Formative assessments are the educational equivalent of a medical checkup. Just as a doctor assesses your health status and makes recommendations to improve your well-being, teachers use assessments to detect students’ strengths and weaknesses so they can help them improve and direct their learning.

“Formative assessment helps us figure out where our students are,” says Barry Saide, a second-grade teacher at Mount Prospect School in Bernards Township, New Jersey. “The information they give us should be used to drive and revise our lesson plans.”

Strategically deployed assessments can help you diagnose your students’ needs and individualize instruction. “You may see that you have a group of students who need help with vocabulary. You might have a group of students struggling with problem solving,” says Maria Grant, professor of education at California State University–Fullerton. With assessment results in hand, you can support your students’ specific identified needs.

The best assessments are fun, casual, and not very assessment-like at all. Here are eight creative formative assessments you can use to quickly gauge your students’ understanding.

1 | Think Tank
Post the numbers 1–6 around your classroom. Have students count off. Send all the ones to the number 1, all the twos to the number 2, et cetera. Then, give kids five minutes to work on a problem related to your lesson.

“They might be solving a math problem or writing a sequence of events leading up to the American Revolution,” says Judith Dodge, author of 25 Quick Formative Assessments. “All groups are working on the same problem, and everyone must contribute.” (To ensure all are contributing, have each student initial the contribution or write in a different color.) Each group should also choose a reporter, who will share the group’s work.

At the end of five minutes, go around the room and have each group report out. You’ll be able to quickly spot gaps in understanding and adapt your next lesson accordingly.

2 | Voxer
Think of Voxer as a modern walkie-talkie, one that allows you and your students to quickly share information, ideas, photos, and videos with others. Saide used Voxer to plan a poetry lesson for his fifth-grade English class last year. He discussed his ideas with a ninth-grade English teacher in Chicago, and after he taught the lesson, his students shared what they learned via Voxer. “We wound up doing a lesson in parallel with [the Chicago teacher’s] class, and then had a digital chat where both classes shared their understanding of a poem,” Saide says.

3 | Four Corners
Give your students’ critical thinking skills a boost while assessing their knowledge with this easy-to-use technique. Label the four corners of your classroom Strongly Agree, Agree, Strongly Disagree, and Disagree. (For younger students, try using only two: Agree and Disagree.) Then, ask your students a relevant question that’s open to debate.

“One I’ve used in science class is ‘Are zoos safe and humane places for animals?’” says Grant, who previously taught middle school science. Students go to the corner that best represents their thinking. They spend 10 minutes or so discussing why they are in that corner as the teacher circulates. After 10 minutes, the teacher goes around the room and asks each group to share the basis for their opinion.

“As students shared, I listened for what they knew and what they didn’t know and made decisions about what we were going to do next,” Grant explains.

4 | Seesaw Learning Journal
The Seesaw Learning Journal allows even the youngest students to record and track their progress.

“We have our first-grade students record themselves reading books,” says Patricia Brown, the elementary technology integration coach at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in St. Louis. Students also upload video, audio, and pictorial evidence of their work and learning, and they can use Seesaw’s built-in audio, drawing, and caption tools to explain their thinking. Teachers (and parents) can quickly review students’ work to see what they know.

5 | Red Dot! Blue Dot!
This assessment technique requires a bit of pre-planning but it lays the groundwork for a well-differentiated lesson. It’s great for assessing and enhancing math skills.

After you’ve taught a basic lesson, circulate around the room while students are independently practicing. Have two pens in hand: one red, one blue. If you see that a student needs more support, put a red dot on his paper. If she’s got the concept down, she gets a blue dot. (If you want, you can use a third color to indicate a student is ready for a challenge.)

Have a set of color-coded follow-up problems or activities ready to go.

6 | EdPuzzle
EdPuzzle uses video as a way to keep kids engaged and assess their understanding,” says Chrissy Romano-Arrabito, a fifth-grade language arts teacher at Hackensack Middle School in New Jersey. Teachers can either create videos or select pre-made ones on specific topics. Students then watch the video and answer the questions embedded within.

“The video will stop and a question pops up, so it’s interactive,” says Romano-Arrabito, who recently used EdPuzzle to assess her students’ understanding of figurative language. “For students to move forward, they have to answer the question correctly.”

Teachers can access a report that lets them know which students watched the video, how many questions they answered correctly, and how long it took students to complete the activities.

7 | Choice Exit Card
You’re probably already familiar with exit tickets, which ask students to answer a question designed to assess their understanding before leaving class. Choice exit cards increase student engagement by allowing them to demonstrate knowledge in the way that makes the most sense for them.

A choice exit card for an English class, says Dodge, might include: “Create a bulleted list of ideas from today’s text. Write a one-paragraph summary of today’s main ideas. Draw a story map. Orally describe how the text relates in at least two ways to another text we’ve read.”

8 | Kahoot!
Use Kahoot! to quickly create interactive learning games, or edit or reuse “kahoots” that have been created by other teachers. Students can access the game on their own digital devices using an assigned PIN, and teachers can simultaneously broadcast the kahoot on an interactive whiteboard to increase classroom engagement.

“What kid doesn’t like to compete?” says Romano-Arrabito, who used Kahoot! to assess her students’ understanding of conjunctions. For fun, allow kids to use aliases. Romano-Arrabito’s students like using their “gamer tags” in a classroom setting—and love her gamer name, MamaBear.

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Image: Courtesy of Patricia Brown