Liven up your test prep with games

As a high-school English teacher, I work hard to provide engaging, thoughtful lessons that involve students in critical thinking and problem solving.  I don’t like boring lessons and I work hard to ensure that students find relevance in our class activities.

 But, then testing comes around.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m confident that we spend the year prepping for the skills the students will be tested on, so I don’t devote too much time to test prep, but I do feel like it’s important to review.  Not only do students need to see what the test will look like, but they also need a confidence booster to prove to themselves that they’re ready.

So, how to do all that in a way that’s meaningful, but still light and fun?  Test prep games!
Of course, there are tons of ways to approach this, but I have nearly 200 students across five classes, so I like to keep it simple, yet fun.  Here’s what I like to do.

The first thing is to get a copy of released test questions.  These are readily available for all of the different tests.  This guarantees two things: one, students get a feel for the format and content of the test (of course the actual questions will be different, but now they’ve seen a sample and we all know how students work better with models), and two, you’re not reinventing the wheel.

Prep the stations:  For this round, I picked two reading passages that each had seven text-dependent questions.  I typed up the questions and copied each question on a separate sheet of bright paper (and laminated them for posterity, of course!).  Also, I made copies of each reading passage.

Post the questions:  I split the questions by article and posted them around the room.  One half of the room got the first set and the other half got the second. 

Create your teams: With classes of 40 students, I divided my classes into four teams each.  My favorite way to randomly group them is to hand them a color-coding sticker as they walk in the door. Then, I group by color.

Read and Answer:  I pass out the first article to half the class (two teams) and the other half (other two teams) get the second.  I set the timer for seven minutes for everyone to read their article.  When the time is up, students rotate to each question, making sure to take the article and a paper to answer the questions with them.  After about twenty minutes of rotations, I stop the students, have the kids switch articles with someone from the other half of the class and start the reading and answering process again.

And that’s it for day one.  Day two is where it gets more fun!

On day 2, I have the games set up (In this case, I have two Connect 4 games, but it can also work with Tic-Tac-Toe frames drawn on the board, trash cans and nerf basketballs, or any other game).

Students come in and sit with their assigned teams.  I redistribute the articles and questions, and give students about 15 minutes to go through questions, debate their answers, and come to a consensus about what the correct answer is.

When time is up, I pass out small white boards and markers to each group and ask one student from each group to stand.  I ask the first question and ask the standing students to write the answer on the board.  At the count of three, students show me their board.  The students who answer the question correctly, get to place a Connect 4 checker on the board.  The white boards are given to the next student on each team and I ask the next question, and so on and so on until the questions have all been answered.

At this point, there are usually two winners, one from each game.  Those teams get a small treat and will play for the championship the next day.

On the third day, I post additional test questions, ones that are not dependent on a reading passage.  After students rotate and decide on their answers, the two winning teams go head-to-head for the championship, and the other two compete for a consolation prize.

While it’s simple and easy to set up, the students enjoy the competitive aspect of the games and feel better knowing what to expect on the big test.

I hope you try this in your classroom.  Let me know how it goes!