As spring approaches and we all look forward to the first green buds on trees and crocuses poking up from the ground, we know that something else is headed your way too: testing season. We often hear that a big hurdle students face is simply knowing the language of tests—the "instructional language" or "academic talk" that includes words like explain, describe, and conclude.
So I've dug in and identified five words (and some of their "friends") that appear all over state tests in grades 6-8. Of course, these are not the only instructional words your students will need to know, but here are the biggies:
It shows up everywhere. Support a claim, an idea, a response, an inference, a conclusion . . . the list goes on.
Make sure your students know this: When you see the word support, find examples in the text to prove that an answer is correct or true.
Sure, your students will be familiar with the word suggest in everyday speech, but are they ready to answer test questions that include it?
Make sure your students know this: When a question asks what something suggests, the answer is not stated directly in the text. You'll have to figure out—that is, infer—the answer by looking at clues in the text.
Develop is another all-star word of state tests. What gets developed? It's often an idea, but it could be a plot, an author's purpose, a theme, or something else.
Make sure your students know this: Develop means to build bit by bit. If a question asks how an idea develops, look for details throughout a text that add up to a big idea.
Students may be familiar with the word contribute from class discussions, but they may not be familiar with the word in the context of a test.
Make sure your students know this: Contribute means to add to. When you see the word contribute, think about how a piece of information adds to your answer.
Your students likely have a handle on questions that ask what a detail or an action or a passage shows. But will they be ready if a question asks what something demonstrates, illustrates, indicates, displays, highlights, or reveals?
Make sure your students know this: Lots of different words mean show. Don't panic if you see one; remember it's just a fancy word for show. Emphasize is related to show, but it means to give special importance to something.
I wish you and your students a calm and successful testing season! And I'd love to hear if you have other must-know test words! Leave a comment below.
Editor's note: Do your students get tripped up when it comes to central ideas and supporting details? If so, you will love this idea from Scope advisor and 6th grade ELA teacher Joanne Canizaro.
What you’ll need:
- Any long nonfiction Scope text. I used "The Girl Who Lived Forever" from the April 2015 issue.
- List of Close-Reading Questions. You can create your own questions and/or use questions from these two Scope activities: Central Ideas and Details and Finding and Using Text Evidence (available on two levels).
- Central Idea and Supporting Details grid
- Computer, tablet, poster board, or paper for the grid
- Presentation Rubric for peer review
Citing text evidence, identifying central idea and supporting details, speaking and listening
Three class periods (60 minutes each)
NOTE: By the time we do this lesson, we have already read and discussed the article as a class.
DAY 1: Respond to the Close-Reading Questions
- Divide students into small groups and assign each group at least one section of the article. (I sometimes give a group more than one section if the sections are short.)
- Distribute the Close-Reading Questions to each student. Students will return to these questions on Day 2 for the peer review.
NOTE: I create my own close-reading questions for this lesson, but you can pull some or all of the questions from Scope's Central Ideas and Details activity and Finding and Using Text Evidence activity.
- Have each group answer the questions for their assigned section(s).
Differentiation Tip: Have struggling students write a brief summary of their section before they answer the questions.
- Have each group present their answers to the class. (This helps the teacher assess whether the groups are on the right track with their answers.)
DAY 2: Find the central idea and supporting details
- Reconvene the small groups and pass out the Central Idea and Supporting Details grid.
- Explain to students that they should write the title of their assigned section at the top of the page, the central idea of the section in the middle box, and the supporting details in the surrounding boxes. (If tablets or computers are available, you can create the template as a PowerPoint or Google slide and have students share the slide(s) among the group members so they can work on it together.)
- Tell students that the supporting details should be arranged in an organized way, such as chronologically, sequentially, etc.
NOTE: This step may not take an entire class period to complete.
Here's an example of a filled-out grid:
DAY 3: Present and peer review
- Provide each group with a copy of the Presentation Rubric. Students should also have their copy of the text and the Close-Reading Questions from Day 1 in front of them.
- In section order, have each group present its completed Central Idea and Supporting Details grid. If using paper, use a document camera to project the grid.
- During each presentation, the rest of the class should assess the presentation according to the Presentation Rubric and check off the close-reading questions as they are answered.
