The beauty of formative assessments is that they are quick and simple ways to gain useful information. Knowing students’ levels of understanding as a standard or topic is being introduced, explored, and mastered is key to informing our instructional pathways. Having a toolbox with graphic organizers that showcase these levels of understanding at any point in the learning process is invaluable. These four formative organizers do just that.
What it is: 2 or more overlapping circles used to examine relationships by comparing and contrasting.
How it works: Each topic is given its own circle. Where the circles overlap, students list information and traits that the topics have in common. Where there is no overlap, students list information or traits that are unique to each topic.
When to use it: This can be done as a stand-alone method to formatively assess student understanding of relationships at any point in the learning process. It can also be a pre-writing tool to organize information for a compare/contrast essay.
What it is: A graphic organizer to streamline information and make big ideas more manageable.
How it works: (1.) Brainstorm all words and phrases associated with a topic in the Tank. (2.) Choose 3 ways to categorize the brainstormed terms and place the terms that fit each category in a column beneath the tank (e.g., people, places, and events of the Civil War; herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores; characters, conflicts, and themes in a novel). (3.) Create an overall statement or all-encompassing phrase about each column of terms on the diagonal below it. (4.) Use the 3 diagonal statements to make a conceptual summary of the topic.
When to use it: This organizer can be used at any point of instruction to determine how well students are synthesizing information and determining the big ideas.
What it is: A graphic organizer to record terms associated with a given topic of study.
How it works: Students are given a topic (e.g., democracy, The Giver, insects) and fill in the grid with terms and/or phrases associated with the topic for each letter of the alphabet. Students may have to do some creative thinking to find terms for all letters.
When to use it: Use before learning to determine background knowledge of the standard or topic. Use during topic exploration to record new ideas/terms discovered. Use at the end of a unit to determine knowledge gained.
What it is: A graphic organizer where students showcase their level of understanding in written and artistic forms.
How it works: (1.) Students draw a picture or symbol that represents their understanding of the assigned topic. (2.) Students create a list of key words associated with the topic. (3.) Students use the key words listed and any thoughts spurred from the image created to compose a short paragraph summary of the topic. Key words should be checked off the list when used and circled in the paragraph.
When to use it: Use this before instruction to determine background understanding of the topic. Use this during study to gauge levels of understanding. Use this at the end of a unit to determine if key terms and big ideas were mastered.
Giving students the tools to organize information allows teachers to determine levels of understanding. Whether they’re beginning, exploring, or mastering a topic, their interpretation of the big ideas can be determined through graphic organizers. With these four formative assessment techniques, students can showcase their understanding at any point of the learning process and ensure quality instruction.