structured around specific topics that are being studied.

Gallery Walk - Post 3-5 chart papers on the walls with a question or topic on each. Have students respond to the question or topic with written comments or questions. After all student have make their comments in a first round, students then make a second round to read others’ comments and make additional comments. This is a good way to find out what students know about a topic.

Hands On Activities - Assign students to show a partner, a small group of students or you as the teacher what they learned by demonstrating or modeling it. This could be anything from solving a math problem at the board to showing another student how to set up for a lab to gathering the ingredients for a recipe to building a product.

Hand Signals - Ask students to display a designated hand signal to indicate their understanding of a specific concept, principal, or process: - I understand and can explain it (e.g., thumbs up). – I do not yet understand (e.g., thumbs down). – I’m not completely sure about (e.g., wave hand).

Homework, Quizzes, Tests - The easiest form of information to collect or analyze about your student’s learning is their regular work in the form of homework, quizzes, and tests. This information will be richer if you include questions that require students to explain their thinking. It is especially helpful to ask questions that require students to apply their thinking to a new situation that you have not discussed in class. This requires flexible thinking on their part and should reveal how they are thinking better than questions that allow them to say back what they have memorized.

Idea Spinner - The teacher creates a spinner marked into 4 quadrants and labeled “Predict, Explain, Summarize, Evaluate.” After new material is presented, the teacher spins the spinner and asks students to answer a question based on the location of the spinner. For example, if the spinner lands in the “Summarize” quadrant, the teacher might say, “List the key concepts just presented.”

Index Card Summary - Periodically, distribute index cards and ask students to write on both sides, with these instructions: (Side 1) based on our study of (unit topic), list a big idea that you understand and word it as a summary statement. (Side 2) Identify something about (unit topic) that you do not yet fully understand and word it as a statement or question.

Inside Outside Circle - Inside and outside circles of students face each other. Within each pair of facing students, students quiz each other with questions they have written. Outside circle moves to create new pairs. Repeat.

Jigsaw Groups - Students are arranged in groups to learn about, read and discuss a specific topic. The teacher moves about to listen to and observe the conversation and interrelationships among the students.

Journal Entry - Students record in a journal their understanding of the topic, concept or lesson taught. The teacher reviews the entry to see if the student has gained an understanding of the topic, lesson or concept that was taught.

Learning Log - Students maintain a simple log to record at the end of each day what they learned that day. They may record 1 -3 sentences or a bulleted list based on the teacher’s direction.

Left Elbow Partner - After the teacher’s presentation, students turn to the person at their left elbow to talk about the topic, ask a question or discuss the ideas the teacher presented.

List Group Label - This strategy helps students to make sense of information and develops vocabulary. It requires students to list and sort terms to activate prior knowledge or review concepts after a unit of study. Choose a topic. Write it on the chalkboard, white board or overhead transparency. Ask student to generate a List of as many terms as they can about the topic. Provide students with categories to sort their terms. For example: British actions against the Colonists; Colonists’ reactions, Battles, Spies. Ask partners to Group the terms into the most appropriate categories. Finally ask students to Label the Groups and to explain their connections to one another: all causes of the American Revolution; All actions taken by the King against the Colonists.

Misconception Check - Present students with common or predictable misconceptions about a designated concept, principle, or process. Ask them whether they agree or disagree and explain why. The misconception check can also be presented in the form of a multiple-choice or true-false quiz.

Muddiest Point - At the end of a lesson students write one thing that they least understood, that is muddy, from what was taught on a 3x5 index card. Teacher collects and reviews the cards to determine what needs to be retaught or clarified the next day.

Numbered Heads Together - Each student is assigned a number. Members of a group work together to agree on an answer. The teacher randomly selects one number. Student with that number answers for the group.

