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Test prep season is upon us! It is not fun, but it is necessary if your students are expected to take standardized tests at the end of the school year. Over the years, I have tried many different ways to keep my students engaged. Today, I am sharing my five favorite test prep activities that will get your students ready for the test while still having fun. After all, test prep activities can be effective and fun at the same time!
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What are test prep activities?
If you are new to a testing grade, you may be wondering what test prep activities are. After all, they don’t add, “be able to design effective test prep activities” in the job description. Activities for teaching test prep are those that will get your students ready for the standardized tests they will have to take at the end of the school year.
Many curriculums include test prep activities. But in my experience, those are often very boring. And remember, if you are bored, so are your students. For that reason, I started looking for engaging test prep activities that would help me teach test-taking strategies but in a fun way. Although students are reading passages and answering questions that address the standards, they are engaging in fun activities.
Why do we need test prep activities?
It is an unfortunate side of our jobs, and we can argue about the validity of standardized tests until we are blue in the face. In the end, kids are going to be tested. And we want them to be successful. Not only are we as teachers often being judged based on their scores, but most importantly, we want our kids to feel confident in what they are doing.
It would be cruel to expect our students to take a standardized test without having any exposure to it. They would be terrified. So although test prep activities should not be our entire curriculum, they do have their place.
Besides, if we can make these activities fun, our students will actually love practicing for the test. I know mine do!
Five ideas of fun ELA test prep activities
My experience in a testing grade is teaching literacy in English and Spanish. So in this blog post, I will share activities and ideas for ELA. However, you could definitely adapt some, if not all, of these ideas to other content areas as well.
Make the case
This game idea comes from Lead Forward, and it is one of my favorite test prep activities. It is super easy to set up, and the level of discussion this generates is off the charts. Besides, students love it! Like, seriously love it!
In this game, students will pretend to be prosecutors or defense attorneys. Their job is to defend or prosecute the answer choice that is assigned to them. If they think the answer choice they were assigned is the correct one, they will defend it using supporting evidence. If they think they were assigned the wrong answer, they will prosecute it using evidence.
How to play this game
To set up for this game, you will need a grade-level reading passage and at least one multiple-choice question with 4 answer choices. Divide students into groups of four and give each student in the group a letter card: A, B, C, and D.
Students can read the passage in their groups, or you can choral read it as a class. After reading the passage, students will read the question and their answer choice which corresponds to the card they were given. For example, student 1 was given the card with the letter A. Therefore, he must decide if A is the right or wrong answer and find evidence to support his thinking.
To help students decide whether they should defend or prosecute their answer choice, they will move into a different group. This time, students are meeting with people who were assigned the same answer as they. They will discuss if the answer they have (A, B, C, or D) is right or wrong and why.
After a few minutes, students will meet with their initial groups to defend or prosecute their answer choice.
Tic-tac-toe board games
In my classroom, my students play with these tic-tac-toe boards all year long during our literacy stations time. However, I love to bring these out as a whole-group test prep activity. One of my favorite things about these fun ELA test prep activities is that they work with any text.
How to use these games
Students work in partners. Assign a grade-level passage that your students will read. You can assign the same passage to everyone or differentiate based on your students’ needs. Give partners a tic-tac-toe board game that matches the genre they are reading. If you are using the tic-tac-toe boards I created, there are two versions for each genre for easy differentiation. Students read the story then play the game.
Each box in the tic-tac-toe has an open-ended genre-specific question that works with any text in that genre. Students can only mark their tic-tac-toe boards if they can answer the question correctly.
Pro-tip: Laminate the boards, so students can erase them when they are done and play multiple times. If you can’t laminate each board, give students two different colored beads that they can place on the board as they answer each question. The different colors will help them keep track of who answered each question.
You better believe that anything that allows students to “slap” something will be a win. I love this game because it is not about finding the right answer immediately. Students must first find the worst answer, then the distractor, before getting to the right answer.
I taught fourth grade in Texas for a few years, and that is where I learned this game. In the Texas standardized tests (STAAR) there is usually an answer that is completely wrong, and one that we call the “distractor” because it is there to confuse kids who are not sure what the correct answer is. So when we are doing our test prep activities, we need to find ways to teach our students to “eliminate the distractor.” This Lead Forward game is perfect for that.
How to play this game
Students work in partners. Each partner has four cards (A, B, C, D.) They also have a grade-level passage that they will be reading together and at least one multiple-choice question.
After reading the passage and the question, the teacher asks the students to identify the worst answer. I like to call it “the ridiculous” answer. Students pick up the letter card that corresponds to that answer without letting their partners see it. On the count of three, students slap down the card with the answer they chose. Whoever slaps down the card with the “worst answer” first, gets a point. Repeat the same steps for the distractor and for the right answer. The kids will have a blast!
Classroom management tips:
- Make sure to model to students how to “slap down” their cards, so no one gets hurt
- If your students can’t handle a little competition, remove the point system. Nothing wrong with just playing for fun!
This is another game that we use throughout the year during literacy centers, but I love to bring it out as a test prep activity, too.
A while back, I created these gameboards for my classroom. They are similar to the tic-tac-toe boards, with open-ended, genre-specific questions that work with any text. But these board games also include other actions, such as “lose a turn” or “move back.” We often play these games using classroom magazines, such as Storyworks by Scholastic. I have a blog post about how I use magazines in my classroom. You can click here to learn more about it.
How to use these engaging test prep activities
For these games, I divide my students into groups of 2-3. Each person in the group needs a game piece, like a bead, a small eraser, or a traditional game piece. My students usually use these tiny erasers. They roll the dice and move their pieces on the board game. They draw a card that matches the color they landed on and answer the question. If they answer correctly, they can stay. If they don’t, they have to move back to where they were before.
Light up the answer
If you are don’t have enough time to set up a game and need a simple way to engage your kids during test prep, you need these finger lights! You won’t even need to make copies of the text. Trust me, it works every time!
How to use finger lights for test prep activities
This activity is like playing four corners, but with lights. Label each corner of your room with a letter (A, B, C, D.)
Choose a passage that you want to read with your students and display it on the board. Choral read the passage, the question, and the answer choices. Ask students to choose the answer they think is correct.
Ask students to turn on their finger lights and wait for your signal. When you turn off the lights, students point to the corner that matches the answer choice they think is correct.
Pro-tip: Worried that your students will just “go with the crowd?” That certainly happened in my class. However, there is a very easy way to solve that problem. Ask students to close their eyes before they are allowed to point to the correct answer with their flashlights. Then ask them to put their lights down before anyone opens their eyes. This will give students who are shy or unsure a sense of security.
Pro-tip 2: You can combine the flashlights and slap-down game into one fun-packed activity!
There you have it…
…my favorite test prep activities that will keep your students engaged while still having fun. If you dread test prep activities because you are worried your students will be bored, give these a try. I promise you won’t regret it.