Formative Assessment Examples

Formative assessments are those that are given throughout a lesson or unit. While they are beneficial to both teachers and students, they are not meant to assess content mastery nor to be punitive in nature. Formative assessments are measures of current understanding. They are meant to evaluate what students know, even as they are still learning. They are done often, informally, and should be used as a gauge for both students and teachers to understand where to go next.

Unlike their more formal counterparts, summative assessments, formative assessments are often fast and “for informational purposes only” – in other words, not for grades. Students can use them to identify where they still need clarity and better comprehend their level of understanding. Teachers can use them to figure out if they can move ahead with a lesson, if they need to spend more time on a concept, or if they need to take a different approach altogether.

Effective formative assessments are incorporated seamlessly within a lesson and can help teachers pivot when necessary. Because not all students learn the same way, formative assessments should be varied so that teachers are sure to get an accurate view of what students know. As Laura Thomas writes for Edutopia, “A single data point—no matter how well designed the quiz, presentation, or problem behind it—isn’t enough information to help us plan the next step in our instruction.”

There are hundreds of examples of formative assessments, many of which appear over and over for good reason. They work. Here are some fast and effective favorites that allow teachers to digest the feedback on the spot to adjust instruction as necessary.

Check for Understanding with Emojis

Emojis are a great way for students to express how they’re feeling without having to stop for a long discussion. Depending on what technology is available, teachers could have students display their mood (as it relates to the lesson topic) digitally or teachers could print and laminate a few appropriate emojis (thumbs up/down, shrugging shoulders, happy/sad) for students to hold up at various times during the lesson. This allows students to communicate where they’re at faster than waiting for oral or written responses.

Agree/Disagree Cards

Similar to checks for understanding with emojis, laminated index cards, either color coded (red, yellow, green) or with the words “agree,” “disagree,” or “not sure” can also serve as a quick temperature check of the room. They can also serve as a good jumping off point for discussions. These cards can be used during any lesson, whether it’s math, English, science, or social studies.

For example, if you are reviewing equivalent fractions, you might say, “one-half is the same as two-fourths.” Students then reveal whether they “agree” or “disagree” or are “not sure.” In a social studies lesson you might say, “the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were fair.” Although there is evidence to support both an agree and disagree response, it allows teachers to get a quick read on who is unsure and can open up a larger discussion (which can serve as an additional formative assessment, further identifying misconceptions).

If kids need to get up out of their seats occasionally, you can divide the room into agree, disagree, and not sure sections and proceed accordingly.

Entry and Exit Slips

Entry and exit slips are one of the most popular examples of formative assessments. These are quick prompts given to students at the beginning or end of a lesson to evaluate what they learned. Some of the most notable benefits, according to The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown University, include participation among all students, prompts that focus on key ideas and concepts, and a high return of information relative to the time invested.

Think, Pair, Share

Another common formative assessment example is think, pair, share. In this exercise, students are given a prompt. They then discuss it with a partner before sharing it with the rest of the class. This is a great activity for students who are reluctant to speak in front of the class and helps them improve their speaking and listening skills in a comfortable environment.

To maximize the benefits of this activity, teachers should rotate around the room to better evaluate which students or groups need further instruction.

Draw the Concept

A more innovative formative assessment that will reach more visual learners is to use art. According to Ditch That Textbook, drawing can be a highly effective formative assessment as it will give all learners a chance to show what they know.

Drawing will not work for every lesson and lends itself to certain subjects over others (English over math, for example) but it’s a great way to differentiate to reach all learners.

Group Quizzes

Another collaborative formative assessment example is group quizzes. These can be graded or ungraded but should focus on the process of finding answers instead of right or wrong responses. In this way, students can explore a topic without being preoccupied about the grade, and the teacher can better understand how students are making meaning through their instruction.

As Judith Dodge notes for Scholastic, “Often, the opportunity to work with others before working on their own leads students toward mastery.” If you do choose a collaborative formative assessment, it’s important to follow up with students individually to ensure you understand who may still be struggling with an idea or concept.

There are hundreds of examples of formative assessments. As a teacher, it’s important to try a wide variety as each class and each student varies in how they process information. While exit slips might work great for one class, a think, pair, share might be more beneficial in another class. While drawing might work well for one student, writing a response might work better for another student. These types of assessments are quick and low stakes, so mix them up!

As long as you remember the purpose is to help inform both students and teachers where there are gaps in understanding, each of these formative assessments will give you important insights.