20 Ideas on How to Check for Understanding

What’s the best way to check for students understanding and increase their gains? According to 250 empirical studies, the best way to do it is through formative assessment. Checking for understanding is part of a formative assessment system in which teachers identify learning goals, provide students feedback, and then plan instruction based on students’ errors and misconceptions.

In this post I listed 20 ways I check for understanding in my classroom. Hopefully, you’ll find one that you like.

1. Invent a 6-question Quiz (including the answer key)

Sometimes I use my students’ quizzes as a formative assessment for our next class. It helps them to refresh the information from our last class. The instruction for their quiz is simple.

Your quiz questions should include:

  • 2 True/False questions
  • 2 Multiple choice questions (4 choices, all relevant, circle all correct answers)
  • 2 Open-ended (higher-order text) questions.

2. Mind Map (Create a mind map that represents a concept)

I usually ask my students to work individually or in groups of two. They use Gliffy website. After they are finished, they are asked to provide their teacher/classmates with the link to their mind map.

3. Summary Paragraph Activity

  • List at least 5 key words from an assigned text.
  • Write a short paragraph with these words. The words must be used in the proper context. Underline each vocabulary word as you use it. 

4. Explain it to your partner

This is a very simple activity. Sometimes I ask my students to explain the main idea using an analogy. I use it when I don’t have too much time before the end of the class, or when I have more than 20 students in my class. While they are explaining the main idea to their partner, I can walk around, and listen to what they have to say. Students also like it as they don’t need to write or read; and talking to a partner is always fun for them.

5. Plickers

This is one of my (and my students) favourite activities. It’s great for providing real-time information about student learning to both the instructor and the students. It also gives all students the chance to participate and engage in learning without feeling self-conscious, since only you will see if their answer is correct or wrong. You need to have a tablet, downloaded set of cards (for your students), and a quiz. To learn more about ways to use it in class and how to set it up, visit their website.

6. Advertisement

The task is simple;

Create an add (include visuals and text) for the newly learned concept. 

I allow my students to either use computers to create their ads or write them on the poster papers. When they finish we set a gallery walk presentations of my students’ ads.

7. Illustration

I ask my students to draw a picture that illustrates a relationship between terms in the text. When they finish, they need to explain in one paragraph their visual representation.

8. KWL Chart

I’m sure many educators use this chart in order to pre-test students’ knowledge or simply check for understanding. I like this chart, since it’s clear for students and provides a good feedback on what my students have learned and what they need to work on. I use this form with my students.

9. Sticky Notes

I ask my students to use sticky notes to describe key points that are notable or to pose a question they have. While they are writing I divide my classroom whiteboard and let my students to put their sticky notes on the board. Left column is used for their Key Points & Left – for their Questions.


10. 3-2-1

Similar to the previous activity, this activity requires the students to list 3 things they’ve found out, 2 interesting things, and 1 question they still have.

11. Simile

What we learned today is like___________

12. Words

What 5-10 words would you use to describe ______________________? Explain why you chose these words.

13. 1 Minute Challenge

In 1 minute, describe (write or talk to your partner) the most meaningful thing you’ve learned in class.

14. 2-Column  notebook

Students are asked to create a two-column table. They use the left column to write down 5-8 important quotations. Then students use the right column to record reactions to the quotations.

15. Twitter Post

Students are asked to define ___________ (topic, concept, etc.) in under 140 characters.

16. Sketch

Students are asked to visually represent new knowledge. When they finish, they can explain their visuals to their partner or the whole class.

17. Colour Cards

I use colour cards when students work individually on the task. This helps me to know if somebody needs help and how everyone progresses through the task.

  • Red = Stop, I need help.
  • Green = Keep going, I understand
  • Yellow = I’m a little confused

Something similar can be found on Pinterest. I prepare these cards, and give each student a set of cards. While working through the assignment, they choose the card that represents their level of understanding.

18. Conference

It is a short, focused discussion between me and one of my students. It works well when I have less students in class or when the rest of the group is working on a separate assignment, and I have time to have this discussion with every single student in my class.

19. Exit Ticket

It goes without saying, that it’s a very popular way of checking for understanding among teachers. This is a good way to have students reflect on lessons learned during class.

20. Misconception check

Sometimes I give my students a common misconception about a topic. i ask my students to explain why they agree or disagree with it. It’s a great way to get my students have a discussion about the topic.


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