"Out of the Box" Math Assessment!

I’ve been doing this teaching thing for a long time…and one thing I know is that I am always on a quest to find out what students know and don’t know.  I use exit slips. I give summative assessments.  I watch my students carefully and coach as needed.  I just always feel like something is missing…like there is too much “fill in the blank”.  On a whim, I decided to have my students create their own assessment a while ago to “show what they know” about area and perimeter.  It was a game changer for me—and my students.  Interested?  Keep reading!

So one day I decided to simply ASK them what they knew.  I typed up a simple form and told them it was a “demand prompt”—for math!  They have been given demand prompts in writing, but not in math.   They looked a little confused, so I explained a little more.

I told them that I felt bad that I didn't give them enough flexibility and creative time to show me the DEPTH of their understanding.  After all, when we give an exit slip, we have certain things we are looking for, don’t we?  What if our students know MORE than that or have discovered new insights that our assessments don’t expose?  I knew my students could show me more if I gave them the chance.  And boy did they ever!  Check out these pictures to see more of how this all unfolded!




This is meant to be a low prep, easy to do assessment task.  I put out lined notebook paper, graph paper, construction paper, rulers, and any other supplies I think will help.  If it’s relevant (like for geometry) I may set out protractors or other supplies that I think will help my students. 

My students love to make posters on 12x18 construction paper, but some students make booklets by stapling paper together.  Some make their displays very visual while others do it in a more narrative fashion.  If you have access to technology, feel free to let students use that as well.  Get creative—and encourage your students to do the same!  I gave my students 30 minutes, but if you don’t think that is the right amount for your group—change it!  Some topics might require more time than others, so modify as you see fit.

For me, the most important thing was to get my students reflecting on their own work.  We did some brainstorming about how teachers can grade (We use a 4, 3, 2, 1 scale).  Students had all sorts of interesting ideas about grading—and we had a great talk about the pros and cons of each—and of grading in general! We talked at length about why we assess and grade student work, and I made sure
that they understood that it is all about making sure everyone is learning—and so I know what to do next as a teacher.

We all have assessments that either our district mandates or that come with our textbooks, but I really recommend using something "out of the box" to collect additional information about how your students learn, process topics, organize their work, and explain their thinking.  Does this sound familiar?  That’s right!  The Standards for Mathematical Practice!  This activity was a great way to look for how students were modeling math, working precisely, looking for patterns, explaining their thinking, using reasoning, and more!  No matter how (or IF!) you grade your students, these “demand tasks” can help you see your students’ understanding in a very new way.

Try it!  See what your students can do.  I have turned this into a ready-to-use product that is aligned to the CCSS and most other rigorous curricula for grades 3 and 4...and grade 5 should be available this week!  Click the images below if you want to see more.  Thanks for stopping by!




Spring Cleaning Giveaway and Sale

As March comes to an end, spring is in the air.  The weather is getting warmer, the sun is out longer, and we are spending more and more time outside.  Another thing I know I look forward to is spring cleaning!  I love to open the windows in my house to air it out.  Putting away my winter clothes and straightening up around the house just makes me excited for the nicer weather that's just around the corner.

The bloggers at Upper Elementary Snapshots have decided to let you all do a little spring cleaning, too - but without actually picking up cleaning supplies!  We want you to clean out those TpT wishlists!  The best part is that we are going to help you get started!

We are giving away 6 $20 TpT gift certificates.  Use the Rafflecopter below for a chance to enter on March 25th and March 26th.

Then, on March 27th and March 28th, our individual TpT stores will be on sale.  This is the perfect time to grab some fantastic resources to finish up this school year!

Here is a list of our stores - get up to 20% off all of our resources for 2 days ONLY! (Friday/Saturday) Happy shopping!!

Our TPT Stores:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Interactive Test Prep Vocabulary


Standardized test!  Ugh!  Every year I dread the time when I have to really start to think about, “the test”.  The pressure is exhausting!




It wasn’t until this year that I started to really focus on the verbs of the standards.  You can read about that here.

Teaching students what it means to explain, cite, demonstrate, and categorize are among 42 of the words that my students interact with throughout the year.  We have a test prep interactive notebook that we add to.  Students are introduced to a word, they place the word in their notebook along with its meaning.  


Students provide a synonym and an antonym, then provide examples on how the word may be used in both math and reading.




We continue to refer back to the notebooks throughout the year.  It has been a powerful tool!  When a student comes across a word in daily practice or on a test, they like to go back to their notebooks and add the example.  There have been many ah-ha moments, which is SO exciting!

You can find the Interactive Notebook for Test Prep Vocabulary Notebook shown above HERE or by clicking the image below.  


To add a little fun we started playing bingo with these powerful verbs.  Since there are 42 verbs that we have covered at this point, I usually choose about half of them at a time when playing.  Students know which verbs will be called out during bingo, so they pick 16 of the words to place on their board. 


Then the fun begins.  I read the definition and/or give an example of how the word would be used.  For example, if the word is “cite” I may simply read the definition. My favorite is to give them an example, because it seems to be more meaningful.  For example I may tell them they may need to do this when describing a character and need to prove a point. 

The traditional rules of bingo are followed, and the students love it!  They are having fun playing a game while reviewing these crucial verbs!  Amazing! 

You can download the FREE Bingo for Test Prep Vocabulary HERE or by clicking the image below.  


Wishing you and your students successful testing!




