Test prep can be a drag for all involved, but it doesn't have to be. Test prep can be meaningful and engaging with these on-your-feet activities to help your students master the skills needed to succeed.
1. Set up an escape room.
I have a whole blog post dedicated to creating your own escape room for ELA, and the tips are the same for test prep escape rooms. Start with the skills and standards in mind, then design each task around one specific skill or standard. Get creative by adding cipher wheels and codes to turn multiple choice answers into clues.
In my 7th grade ELA classes, students completed a close reading and multiple choice escape room to help prepare them for our state exam. In order to "escape," students had to complete a close read of an article, identify the types of multiple choice questions (inference, author's purpose, text structure, text evidence, etc.), rank answer choices on a bulls-eye of best (the bulls-eye) to worst (the outermost ring), match questions to the evidence in the text, and then actually answer the questions.
Students were completely engaged in their tasks, and they were learning the importance of close reading, looking back in the text, and identifying the BEST answer in multiple choice. The bulls-eye strategy became the go-to method of choosing the correct multiple choice answer while avoiding what we call the "distractor" answer.
Click here to see the escape room I used to prepare my students for the test.
2. Stations are your best friend.
Stations are amazing tools for a variety of purposes. Using stations for test prep gets kids moving, doing the work of learning (as opposed to passively listening to directions), and can be adapted to almost any study.
My students complete stations to review short answer writing strategies. We use the RACCE strategy to write short answers, an acronym that stands for Restate, Answer, Cite, Cite, Explain. Each station focuses on perfecting one part of the RACCE acronym. Additionally, I set up a station where students practice scoring sample answers to help familiarize them with short answer writing expectations. I also set up a RACCE sorting station where students identify the parts of a RACCE answer and put them in order, helping students to think deeply about how the different parts function in a solid short answer.
Create stations to review writing practices or even to review different multiple choice strategies. Simply create checklists or activities at each station and decide whether to let kids move at their own pace or to rotate through stations in timed groups.
3. Get kids thinking with Chalk Talk.
Print out or photocopy examples of essay writing or short answer writing at different levels. Attach the sample writing to poster paper, number them, and hang them around your classroom.
Give students sticky notes, markers, and the rubric used to score that writing piece. Instruct students to silently walk around the classroom and score each writing piece. Tell students to write their score and a brief explanation on their sticky note to attach to the posters.
After 15 minutes, tell students to stop and count off in groups (create enough groups so one group is at each poster). Tell students to gather at the poster labeled with their group number (group three goes to poster three). At their poster, task students with reading through the sticky notes. Then, instruct students to synthesize what they find and, along with their knowledge of the rubric, decide on a final score.
Each group will then present their score and their rubric-based rationale to the class. After discussing the scores, brainstorm a list of qualities of effective test writing that students can review to prepare themselves for the exam.
New York State shares sample student writing at each rubric level here. I use the samples for this activity, and at the end of our chalk talk, I reveal which groups scored in line with the state. Kids love hearing how the state scores writing on the test, and chalk talk gives them a clear understanding of expectations.
4. Give a strategy. Get a strategy.
A really easy way to get kids on their feet while preparing them for test taking is with the Give one. Get one. Move on protocol.
Instruct students to brainstorm a list of strategies for any part of your test. Then, tell them to walk around the classroom to music. When the music stops, instruct students to meet with the student nearest to them and give a strategy, get a strategy, then move on to another student to repeat. Students continue giving and getting strategies then moving on until they have a full list of strategies they can apply on the test.
This strategy requires zero prep, it's effective, and kids are engaged.
5. Let students create anchor charts with test taking tips.
Anchor charts provide students with a visual resource they can use as they prep for a test. I've done anchor charts with my students in two different ways.
In one, I attached the different sections of our state exam onto poster paper. I divided students into groups and instruct them to create a tip sheet for a particular section of the test. For example, for the multiple choice section, students annotate around that page of the test with strategies and ideas for mastering the reading and multiple choice (see the pic below).
In another interactive anchor chart strategy, I created large anchor charts for each part of our short answer strategy, RACCE. I printed them as blueprints at our local office supply store so they were large (24x36) and inexpensive ($3). Once again, students worked in groups, one per poster, and were declared experts on that specific part of the short answer. Students created their anchor charts in groups, then presented them to the class. After the presentations, I hung the anchor charts, and the students completed a practice using the anchor charts for reference.
Test prep does not have to be bland. It doesn't have to interrupt the momentum of your school year with boring drills. Test prep can be engaging and meaningful, teaching our students strategies that will make them better readers and writers beyond the test.
Have you tried any on-your-feet test prep activities? I'd love to hear about them. Share your ideas in the comments below.