Making Formative Assessment Useful and Fun

I think we all know why we should be using Formative Assessment:

1. To determine whether students are in the correct stream of the course.

2. To determine whether the students are lacking any prerequisite skills for this course.

3. To get an understanding of how students learn best.

4. For students to get an understanding of whom they work well with in the class.

5. To observe whether students are gaining new knowledge and to adjust instruction accordingly.

Can we make it more interesting and engaging for our students?  And why not make it more fun for us too?  Here are a few of the ways that I implement formative assessment in my Science and Physics classes.



Since it is formative assessment, don’t be afraid to ask out-of-the-box questions. Get the kids thinking and rather than just recalling facts! Here I used a comic to assess their understanding of Kepler’s Laws.

My bet is that we all pretty much already implement quizzes in our classroom.  They don’t take too long to make, or to mark, and give us a pretty good idea of how our students are doing.  However, these aren’t the best way to assess all skills and all students.

My guidelines are to give students a quiz on the material from the previous week.  This way:

1. They all know what topics will be covered.

2. They all have time to prepare for the quiz, even if they were absent during the previous week.

3. They have enough “time to forget”, so they will have to review before the quiz (or truly know the topic) and not rely on their short-term memory.

Academic Conversation

One of the Academic Conversation posters in my classroom that helps the students come up with responses and prompts.

Academic Conversations

Once your students have practiced having academic conversations this will work so nicely in your classroom.  It does take some practice though!  Work academic conversations into your classroom often and then it will become natural.  Before you know it, you’ll be able to listen as your students take their understanding of the concept and build upon it for an even deeper understanding, or, challenge one another to see a different point of view.  A quick and easy formative assessment!

Twitter Board

Twitter board. Student stick their tweets on the way out the door.  I keep the best tweets as exemplars.

Exit Cards
This one is probably the easiest to implement.  It can be as simple as asking the students to summarize the topic of your class in a few sentences.  Make it fun by having the students tweet you (online or on a bulletin board).

Here are some great prompts:

1. Summarize today’s topic in 3 sentences.

2. What did you learn today?

3. Write a question about something you don’t completely understand.

4. Explain how… works.

5. I would like to learn more about…

6.  How does what we learned today apply to your life?

7. What was the most surprising idea that you learned about today?



Puzzles & Games
Astro Game

A domino puzzle I made for students to practice their vocabulary.

I use puzzles and GAMES (Group Activities of Meaningful Educational Significance) constantly as formative assessment.  Instead of doing another worksheet on the topic, I give the kids a puzzle on a topic.  Anything from matching terms to their definitions, to scientific notation, to word problems can be turned into a game.

The added bonus to using these group games is that I can assess not only their understanding, but their cooperative learning skills.  I often use these as icebreakers at the start of the semester so students can learn who they like to sit and work with.  It often does take a lot of prep time to create a game, but the investment pays off year after year!

Domino Puzzle

If given the choice between a worksheet and a puzzle, my students would choose the puzzle every time!

Engineering Challenges


Santa’s Challenge.  Get the egg down the chimney using only Christmas decorations.

This is a fun one for Physics.  After we learn a concept together, I will quiz them to make sure that they know the basics of it and can problem solve with those concepts and the equations.  What really shows me whether they understand how something works is by introducing an engineering challenge.  Take what you know and physically apply it to a new situation.  For example, we learned about momentum, impulse and collisions prior to the Christmas break.  So naturally, Santa came up with a problem for the students to engineer a solution to.

Even though this was great fun, I was able to assess easily who had a good understanding of the Physics concepts through their designs and conversations (and sometimes, their failures).

"What did you learn about reducing impact?"

The result after dropping the vessel out the window.  Now ask, “what did you learn about reducing impact?”

How do you make formative assessment fun for both you and your students?

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

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