15 Ways to Review Before the Next Test

ReviewOver the years I have gone back and forth about the necessity of review days.  Sometimes they have felt like a cop out or a waste of time and sometimes they have felt like a much needed way to pull together the big picture from a long unit of study.  Review days can also be a strategy for teaching students how to study, which they can then take into other courses.  I think the keys to review days are:

  • having a variety of strategies to pull from according to subject, length of unit, and type of upcoming assessment
  • keeping the goals in mind and avoiding busy work (Goals may be SAT vocab rote memorization, literary analysis essay preparation, or many other necessary pursuits)

In the spirit of adding to our collective review toolbox, I’m sharing 15 review techniques, and I would love to hear your additions and thoughts in the comment section below!

1. Create a timeline: This is especially effective for reviewing a novel or play.  Students can work alone or in small groups.  You can also include a requirement for properly cited quotes or visual aids.

2. Add a post it: In this technique, the teacher places large poster boards around the room with topics to review and then students add  post it notes about what they know from that topic with no repeats!  For example, for a 20th century American poetry unit could have large posters titles: The Imagists,  The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, The Harlem Renaissance, and Robert Frost.  After students add post it notes, you can go over them as a class and organize them in ways that make sense.  Students can write down the notes or take a picture at the end.

3. Silent ball:  I love this game!  I explain it in detail in this post if you want to click over.

4. Jeopardy and other game templates:  These can be found in google presentations and be easily modified to fit your topic.

5. Student created quizzes: Allow students to anticipate and prepare for questions on the test.  This is a great strategy for students preparing for other classes and college too.

6. Jigsaw presentations or gallery walks: In pairs, groups, or individuals, give students a part of the overall content and have them create presentations or visuals to help reinforce their concept.  For example, students could each tackle a literary or poetic device.

7. Quizlet: This is especially powerful for studying vocabulary or sets of facts.  I explain how I use it in this post.

8. Quiz, Quiz, Trade: In this Kagan inspired technique, students create flashcards and move around quizzing each other and trading cards.  Something about moving while studying really helps some students.  I explain further here as part of my tips for spicing up summer school.

9. Graphic organizers: Challenge students to use a graphic organizer to make sense of their notes.  On the board, draw examples of flow charts, Venn Diagrams, T charts, spider maps, and other organizers and then let them use their own logic to create!

10. Map it out/Make connections: After I have done a few of my visual maps in earlier units, I challenge students to come up with the best map for a later unit.  Here is my post about the visuals I create.

11. Highlight important notes: It is simple, but a lasting technique that students can do on their own time after walking through it once with a teacher.  Some students would just never think of this simple strategy for studying any subject.

12. Mnemonic Devices: Challenge students to create mnemonics in the form of pictures, songs, acronyms, or other memory joggers.  They can share them with each other after creating them.

13. Text convos: It is a little silly, but students have fun using text language to write memorable dialogues between characters or using vocabulary words.  The conversations should be laced with the information that they need to know.

14. Snowball fight: I have a co-worker who enjoys this game, which you can read about here.

15. Socratic Seminar: I find this especially helpful when students are preparing for essay examinations because it helps them see more perspectives outside of the obvious.  I explain the way socratic seminar works in my room in this post.

What would you add to this list?  We would love to keep this list going!

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Students Gaming the Classroom

Game the systemRecently, I have been feeling the frustration that bubbles up every once in a while when I find students trying to subvert their own education through trickery.  Sure, teachers will always battle the homework copiers, cheat sheet creators, plagiarizers, and last minute project workers, but the students that really get to me are the ones who spend so much time finding ways to trick the system when they could spend the same amount of time studying and legitimately learn! I try really, really hard to inspire students to care about their own education over and above a pursuit of the almighty grade.  Sometimes I fail miserably.  Here are a couple of struggles I’ve faced lately and what I am trying to do about them.  I’d love to hear how you handle students when they try to game your systems.

1. The  serial, strategic absentee: I’ve had a few of these over the years.  They are almost always absent on the day of a test or when a paper is due.  They ask their friends about the questions and prepare accordingly; they take the extra weekend to write their papers. They always come back to class with an excused re-admit so I can never be 100% sure.  This has bothered me so much that I have actually spent countless hours creating alternative, but equitable assessments.  I’m ashamed that I’ve let this get under my skin and take time away from  creating meaningful content for all of my students, but I hope that it has taught a valuable lesson to the few.  I have also enacted a strict rule about emailing me papers on the due date regardless of the reason for absence.  The policy is posted on my syllabus and on every essay prompt I hand out.

