One of the most challenging parts of planning effective lesson instruction is crafting purposeful formative assessments that are in alignment with a lesson’s Learning Goals. Often, teachers are tempted to give students a quiz or test as a means of monitoring their understanding, and just as often, this “assessment” takes on a standardized format like multiple choice or true/false. While there is a time and a place for this type of assessment, teachers should not feel confined to this traditional approach when lesson planning. True assessment for learning may be as varied as the Learning Activities that they accompany. After all, if “assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there,” then teachers and students must go beyond “choosing C” and instead delve into assessment as a critical part of active learning (Assessment Reform Group, 2002).

What are Assessment Prompts?

Assessment Prompts, aka formative assessments, provide checks for understanding of the lesson’s Learning Goals at critical points. They are distributed throughout a lesson and should be designed to elicit evidence of understanding at the appropriate level of thinking. So, if a Learning Activity requires students to think at a higher level, then the corresponding assessment should require that students think at that same higher level. This is a critical attribute of effective assessment that is often overlooked and is really the number one reason traditional quizzes and tests are not always the most effective means of monitoring student learning. It is imperative that teachers use quality questions and tasks in order to elicit students’ true understanding of a lesson’s Learning Goals.

Here are 8 Simple Ways to See if Students are on Track (BONUS: They all incorporate Higher Order Thinking!)

Odd One Out

Students are given three or more items, and must determine which is the Odd One Out, and justify their reasoning.


The Answer Is…

Students are given an answer and must craft questions that align with the given answer.


Poem for Two Voices

This is an engaging way for students to analyze two different perspectives or compare and contrast two items.


Top Ten List

Students summarize the most important things they’ve learned about a concept by creating a Top Ten List, making sure that the most important thing learned is listed at number one.

Connect 3

Students write to explain the relationship between key concepts. They write sentences to explain the connection between each pair of terms, and then describe the relationship among all three terms.

One Minute Essay

Students write for one minute in response to a prompt, with guidelines for what must be included.

Quick Writes

This strategy works well in any content area to quickly assess student thinking about a concept. Students are given about two minutes to respond to a prompt.

45-Second Promo

Students create a television commercial or radio spot that lasts around 45 seconds, constructing support for an idea, defending a claim, or evaluating the effectiveness of something.