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62 ways to check for understanding

Timothy MugabiSeptember 19, 2019

Student and teacher

Checking for student understanding is an integral part of the learning process. Having several methods for determining what your students have taken away from a lesson is highly beneficial for both you and them. 

As a teacher, you don’t have to wait for your students to struggle with homework or underperform on a test to identify points of improvement and gaps in knowledge: You’ll be aware of them far sooner — and be able to address them quickly. Your students will feel more heard and attended to. They’ll retain more from each lesson, which will increase their confidence and accelerate their progress. 

With that in mind and using an English Language Arts lesson as an example, here are over 60 ways to check for understanding. Take these ideas and adapt them to your classroom and subject. 

Teacher pointing at class

1. Ask open-ended questions

Often, a simple “do you understand?” leads to misleading responses. Instead, ask questions that lead to definitive answers, based on what you’re studying.

2. Who else doesn’t understand?

When you’ve identified a student that doesn’t understand a particular point, ask if anyone else is confused by the same thing. Now knowing that they’re not alone, other students will be more likely to speak up.

3. Give me five

Have your students rate their understanding out of five, using their fingers. This is more effective when you establish what each number of the scale means ahead of time and using it as often as possible.

4. Quiz

Give them a quiz at the end of an exercise. Use Classcraft’s Boss Battles to turn review questions into fun classroom games. 

5. Midpoint pop quiz

Give your students a quick quiz halfway through an exercise, particularly if there’s a lot of material to cover.

6. Self-written quiz

Split them into teams to write questions for each other.

7. Quiz the teacher

Alternatively, have your students write questions for you!

8. Keywords

Ask students to identify the keywords from a passage or video, and to justify their responses.

9. Define vocabulary

Select several words central to the lesson, and have the students provide definitions in their own words.

10. Select and define

Pick and define a selection of words that stand out to your students.

11. X words to describe

Have your students describe a particular aspect of what you’ve studied, a person, place, etc. in a certain number of words.

12. Fill in the missing word

Provide them with an incomplete summary of what you’re studying and have them complete it with a selection of predetermined vocabulary you’ve provided.

Word puzzle

13. Sentence completion exercises

Have them complete a series of pre-written sentences. For example, “My favorite part of the story was when __________.”

14. Use vocabulary in a sentence

Make sure you’re over-emphasizing the new vocabulary you’re using when having a normal conversation. You could also create a vocabulary bingo where students try to get all the new vocabulary you used in a given time.

15. What’s the opposite of?

Test your students’ understanding of new vocabulary by asking for antonyms.

16. Find words in the text that mean the same as x

Have your students scan a sample of text for synonyms of particular words.

17. Other examples of …

Ask your students to provide other examples of something you’re learning about.

18. Main idea

Have them write down what they perceive to be the main idea of the lesson.

19. Choose the main idea

Alternatively, present your class with a few statements from which they can choose the main idea — justifying their answers, of course. Provide more than one statement that could be the main idea, as well as at least one that’s inaccurate.

20. Author’s main point

Ask them to reflect on and write down the author’s or narrator’s main point.

21. What did they mean by?

Alternatively, give your students a particular statement and ask what they think the meaning is.

22. Key take-away

Ask your students to summarize their key take-aways from the lesson. Better still, if possible, ask how they’re going to apply what they learned to their own lives or in other classes.

23. Two-minute summary

Have them summarize the lesson in two minutes. Walk around the room, and take a quick peek at their answers as they write.

24. Two-minute essay

Give your class a question, set a two-minute timer, and allow them to write a short response.

Brainstorm essay gif

25. Leave the class pass

To ensure compliance, a twist on the above is to require an answer to a question before your students get to leave class for recess or home.

26. Enter the class pass

This is a great way to test their understanding the next day or after a break. Have your class answer a question or provide a fact before they get to enter the class.

27. Essay question

Give your students a longer essay for in-class writing or homework.

28. Learning journal

Establish a learning journal in which your students can freely express their thoughts and consolidate their learning after certain exercises, or at the end of the day. You can quickly scan their entries as they write and then have a more thorough look later.

29. Paired journaling

After journaling, pairs of students read each other’s journals. You could have each student share what they learned from their partner’s journals.

30. Team journaling

This is a good option for team projects.

31. K-W-L

Before a lesson, have them write down what they already know about the subject and what they want to know. Afterward, have them write down what they learned.