2. The tech-saavy: I usually have students put their phones in a basket or in the front of the class during major assessments, but I recently caught a student cheating with a pebble watch that receives texts and other phone notifications.  He had somehow prescheduled to text his notes to himself that would show up on his watch during an in-class essay.  Technology moves so fast  that it is almost impossible to head off tech-savvy cheating at the pass, but we can always strive to be vigilant and work toward assessment that embraces technology instead of shunning it.

3. The advantage taker: My students use quizlet to study for weekly SAT/ACT vocabulary word quizzes (here is the post about how it works).  I give a couple extra credit points each week for the student who has the best score in space race and scatter.  I also use the data that quizlet collects on flashcard study time and practice test results when I conference with parents.  More importantly, I have seen an improvement in vocabulary scores for students who use quizlet regularly.  With all of the great results, you can understand why I was saddened to learn that a couple of students have found ways to cheat the games to get a high score for the extra credit without actually studying.  All I could manage to say to the students when I caught them was, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”  I’m not sure where I go from here with this one since I want to encourage use of the service still.

How do you deal with tricky students?  What do you face head on and what do you let go?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!


How to Structure a Simple Classroom Debate

DebateOne of my teacher resolutions this year is to help students grapple with complexity.  I want them to read both fiction and informational texts with an eye to layers of meaning and multiple perspectives.  Discussion is one tool to accomplish this goal and I’ve told you how much I love Socratic Seminar and Literature Circles, but today I want to talk about using debate in the classroom.  DISCLAIMER: I am not trained in the classical form of debate, which has very particular goals, rules, and regulations. While I respect my colleagues who lead debate teams, I find that many English teachers I know do not know the traditional debate rules and many English students I know do not have the same kind of enthusiasm for every class period that many debate team members have for every debate.  So instead of adhering to the structure, I am just going to offer some advice for preparing a simple classroom debate.

1. Create a clear rubric. RubiStar has some really good and flexible debate rubrics.  Here are some categories to consider adding:

  • Clarity of information
  • Credibility of Sources
  • Rebuttal
  • Rhetorical Strategies
  • Presentation Style (eye contact, tone of voice, etc.)
  • Balance of Team Participation
  • Respect for other team

2. Pick Teams and Roles. Depending on how big the class is, you may need to split up into 2 debates.  I try to keep my teams to a 12 person maximum so that everyone on the team can reasonably participate within a class period.  It is also nice to assign a team captain or two who can help organize information and balance participation. You may also consider splitting a team into a main argument team and a rebuttal team, each with a captain.  This helps structure things without too much teacher intervention.

3. Allow time for research. If you rush the preparation, the debate can easily fizzle with simple heated opinions not supported in evidence. As English teachers, we need to focus on teaching the art of succinct and credible evidence to back up claims.  This is a perfect opportunity.  I usually require students to turn in debate prep so that I can see what they came up with even if they do not get to use it all in the debate.  I encourage them to use and cite a variety of credible sources.

4. Structure the time. In order to encourage participation, have some kind of a structure that students know in advance.  The structure can easily be adjusted to fit your schedule and needs, it is just there as an outline. Here is what I do:

  • Affirmative Constructive Argument: 12 minutes
  • Negative Constructive Argument: 12 minutes
  • Affirmative Rebuttal: 6 minutes
  • Negative Rebuttal: 6 minutes
  • Final Thoughts and cross talk: up to 6 minutes
  • Teacher feedback and wrap up: 5 minutes

5. Set up discussion norms.  Depending on the topic, debates can get heated and personal.  In order to help maintain a calm and professional debate, set up and enforce ground rules like:

  • Speak so that everyone can hear you clearly
  • Listen closely to all participants.
  • Use visual cues to jump into the conversation when appropriate. Don’t raise your hands.
  • Base all opinions on the text and refer to it frequently.
  • Address all comments to the group. Don’t look only at the teacher and refrain from side conversations.
  • Be respectful to each other. Use conversation techniques like:
    • “I agree with what you said and I would like to add…”
    • “I understand your perspective, but on the other hand…”
    • “I think it is also important to note…”
  • Try not to interrupt each other. If two people start talking at the same time, make eye contact and one person defer to the other.
  • Monitor your own participation. Be sure to speak up, but also avoid monopolizing the conversation.
  • Be passionate in your own critical thinking, but don’t be afraid to change your mind if your peers present compelling arguments.
  • Ask for clarification if and when you need it.


Do your students debate?  What questions or tips do you have for our teacher community?

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