Observation - Walk around the classroom and observe students as they work to check for learning. Strategies include:

Anecdotal Records These are short notes written during a lesson as students work in groups or individually, or after the lesson is complete. The teacher should reflect on a specific aspect of the learning (sorts geometric shapes correctly) and make notes on the student's progress toward mastery of that learning target. The teacher can create a form to organize these notes so that they can easily be used for adjusting instruction

Anecdotal Notebook - The teacher may wish to keep a notebook of the individual observation forms or a notebook divided into sections for the individual students. With this method, all of the observations on an individual student are together and can furnish a picture of student learning over time.

Anecdotal Note Card - The teacher can create a file folder with 5" x 7" note cards for each student. This folder is handy for middle and high school teachers because it provides a convenient way to record observations on students in a variety of classes.

Labels or Sticky Notes - Teachers can carry a clipboard with a sheet of labels or a pad of sticky notes and make observations as they circulate throughout the classroom. After the class, the labels or sticky notes can be placed in the observation notebook in the appropriate student's section. Whatever the method used to record observations on students' learning, the import thing is to use the data collected to adjust instruction to meet student needs.

Oral Questioning -

- How is similar to/different from ?

- What are the characteristics/parts of ?

- In what other ways might we show show/illustrate_ ?

- What is the big idea, key concept, moral in ?

- How does relate to ?

- What ideas/details can you add to ?

- Give an example of ?

- What is wrong with ?

- What might you infer from ?

- What conclusions might be drawn from ?

- What question are we trying to answer? What problem are we trying to solve?

- What are you assuming about ?

- What might happen if ?

- What criteria would you use to judge/evaluate ?

- What evidence supports ?

- How might we prove/confirm ?

- How might this be viewed from the perspective of ?

- What alternatives should be considered ?

- What approach/strategy could you use to ?

Pass Card - Students receive a 3 x 5 index card with the word “Pass” written on it. This card may be used when a student wants a “Pass.” This might be used in a situation when a student is asked a question and doesn’t know the answer and asks to “Pass.” Teacher may identify other situations when students may use the “Pass” card.

Peer Interviews - Students interview one another about what they have learned about a particular topic or subject that is being studied.

Popsicle Sticks - Teacher has a wooden popsicle stick or tongue depressor for each student. The sticks may have a student’s name on each one of them or they may have a number on them that represents each student. The sticks are kept in a pencil container or can of some sort. When the teacher asks a question, one stick is selected that has a student’s name on it or a number that has been assigned to the student. After the stick is selected, it may be placed back in the container or set aside. This ensures that all students have an opportunity to respond to the teacher’s questions. Sticks may be color-coded to represent a group of students or a number may represent a group or an individual within a group.

Portfolio Check - Check the progress of a student’s portfolio. A portfolio is a purposeful collection of significant work, carefully selected, dated and presented to tell the story of a student’s achievement or growth in well -defined areas of performance, such as reading, writing, math, etc. A portfolio usually includes personal reflections where the student explains why each piece was chosen and what it shows about his/her growing skills and abilities.

Practice Presentations - Just as in sports, practice before a classroom presentation is vital. Through practice and peer review, students can improve their presentation skills and the content of the presentation itself. The practice presentation should take place a few days before the final presentation due date. Students run through their presentations with the audience, their peers, evaluating the performance based on the previously established rubric criteria. An easy way for students to furnish feedback is through a T Chart. Students use the left column of the chart to comment on the positive aspects of the presentation, and they use the right columns to suggest changes that the presenter might make to improve the quality of the presentation. By listening to both the practice and final presentations the teacher can easily gauge the level of student understanding of critical concepts.

Question and Answer - Students write a question on one side of an index card and then select a partner who writes the answer to the question on the other side of the card. This can be done several times with students exchanging cards and adding more in-depth responses to the original answers that were written by other students.

Quick Quiz - Teacher asks 3-5 quick response questions on a particular topic. Student may either write their answers or respond orally.

Quick Write - Teachers asks 1 question and students quickly write their response on a 3 x 5 index card. Teacher checks the responses stopping at students’ desks or students raise their cards for the teacher to view.

