Twenty Creative Ways to Check for Understanding

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Fist to five, tickets out the door, and think/pair/share are some of the more common ways I watch teachers check for understanding. This is important work, and when we choose our strategies purposefully, the results better inform our practice.

Here’s what I’m wondering today, as I lead conversations about checking for understanding on the ground, beside teachers that I support:

  • How is checking for understanding different from testing and grading?
  • When does it make sense to check for understanding?
  • How can we do this without disrupting learning?
  • How do we pair our approach with our purpose?
  • How can we capture the evidence we collect as efficiently as possible?
  • What do we do with the findings?
  • Most importantly, how can we make this a bit more unpredictable and even…. fun?

Interested in maximizing your checks for understanding? Take these twenty tried and true strategies for a test drive, and let me know how your experiences inform your answers to the questions above. Know that while they are not my own, it’s difficult to trace the originator of each. If you have a source to share, please do. I’ll extend my gratitude and add.

1. Think, Ink, Pair, and Share

Pause during instruction, prompt learners to process and then write about their thinking, and as they pair with partners to share, move from one to the next to check for understanding.

2. Find Your Foil

Ask learners to articulate their own processes in writing. Then, challenge them to find one or two peers whose approaches contrasted with their own. Invite analysis. Encourage them to share.

3. Add a Brick to Our Wall of Knowledge

Reserve a bulletin board or a wall in your classroom or hallway for this activity. Provide paper bricks to learners, and challenge them to write about new concepts, terms, or skills they’ve learned. Each learner contributes his or her brick to a wall that is built over the course of the year. Alternatively, learners could be provided boxes. Each side of the box could reflect new learning. Boxes could be stacked or strung together to create walls. Added bonus: these bricks turn and bump against one another, inspiring new connections and discoveries.

4. Squiggle

Make a squiggle on a single sheet of blank paper. Make another on a new sheet. Make another. And another. Copy all of those squiggles and invite learners to grab one that interests them. Then, challenge them to use the squiggle to start their own drawing. The drawing must reflect something they learned.

5. What Stuck with You?

Distribute one sticky note to each learner and ask him or her to record and then display the most important thing learned that day.

6. Charades

Invite partners or teams to act out new concepts, terms, or processes learned for others, who attempt to make correct guesses.

7. Blog

Prompt learners to show what they’ve learned by responding to a post that you leave on your classroom blog.

8. Use Poll Everywhere

Text message polls allow teachers to capture evidence of new learning rapidly.

9. Make

Keep a diverse collection of craft supplies handy. Challenge kids to use them to reflect new learning in creative ways. Invite them to share, explain, and refine their creations in response to feedback.

10. Visualize It

Challenge learners to demonstrate what they know by creating or finding a visual representation of it.

11. I Used To Think…But Now I Think….

Ask learners to fill in the blanks by writing their responses in journals or on exit tickets. Alternatively, invite them to turn and talk with their neighbors, using this prompt as a frame or extend the discussion into your debrief.

12. Flag It

Challenge students to review their notes and flag what requires further clarification or reteaching.

13. Point Out the Problem

At the end of a day’s learning, invite students to revisit notes taken, thinking tools created, or charts that capture salient points from lessons. Ask them to use their pointer fingers to point out portions of the learning that remain problematic for them. Scan the room and take notes or capture photos.

14. Choral Review

Ask learners to share definitions of new terms in a chorus. Identify who is struggling.

15. Swat

Distribute correct answers on charts or paper squares about the room. Arm learners with fly swatters, and invite them to swat their responses to questions asked. Alternatively, distribute questions and share answers. Invite learners to swat the question that matches the answer you provide.

16. Sort

Given a set of terms, concepts, or processes, students sort according to similarities or differences. Alternatively, students might create their own classification systems, sort accordingly, and name their categories.

17. Thumbs Up

Ask a question, challenge students to give a thumbs-up when they’re ready to answer, and wait for all thumbs to go up before calling on anyone.

18. Quick Checking Answers with QR Codes

Provide learners with a set of prompts, and position QR codes beneath them. Once completed, students can use the QR codes to check the accuracy of their answers. Invite them to report their data to you.

19. Exit Ticket Stop Light

Create a stop light display and hang it within reach of all students. Provide each learner three sticky notes and invite them to reflect and add their notes to the corresponding part of the light:

Green: This is what I understand best…

Yellow: I’m beginning to understand this, but here’s how you can help me more….

Red: Here’s where I’m a little lost…..

20. Hardest/Easiest Items

After students have responded to a set of prompts or items, challenge them to circle those that were hardest and place a star next to those that were easiest. Provide space for them to share their reasoning.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at

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