The Hands-On Formative Assessment Strategy that Students and Teachers Love

Halfway through my first year of teaching, a student asked me, “why don’t we ever do anything fun in English class?” I knew I had a problem. Next door, the math teacher was running games and activities several times a week, but I felt like I didn’t know where to start with that in ELA.

My favorite strategy I’ve discovered to encourage collaboration and interaction among my students is with the use of sort cards.

Sort cards are used for concepts that have lots of terms to remember, like figurative language, types of conflict, rhetorical devices, or literary terms. I find that the more practice and exposure kids have to examples of these terms, the better they remember them. That’s what these cards do: encourage lots of practice turns and feedback–the most significant thing teachers can do to make learning stick.

Teachers have told me that they use the “Fan and Pick” method with these cards. This is done with 4 people in a group. Player #1 fans the cards and holds them for player #2. The #2 player picks the card and reads it aloud for the group, giving the group ample think time. The #3 player answers the question, and the #4 player responds to the answer, verifying its accuracy. After each turn, the roles switch and the players take turns with each responsibility. It sounds like a fun way to review, and I’m eager to try it!

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Fan & Pick placemat for student reference

The reason I like sorts is that they’re engaging and hands on. Some students will need to practice a skill 10x or more before they really master it. When you have lots of cards, you can make sure kids get those practice turns. There are many ways to use these– in small groups or as a whole class; at tables or moving around the room.

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Figurative Language Sort

Here’s what some teachers have told me about using sorts:

We have talked so much about figurative language but for some reason it never “clicked” with my students. Being able to see so many wonderful examples from books they have read finally made it click how important figurative language is! Plus it being a sorting activity allowed such deep conversations about why they thought it was that type of figurative language. Wonderful product! -Ashley

Lots of examples, and it really helped my kids to see all the different examples. They started teaching each other when they were stuck! -Kimberly

I laminated mine and had my students put their initials on the back before sorting. My 6 special ed. kiddos enjoyed sorting all 100 cards, and I was able to assess them using their initials on the back! -Kearstin

I did this as a whole class quick review assignment. I put chart paper around the room with the 6 different types of conflict on them, and each group was given 10 cards. They had to work together to figure out where they went, and when I checked, if any were wrong, I would ask the whole class where it belonged.
 -Lauren

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Types of Conflict sort

I’ve made sorts for concepts that have many terms to keep straight, including figurative language, types of conflict, and rhetorical devices (ethos, logos and pathos.) Check them out here.

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