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Formative Assessment Tips for Any Grade Level

Formative Assessment Tips for Any Grade Level

It is incredibly difficult to teach effectively without formative assessment. Students come to class with different abilities and backgrounds, and they learn at different rates. You need to know where they stand in relation to your pacing and curriculum goals at all times. Luckily, formative assessments don’t need to be time-consuming or difficult to accomplish. All it takes is adding a few of these ideas to your toolkit and committing to their use.


Teachers have been calling on students to check for understanding since the beginning of education itself. One challenge has always remained: making sure that everyone gets an equal opportunity to contribute. To ensure that this happens in your classroom, employ the use of either a tech-based tool like TeacherPal or low-tech options like names in a hat or craft sticks in a cup to keep track of which students have been called on.

Status indicators

A common plight for teachers is being diligent about asking: “Does everyone understand before we move on?” (or any variation thereof), getting nods in return, and then a handful of students continuing to be lost in the material. If you employ a status indicator, like cards colored green on one side and red on the other or thumbs up/thumbs down, you can make sure that everyone responds and zero in on the students who don’t.

Backchannel conversations

Teachers normally don’t appreciate conversations that occur during direct instruction, but there are some technology tools out there that can give students an outlet to share their ideas and be less disruptive to the main event. Twitter provides enough functionality for the purpose. Assign a specific hashtag to your class, and have students use it to tweet their responses to the information being presented. You can also use Twitter’s native polling feature to conduct polls where the responses can be tabulated in seconds.

Multiple modality responses

Different students respond to different methods of formative assessment, so varying the format of how they can react to lessons helps ensure that everyone can participate freely and keeps students on their toes. Give students a chance to doodle their understanding before using a kinesthetic response in the next formative period. When asking students to write, vary the desired lengths and formats. Being able to impart information in as few words as possible is just as valuable as being able to write a longer essay.

Exit tickets

Many teachers use the end of class as their primary formative assessment period, believing that students are more forthcoming about their understanding as they are walking out the door. This can be as simple as a doodle or as complicated as multiple written responses. Designate a section of your room as the “parking lot,” where students can leave sticky notes with any questions or comments they may have at the end of class. For a more formal arrangement, use the 3-2-1 method, where students need to provide 3 things they learned in class, 2 things they found interesting, and 1 question they still have.

Looking for more ways to make formative assessment successful in your classroom? Check out this post for tips on designing an effective formative assessment strategy year-round

This blog was originally posted November 2018 and has been updated.