My Top 5 Whole Group Test Prep Strategies
I’ve been blogging recently about how I prepare my students for the end of year reading test during small groups (you can read more about this here and here), so I thought that today I’d flip the script. Let’s talk about the top 5 things I do during my whole group time to prep my kids for the big test. Most of these strategies I start at the beginning of the year with read alouds and slowly transition throughout the year to application on comprehension passages.
Before we dive in, I do want to say that a test is just a test. My students are 8 and I talk to them about not hanging their worth on a test score. That being said, it is a big deal. They want to do well and I want them to feel successful. Everything I do in test prep has the dual goal:
- to set my students up with strategies they can use to be successful
- to expose my students to rigor in such a way that when the first test passage flashes on their screen, they feel confident and not surprised
Ok, let’s do it.
1. Reading Passages from the Department of Education
The most basic and straight forward way I prepare my students for the reading test is by practicing the strategies I’ve taught them with hardcore reading passages. It can be hard to find passages that match the rigor they will see on the state test, so as we get closer to the big day I primarily use released tests. My state (Virginia) only releases tests once every 4-5 years, so they aren’t many options and what I’m working off of is old. I like to use Texas released tests because they also aren’t a common core state and their rigor seems to match ours. Whenever I can, I try to find a short video that fits the passage to make it a little more interesting. For example, we read about a hippo that was rescued and adopted by humans and I was able to find a 4 minute animal planet interview to show them. When we read about Malala, we watched her Ellen interview. The students love this and they are always asking if I have a video based on the passage. My tip is to have them read through the passage first so that the video is complimenting what they learned and not doing all the work for them.
2. Four Square Notes
One strategy I teach my students to help them best comprehend what they’re reading is to note-take. We have different ways that we take notes for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and functional text. I teach them this strategy throughout the year and we practice with read alouds. By the time we switch to testing mode, they are very familiar with the process. On test day, I won’t be able to remind them to take notes so I make sure they get to the point where they consistently know how to do it on their own…and actually do it. (You can read more about this here).
3. Nonfiction TEI (technology enhanced item) SCOOT
I created the first couple nonfiction TEI SCOOT activities for my classroom and they were SO helpful! I added them to my TPT store and the feedback was amazing so I kept creating them. I have 6 now and I am using them during this countdown time to help my kids prep. The resource includes a nonfiction passage that the student’s read and then roam the room answering task cards with questions about the text. The task card questions are formatted like test TEI (technology enhanced item) questions. They are tough, but they really prepare my students for the types of questions and rigor they will see. I’ve got such great feedback from other third grade teachers on this and it always makes my day! (Read more about this here.)
4. QAR and Stoplight Questioning
Another strategy I start at the beginning of the year with read alouds and then transition to passages is QAR. QAR stands for question-answer relationship and there are a ton of printed and online resources about this. I created my own version by mixing the basics of QAR with Jan Richardson’s stoplight questioning. I teach my students different question stems and we sort questions by green, yellow, and red. Green questions can be found in one spot of the text, yellow questions are found in the text but in more than one spot, and red questions can’t be found directly in the text. I teach my students that on a test, they need to be highlighting evidence for green and yellow questions.
5. Whiteboard with PowerPoints