- After each presentation, invite the rest of the class to ask questions or provide comments or suggestions. Students often have questions about why a particular piece of supporting evidence was chosen. They also like to offer suggestions for other pieces of evidence the group could have used. I encourage students to pose their questions and give their feedback in a respectful and encouraging way, like this:
I noticed that the box on the right states . . .
I wonder why you chose to . . .
We would like to suggest that you . . .We reread the section and thought you could . .
Here's a photo of one student presentation:
Joanne Canizaro is a Scope advisor and a 6th grade ELA teacher at Hopatcong Middle School in Hopatcong, New Jersey.
It's testing season, and we know you are probably working to get your students confident and ready for assessments. Scope has you covered! Check out six of our test-readiness faves below.
1. Build Confidence
The skills: academic terms, inference, text structure, author's purpose, point of view
This gallery walk activity from 6th-grade teacher Mary Blow familiarizes students with the challenging language they will encounter on high-stakes tests, reinforces key skills, and builds testing confidence.
2. Review Using Text Evidence
The skills: text evidence, key ideas and details, analyzing, synthesizing
This writing strategy provides students with lots of practice identifying text evidence to support a claim and then weaving that evidence into a clear response.
3. Reinforce Key Skills
The skills: summarizing, making inferences, using text evidence, identifying central ideas and details, analyzying text features, identifying text structures, exploring mood, understanding tone
This collection of eight skill-based activities that comes with every issue of Scope is designed to help students "bulk up" in the skills they need most for succeeding on assessments and beyond.
4. Practice Writing Constructed Responses
The activity: modeling constructed response answers
The skills: writing a topic sentence, supporting a claim, integreating text evidence, organizing ideas
This great teacher tip uses the robust Scope answer key as a model for answering constructed-response (AKA short answer) questions.
5. Review Academic Terms
The resource: a glossary of academic terms
The skill: understanding academic terms
This wonderful glossary is a great for reviewing the academic terms students will encounter on assessments.
6. Mastering Informational Text
The resource: an informational text and constructed-response question
The skills: constructed response, text evidence, supporting a claim
This short informational text and the accompanying constructed-response question mimic those that students will encounter on assessments and is perfect for test readiness. And the Short Write Kit guides students through writing the constructed response.
Have a great test-readiness idea of your own? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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.
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:
- any long Scope text. For this example, I used the fiction piece "Follow the Water"
- questions about the text from Scope's support materials, such as Core Skills Workout, quizzes (constructed-response questions), or critical-thinking questions. (I tweaked Scope's critical-thinking questions for the activity outlined below.)
- a poster for each question to hang around the classroom for the gallery walk, like these which I created
- a list of all the same questions on one page for students to use
- a rubric for peer reviews, such as this one which I created
inference, text structure, author purpose, point of view, vocabulary
four class periods, one hour each
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.
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 Mary’s fantastic blog!
The Core Skills Workout is a collection of eight skill-based activities that come with every issue, designed to help your students "bulk up" in the skills they need most to become strong, analytical readers.
If you haven't had a chance to check them out, now is the perfect time! We offer this collection of activities in addition to the quizzes, vocabulary, and other support materials that come with each issue.
The Workout covers . . .
Central ideas and details
The Core Skills Workout is perfect for your classroom because . . .
1. It works with your scope and sequence.
As skills arise in your scope and sequence, you can choose the Core Skill activity that supports your teaching goals.
2. It's a great reinforcement tool.
Do the Workout with each issue—to reinforce the skills students have learned or to help students who need extra practice in a particular area.
3. It's ready for differentiation.
Most Core Skills Workout activities are offered on two levels. For example:
In addition to the eight Workout activities, you also get . . .
1. Ready-to-go reference materials
A reference sheet is available for each of the eight skills covered in the Workout. Project the reference sheets on your whiteboard, upload them to Google Classroom, or print them for students to keep in their binders. Download them here or find them on the Core Skills page.
2. An easy way to put it all together
Our Read, Think, Explain activity (available on two levels) combines all eight skills in one tidy guided-reading activity. It comes with every nonfiction feature. We recommend you project it on your whiteboard and work through it as a class.
Answers to all activities can be found in the answer key.
Have a great workout!