Journaling as a Cross-Curricular Method

I love using journaling in my classroom!  As a social studies teacher, journaling gets students thinking and writing about the content instead of just selecting answers on a multiple choice assessment.  There are three specific reasons I really enjoy using journaling: it’s flexible, it gives students a chance to form and express their opinions, and it can lead to great discussion in the classroom.

           Journaling plays a couple different roles in my classroom.  Traditionally it is used after content is delivered as a way for students to sum Journalingup what they’ve learned.  While I still use journaling in this way, I’ve also included it as a way to track students’ changing understanding of a topic.  For example, when I teach about the filibuster in the Senate I ask students, at the beginning of class, to write a short paragraph about what they know/how they feel about the filibuster.  Generally the responses are negative and consensus seems to be that the filibuster is a waste of time.  After I’ve taught them about the filibuster I ask them to write again.  Most students are still apprehensive about the filibuster, but they understand that it’s a tool for the minority to protect themselves from the majority.  This gives me evidence that students’ opinions about the topic have changed.

           I also love the fact that journaling gives students a chance to form and express opinions.  Especially in a government class, for some students a journaling activity may be the first time they’ve been asked their opinion on a political issue.  A great example of this comes with the question, “What role do you think the government should play in regulating businesses?”  Most students know how to parrot what they hear around the dinner table, but this question gets them to think about a fundamental political question that doesn’t ask them about political affiliation or a specific issue.

           Finally, journaling has led to some great discussion in my classroom.  Students can be hesitant to participate in a classroom discussion or debate.  But journaling gives students a chance to get their opinion or ideas down on paper before they’re asked to talk about it.  I usually have students volunteer to read their writing to the class and we may discuss some responses depending on the prompt.  While some students may not share their writing, they are sharing their opinion and thoughts with me.

           These three reasons in favor of journaling mean that it doesn’t have to be confined to the ELA or social studies classrooms.  Because it can take a number of forms, a journaling prompt could be used in the math classroom.  You can ask students to share how they got their answer or have them explain how they may use a concept or equation in their life.  In the science classroom, students can share how they’ve seen a science concept in their lives or they can develop an analogy for a cycle or system.  The important thing is to remember that journaling can be used in any classroom to get students to explain a concept or express their opinion on an issue.

Blog IconBrandon is a new social studies teacher in Virginia.  He has experience teaching civics, U.S. government, and sociology.

Standardized Tests and the Writing Portion

Teaching Students to Brainstorm:

Giving students the simple tool of brainstroming will empower them and organize their writing.For students taking a standardized test with a writing portion, they will do well to brainstorm before diving into writing the paper. I know that students will dislike this idea and feel crunched for time. Sharing the simple idea of brainstorming to students may also put them at ease.

Any standardized test with a writing portion will have a broad topic, one that most high school students have experience with and one with many potential answers, such as –

Should schools mandate volunteer work hours for graduation?

The two simplest answers are “yes” and “no.” Make a column for each and show students your brainstorming process.


  •  helps communities
  •  teaches important life lessons
  •  provides real-life experiences


  • has less meaning if forced
  • students may not have time and may have to cut work hours (some students have their own families)
  • can a student meet all other requirements and still not graduate?
  • who supervises the volunteer work? will students cheat?

Students find the idea funny, but I encourage them to choose whatever option has the most support. (They normally joke that I’m encouraging them to lie). The test readers are less interested in the actual answer compared to the support and writing style.


  • Be sure the ideas are different enough for a paragraph alone. Otherwise, combine them. (I show students my thinking behind this and use this as an opportunity for organizing ideas).
  • Decide on the strongest support – it should be last in the body paragraphs.

Help students see that these brainstormed points can be topic sentences for each body paragraph. The side not used (in the example, the “yes” side) should be the analytical and oppositional paragraph. Those paragraphs can begin with critics may say… others believe… however…

Working on introductions and conclusions has endless possibilities and each teacher has his or her own style. I encourage students to start with an anecdote or quote, but acknowledge they may be limited without research. Since they are also short on time, I stress that they should consider the introduction and conclusion together – they do not want them to be similar, but rather continue the theme and send the same message.

