30+ Formative Assessment Strategies

Formative assessment was brought to the educational forefront by Paul Black and Dylan William in 1998 when they conducted a meta-analysis on formative assessment (Popham, 2008). After examining 681 publications and thoroughly analyzing 250, these researchers concluded that “the consistent feature across the variety of these examples [was] that they all [showed] that attention to formative assessment can lead to significant learning gains” (Black & William, 1998). With larger than normal effective sizes for educational interventions, formative assessment informs instructional decisions and engages both teacher and students in the assessment processes before it is too late. Formative assessment should take place continuously during instruction,and ideally, this process should be occurring every 20 minutes or so.

Based on the frequency in which the process should occur, we have compiled a list of formative assessment strategies with brief descriptions. The strategies are designed to be quick ways not only to help teachers and students at all grade levels in the determination of skill acquisition but also to appeal to a variety of learning preferences.Twist, tweak, and feel free to add to the list.


1. Observations: This method may sound a little old school, but it works! When teachers conscientiously observe student body language/facial expressions, listen in on student discussions, and simply pay attention to their students, they can fairly ascertain how much learning is being caught.

2. Questioning: Well-planned, thoughtful questions focused on high cognitive skills can help teachers determine during the course of the lesson how well students are acquiring content knowledge. Furthermore, teachers can discern a lot about the acquisition of knowledge by the questions students generate.

3. Discussions: Whole group, clusters, or pair discussions in which students and teachers engage in content related conversations reveal how well students are grasping concepts and what misconceptions exists.

4. Warm-Ups: Warm-ups provide questions, problems, sequences, defining, reordering, etc., tasks that either pre-assess prior knowledge for new concept or review content prior to instruction.

5. Exit Slips: Completed at the end of lesson, exit slips can include a variety of learning tasks, and if completed on a post-it note, students can simply stick their response on a designated place–like on the door as they exit.

6. Response Logs: A journal of sorts, response logs require students to respond to a series of prompts in which they reflect on how well they are learning content.

7. Quick Writes: Given a specific time frame such as 3 minutes, students write as much as they can about the learning.

8. Solve It: A related riddle or conundrum for inferencing, problem- solving for mathematics, or contextual situations for social sciences is a great way to have students apply learned procedures.

9. Text It/Tweet It: Using limited characters–like Twitter’s constraint of 140–summarize the essential learning.


10. Picture It: Simply put, if students can draw, doodle, diagram, or scribble it, they know it.

11. Map It: This strategy is great for content that can represent through graphic organization. Identifying main ideas and details, sequencing, and processes are excellent choices for mapping. Furthermore, when students have opportunities to select the appropriate form of mapping themselves, they gain greater ownership of the content.

12. Defend It: This strategy suggests that students take a stance on the learning and identify at least 3 ways to prove or defend it.

13. Describe It: To determine conceptual understanding or application of procedures, have students describe the learning or the process.

14. Rename It: This strategy requires students to demonstrate their understanding by giving the learning concept a new name and explaining why the new identification is appropriate.

15. Bury It: Writing an epitaph featuring key components of the content not only personifies the information but determines if students can identify key attributes if the content was a living being. This strategy appeals to students creative side and works for just about any subject.

16. Stick It: Creating a bumper stick that summarizes the learning succinctly will demonstrate concrete understandings.

17. Headline/Breaking News: Advertising the learning through a headline or breaking news caption to alert others will force students to broadcast the most important concept.

18. Find 2 Who…: Collaborating with other learners helps students make connections. Students can find 2 others who are confused about a particular point, who made similar revelations, who know how to solve certain steps, etc.

19. Text Support: Finding at least 3 examples of textual support and evidence for content conversations is a create way to promote re-reading strategies and deepen students’ understanding.

20. Easy Breezy: Have students create a short commercial illustrating what comes rather easy to them regarding learning particular portions of the content.

21. Exit Survey: Design a short survey that pinpoint reflective questions about the lesson’s topic focusing on the affective aspects of learning such as how did you feel about…, what do you need, what was meaningful, etc.

22. Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down: Using hand signals throughout the course of instruction is a great informal way to get immediate feedback about the status of student learning.

23. Response Cards/Popsicle Sticks: Response Cards featuring words such as “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe,” “True,” “False,” etc., can be used to get quick and collective responses to formative assessment questions. Additionally, colored popsicle sticks can be used in a variety of ways including grouping students for collaborative formative assessment practices.

24. Pipe Cleaners: Allow those tactile learners to shape the level of understanding provides a creative and different way of getting an idea of how well students are acquiring knowledge. Below are pictures of shapes recent adult participants create to inform us–eduConsulting Firm–of the current state of their learning.

25. Make It Real: Asking students to describe how the learning transfers and applies to real life applications will help teachers determine the levels of understanding.

26. Top 5: Students list their top 5 concerns, interests, questions, or the top 5 components, features, ideas, steps, etc., related to content.

28. 3-2-1 Summary: This strategy can be used in a variety of ways, including have students list 3 things they learned, two things they still have questions about, and one new idea the learning generated.

29. Shape Up Review: Students provide information for corresponding shapes. For example, the shapes could be used in the following ways: square: three main ideas; heart: one thing you loved; circle: a continuous truth; puzzle: something that is confusing.

30. Peer Assessments: The more opportunities students have to assess, check, critique, and evaluate the work of others, the more likely they are to deepen their own understandings.

31. Self-Assessment: Students need continued practice assessing their own learning, discovering their own learning preference, and implementing metacognitive practices that last a lifetime. Whenever possible, students should review their own responses for accuracy and misconceptions and discover how to improve upon their own work.

32. Kinesthetic Representations: Creating motions and movements to demonstrate comprehension of content knowledge appeals not only to kinesthetic learners but also to creative individuals as well. Connecting movement to knowledge works well to cement learning. Recently, we observed a teacher and her students assigning hand motions to represent key components related to continental drift. Having students displaying the hand motions later in the lesson helped them explain processes and assisted teacher in assessing learning.

33. Keep It 100: This strategy is a great form of self-assessment as it asks students to identify pieces of the learning tasks or target skill they still need to master in order to get a 100 score on future tasks related to the concept.


a. Immediate feedback is critical. Feedback should be constructive and prompt. To move instruction up Bloom’s taxonomy to the evaluative domain, students can give feedback to each other–considering the classroom environment has already been established a safe, non-judgmental learning space in which collective achievement is valued and promoted.

b. Speaking of safe and non-judgmental, students should understand that formative assessments are aimed at improving performing rather than critical judging it.

c. Variety keeps things interesting and appeal to learning preferences. Formative assessment strategies should also be selected to adhere to the structure of the content being taught.

d. Vocabulary! Vocabulary! Vocabulary! Content language is critical to developing conceptual understandings. When using any of the strategies listed above, students should be encouraged to use the appropriate academic language.


Popham, W.J. (2008). Transformative assessment. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.

Black, P. & William, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice,5 (1), 7-73.

Looking to align formative assessment for ensured student achievement and academic rigor? Visit us at home!


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