Time for assessment? Try one of these playful ideas as an alternative to humdrum worksheets.

Spherical Summaries

What it Practices: Summarizing, paragraph writing

What to Do: Start by reading a very short story aloud to the whole group. Label three plastic balls (like from a child's ball pit) with "Beginning," "Middle," and "Ending." Toss the balls to three students in the classroom. Ask these students to give a one-sentence retell of their part of the story, and quickly assess how well they complete this skill. Do this several times with different stories. As the students get better at this, increase the length of the stories and add two more balls, changing the balls' labels to "Beginning," "Middle 1," "Middle 2," "Middle 3," and "Ending." Repeating this will get them in the habit of thinking about retelling stories in this form. As they progress, let them dictate to you as you write on a whiteboard. This will demonstrate how to turn this retelling into a cohesive paragraph. As time goes on, they'll be writing these paragraphs on their own.

Look Into My Crystal Ball

What It Practices: Predicting

What to Do: Predicting is a skill students need to practice as they read any selection. To keep them engaged, draw a "crystal ball" on the chalkboard and give each student a sticky note. As you read aloud, stop at appropriate times and ask small groups (five students, a table, a row) to write a prediction of what's going to happen next and stick it on the crystal ball on the board. You can quickly assess who understands the meaning of predicting. Read predictions aloud, or send students back to "keep listening" if the wording on their sticky note doesn't fit with what you'd expect for a prediction.


What It Practices: Vocabulary or spelling words

What to Do: Head outside to a grassy area on a sunny day. Borrow an exercise ball (the kind you do sit-ups on), and form a big circle. Using a vocabulary list with definitions, stand in the middle of the circle while everyone else sits down. Read a definition from the list. If a student thinks she knows the word, she should stand up. Throw or kick the ball to that student, and let her say the vocabulary word. If she gets it right, let her come to the center of the circle for the next word. You read the definition, and she kicks the ball to the next student. You can also have kids practice their spelling words. Have them lay on their backs propped up on their elbows. Using only their feet, have them spell words one letter at a time as the ball is kicked from player to player. Everybody wins!

Sunny Snowball Fight

What It Practices: Consonants, vowels, beginning sounds, ending sounds

What to Do: Here's a quick and fun way to assess whether your students can create words using beginning and ending sounds. Give each student a half sheet of paper. Tell them to write a large consonant on one side, and a large vowel on the other. Now, tell them it's time for a snowball fight! Let kids wad up their papers and throw them across the room. Have them retrieve someone else's "snowball" and throw again, then find another and throw one more time. This time, let students pick up their papers and open them. Have them show you their consonant, then their vowel. Now, call on individuals to say a word that begins with one of their letters. Next, have them come up with words with their consonant as an ending sound. Wad papers back up and repeat the process with another snowball fight!

Silent Spelling Hunt

What It Practices: Weekly spelling words, blends

What to Do: Using Ping-Pong balls or plastic eggs, label each with one letter (or blends like tr, pl, st) so when put together they'll form each of your spelling words. (If you keep a stash of these, you can make choosing the needed letters a task for one of your students each week.) To review for the test, give each student a ball to hide around the room. Keep any extra needed letters with you. After students hunt and find a letter, they should come to a designated spot in the room. Now, let students silently find one another and link arms to spell one of the words. (When words begin to form, hand that group any extra letter you have that they need to make their word.) Spell words aloud to check for accuracy then let students hide their letter and play again.


What It Practices: Alphabetical order

What to Do: You'll need five, small, multicolored beach balls for this activity. Using a permanent marker, label each colored strip of the balls with a different word-at least one starting with each letter of the alphabet. Now, turn on a Beach Boys' tune, and let them pass the balls around the circle until the music stops. Tell students that whatever color their right pinky finger is on is their word for this round. Let those five students stand and put themselves into alphabetical order. Easy as A, B, C!

Serve Up Some Questions

What It Practices: Questioning techniques

What to Do: Forming who, what, when, where, why, and how questions is an important skill that encourages students to make sense of their reading. Using two containers of tennis or racquetballs, write one of the "W" (or "H") words on each ball, and give them to six different students. Tell everyone to listen carefully to a short, nonfiction article that you read. When you're finished, tell students with a "W" ball to ask a question about the article starting with the word on their ball. Let students ask their question, then throw the ball to another student who will attempt to answer it. Read another short article, and now the answerers become the questioners and the activity continues. This is also an easy way to incorporate current events into your day.


Reading Experts Q&A

How can I help a second grader who tore into chapter books last spring, but now struggles with much easier material? I've talked with her first-grade teacher and we're stumped!

Debbie's Thoughts
An issue that we've encountered as children move from first to second grade is rooted in misperceptions of what reading is and what it is for. Some children misunderstand praise for reading accurately or for tackling "big kid" books. They think that is why adults want them to read! Your read-alouds can reintroduce kids to the joys of reading. Picture books like Sherrie Garland's The Lotus Seed and Don Brown's Teedie: The Story of Young Teddy Roosevelt can help children immerse themselves in books and book discussions. Other children balk at the books offered at the beginning of the year as "baby" books, even though those may be the most appropriate for them. These children aren't sure of your expectations, and rather than risk disappointing themselves or you, they avoid reading. Those of us who were once athletes know this syndrome: We'd rather glory in our past abilities than risk doing the training necessary to participate today!

Ann's Thoughts
The first step is assessing your student's instructional level, including accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. Is she getting the author's message? Can she answer questions that require deeper thinking about a text, such as "What was the most important part of this story? Why?" If she's reading with fluency and accuracy but cannot talk about her thinking, it is probably best to drop to an easier level and help her develop strategies for thinking about and beyond the story.

I also like to get to know my students as readers by asking questions like "What do you do well as a reader? What is difficult for you?" "What kinds of books do you like to read?" Her answers may help you choose just-right books for her. She might reconnect with reading through the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant or the Fox series by James Marshall. Both are well-written and present opportunity for discussion.

A Final Suggestion
Both of us like to reread professional books that remind us of the reasons we teach reading. Two favorites are Regie Routman's Reading Essentials and Sharon Taberski's On Solid Ground. You and your first-grade colleague can build an even stronger collaboration sharing the wisdom and advice offered by both authors. Happy reading!