This article is excerpted from 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Judith Dodge.

A Unit Collage is a student-generated, ongoing, visual synthesis of a topic studied in class. It includes on one page a group of eight to ten drawings, symbols, captions, and so forth that capture the essence of a unit of study. Creating individual unit collages allows students to process information more deeply through their own synthesis of ideas, both visual and linguistic. The benefits of completing a Unit Collage are many.

Because the collages are fairly open-ended, they appeal to learners of different strengths and intelligences. Along the way, these collages serve as a check for student understanding and an opportunity for informal assessment.

These collages will later serve as effective study tools and triggers for student memory. Some students choose to save the collages for years, keeping a visual record of some of the most important ideas, principles, and key concepts that they have studied in a particular class.

This teacher’s colorful display of students’ Unit Collages about the regions of the United States allows students to reference the information learned in past units as they work to make sense of new units of study.


  1. It is important to model for the class how to create a Unit Collage (PDF). If you are not comfortable with illustrating ideas yourself, engage one of your student artists to create the first one with you.
  2. Take a poster-size sheet of paper and divide it into at least six boxes. Place the heading, topic, or title of the unit at the top of the page.
  3. Throughout the unit, stop after discussing an important concept/subtopic and brainstorm with the entire class how you could illustrate the concept to make it memorable. Together, decide what vocabulary terms, phrases, or quotes should be included in addition to the picture or drawing.
  4. Illustrate the particular concept you're working on, adding any important content-specific language that the class has decided is necessary to describe the concept accurately.
  5. Continue with the study of the unit, which may take several more days, or even weeks, until its conclusion. Along the way, stop periodically to create a new block when you determine that it would be helpful to increase retention.
  6. At the end of the unit, use the class-generated Unit Collage to help review the unit. (You may decide to have more than one poster page, depending upon the complexity of the unit.)
  7. Students should now be ready to create their own individual Unit Collages for the next unit.
  8. Before you photocopy the reproducible for students to use, decide whether you want to run off the copies with subtopics or questions printed in each box. This is usually helpful for younger students or those with weak organizational skills.
  9. Stop periodically throughout the unit for students to fill in a box on their collage. Midway through a lesson, brainstorm ideas with the class and then provide five minutes or so for students to individually complete the box as a check for understanding. Or you might give students five minutes at the end of the lesson as closure. Alternatively, you can assign one box for homework and have students share their collage the next day with a partner.

Types of Information/Visuals to Include on a Unit Collage

  • Key understandings or concepts
  • Formulas
  • Principles
  • Parts and functions
  • Examples
  • Pictures
  • Symbols
  • Themes
  • Story elements
  • Literary devices
  • Quotes
  • Tips and hints
  • Key figures
  • Turning points
  • Major contributions
  • Legacies
  • Important events
  • Content vocabulary terms

Tips for Tiering

To support struggling learners: Label each box on the unit collage with a key concept, quote, or example to guide students.

To challenge advanced learners: Leave the task more open-ended, allowing these students to determine what is important in the unit and how they should synthesize and record the information.

Have students make a connection that you did not discuss in class between two ideas in this unit, or have students compare something they learned in this unit with something they learned previously. Ask students to write each connection or comparison in one of the boxes on the Unit Collage.

Eliminate this activity completely for this group of learners and substitute a more complex, higher-level task.

Group Unit Collages: While students will enjoy keeping their own individual Unit Collages, periodically place students in heterogeneous groups to complete a Group Unit Collage as a review for an entire unit. Provide a list of key elements that must be included in each of the groups' collages. Allow 20-30 minutes for groups to complete the task using any resources they have (textbook, notebooks, handouts, and so on). During the last few minutes of class, conduct a gallery walk for students to visit all of the posters.

If you are willing to let this activity take a little more time, it can be even more effective. Let student groups present the information on their collages to the rest of the class. Then distribute a practice assessment with short response questions to each student. Allow students to take a "gallery walk," return to their seats, and complete the assessment individually. Permit students to go back to any collage for additional help in completing the assessment. This is, after all, a formative assessment, not a summative assessment. This practice strategy is for learning. The questions will help students continue to process more deeply the information they have been studying.

To create a digital Unit Collage, students can use PowerPoint to create one slide with seven or eight images. First, students will create a folder and save pictures as they scan them from their own drawings or download them from the Internet. Then, they will create a background for their slide and insert onto the slide each picture that they've saved. Finally, students will insert a text box next to each image for description, summary, or analysis.

A science student uses the Unit Collage to create a visual summary on the topic of Matter.