This is the third post in a series focused on improving our practices for reading during class. First, I offered some do’s and a don’t for in-class reading assignments. Then, I shared some online sources for free supplemental texts. Here are some options you can use to gauge your students’ understanding of the texts they’re reading.

One Question, One Comment

Students respond to the reading or classroom discussion with one question and one comment (in writing).  Use these questions and comments as the basis for a class discussion.  One student starts by sharing his/her comment or question.  The next student can respond by answering the previous question, building on the comment, or sharing his/her own question or comment.  This is an excellent way to assess homework reading.   

Acrostic Sentences

This strategy allows students to improve their writing skills while recalling important information from the text/lesson.  I like to choose a longer keyword associated with the topic, at least eight letters long. I have students write that word down the left margin of their page, skipping a couple of lines between each line.  To complete the assignment, they write sentences about the topic and each sentence must start with a word that starts with the letter in the margin.  You can increase the rigor by requiring the use of vocabulary words in the sentences.   

I especially like to use this exercise to build background knowledge. Over the years, I’ve collected a number of books about Shakespeare’s life and times and I’ll give each student a book to review and this worksheet. Sure, I’ll get some boring sentences like “He was born in Stratford,” but letters like A challenge them to come up with interesting beginnings and varied sentence structure: After moving to London,… or Although he was an actor,…. The challenge of using all the letters makes them dig into the text to find ideas that fit, rather than just copying the first 11 facts they find. (Click on the image of the worksheet to download a free .pdf version.)

Three Words

Post this question: “Which three words best describe _______?”  Have your students choose three words of their own and then explain why they chose these three.  You can stop there or if time allows and the topic is significant enough, use these words for something else.  Partners or trios can share words or the whole class can create a collective list.  Evaluate the words on the combined lists and then students choose the best word and explain their reasoning.   

Four R’s

This strategy is nice because it gives students choice, but still allows you to know whether or not they read the text or understood the lesson. You can project a slide (like this) that explains each of the Four R’s (restate, react, remember, or respond with questions). Students should select one of the four and write their response.

Brain Dump/Retrieval Practice

This is a great review strategy where you just ask students to write down everything they recall about a topic, without regard for structure, and without looking at the text or their notes. Some students may want to just list key ideas, others may create a word web, while some may prefer to write a paragraph. You could collect their notes or just use them as the foundation for a class discussion/review.


Each of these options could serve as a quick reading check and a formative assessment, allowing you to find out whether or not your students understood the reading. Additionally, you’ll notice your class discussions include more students and more ideas—the act of writing before speaking inspires confidence in many of our otherwise quiet students.

Give one of these a try—modify it as you see fit—and let us know how it went in the comments.

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