Formative Writing Assessment Ideas

Instructor: Daniel Brown
Formative assessments are a great way for teachers to gauge student strengths and weaknesses. In this lesson, teachers will learn about a variety of formative assessments for writing and how they can be utilized in the classroom.

Formative vs Summative

Before you use any of the ideas outlined below, it's important to understand the differences between formative and summative assessments.

  • Summative assessments include standardized tests (SAT, ACT), quizzes and other assessment tools that are designed to measure how much a student has learned and retained up to a certain point. Summative assessments are usually scored and make up the majority of a student's school grades.
  • Formative assessments measure student comprehension on an ongoing basis. Examples include regular homework assignments and group discussions. This type of assessment is primarily focused on enabling the teacher to check student understanding and gives teachers the information needed to adjust classroom instruction to meet student needs.

Because writing is typically an individual undertaking, formative assessments can be particularly helpful. One reason is that formative writing assessments often allow students freedom and creativity, which in turn allows teachers to analyze individual student strengths and weaknesses.

The formative assessment ideas for writing in this lesson can be adjusted to meet the needs and levels of your students.

Make it Graphic

Visual representations of content allow students to add another dimension to their ideas and interpretations of a topic. A great way to do this is through some type of graphic including tables, charts, pictograms, mind maps or collages.

For example, if you are currently teaching a unit on the US Civil War, you could ask students to create a graphic timeline of events or a mind map or collage of significant figures. Once completed, you can either collect these assignments or ask for volunteers to present their work to the class. If possible, display these graphics around the classroom and encourage students to give positive feedback to their classmates.

Letter reviews

This formative assessment is helpful at the end of a class or unit, as it gives students the opportunity to provide a personal interpretation of the material covered in class. It also works great as a homework assignment.

  • Have a class discussion about the most recent content covered in class. It can be helpful to write down key points on the blackboard during the discussion.
  • Tell students that they need to write a letter to an imaginary absent classmate that summarizes the key points you wrote on the blackboard.
  • Collect and review the letters for comprehension. This is also a great way to identify which key ideas are missing or if students are focusing too much on minor or insignificant details.

Newspaper/Magazine Article

In this formative assessment, students take on the guise of a reporter and write an article about an assigned aspect or part of a lesson you have recently delivered. First, assign each student a topic. Feel free to assign the same topic to multiple students because undoubtedly their articles will have different perspectives and opinions.

After you collect the articles, compile them into a class magazine or newspaper. This last step is easier if you require students to submit their finished articles by email.

Review Chain

This simple formative assessment is a quick and easy way to provide students with an in-class review. To begin, arrange the desks into rows. Tell each student in the front row and the back row to write a few sentences about something they learned in class and then pass the paper to either the student behind or in front of them. Each student adds a few sentences and then passes the paper along. At the end, collect the papers and use the summaries to conduct a class discussion.

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