Formative assessment tools can be a part of every teacher’s toolbox. They needn’t be complicated or time-consuming. There are, however, a few things that are crucial to their effectiveness.

We’ve put things in order to help you find what you’re looking for. First, we’ll define the characteristics of effective formative assessment. Then we’ll give examples of the quickest (and most fun) tools for you to use.

Great formative assessment should have the following facets:

  • It should be goal-oriented, and derived from what we do every day. It is directed at guiding students towards performing well, so it should be specific, observable, and measurable.
  • It must focus on higher-order thinking skills. We’re not talking about just the nuts and bolts, either. We want to know if our learners are applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating using the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • It should hold students accountable for individual performance. Group assessment is useful in itself. Also, pinpointing the exact needs of the individual will give you direction to steer your instruction, which sets the students up for success.
  • It should be seamless, and you don’t need to change your routine to fit the test. Some formative assessments have a steep learning curve, while others are easy to grasp even with the most limited experience. You might need to build formative assessment into your lesson. Some of it can be improvised, but some will need to be planned.


It’s time to get some great formative assessment tools into your toolbox. Hopefully, this list will give you some ideas and start-off points.


These are easy and also incorporate a sense of self-assessment. It is non-threatening allowing students to be truthful about their responses. The teacher does not pass judgment but can gauge a percentage of how much he or she needs to reteach.

  • Yes/No cardsThe teacher will ask a question. Students respond by holding up the appropriate card, whether they know the answer or not. In this way, they self-assess their assuredness on a topic. The teacher reviews what is needed, or gives differentiated help to those in need.
  • Thumbs up/DownThis works the same as Yes or No cards. Instead, students just use their thumbs (like at the end of a Roman Coliseum show).
  • Color CardsStudents rate their knowledge:
    • Red (I’m completely lost)
    • Yellow (Slow down, I’m struggling a bit)
    • Green (I’ve got it, it’s all good)
  • 1-2-3 FingersThis works the same as color cards. Students hold fingers up to respond:
    • 1 finger (Lost)
    • 2 fingers (Not quite lost, but searching)
    • 3 fingers (Understood completely)


These activities assess understanding and the student’s ability to write and formulate ideas. Writing capability and fine motor dexterity will vary among your students. Take this into consideration, especially if you’re timing it.

  • Invent the QuizWhat better way to gauge comprehension than by getting students to write their assessments themselves? By answering their own questions, they’ll be ready for the final.
  • Opinion ChartThis can be in the form of a T-chart (e.g. Left = Opinions; Right = Support). Try this template from ReadWriteThink.
  • Mind MapMind Maps should be taught, so plan this ahead of time. It’s a great self-assessment tool to use as students get older. Here are some examples.
  • KWL (Know, Want, Learn) Charts—KWL charts let students organize and analyze information from a lesson. They are also great critical thinking tools that get students interested in new topics. They ask these three questions:
    • What do you know already?
    • What do you want to know?
    • What did you learn?
  • 321 ChartsThese charts ask students to record 3 things they learned, 2 things they found interesting, and 1 question they still have. You can add variations to each of these as well. Some suggestions are below:
    • things that surprised you
    • things that have inspired you
    • the people you will discuss what you’ve learned with
    • action(s) you’re going to take starting now


Going out on a limb and showing off their aesthetic skills are what some children crave, so the creative types will love these.

  • Illustration/SketchUse pictures to establish connections and explain them.
  • Advertisement/Pamphlet/Multimedia Poster/InfographicYou can have students use any number of tools for this. You can also go old school and use traditional materials.
  • Comic BookUse tools like Pixton or Make Beliefs to illustrate a concept. Or again, go old school and draw freehand.
  • Think-Ink-Pair-Share—Time is given to think about a topic. Students then write down their thoughts, pair up with another student and share what they’ve written.


Who can forget the good old conversation style of knowledge sharing? Face-to-face interaction remains the best engagement and collaboration avenue for students.

  • Four CornersCorners of the room are labeled “Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.” Statements are read aloud and students go to their respective corner. This is then followed by open discussion.
  • Top 10 List (with humor)These kinds of lists focus on the big important ideas.


These are great ice breakers. Get-up-and-stretch physical activities get the blood pumping and the brain working. Movement boosts enthusiasm, too.

  • Carousel BrainstormLarge sheets of paper are stationed around the room with topics at each top. Groups go around to each chart, brainstorming their ideas on the topic. When the “carousel” stops, students discuss their findings.
  • Turn and TalkThis simple discussion tactic is used to great effect in lectures and keynotes. The teacher asks a thought-provoking question about the topic. Students “turn” to the person beside them and discuss the answers with each other.
  • Talk Show PanelStudents are assigned a position about a topic (whether they agree or disagree). They must internalize the position and then discuss it in a panel, debate-style.
  • PodcastingTools like Easy Podcast, Podbean, or Audacity make it easy. Students can speak as the expert on a topic with a podcast. It’s a great exercise for media knowledge and creativity, as well as oral skills.
  • Dramatic InterpretationEnact scenes from a book or any concept for that matter. Imagination is the ticket here.
  • Misconception CheckThe teacher states a common misconception about a topic. Students agree or disagree, and discuss.


The beauty of formative assessment is that it’s done while the students are still learning. Fast and fun formative assessment tools are perfect for checking in along those learning journeys. One last piece of advice is to choose one formative assessment and make it your own. Don’t try too many at one time. Use one until the kids know how to do it, and you know how to process the results.


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