I’m about to share my top tip when it comes to planning instruction. It’s not fancy or flashy, but it’s super important and helpful. What is it? Pre-tests!
Pre-assessing your students tells you where they’re starting. You can use that data to figure out how to get them to where they need to go. While pre-assessments take time to create and use, they can actually save you a lot of time and energy later because they show you where to focus your efforts.
We all know it’s no good to teach advanced concepts if your class hasn’t mastered the basics. And on the flip side, it wastes time to spend days going over something they already know. A pre-test gives you helpful data to plan a unit or lesson.
For me, the best pre-assessments are easy to plan and quick to administer and evaluate. So let’s dig into 10 EASY activities you can do to pre-test your students in any subject.
1. Traditional Pre-tests
Yep, a good old-fashioned pre-test is a solid place to start. To make it even easier, I love going digital with pre-tests. Google Forms and digital Boom Learning cards save tons of time because of the automatic grading!
You can also use traditional writing prompts to get writing samples.
I tend to make pre-tests shorter than end-of-unit assessments because I just need enough information to get an idea of strengths and areas of growth. To save time creating the pre-tests, you can take an end-of-unit test and shorten or tweak the questions.
2. Knowledge Splash
Back when I taught first grade, my team and I would take our kids out into the hallway (where there was less environmental print). They’d each have a blank piece of paper and 2-3 minutes to write every word they could think of (we called it “splashing” the words on the paper). This gave us so much information and I love that it was low-stakes!
You can easily do this in the upper grades, especially when it comes to a new math, science, or history concept.
A similar option is to do a gallery walk. You can hang different posters with words or topics from an upcoming unit and see what students can add to the “graffiti wall.”
3. ABC Chart
An ABC chart, or digital ABC book, is helpful to get students thinking about specific vocabulary related to a topic. I’ve used this strategy a lot in science and social studies, but it really works with any subject.
I also like to use this strategy at the end of a unit to review key terms, people, and places.
4. Four Corners
Playing a game of 4 Corners in your classroom is a fun way to pre-assess your students because it gets them moving! You can also do a digital version where you have students click and drag their names to different corners of a Google Slide.
5. Sorting Activities
You know how much I love hands-on sorting activities. Sorting cards with words and/or images is a great partner or small group activity to get an idea of what students know before you teach it.
6. Parking Lot
When it comes to pre-tests, we often think about students showing us what they know, but I also like to see what they want to know. Writing questions on sticky notes and adding them to a parking lot anchor chart is a fun way to get a sense of students’ wonderings about an upcoming lesson or unit.
7. Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down
Another low-prep activity is to have students respond to a series of statements or questions using thumbs up/down. You could also give them colored papers or cups to show their answers.
If you want to do a little more prep, you can set up a trivia game or bulletin board. Here’s an example of one I made for Virginia history.
8. Student Discussions
Using small group discussions is one of my favorite ways to pre-test! You can display an image, quote, primary source, question, vocabulary word, math problem, etc., and have students discuss it. Then you just walk around to eavesdrop and jot down some notes as they turn and talk.
I’ll call these miscellaneous activities “one-pagers” for lack of a better term. These are all good low-prep activities to find out what students know:
- entrance tickets
- true/false statements
- anticipation guide
- connections between keywords
- open-ended questions
- defining vocabulary terms
- KWL chart
- graphic organizer
- thinking map/concept map
Last but not least, whiteboards are my favorite tool to use for pre-assessment (besides digital activities).
It’s so easy to whip out the whiteboards and have students draw something, write a word, answer true/false, or rate something on a scale. If you practice routines for distributing and collecting whiteboards and markers, you’ll save lots of time!
I hope this list gets you started with some low-prep-for-you, low-stress-for-kids pre-assessment activities. As you can see, there are lots of options besides a traditional pre-test. Let me know your other favorite strategies in the comments!