Using the right strategies to check for understanding can completely transform your classroom and enhance your students understanding. Whether you’re teaching a new concept or reviewing past lessons, it’s important to make sure that your students are satisfying the objectives you’ve set. Conducting a check for understanding is a great way to do this, and it doesn’t have to be boring!
Ways to check for student understanding
As teachers, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your students understand what they are being taught. We therefore need to possess good teaching qualities such as effective communication and good listening skills in order to do this and check for understanding effectively. Here are a 31 ways to check for understanding in your classroom:
Show your thumbs
You can just ask your students to put their thumbs up if they understand something, and put their thumbs down if they don’t. You can check for understanding by asking one of the students with their thumbs up for an explanation. That way the class won’t just put their thumbs up each time when they want you to move on, as they will know that they might need to answer something!
A slightly more advanced version of show your thumbs! You can set a designated signal (preferably something subtle) for students to use so they can indicate how confident they are in their understanding of what has just been taught. For example, ask the class to:
Touch your forehead if you can understand the lesson fully and explain it to another in your own words.
Pull on your ear (gently) if you are not completely sure or doubt something. This way you can explain it one more time using different examples if needed.
Put palms up if you cannot understand it and will not be able to explain it.
This type of self-assessment, while not always reliable, can be a helpful tool for checking for understanding if you use it wisely. Keeping the signals subtle will prevent the students from being embarrassed by admitting that they cannot understand something.
Agree or disagree
You can present a binary-choice question and have the student answer yes/no, true/false, or agree/disagree. But don’t leave it there. Check for students’ understanding by making them explain why. For example, the word “jump” is a noun. Agree or disagree? Why?
Make a picture
Have your student draw or illustrate the concept using a graph or a concept map. For example, how do we change the present tense of a regular verb to its past tense? The student can draw a graph or illustration detailing the rules and provide examples. Asking students to make a picture is another way that you can check for understanding that is not in written form.
Find the flaw
Present a concept that has an error or a conceptual flaw and have the class troubleshoot it. For example, show the student a sentence containing an error in word usage and ask them what word can be used to replace it.
In this sentence, “I cannot except the gift,” what word is used wrong? What word should we replace it with? The answer is except, and we need to replace it with accept.
In a nutshell
Have your students summarize big ideas in their own words. One good example is to have your students effectively “tweet” a summary because it limits the number of words they can use. Being able to express the concept in a lesson in one’s own words shows that the students understand the lesson well.
Apply it in real life
Students remember concepts better if they know that they can use them in life. For example, the use of adjectives can be applied by creating a product advertisement where the students will need to describe certain items.
Teacher for the day
Have your student be the teacher for the day by having him or her teach the concepts to a classmate. Listen in and check if the concepts being shared are correct. Help students when they get stuck or need some guidance as they conduct their classes.
Make an analogy
Being able to relate one idea to another is a valuable tool and can better showcase one’s understanding. You can have your students complete the prompt, “___ is to / like ___ because ____” An example would be, “An adverb is like an adjective because it is also a describing word.”
Note that if you are going to try out this strategy, be ready to have the students explain and qualify their answers, and make sure it is suitable for their level.
Post your questions
Give your students small pieces of paper where they can write their questions. After going over a concept, collect those questions and spend the time answering them. The anonymity of the process will allow the students to ask without feeling embarrassed. The kinds of questions you receive will also tell you how much the students have understood the lessons.
What do you remember? What have you learned?
You can ask students to make a chart of facts and opinions that they have regarding a lesson. Fact: The word “beside” is a preposition. Opinion: I prefer using the preposition “beside” rather than “next to.”
This example is for more advanced students, you can tailor it to the student’s level as you see fit.
Use an online quiz
Students who dislike writing might answer faster if you use an online quiz. A short assessment using a well-crafted multiple choice quiz is a great way to check for understanding. It can also give you an idea of where to focus during your next lesson.
Teachers who are not comfortable using online resources can start by sharing a document where their students can type their answers.
Use response devices
Pose a question for the class in the middle of any lesson. Preferably in the form that can be answered in one to two words. Check for understanding by having the students write their answers on a whiteboard, index card, or magnetic board. If the majority of the students are answering correctly, you can take this as a sign to move on to the next topic. If not, then you need to change your approach or reteach the ideas.
Use the four corners of the classroom
Assessments need not be in the form of a worksheet. You can also try strategies that will make students leave their seats. A great way to check if the students understand the lesson and get them moving is to have them move to the four corners of the classroom after giving them a prompt. Assign where they should go if they strongly agree / strongly disagree / somewhat agree / are not sure about a certain concept. For example, read out four sentences and ask them which one is grammatically correct.