Quiz Quizzes - Assess students for factual information, concepts and discrete skill. There is usually a single best answer. Some quiz examples are:

- Multiple Choice

- True/False

- Short Answer

- Paper and Pencil

- Matching

- Extended Response

Reciprocal Questioning - (ReQuest) Reciprocal Questioning (ReQuest) is a variation on the Reciprocal Teaching strategy. Here, students take on the role of the teacher by formulating their own list of questions about a reading selection. The teacher then answers the students' questions. This exercise assists reading comprehension at two levels. Students deeply analyze the reading selection to extract their "teacher" questions. The teacher, in turn, reinforces learning by answering the questions and, if necessary, helping students to refine their work into more focused questions.

1. Divide the class into small groups and provide each group with a reading selection.

2. Explain the ReQuest process: students read a selection and develop discussion questions directed toward the teacher.

3. Allow time for students to read their selections independently and to write a list of potential questions.

4. Have the groups combine and revise the team members' questions into a final form.

5. During the class discussion, a spokesperson for each group asks the questions to the teacher. The teacher answers the questions to reinforce learning.

6. In a post-exercise discussion, ask students to identify strategies they used in writing and refining questions.

Right Elbow Partner - After the teacher’s presentation, students turn to the person at their right elbow to talk about the topic, ask a question or discuss the ideas the teacher presented.

Self-Assessment - A process in which students collect information about their own learning, analyze what it reveals about their progress toward the intended learning goals and plan the next steps in their learning.

S O S Summary - Teacher presents a Statement (S) and asks students to express their Opinion (O) as to whether they agree or disagree with the teacher’s statement. Then the students have to Support (S) their opinion with specific evidence.

Smart Cards - These are student written summaries and illustrations on index cards about the Big Ideas and Enduring Understandings, the key concepts and topics related to one unit of study. Each student creates their own Smart Card. Students then pair up and share their cards with one another. They can also be stacked and shared again before a quiz or test.

Student Conference Teacher - has a one on one conversation with students to check their level of understanding.

Survey Students - Although this is not strictly a formative assessment of student learning, you can learn a great deal by surveying students. A survey may consist of 3-5 questions on a particular topic of study or on their opinion about classroom routines, rules or on their interests and pastimes.

Ticket to Leave - Closing activity where students respond in writing or verbally to short assignments.

Think Pair Share - Students think individually, then pair (discuss with partner), then share with the class.

Turn ‘n Talk - This strategy encourages student conversation about what they’re learning. Students listen to the teacher’s presentation on a topic for 10 minutes and then turn to a partner and talk about the topic for 2 minutes. They can share notes and ideas about the topic. This can be done several times during a lesson. At the end of the lesson students can be brought together to summarize their key understandings and to clear up any misconceptions.

Turn to Your Partner - Teacher gives direction to students. Students formulate individual response, and then turn to a partner to share their answers. Teacher calls on several random pairs to share their answers with the class.

Two Stars and a Wish Peer Assessment - This peer assessment is particularly useful for the writing process. Students are paired and asked to read each other’s written work. The reader must identify two things the author did well (stars) and one specific suggestion for improvement (the wish). Before implementing this strategy, students must be trained on the process of providing appropriate feedback to their peers. The teacher can use this strategy as a formative assessment by circulating around the classroom and listening to the conversations between partners.

Web or Concept Map- Any of several forms of graphical organizers which allow learners to perceive relationships between concepts through diagramming key words representing those concepts.


Write About - Fold a sheet of paper in half, top to bottom, and then divide the top half into 2 additional spaces. In the top left space have students illustrate their summary of the topic. In the top right space have students list

3 - 5 vocabulary words particular to the topic. In the bottom third of the page have students write a narrative to summarize their learning. This is a concrete tool for summarization in which students use key vocabulary terms, the language of the content area, to synthesize their understanding in a paragraph as well as represent key ideas graphically which combines both verbal-linguistic and spatial intelligences.