15 assessments that don’t suck…

This post has been updated–please click here for 2014 version

Movies have sequels.  Bands have compilation releases.  Bloggers have new posts with links to old ones…and to hype them they put words like “suck” in the title….ahhh…even better…a number in the title!  Just went back and renamed the post.  Welcome to “15 assessments that don’t suck.”

At a recent edcamp I put up a session entitled “Assessments that don’t suck.”  It was an attempt by me to simply find new ways of assessing kids that don’t suck.  To keep my sanity, I must always do something different each year.  I think there is only one unit that had an assessment this year that I had used in the past (Mill Girl Poetry Slam).  I thought I would compile them here for all of those dedicated crazy teachers out there who are looking for new ideas this summer to include in their units next year.  Some you have probably heard of, hopefully some will be new!

Please remember….when doing an activity for the first time you must do it along with the kids.  Most of these are much, much harder than they seem. I know…they don’t seem it, that’s why you have to do them with your kids.  You will never understand how to help the kids with these unless you have tried them yourself.  Also keep in mind that my kids are very different than yours.  Please look at the idea, and don’t focus on the quality of the students performance.  Some of these are summative, some are summative, and others happened by mistake.  And of course, yes these are social studies assessments, but they can be very easily adopted for any subject.

Everything in RED is a hyperlink, click on the links for more info

RSA Videos
RSA videos are a huge crowd pleaser.  The kids really enjoyed making them.  Post production can be teacher intensive depending on your tech tools available and tech expertise of your kids.

Note card Confessions
I am still tweaking this in my head for next year.  This year it got placed into a unit that was chopped up with half-days, snow days, and scheduling changes.  There is a lot of potential with this.

Full class music videos
What can I say…my favorite.  Not everyone has to sing.  Many different roles are involved for kids of all levels.

Commoncraft Style Videos
I haven’t done Common Craft Style videos in a couple years, but it is a neat gateway project for teachers looking to do something different.

Reverse Poems
Ok…I have to admit I have not successfully completed these with a class.  They are SOOO hard.  The link brings you to the one that inspires us to keep trying, and here is one from this year that was pretty good.  The idea is one perspective when read one way, and teh opposite perspective when read the other.  While we have done a bunch on paper, putting them into video can be challenging.

Black-out Poems
These are really neat.  Nothing had the class so quiet and focused this year.  They really need a student to present and explain, don;t really do well standing alone in a blog post.  In person they are a hit.

I loved this assessment.  I really learned a lot from it and and it started a trend for me to start using less technology in class. 

Lip synch, dances, and more
Just a bunch of random ideas in this link 😉

I am a fan of the assessment that doesn’t smell like an assessment.  We did PSA’s on current problems using the technique’s of 19th Century Progressives.  Each of the PSAs did not on the surface seem to connect to 19th Century United States History. But for example, the student who created the PSA in the link could make a historical connection for each part of her video.  They were all collected onto a Posterous site, but Posterous has since closed!  Here is a link with a little more info on what we did.  I almost deleted this after re-reading this post simply because it is hard to see how this is an assessment, and how it really does connect to our 19th century history unit.  You’ll have to just trust me 🙂

Poetry Slam
Simply the one unit that kids talk about years after they graduate.  It is also the unit that is most dependent on the teacher.  I have watched another teacher do the same unit and it simply did not fly.  If you cannot motivate, energize and kick some butt….leave this one alone 🙂

Reader’s theatre
Alright…I know this one seems so simple.  But it can be so powerful.  Take one story and split it into parts…split paragraphs, splits lines, to make it more powerful than if read straight through. The link is actually to one that we did with a primary source.  The students have done them in a variety of styles.  One that stick out is three kids who wrote letters home from the Oregon trail.  Each one read one sentence at a time, but when read it sounded like one single letter.  Again, simple idea, but they take time to play with the information and the processing produces some great learning.  Can be done with two kids, small group, or an entire class.

1000 Words
Neat idea that I am refining.  This was the first year I tried it.  I think there is some potential to use it not only with images, but text as well.
Post with more details

Stop Action Animation
An idea that can be very complex, or very simple (the link is to a simple one).

Lip Synch
Take a famous video clip, and have the kids synch what they leaned to it.  Seriously…these always feel like a train wreck when I have tried them.  I always say never again…but then one kid will convince me to try it again.  Not sure about the value, but I can say that it takes so many attempts and practice that they certainly remember the facts.

Fish Bowl Discussions
Neat way to have more of a conversation rather than a back and forth between teacher and students Adding this one on 9/9/13

Let me know how it goes if you try any of these.  I am always looking for ideas on how to make them better.  Some might seem a bit challenging, but you always get better results when you challenge you kids to do the impossible

For those of you that are counting…the title of the post is “15 assessments that don’t suck”…but I only included 14.  The 15th is yours.  Please leave  description of an assessment that you do with the kids that does not suck, and provide a link if you have one!