Share by pairs
Have students partner up and give them some time to discuss a prompt or question with a partner using vocabulary that has already been covered in class. By listening in, you can conduct checks for understanding on more than one student at once. Then, if you still have more time, you can have the partners share their answers with the rest of the class.
End it with a simple quiz
End your lesson by having your students answer a simple one-question assessment. It could be done on paper or online using any platform. Construct the test so that it will allow for a comprehensive yet short answer.
Ticket to the exit
Prepare short prompts or questions that your students have to answer before they can leave the classroom. This could be a question that they did not want to ask or answer in class, or something that you’ve been studying that day. Conducting required checks for understanding such as this will let the students know that they have to engage and participate. However, it’s important to remember that you’re there to help students with their learning and increase their understanding. At no stage should you make them feel like they are trapped in the classroom. You should therefore already have developed a good relationship with your students if you’re planning 0n using this exercise for checking for understanding.
Have your students write a journal entry about what they learned for the day (or a specific period). It can be how the lesson can be applied in their lives, an experience related to the concept, or a strategy that they find useful in mastering a certain skill. Ask students to be honest with their entries.
If you are discussing a multi-step process in class, you can ask your students to perform the process and document it themselves as they do it. They can then produce a scrapbook of sorts using the pictures.
Quiz the class
Have your students come up with questions that they want their classmates to answer. Make sure to check the items before letting the rest of the class answer. You can do this as you compile the question in quiz form.
Stump the teacher
This is when the teachers become the students. Have the students ask you a question related to the topic that you’ve just covered. You can check for student understanding by assessing the quality of the questions that each student poses. While this is one of the more interesting ways to check for understanding, you need to make sure that you’re 100% confident in the subject matter as the teacher. After all, you don’t want to get caught out and lose face in front of your students!
In my experience
Unlock any prior knowledge regarding a topic by having your students talk about a related experience. For example, ask them if they’ve ever seen a funny sign that made no sense because of the use of wrong grammar.
Identify the key
After telling a story or reading out a passage, have your students tell you what the key concept is. You can also have them identify the theme or lesson.
Build your vocabulary
Choose certain keywords that are central to a particular lesson. Include them in a word bank and have your students look up the definitions.
If you want to add a bit of fun to this you can get your students to look up the longest words in English and have them try to pronounce them.
Identify the important terms that you will be using or have already used in a given topic. Make a word hunt (or even a crossword puzzle) using the keywords. There are numerous online resources that you can use to generate these worksheets for the whole class.
Make a comic strip
Sometimes, writing an essay can be boring. Of course, your students will still need to write essays from time to time, but if it is applicable for certain lessons, ask them to make a comic strip instead. This way, they can also draw upon their knowledge, practice writing dialogues, and respond to questions in a more creative manner.
Provide a situation and have your students try to guess what happens next based on a set of given. This is a good way to determine if your students can apply past lessons to the situation given. For example, if you are studying different forms of conflict in a story, you can ask your students to guess what will happen next depending on the types of conflict.
Make teaching videos
Have your students make short teaching videos of themselves. This is a great exercise that will not only have them looking closely at the topic covered, but it will also give them the chance to practice script-writing, presenting orally, and even video editing. Compile these videos and show them in class if the students are willing to share their work. You can also get them to watch their videos back as a form of self assessment.
Create an infographic or poster
Have your class research a given topic and ask them to make a poster. Since this is a time-consuming activity, you can assign this as group work. It is up to you to decide whether the poster needs to be done using actual materials like markers and paper or digitally.
Hold a debate
Holding a debate will force your students to look closely into a given topic. They will need to come up with an opinion and find valid proof to support that opinion. Besides being an amazing way to check for understanding, debating is also a good skill to develop.
Split your class into small groups and have them play charades against each other. There are many ways to use this game as a form of assessment. You can use story titles, names of characters, story settings, and even idiomatic expressions to act out. This can be used as a review of your past lessons or as an energizer for your upcoming ones.
There are a multitude of strategies to check for understanding. Doing quick assessments on your student’s understanding of particular concepts can be very helpful in any classroom.
By frequently checking for understanding, you can ensure that your students are keeping up with the material and make any necessary adjustments to your teaching methods. Note that checking for understanding doesn’t need to be graded. There doesn’t have to be a pass or fail.
What checking for understanding should provide is an effective measure of whether you need to review your approach as the teacher. You may find that you need to change your instruction methods, or modify your assessment tools.
It should also enable you to provide students with instant feedback, avoiding any misunderstandings that you’d have a harder time correcting down the line. This can be particularly important in language instruction where you want to avoid any fossilized errors.
If you can think of any other strategies to check for understanding that you use in the classroom, feel free to let us know in the comments!