Teach So They Get It with 30 Interactive Ways to Check for Understanding

Teach so they get itWe teachers know that if we teach a lesson and then test without formative assessments, we have very few indicators of student understanding and if they can pass the test.

It takes an interactive method of asking those higher level questions throughout a unit, to identify the level of student understanding and assess the need for a reteach.

I like to think of teaching and checking for understanding as a 4 step process.

Step 1

Teach to your best ability. Put it all out there. Teach your heart out. Okay, you get the point. Cover every base on each topic by doing research. Know what the curriculum standards are for your students now, as well as how these standards will advance as they get older. If you understand where they are going with the standard, you will better understand why they need the information now. A vertical alignment of your standards will be a huge help in thinking ahead for your students’ learning. Ask your lead teacher or curriculum specialist if they have a vertical alignment prepared. I have found them through online searching as well. You can even make your own, if you have the time and energy.

Know what the common misconceptions are for the topic. Chances are someone in your class shares that same misconception. Have students complete some sort of pre-learning assessment. This can be as simple as the first two collumns in a KWL chart. A pre-learning assessment can tell you who has some misconceptions going into the lesson. You may even find out that your students already know quite a bit about the topic, and you can adjust your teaching to meet their challenge level of learning.

Teach using a variety of inputs and outputs for your students to see and understand the topic. Here is a planning page I like to use when planning my science lessons. The experience block is where you want action learning. Labs, Interactive Science Notebooks, Stations, and activities that get the students up and around the room.

lesson brainstorming img

Step 2

Never sit down. Sorry, I know its an unfortunate job description of teaching. But, during class time there is never a good time to sit at your desk. While students work, walk around and assess your students’ learning. Visit each desk or table for a moment and listen. Hear their progress first hand. Lead a discussion with the table and ask questions. These are easy ways to start the “check for understanding” process.

When I was very pregnant and could not stand for long periods of time, I would sit in my rolling chair and roll from table to table. There’s a trick to get around the “no sitting during class time” rule. * wink wink*

Here are some ideas of what to look for that might help you be more effective as you observe students as they work.

  • How involved/ engaged is the student in the task?
  • Are they using the correct process to complete the task?
  • Are they achieving the correct answers, solutions, or outcomes from their task?

If more in depth observation is needed:

  • Ask students to think out loud for you as they work.
  • Question the student on the topic/ content.
  • Have students explain what they have done so far.


Step 3

Formative Assessment

Here is where you can get creative and turn an assessment into a fun and memorable activity. When done properly, the formative assessment can even be a second chance at learning the topic, a reteach in itself.

I know it can be challenging to come up with ideas for a formative assessment and be creative about it. Especially halfway through the school year. You’re tired, and the kids are tired. We are all ready for a holiday break. Let me help your tired brain think for a bit here. 🙂 I have come up with a big list of 30 interactive ways to check for understanding for you! Print the list and randomly pick an idea for a formative assessment when you need it. Almost all of these ideas can be student creations on a blank piece of paper! No prep needed. Most of the time, I will write the learning goal on the board as a question, and use that question each day in one of these formative assessments to assess their learning.

  1. Exit Slip. Have students write a reflection statement or question on a slip of paper to hand you on their way out the door.
  2. Thumbs Up. Hand signals for students to share their understanding about a topic. Thumbs up = I understand this and can explain it. Thumbs sideways = I am not sure I understand all of it. Thumbs down = I don’t get it. For added learning and assessment, have some of the thumbs up students explain their understanding to the class.
  3. Write a lab to test and explain the topic. Use the scientific method or a lab write up sheet to cover all the steps needed.
  4. Comic Strip. Students can explain the order of events from the topic through illustrations and text.
  5. Classroom Response System. Use sample questions that mimic the format of the summative assessment and have students answer using a clicker system. The clicker system can usually grade the students’ responses for you!
  6. Act It Out! Write a play or dramatic reading for the topic. Students can read their scripts and present to the class.
  7. “Got it!” Slips. On a note card or slip of paper have students write a summary of the lesson topic on the front. On the back, have them write any questions they have from the lesson.
  8. Teach It! Have students write an explanation to a new student about the topic. Technology bonus: they can record themselves making a podcast with an audio recording device or video with an ipad.
  9. Analogies. Have students write [The topic or key term] is like _____________, because ________________________.
  10. KWL. Students can start the KWL before the lesson and complete the “L” after the lesson.
  11. Doodle Notes. Students can write notes for the topic using creative fonts and illustrations that help explain the topic better.
  12. Summary with Key Words. Give students the key words that go with the lesson or topic, and have them write a summary using the key words. For an extra creative challenge, they can write their summary as a poem.
  13. Concept Mapping / Graphic Organizers. Have students complete a graphic organizer to organize the facts or processes of the topic. (Venn Diagram, Web, Timeline, Flow Chart)
  14. Misconception Mystery. Give the students a statement that is a common misconception about the topic. Have students decide whether they agree or disagree with the statement and explain their decision in a paragraph.
  15. Making Connections. Students can make connections between the topic and something else they know about. [Topic] reminds me of _____________, because _____________________.
  16. Write the Test. Have students write higher level test questions for a test over the topic and provide the correct answers.
  17. Theories T-Chart. Have students write new ideas and opinions on the left side, and reasoning and explanation on the right side. They can use facts from their lesson to support their ideas.
  18. White Boards. Ask a question and have students answer on personal white boards.
  19. Why? Ask students to explain why the topic is important for us to study. This will help students connect to real world applications.
  20. Quick Write. Give students a short amount of time to write a paragraph about everything they know, or have learned, about the topic. I usually do three minute quick writes.
  21. Travel Guide. Students can create a pamphlet to demonstrate and show off the facts about a place or process. Think habitats and parts of a cycle such as clouds or oceans in the water.
  22. Passport. Students can write the “places” something travels to in a cycle or process. Similar to number 21 above.
  23. Solve a Problem. Present a problem or issue associated with the topic and have students write or diagram a solution to the problem.
  24. Social Media Posts. Students can create a Twitter post or Instagram post to highlight or describe the topic.
  25. Hashtag It! Students can think of hashtags for the topic that would describe it.
  26. Talk It Out. Have groups act out a talk show scene and share thoughts about the topic with each other. They can write down the thoughts that are shared. Technology bonus: they can record their talk show with an audio recording device or video with an ipad.
  27. Advertise. Students can create an advertisement for the topic. Use illustrations and text to describe it.
  28. Collage or Poster. Students can create a poster illustrating and describing the topic. Tell them to show you what they know. (This is one of my favorites. It is also a great review before a test.)
  29. Interview the Expert. In partners, students can play the role of interviewer and expert. One can ask questions related to the topic and the other can answer and explain. Technology bonus: they can record their interview with an audio recording device or video with an ipad.
  30. Diagram It! Using a white board or dry erase markers on their desk, have students draw a diagram for a process or cycle you call out. Walk around and check. You can take pictures with a camera or phone so you can look back over it later, or share on classroom social media.

Step 4

Summative Assessment. Test their skills. I test at the end of each unit. If you have followed the first three steps in depth, your kiddos should be ready for the big test day! This is when you know how well your teaching, assessing, and reteaching went. Make sure your tests are thorough and challenging enough to meet the rigor of your state testing or standardized testing at the end of the year.


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