In classrooms, pre-test review isn’t an especially popular activity. “Do you ever dread when it’s time to review for an assessment? More importantly, do your students?” asks an article published by AMLE, the Association for Middle Level Education.
Dread or not, it needs to be done: To make learning stick, students require repeated opportunities to engage with content. Meaningful review activities start with a solid understanding of “where students are weak and where there is already good understanding,” says eighth-grade math teacher Tara Maynard, who culls this important information from a Desmos or Socrative activity, or a formative assessment. “I would estimate that 75 percent of the review is on what they’re not grasping well and the rest is continued practice on what we’re already understanding,” Maynard tells AMLE.
To make reviews more engaging, or even fun, you need to find the right balance between effectiveness and motivation, mixing evidence-backed tactics that improve retention with gamification, group work, or movement. A great review activity is self-checking—students don’t need teacher input to assess the accuracy of their answers—allows for some student choice, and builds in partner work, says Maynard, who has taught middle grade math for 24 years. This approach allows kids to cover more ground at their own pace as they review material, and frees Maynard up to work with individual students or small groups when needed.
Maynard also recommends building in movement—designing a review activity that requires kids to visit different stations in the classroom, for example—to keep kids energized and focused. Finally, she likes to use review time to reinforce her students’ metacognitive skills: “Usually on that review day, I make them stop and think about what’s going to be on the test so they can consider their approach,” says Maynard. “I often tell them: ‘Don’t practice the things you already know how to do, practice where you’re unsure so I or your partner can help.’”
Here are five super-engaging review strategies that kids like, selected from Maynard, and from our Edutopia archives:
Molly Mistakes (Correct the Teacher): Create a review assignment, or a set of problems, and then solve them yourself—but incorrectly (“you can do all of them wrong, or just some,” Maynard suggests). Working in pairs, have students work through the problems, correct your mistakes, and provide feedback. Students love correcting teachers…
Jeopardy!: Borrowing from the popular game show, this game doesn’t require specialized software—you can use PowerPoint or Google Slides to create the game grid, or the templates at JeopardyLabs—and it’s adaptable across content areas. For a more lo-fi approach, create the grid on poster board using Post-it notes. To promote deeper thinking, consider having students help write the questions or problems in advance. In Maynard’s math classroom, a game grid might include the column heads: multi-step equations with mostly addition, multi-step equations using subtraction, distribution multi-step equations, and word problems.
Around the Room: Prepare a problem set or other review activity, and using a Word or Google doc, type the 1st problem or question at the bottom of page 1. Type the answer to the 1st problem on the top of page 2. Next, type the 2nd problem at the bottom of page 2, and the 2nd answer on the top of page 3. Continue until the last answer is typed on the top of page 1. Print out the pages and hang them around your classroom, says Maynard, but not in order. “Students can start anywhere and solve the problem on the bottom half, then find the answer on another sheet of paper,” she says. Students should end up “back where they started.”
Rapid Review: For a quick review activity, high school history teacher Henry Seton opens class with a rapid review that focuses on recently learned content. He starts by asking a question: “What are Locke’s views on private property in government?,” for example.
Students turn and talk to a neighbor for 90 seconds, then raise their hands to answer the question. If a student gets stuck, Seton calls out “Rescue!” and another student whose hand is raised gives it a try. “Rapid review starts class with energy and excitement. Students feel like the content is sticking,” says Seton. “They’re getting a lot of cold-call questions, but it’s in a safe, supportive atmosphere and helps students feel confident with the material.”
Partner Compares: Create two columns of problems. While each row should feature different problems, let students know that each row will have the same answer or solution. Have partners cut the paper in half so each student has a column of problems to work on individually.
They can cross-check answers as they go and work together to spot mistakes if their answers don’t match. The activity provides a “combination of independent and partner work,” says Maynard. “Students are encouraged to solve the problems independently, and can’t just copy an answer, but still have the support of a partner when needed.”