Fun Fraction Review Project

I don't know about you, but I feel like my students need a little fun project to break from the nonstop review - review - review that we are doing right now.  Our big state test is in one week and I thought I'd share with you a fun fraction project I plan to complete with them this week.  It will review fraction concepts and give them a chance to cut and color :)

All About Fractions - a FREE dodecahedron project

I got this idea from a fellow third grade teacher.  She made a larger version for a book report.  This is a dodecahedron dedicated to reviewing fraction concepts.  Students will review ...

  • partitioning fractions
  • naming fractions
  • shading to show a fraction (area model)
  • plotting fractions on a number line (with area model help)
  • plotting fractions on a number line (no area model)
  • comparing fractions on a number line
  • equal sharing problems
  • finding equivalent fractions
  • changing a fraction to a whole number
Wow!  That's a lot in one little project.  I plan to have students complete the 6 pages in pencil.  No coloring or cutting will be allowed until I check to make sure all work was done correctly.  Below is a look at the 6 circle cut outs..

After all circles are cut out - you fold on the sides and glue!  I don't have much detailed directions ;)  Below is a picture of what it looks like when you start putting the circles together.


Putting the Spotlight on Mentor Sentences

How many of you are familiar with this routine???

You teach a grammar lesson, on verbs, let’s say. You create an anchor chart and discuss different examples. Students complete a worksheet, in which they circle or underline the verbs. They even complete a homework assignment to further practice identifying verbs. At the end of the week or unit, they take a quiz on verbs, and pass with flying colors.

Then, the next week you ask them to identify the verb in a sentence, and you get blank stares, and someone who raises his hand and says, “What’s a verb, again?”

Sound familiar?!?!

For years, I have followed this routine, only to get frustrated when I get those blank stares and uncertain responses. Each year, I try to find a way to make teaching grammar and writing skills more meaningful for my students.

This year, I have finally found it.... MENTOR SENTENCES

What is a MENTOR SENTENCE?

✪  A mentor sentence is a well-crafted sentence that can be found in any text. {The best place to find them is in the books we read to our students, or in those which our students are reading themselves. Looking closely at sentences from their favorite books can be so motivating!}

✪  Mentor sentences serve as examples for students of what good writing is all about. Mentor sentences are a great source for identifying different elements of writing, including grammar, structure, and style. Mentor sentences show good writing done right!

Why I LOVE using MENTOR SENTENCES....

✪  I love using mentor sentences in my classroom because they give students the chance to see great writing up close. Mentor sentences allow them to breakdown a sentence to see how it was constructed, in order to make meaning for readers. 

✪  There is a lot of freedom and flexibility with mentor sentences. Students at different levels will notice different things about a sentence. Looking closely at a mentor sentence leads to great conversations about writer's craft and how an author uses different techniques to communicate an idea. 

✪  Each time my students work with a mentor sentence, we have a chance to review grammar skills and parts of speech. Each exposure to mentor sentences helps reinforce their understanding of a variety of skills. 

✪  Students get the chance to "imitate" the structure and style of a sentence, giving them the practice and confidence they need to write complex sentences of their very own. 

How I use MENTOR SENTENCES in my classroom....

Getting Set-Up

✪  First, I select a sentence from a text we are reading as a class. {Also, since we have been doing this for awhile now, my students are "collecting" sentences from their own reading books. When one of them finds a good one, we use it.}

✪  Next, I type the sentence in large writing, with double spaces, and print it to display.

✪  I also type it onto a worksheet where students can work with the sentence, recording what they notice. See the example below.

✪  I then use the sentence to create a "frame" or "scaffold" for students to imitate.
Getting to Work

✪  I pass out the mentor sentence "assignment" to each student and I read the sentence aloud. We briefly discuss the source of the sentence. Then, I give them about 3 to 5 minutes to record what they “notice” about the sentence. After that, I give them about 5 more minutes to share with their seat partners or table group, and continue to add to their lists. (In the beginning we did this whole-group)

✪  Next, we come together whole group. Students share what they notice, and I guide the discussion to focus on certain aspects of the sentence that I want them to notice.

✪  After our discussions, we work to label the different parts of speech that are in the sentence. This helps review and reinforce previously taught skills. Students label the sentence on their own sheet.

✪  My students love this next part! They use the "Sentence Frame" or “Sentence Scaffold” to write and share sentences of their own. They love using the sentence frames to come up with new, creative sentences. It gives them confidence that they can write complex sentences on their own!

✪  Last, I give them the chance to write sentences without using the frame. I encourage them to keep the basic structure, while still changing certain elements. It’s amazing what they come up with!



Taking It Further

✪  When students come up with amazing sentences, I love to share them with the class. We read them aloud, and I have those students write their sentences on sentence strips to display in the classroom. They are always so proud to have their sentence selected for display! Even some of my more my reluctant writers are motivated to get a sentence displayed!!

✪  I also encourage students to "collect" sentences. Not only are they a great source for mentor sentences to use as a class, "collecting" sentences also encourages them to be on the lookout for great writing!! I love it when they come rushing up to share sentences they have found!!!

My inspiration for using mentor sentences came from the work of Jeff Anderson. He has some wonderful books on teaching writing and grammar.  Here are just a couple of my favorites....

In my classroom we call this whole process "Sentence Spotlight". I have provided a sample of what I use in my classroom, and created a blank template that you can use to work with your own mentor sentences. Download the template and add your own sentence. {Add a text box, type and paste, or write it in!} 
I also have a collection of 20 Sentence Spotlight mentor sentences ready to go on Teachers Pay Teachers...
After first hearing and reading about mentor sentences, it took me a very long time to start implementing them in my classroom. I hope you will give it a try and see how truly meaningful mentor sentences can be!
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