32. Drawing

Have them sketch a picture, or series of pictures, of what they’ve learned.

33. Comic

Have your students create a comic strip based on their key take-aways or favorite moment from a particular lesson, reading, video, etc.

34. Create a poster

In groups, have your students create a poster based on the lesson. Ideally, each group will present it to the rest of the class at the end.

35. Collage

Alternatively, your students can create a collage. This is ideal if you have lots of magazines and papers lying around.

36. 3-2-1

Ask your students to note three things they learned, two that they found most interesting, and one that they still don’t understand quite well. You can tinker with the criteria to better suit your purposes.

Soulpancake get our learn on

37. What next?

After an initial part of a passage, namely a story, ask your class to infer what happens next based on contextual clues.

38. What would you do?

Ask your students to put themselves in a character’s shoes and write down or explain what they would do in a particular scenario.

39. Share their suggestions in a letter 

Have your students write a letter to one of the characters offering advice. This is a great way to make them more engaged with what they are reading.

40. Reflect and relate

Alternatively, have them reflect on a time in their lives when they felt like a character you’re studying. It can be them or someone they know. This helps them to connect to the story.

41. Which character would you be?

Ask your students to express which character appeals to them the most and why. 

42. Self-assessment cards

Create simple self-assessment forms containing options for expressing their understanding of what they’ve learned. For instance, you could include options like “I fully understand,” “I understand a little,” and “I don’t understand.”

43. Debate

When studying a topic with scope for discussion, split your class into different teams based on their opinions. They can then present their opinions and (politely) counter other teams’ arguments.

44. Snapshot debate

Give your students sheets of paper with “Agree” and “Disagree” printed on each side. Then, present a series of statements, and get them to hold up the sheet based on their opinion.

45. Opinion-counter

In this format, a student offers their opinion and another student counters it if they feel differently. This continues until no one has anything left to offer, or after a set amount of time.

46. Four corners

Set up four corners of an area with a different response, such as “Agree,” “Disagree,” “In the middle,” “Not sure,” and so on. Read a statement, and have the students run to the corner that matches their opinion. Select different students to justify their choices. This is great for getting them up and moving if they’ve been stationary for a long time.

47. Multiple choice

This is a variation of the above where you pose multiple-choice questions and set up each corner to designate the options.

48. Pair and share

Put students into pairs to discuss what they’ve learned, before sharing it with the class. Make sure both students get a turn to talk.

49. Teach your partner

Have a student teach their partner what they learned. Then, have the partner share what they’ve just been taught. This works best if you can split an exercise into two and have them swap roles.

50. I was most confused by ___

Allow the students to express any difficulties in understanding by completing the above sentence or something similar. You can then have them share their answers and tackle a handful of them at once. You can also ask if the same thing confused other students.

51. True or false quiz

Prepare a series of questions that require a simple true or false responses. Ask for a show of hands for each question, and pick students to justify their response before revealing the answer.

52. Act it out

Split the students into groups, and have them act out their interpretation of what you just studied.

53. Team presentation

Have them discuss their main take-aways and then present them to the rest of the class.

54. Whiteboard

For a nice snapshot of your class’s understanding, have them come up to the front and write what they learned on your whiteboard. Depending on the size of your class, they may need to work in teams.

55. Individual whiteboards

Give the students small whiteboards and a marker. Periodically ask questions, and have them write an answer on their board and hold it up.

56. Traffic lights

Students convey their understanding through a traffic light system, with red conveying little to no understanding and green meaning the most. There are many ways to do this, the simplest being to give them red, yellow, and green cards to hold up.

57. Reorder

Give them a worksheet outlining the main points of what you’ve just studied, in random order. Ask them to rearrange them correctly. This can work well in a history class if you want your students to recall chronological events.

58. Card sort

This is a group variation of the above: You provide each group with cards that, when ordered correctly, combine to provide an outline of the lesson.

59. Ranking

Get your students to rank ideas from the lesson using different criteria, such as easiest to hardest, most to least important, etc.

60. Opinion columns

Get your students to divide a page into two columns. In the first column, they write an opinion on what they’ve just learned. In the other, they provide their justification for that opinion.

61. Pass a sheet around the class

Have each student add a distinctive take-away or opinion to a collective sheet of paper that gets passed around the room. Two or more sheets are best for larger group sizes.

62. Variation of the above, but with speaking

If your students can’t think of anything, they can simply say “pass.” Encourage them to add something a little later if anything comes to mind.

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