The Test-Readiness Activity You Need

Editor's Note:  6th-grade teacher Mary Blow shares her excellent gallery walk activity, which familiarizes students with the challenging language they will encounter on high-stakes tests, reinforces key skills, and builds testing confidence.

 

Summary: 
Many of my students struggle with the academic language on high-stakes exams. So I came up with a gallery walk activity to expose them to this language and to some of the skills they will encounter on state assessments. Students begin by breaking down and answering a series of questions about a Scope text. Each student then becomes an "expert" on two questions and acts as a museum guide during a class gallery walk through all of the questions. Finally, students participate in a peer review. In the example outlined below, I used the short story "Follow the Water" from the September 2016 issue of Scope. Not only is it a great piece of fiction, but it also covers the six main standards that students will encounter on most state exams. However, you can do this activity using any long fiction or nonfiction text in Scope.

 

What you'll need:

Skills:
inference, text structure, author purpose, point of view, vocabulary

Time:
four class periods, one hour each

 

 

DAY 1

1. Preparing the questions

  • Prepare 11 questions from the text—one to use as a model and 10 for the students to answer on their own. These questions can be drawn from Scope's support materials for the text you are working with or you can create your own. Here are some examples of questions I created for "Follow the Water." (Download all the questions here.)
  • Make an inference based on text details: Why are Georgie’s dreams important to the story? [RL.6.1]
  • Explore the structure of the text: Consider how the author begins sections 3, 4, 5, and 6. How are the events in the story organized? [RL.6.5]
  • Compare point of view: How does Georgie’s perspective of life on Mars differ from that of her parents? [RL.6.6]
  • Create a poster for each of the 10 questions (or download mine). That is, write each question on its own piece of paper. The posters will be hung around the classroom later, during the gallery walk.
  • Create a student handout: a list of all 10 questions on one piece of paper. Make enough copies to give each student one handout.

 

2. Modeling an answer

  • Provide an overview of the activity, explaining to students that each of them will answer 10 questions on their own and then work in a group to become an "expert" on two of the questions.
  • Model annotating and answering a question in the following way:

Step 1: Define the vocabulary.

  • Clarify any vocabulary words in the questions and annotate their meanings.
  • If there are any unfamiliar words, look them up.

Step 2: Identify the tasks.

  • Identify the explicit tasks (those that are clearly stated). For example, the question below explicitly asks you to explain how the setting adds to the problem.
  • Identify the implicit tasks (those that are implied). For example, to answer the explicit question below, you must identify the problem (implicit task) before you can explain how the setting contributes to it.  

Step 3: Write a claim.

  • Write a claim that answers the question. The claim should be based on evidence from the text.

 

 

3. Answering questions individually

  • Give each student a copy of the handout (the list of all 10 questions).
  • Have each student answer all 10 questions on his or her own, following the process that you just modeled.

 

 

4. Working in groups

  • Divide students into five groups of about four students each. (Adjust group size as you see fit; if you have a small class, you may want to have fewer than five groups.)
  • Assign each group two of the 10 questions. (If you have fewer than five groups, you won't assign all of the questions.)
  • Explain to students that they will become experts on the questions they have just been assigned.
  • As a group, students should discuss their responses to both questions. As part of this discussion, students should also explain what in the text led them to their claims—or, putting it another way, what text evidence supports their claims. All group members should take notes during the discussion. This will prepare them for the leadership role they will assume during the gallery walk.
  • At the end of the discussion, all group members should understand the language in the questions, the explicit and implicit tasks required by the questions, what claim or claims can be made in response to the questions, and what text evidence supports that claim/those claims.
  • While students are working, walk around the room to ensure that students are on the right track.

DIFFERENTIATION TIP! If you have struggling readers, provide them with some sentence starters.

 

 

DAYS 2 and 3

5. Gallery walk

  • Hang the question posters throughout the room. (Hang posters only for the questions you assigned to the groups.)
  • Divide students into NEW groups so that each group includes at least one "expert" on each question. (An easy way to do this is to start with students in their groups from the day before and then count off the members of each group from 1 to 5. All of the 1’s then form a new group, all of the 2’s another group, etc.)
  • In their new groups, students should proceed through the gallery walk, moving from one question poster to the next and stopping to discuss the answer to each question.
  • At each poster, the expert (or experts) within the group for that particular question should guide the discussion, making sure that the group understands the question and answers it accurately and thoroughly.
  • During the walk, all students should take notes on their handouts. They will use these notes later when they complete their independent written responses.
  • Groups should spend about 5 minutes at each question. Use a timer to keep the groups focused and moving.
  • It takes one class period to go through about five questions, so we devote two days to the gallery walk.

DIFFERENTIATION TIP! Have each group post their annotated questions from Day 1 beneath the question poster on the wall. This provides a useful visual during the discussion and is especially helpful for students who are slower at taking notes.

 

 

DAY 4

6. Summative assessment

  • Have each student randomly draw a number from a basket. Each number should correspond to one of the questions from the gallery walk. (I like to use numbered poker chips for the drawing, but you can use slips of paper.) Each student will work independently to write an answer to the question he or she picked.
  • When answering, students must state a claim and support it with at least two pieces of evidence from the text. Tell students that they can refer back to the text as they work and that they can also use their notes from the gallery walk.
  • I give students 10 to 15 minutes in class to complete the task because it simulates a testing environment. But if you want to save classroom time, you can assign this as homework.

 

7. Peer review

  • In this step, students will use a rubric to assess each other's written responses. (Here is the rubric that I created.)
  • Give each student one copy of the rubric. Direct students to fill out the top of the rurbric with their name and the number of the question that they wrote an answer for. Students should then pass their rubric and their written response to another member of the group. The student who receives the rubric should write his or her name on the rubric, select a color with which to mark the rubric, and use the rubric to assess his or her peer's work.
  • Have students switch papers one more time so that each student's work is reviewed by two members of the group.
  • The completed rubrics should then be stapled to the written responses and returned to the students who wrote the answers. Invite students to ask their reviewers any questions they have about their scores.
  • Finally, all rubrics should be submitted to you for a final score.

 

 

This activity really builds my students' test-taking confidence. I don’t use test-review workbooks, and I don’t teach to the test. I do, however, take a couple weeks before the test to review how to transfer what students have learned in class to test-taking. This activity is a wonderfully collaborative way do it. One of my students recently said to me, "This was hard, but it was a lot of fun." It's not often that a student has fun while being challenged!

 

 

 

 

Mary Blow teaches 6th-grade English at Lowville Academy Middle School in Lowville, New York. Follow Marys fantastic blog!

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