Student Engagement

Encouraging Engagement During Testing Season

Testing season can be disruptive, but teachers can use it as a chance to try instructional strategies that boost student engagement.

April 12, 2023
Hero Images / iStock

With the state testing season right around the corner, teachers across the United States are preparing students for testing. That means they’re also considering ways to keep early finishers quiet and what to teach during non-testing time to provide a break from the rigors of test taking. There’s no doubt that the pressure to do well on standardized tests can cause stress and exhaustion in the classroom (for teachers and students alike). However, this time can also be an opportunity for teachers to find creative ways to engage students throughout the test-taking season.

Teachers know all too well the challenge of keeping early finishers quiet, or keeping whole classes that aren’t testing quiet for the students who are. Using a variety of instructional strategies during silent times and normal instructional times during the testing season will help create an optimal testing environment for all. 

Activities Leading up to Testing Days

Share a compliment: Using classroom materials on hand, engage students in writing or drawing compliments for school staff members to help create a positive, unified atmosphere. This small act of kindness can be what encourages someone to do their best or remind them just how well they are doing. 

Affirmation writing: On unlined or drawing paper, students can trace, draw, or write their own affirmations, both academic and nonacademic.

Crossword puzzles and word searches: Use your content vocabulary to create these fun review activities.

Gamified content reviews: Using Factile, Quizizz, or Kahoot, have students design review materials and then compete as teams in trivia game show–styled competitions. Consider having a full-on March Madness–style tournament grouped by grade level. 

Answer-thon: Using content questions on note cards or a device, have relay races in which teams correctly answer a question, run a course, and return to the end of the line. The first team lined up in their original order after answering all the questions wins. 

Testing-Day Activities for Early Finishers and Non-tested Grades

Positive message maps: Have students visit The Curriculum Corner to get motivational coloring pages, a reflection word of the day, and other activities. 

Fictional literary world map: Creating a fictional world encourages students to engage in creativity and imagination. 

Students begin by brainstorming ideas for their fictional world. What will the creatures look like? What will the terrain, landmarks, and climate be like? Next, students draw a rough draft of the world on paper with cities, settlements, and waterways, and add labels and legends to the map. 

In the final step, students use art supplies to create a final draft. This project can take several days to complete and will keep students quietly and creatively engaged. For more ideas and creative ways to create fantasy maps, you can check out Rocket Expansion.

Silent ball: Have students make a ball from masking or painter’s tape. Allow them to stand at their desks and gently throw the ball to one another. If a student misses, they are out for the round. If they make a sound, verbally or while catching the ball, they are out for the duration of the game.

Origami: Supply paper and how-to directions for students to practice folding origami.

Unfinished work: Before students begin test taking, have them make a list of all unfinished work they need to complete. To encourage students to work independently, create an area in the classroom that has a copy of all current assignments, rubrics, and supplies needed to complete the assignments. 

Creative writing: Create a writing prompt box where students can pull one prompt to write a story. Their completed piece can be printed and published on the writers’ bulletin board. 

Silent reading: Students can fill their personal book box with books brought from home or set aside new titles from the library just for testing season. The excitement of new books will be something they look forward to. Have students keep their book box next to their desk, ready to go. 

Design a trip: Who doesn’t love planning a trip? Students will have a budget of $1,000 to design their dream trip. Will they go camping, go to the beach, visit a big city, or take a cruise? Using a graphic organizer, they’ll budget for transportation, accommodation, food, and activities. Students can share their trip itinerary with the whole class during the post-testing celebration. 

Use Choice Boards for Student-Directed Engagement

Any of the above activities can be made into a choice board. Choice boards are a great way to promote student autonomy, motivation, engagement, and differentiated learning. They are easy to create using Google Docs, index cards, or even frozen-pop sticks. Students can choose one, all, three in a row, etc. 

Of course, each state has specific rules for when students can engage in activities that aren’t related to testing. Please follow your campus protocols when using these resources. Keeping students engaged shouldn’t come at the expense of a secure testing environment.

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