State testing season can be a stressful time for both teachers and students. As the pressure mounts, it’s easy to fall into the trap of teaching to the test. But before you start turning your classroom into a drill sergeant boot camp, it’s important to remember that there’s a better way!
Teaching to the Test
Teaching to the test is like only feeding your child zucchini. Sure, it’s good for them, but a well-rounded diet is better. It’s the same in the classroom. If all you do is focus on the material that’s going to be on the test, you’re ignoring all the other important stuff that your students need to learn. Plus, it’s just not fun for them!
So, instead of abandoning that novel unit you wanted to do, and focusing only on test prep in the weeks leading up to state testing, why not incorporate some fun test prep activities into your existing curriculum?
Test Prep Activity: Direction Words
One effective strategy is to take a class period or two to go over common direction words that students will encounter on state testing and in their day to day ELA lessons.
These direction words include: analyze, explain, illustrate, compare, contrast, interpret, summarize, demonstrate, indicate, infer, describe, support, define, and convey.
Taking the time to explicitly teach students the meaning of these words and how they are used in questions whether on a test, in an essay prompt, or even in a class discussion, is critical for students’ success!
If students don’t understand EXACTLY what these words mean, how can you expect them to do well on tests or take their class discussions to the next level?
That would be like you trying to make homemade bread and reading the instruction, “Activate the yeast,” and having no idea what “activate” means.
Do you think your bread will come out right if you don’t know that to correctly “activate the yeast,” you must dissolve it in warm liquid? Of course not!
It’s the same for your students. They must explicitly be taught these common direction words, be able to identify them, define them, and understand how they are being used in a question, so they can effectively answer it.
To help students master these words, it’s crucial to consistently review them. You might make a word wall in your classroom, use the words in your class discussions, do a whole group activity where you analyze how these direction words are used in different questions.
Once students are familiar with those words, see how you can incorporate them into your existing curriculum and lesson plans. If you’re in the middle of a novel or short story unit, or even an informational text unit, consider how you can make some or all of these words show up everyday in some capacity.
For example, you can use direction words in the questions you create for a Socratic seminar or silent debate. You can also use them in an investigation trail, which is a teaching strategy in which students work in small groups to answer a series of questions posted around the room. Each question includes multiple choice answers, and depending on what answer they choose, students are directed to another question in the room.
If they answer each question correctly, students will complete a full loop of all the questions.
However, if they find themselves at a question they’ve already answered, it indicates that at least one of their answers is incorrect.
Whether it’s identifying the main idea in informational text, analyzing connotations and denotations, or finding relevant text evidence, come up with 10 questions that have multiple choice answers and make sure the questions all include those commonly found direction words described above.
Incorporating fun test prep activities (like learning these direction words!) into your existing curriculum not only helps your students do well on state testing, but also makes the learning process more enjoyable for them. So, don’t let state testing season stress you out. Instead, use it as an opportunity to make learning more engaging and effective for your students!