Any standardized test with a writing portion can be daunting. Giving students the simple tool of brainstorming will empower them and organize their writing. In written feedback from teaching test prep, students consistently tell me when they see me write, change my ideas, and fix my mistakes they are more confident. Brainstorming before starting the writing portion will save students time.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee Moss, a secondary language arts instructor, has taught for over a decade. She has a B.S. in English Education and a M.A. in Teaching and Leadership; visit her Teachers Pay Teachers Store for a variety of products.

Humor: An Informal Formative Assessment

Is a smile formative assessment? Can comics really have an educational purpose?

The Common Core standard was HSS-ID.C.9: Distinguish between correlation and causation. The class: Algebra IB, 9th graders. Students had first hypothesized the difference, and then viewed a 10 minute video on correlation versus causation. This was followed by charts published by Business Week emphasizing the absurdity of correlation implying causation and then supported by a close (yes close and not cloze… apparently there is a difference in MD) reading activity with an online article. Even after this thorough investigation of correlation versus causation, did students really get it?

Formative assessment time
Normally in math, students are tested on their ability to perform some mathematical operation. In this case though, students needed to apply a concept as they often do in a social studies course. For a check on student comprehension of key ideas, a colleague tipped me off to using content-specific humor. (Thanks Surya!)

The moment of truth: Students are presented a comic only humorous to those who understand the underlying concept.

correlation comic

Correlation by xkcd. Image linked to site.

Hold your breath. Wait for it. Wait for it… Okay no belly laughs, but a smirk, another smile, a student who says “Oh!” While informal, in that moment it is clearly evident whether the students have a grasp of the content or not. Warning: Sometimes the truthful answer is “Not.”

Hint: Sometimes it helps if you read the comic aloud.

Humor is definitely not limited to comics. The audio recording of the Verizon Dollars versus Cents debacle acted as the informal formative assessment for dimensional analysis. “The Real Meaning of MPH” youtube clip, humor as a formative assessment for rate of change, really did cause belly laughs, yet one girl confessed, “I still don’t get it.” (Remediation was provided for the student).

Do you teach another subject? Humor as an informal formative assessment may be even more applicable in other subject areas. I am definitely jealous of the plethora of political cartoons available to the social studies department. Comics English is a website dedicated to using comics in the ELA classroom. I can only imagine what kind of comics could be found for the foreign language classroom.

What sources have you found useful for finding content-specific humor? If using humor as formative assessment, would you explain the humor to students who didn’t “get it” or wait to see if they see the humor after reteaching of the content?

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.

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.

Using old multiple-choice tests for collaborative and engaging test review

Don’t throw out those old multiple-choice tests!

By Christina Schneider

 Planning and implementing a review for upcoming standardized and formative assessments does not have to be mundane and monotonous. One of the most effective and engaging (and common core aligned) multiple-choice-modifiedtest review strategies I’ve used in my classroom is one that works in every academic discipline and requires little to no preparation and planning. In fact, you probably already have all of the review materials you need stored away somewhere in your classroom in an old filing cabinet! All you will need is a class set of an old multiple-choice exam on the same topic that you no longer have a use for.

 Through the years, I’ve found that many students, especially struggling students and English learner students, work best in collaborative groups. And that is one of the reasons why this strategy is so effective. The students work together to find the right answer and support the answer with evidence found in whatever material you are covering. This strategy works equally well with fiction and non-fiction text.

 To begin the review session, assign your students into small groups. I prefer groups of 3-4 to make sure that every student is participating. Then, give each student a copy of the same multiple-choice test. Their task is to not only collaborate and work together to correctly answer all of the questions, but to also find and cite textual evidence that supports the answers they have chosen. As the groups work together to complete this task, they are effectively reviewing for an upcoming test, actively participating in test taking strategies, and authentically learning how to support their answers with valid and sufficient text-based evidence.

 Some of the best small group discussion I have ever heard in my classroom has come from this group activity.

“I think the answer to number 3 is B because in the text it says that…”

 “But, I think the answer to number 3 is D. Look right here. This sentence says…”

 As the students work together to identify the correct answer and provide supporting evidence, they have to analyze and evaluate which evidence is the best and which answer is the most correct.

