5 Unique Ways to Formatively Assess Your Class

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 -- McKenna Wierman

We often hear about the importance of implementing formative assessment in the classroom. It’s an active way to make sure that students aren’t just regurgitating information to make good grades but that they are actually comprehending the information while they are still learning. Using formative assessment allows teachers to receive feedback from their class and quickly modify lesson plans and teaching methods in response to the data they collect. It is the foundation of a feedback loop that makes learning easier and more effective, and it is a key component in improved learning and student achievement.

So, how can you put these strategies into action? Nearly every teacher is familiar with hand signals, exit tickets, and warm-up activities, but there are many other creative activities you can use to formatively assess your students during daily lessons. Here are five ideas to get you started:

Journal Away

Not only is journaling regularly a great way to get students to practice their writing skills, but it’s also perfect for getting more personal insights into how students feel about a particular lesson or activity. Journal writing prompts should always be somehow related to a student’s understanding of the day’s lesson or a concept or idea covered in the lesson. Collect journals at the end of class and promptly read the responses in order to make adjustments to the following day’s lesson.

Make the Late News

Get a quick snapshot of your students’ understanding and have some fun by asking them to come up with a good newspaper headline for a pretend news story written about the day’s lesson. For example, if you were teaching a unit on reptiles, you might suggest something like “Cold-Blooded Lizard Lies 8 Hours in the Sun, Doesn’t Break a Sweat” or “Camouflaged Chameleon Escapes Predator Yet Again.” You could even let your students color a front-page picture to go along with their headline or make up a complete news story with more detailed information from the lesson. Based on the complexity of their headline, you’ll be able to see how complete their comprehension of the lesson was.


It sounds simple enough, but the results of a good brainstorming session can lead to an outstanding lesson; the trick is to get everyone to actively and willingly participate. Start by asking your class to tell you everything they know about a subject related to the lesson you are about to teach. For example, if you are about to cover a chapter on the water cycle, ask them to tell you everything they can think of about water. While you may have to weed through some silly and obvious answers, you will also be able to get a clear idea of what concepts your students have a good grasp on as well as those they are still having trouble with in order to adapt your lesson accordingly. Be sure and use open-ended questions while brainstorming so that you can keep the conversation flowing.

Pretend Play

Some impromptu theater can be a great way to understand how your students took in the day’s lesson. Divide your students into groups and have them create scripts to perform based on a reading section from the lesson. For an added twist, you can ask one group of students to write the script and a different group act it out without any communication between the groups beforehand. Afterward, have the students who performed the script explain the way they thought it was summarizing the lesson, and then compare that to the original group’s intended meaning. Was any information lost, or was extra information included? Was anything interpreted differently by the two groups? Open up the class to a productive discussion—and gain insight into how your teaching methods are working.

Let Students Become the Teacher

Students’ test scores should never come as a surprise. By letting your students take an active role in helping you create testing material before they are assessed, you can get a better idea of how they will actually perform. One of the goals of formative assessment is to require that students become more responsible for their own education. They have to want to learn, make progress, and understand the material in order for this method to work. By having students make up test questions, you are not only helping your class to look at their lessons in a different way, but you are also getting a window into how they are interpreting the information.

As you work to implement formative assessment in your classroom, it’s important to remember that the strategy should be ongoing—meaning that these assessments should take place regularly throughout the school year. However, it is also essential to note that results should reflect honest feedback from your students. Students shouldn’t feel undue pressure to “ace” their formative assessments. Instead, make sure that they understand that the purpose of these assignments is to improve instruction. You are trying to accurately assess how your students are understanding material—not handing out grades.

Want to learn how Edmentum can help you seamlessly incorporate formative assessment in your classroom to support data-driven instruction? Learn about how our proven, online practice and assessment solutions can help you turn data into classroom action!