  1. Great ideas! I borrowed your note card confession idea for m summaries assessment on the Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca. Kids loved it and got a lot out of it. I’m looking to tweak it for next year for a math unit on whole number sense.

  2. I borrowed your craft video project this year. Worked great. Here is something I do that works.


    Two years ago I had the pleasure of being the teacher sponsor for Jake West, who because of his creativity and confidence has become an excellent teacher. His site is here. Jake introduced me to the idea of using mini-seminars in class which has become a valuable teaching and learning technique. I have used it in Social Studies 9 and BC First Nations 12 to great effect and have modified it into what I call micro-seminars that I have used to cover a number of complicated land mark legal cases involving First Nations people in Canada in my BC First Nations 12 class.

    Here is how the mini-seminar works:

    Students or the teacher select pairs or small groups. Students are presented with an event that involves conflict between two groups of people. They are provided with material to read from their text, and other sources supplied by the teacher.

    In their groups they take turns reading aloud as the other students read along silently. They then discuss what they think are the important points in the reading they have done and take notes together. This is in fact a seminar among the students themselves although it has not been implicitly described to them as such.

    They then must practice presenting from their notes to each other what they have learned, but are not allowed to rehearse only one particular part of the story. They are aware they must know the whole thing and that the order of the presentation is decided by the teacher.

    When they present to the teacher they are allowed to use their notes but must try to tell a story and have a discussion rather than simply read what they have written.

    I have found that there are natural points in each story to interrupt and ask for judgments of individual players actions. Motivations of historical players become clearer or more open to analysis and speculation through discussion. Students naturally come to analyse events rather than simply try to remember them. I have often been exposed to viable interpretations that had not occurred to me.

    Once they have tried this method students like it and become good at it. While one group is presenting, the rest of the class is practicing or working on something else.

    The micro-seminars work the same way, but are used once the students are familiar and comfortable with the method. They are used for smaller chunks of material and can be done quickly.

    This is one of those ideas that once you use it makes you think “Why didn’t I think of this?”. It is simple and works.

  3. Alright Brad…thanks for the first additional idea. Was getting a bit depressed that people were reading but not adding 🙂

  4. I am always looking for better ways to assess my students. These are some great ideas and I will look for ways to implement some of them into my classroom. One of the great challenges that I find is being creative, rigorous, and relevant…and I don’t want to suck!

    Reading about the micro-seminars reminded me of an assessment I have added to my classroom with my AP history students, but have found that it was just as effective for my On Pace classes as well. It is somewhat similar in that the assessment is designed for a panel of students (usually 4-5).

    While the rest of the class prepares (studies) in the library, I call students back randomly to a conference room where we have an oral exam. Students pick cards (usually 4) off of a table that have an essay question on them. The job of the panel is to answer the essay questions together orally. One student starts and speaks on all the facts that they know. Then, we go around the table until everyone gets a chance to add. I will give “follow up” prompts if the information gets exhausted before we get to the last student so that everyone must speak to the topic. We do this four times so that each student gets to go first, second, etc.

    At first students stress because they know they can not “fake’ it because they are talking in front of me and their peers. However, they are able to use “life lines” because they can also build off of the panel as well. After I give this assessment, I often have students begging to do this again because they said they liked it and never studied so hard/learned so much because of the elements of peer pressure, the ability to talk about an issue versus “writing” about it, and they like the opportunity to work with each other. Just like it was stated in the original blog…this has evolved and continues to get better each time. It takes quite a bit of preparation and awareness due to giving points for their participation and evaluating the value of their information. However, it feels great to give an assessment that doesn’t suck.

    My belief is that in the real world I am constantly asking others for assistance. If I don’t know how to do something, I need to be able to ask and cooperate with those who do. I better be able to come to a conclusion and offer something in return or I will find myself all by myself. Sometime the process of coming up with the right answer is the learning happens. Thanks again for all the ideas!!

    1. Hmmm…your idea has me thinking…an assessment in which they had to use lifeline and the assessment was on the quality of their choices of who they would “call.” I used to do an assessment on the Gold Rush in which they had to build a modern boomtown utilizing their knowledge of what went well and not so well in the 19th Century. They had to call the chair of the zoning board, local contractors, etc…and then there was the kid who walked up to me in the library and said I wonder what Paul Revere ate before his ride…I picked up the phone and said call someone. Five minutes later he was on the line with a staff member of the Paul Revere House in Boston.

      You sparked an idea…thanks.

  5. Ohhh… I see you had Alex in class. He must have transferred after being in your class. During one of these sessions, he picked an essay that asked him to (among other things) identify the key arguments of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in the ratification of the Constitution. His first response was “I have no idea, but I know that Samuel Adams made good beer”. As stated before…all of these ideas must be adapted to the students that we have. My kids will be different than yours…except we all have Alex!!

  6. sorry about the confusion…I have 2 usernames. One is my professional username. The other is a username given for a graduate class I am taking (BCISSELL112). Ironically, my real name is Alex. da dum dum!!

Leave a Reply to briancissell Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>