A collection of activities from the pages of Scholastic Teacher magazine.
Grades 4-5 Lessons: Playful Prep
Four strategies for teaching test prep in new and creative ways.
Draw and Justify
Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4; CCRA.SL.5; CCRA.SL.6
Objective: Develop word analysis skills through visuals and presentations
What You Need: Mini-whiteboards, dry-erase markers
What to Do: Leslie Ann Rowland, a fifth-grade teacher from Leesburg, Alabama, created a game that involves drawing to help her students develop strong word-analysis skills. She calls her strategy Draw and Justify.
Begin by dividing the class into groups or partners. Give each team a mini-whiteboard and a dry-erase marker. On the main classroom board, write a vocabulary word or a figurative language phrase that will be on an upcoming test.
Allow teams a few minutes to brainstorm, and then have them draw a visual on their whiteboards that conveys the word or phrase. For example, for the word frantic, one team in Rowland’s class drew a person running around trying to find her keys. The person had a speech bubble saying, “I’m late!”
Have each team present its drawing to the class and justify how it relates to the posted word or phrase. The team that gives the best justification wins a point. Hold additional rounds for other words or phrases you have pre-selected. Rowland picks the best explanation for each round, but you may choose to have your students vote after the rounds instead.
Rowland’s strategy helps students gain an understanding of how vocabulary words and figurative language can be used in different situations, which is important for test prep. “But I also like this strategy because it includes listening and speaking skills, especially when the students have to stand up and justify their drawings to the class,” says Rowland, who blogs at Life in Fifth Grade.
Standards Met: McREL Mathematics Standard 5 Level II 1, 2, and 6; CCSS.Math-Content.4.G.A.2
Objective: Express understanding of mathematical terms by recognizing definitions
What You Need: Index cards, large rubber bands, timer
What to Do: Juan Fernandez teaches grades four and five in Flushing, New York. He has seen “tremendous results” in helping his students master key concepts by using a variation of the game Heads Up!
In his version, Partner A tries to identify math terms based on clues given by Partner B. The terms that Partner B gives clues for are written on cards which are then secured to Partner A’s forehead with a rubber band, facing out toward Partner B. Both students are challenged, says Fernandez: Partner A must name terms based on their definitions, and Partner B must define terms clearly to prompt Partner A to name them.
Prepare the game by creating several sets of 20 to 30 cards related to a math unit, such as 2D geometry. Write a unit term—e.g., equilateral triangle—on the front side of each card. On the back side, list two or three definitions or clues—such as “three equal angles” and “three equal sides.”
Pair students and give each team a deck. Allow teams to review the cards for one minute. Then, have partners face one another and move through as many cards as possible in a minute. Tell Partner B to put the cards that Partner A has answered correctly in one pile and the “incorrect” or “no answer” cards in another pile. When the minute is up, have partners count their correct cards. (Students can review what they got right and wrong by looking at both sides of the cards in the piles.) Student teams that score in the top half of the class advance to the next round and switch partners. The remaining students become audience members. Continue with minute-long rounds until a single team remains.
“During each round, I circulate and note terms that are challenging students,” Fernandez says. “Then, I reteach those terms,” as needed.
Four Steps to Success
Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1; CCRA.W.4
Objective: Strengthen writing by analyzing the structure of a paragraph
What You Need: Variety of nonfiction articles at and below grade level, note cards, dry-erase markers, zippered bags, baskets, writing rubrics, graded student work
What to Do: When Meltem Gezlev started teaching fourth and fifth grade, she noticed that students began the year struggling to write a simple paragraph. To help them understand the structure of a paragraph and to prepare them for the short-response format in tests, she developed a strategy that uses four writing centers: Claim It, Prove It, Grade It, and Make It. A popular variation on this comes from Alan Sitomer’s book Mastering Short-Response Writing: Claim It! Cite It! Cement It! Here, we present a simplified version of the strategy.
First, assess the level of your students: below grade level, almost on level, and on level. Then, make a short list of key details about each leveled article on a note card. On separate cards, write down the author’s claim, or main idea, for the articles (to simplify, use class sets of the articles for each of the levels).
Pass out books and key detail lists to students based on their level. Tell them that for the first step, or center, they won’t read the text—instead, they’ll read the key details and write down what claim they think the author will make. Once they finish, have them move to the next step or center. Here, they will read the text, along with the author’s claim listed on the note card, and then list details they have read that support the claim.
For the last step, students will apply their knowledge by either grading short responses written by students in previous years (using a rubric) or devising their own activity using new texts for their classmates to analyze. When students have mastered a level, they move up to the next one.
Gezlev allowed 10 to 15 minutes for center work. Some students spent all their time at one center, while others moved through two or three centers. But all showed much progress over time. “Students love anything that is center related!” she says.
The Answer Is…
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
Objective: Gain confidence in text analysis skills
What You Need: Sample test questions
What to Do: Students may be overwhelmed by multiple-choice options on ELA tests, sometimes losing faith in their ability to analyze the material. Help them develop test-taking confidence by having them answer test questions, individually or in teams, without looking at the answer options.
Begin by having students read a passage from a sample test. Then, display a related question, without the answer options. For example, from a sample test passage about bats: According to the selection, why are bats having difficulty finding homes?
After displaying the question, have students answer in a round-robin style. If the first student/team does not answer the question correctly, the next gets a chance to answer. When the correct answer has been given, reveal the sample test options, with the correct answer highlighted. Point out that the way the student/team worded an answer may not exactly match the correct test answer, but that both get at the same idea. Discuss how the student/team was able to answer the question based on analysis of the text. For those who struggle with answering questions, take notes on points of difficulty for small-group review later. Repeat until everyone has had a chance to answer at least one question.
To turn the strategy into a game, award a point for each correct answer. Depending on how your state’s tests are formatted, this strategy can be adapted for math and science questions. Note: Some standardized test questions can be answered only by selecting from the answer options.
For this activity, use only test questions that can be answered when not paired with their answer options.
Photo: Adam Chinitz