 So next time you plan on having a review day in class for an upcoming assessment, go through some old filing cabinets, find an old multiple-choice exam, and have your students complete this review activity. You will be amazed at how engaged your students will be at finding and supporting their answers and at how well it helps them prepare for the test.

 Square image1Christina is a high school English and journalism teacher in Southern California.

Formative Assessment in Social Studies

By Brandon Bowyer

Formative assessment probably seems like a buzz word at this point.  Professional journals and administrators are pushing formative assessment more and more.  It can seem like a foreign concept, but it’s likely that you’re already using it in your classroom.  In this blog post, I will explain the two types of formative assessment that I use in the social studies classroom and why it’s important to use formative assessments every day.

        The most common way to explain the difference between formative and summative assessment is by using the phrases assessment “for learning” instead of assessment “of learning.”  To be honest, this can just make the difference between formal and summative assessment confusing.  Formative assessment should be used as the students are learning.  It’s a way to check in with students to see if they’re getting the content and concepts you’re teaching.  Summative assessment, on the other hand, should be used after students have learned the content and concepts.  This would be a chapter quiz, unit test, mid-term exam, or a final exam.  Summative assessment ensures that your students have learned the material and are ready to move on to the next chapter, unit, or class.

        There are two type of formative assessment I use in my classroom: formal and informal.  I think of them as two ways to take the temperature of the room.  Informal formative assessment is like looking at a thermometer.  It’s quick, easy, you know the average temperature of the class, it gives you an idea of how hot or cold the room is, but not where the hot spots and cold spots are.  Formal formative assessment is like using a temperature gun.  By pointing it at different students, you get a feel for how hot or cold they are, and by looking at the spots overall you get the temperature of the room.  It takes a little more time, but you get much more information.  Formative assessment arms you with data about your classroom.  You can see who’s struggling with the content and intervene before the summative assessment.

        Now that we have a handle on the difference between formal and informal formative assessment, here’s how I use it in the classroom.  Informal formative assessment is quick and easy.  One great way to do this is by using “cell phone reception.”  After we’ve covered a topic I’ll ask my students to show me their reception.  Three fingers or full bars means they’ve got it; two fingers or bars means they’re okay to move on, but many have questions; one finger or bar means they need more help; and no fingers or no reception means they need to go over the topic again.  I ask the students to show their reception by putting their fingers over their heart (like saying the Pledge of Allegiance).  This keeps students’ feelings relatively private and keeps them from being influenced by others. Continue reading

Turn Cell Phones into a Tool for Formative Assessment

By Kim

Even though cell phones can lead to problems in the classroom, the reality is that they are here to stay.  If your school policy allows it, turn cell phones into a tool for formative assessment with! Additionally, teachers can create polls which allow students to provide their responses on computers via the Internet.  Using “live audience participation,” educators can use this website to engage their students and incorporate technology into their lessons.  For K-12 educators, it’s free to use and there are a variety instructional uses.

For many students in the United States, they will soon be expected to demonstrate their learning on the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Assessments.  A new question format that students will confront is the Evidence-Based Selected Response (EBSR) item.  These are two-part questions, one traditional selected-response item that is followed by the EBSR, which asks students to show the text evidence that led them to the answer in the first item.

No matter whether your students will face PARCC assessments, EBSRs encourage them to employ Close Reading for their learning, so it is an effective question format to try with your classes.  For instance, many students read the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Here is an example for how a teacher could use a poll to assess her students’ understanding of a character.


PollEverywhere screenshot

In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout may be described as being innocent.  Which quotation from the book best supports this description of Scout?

Answer selections:

 “I told Atticus I didn’t feel very well and didn’t think I’d go to school any more if it was all  right with him”  (16)

  “I leaped off the steps and ran down the catwalk. It was easy to collar Francis. I said take it back quick.” (45)

 “ ‘Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I’m Jean Louise Finch…I go to school with Walter.’ ” (153)

“I could see nothing in Mayella’s expression to justify Atticus’s assumption that he had secured her wholehearted cooperation.”  (175)

Continue reading