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Teaching Strategies to Check for Student Understanding

Janelle Cox

In a perfect world, you would teach a lesson and your students would carefully listen to every word that you say, as well as soak up every detail and remember it. As much as we as teachers would like to think that happens when we use teaching strategies, we all know that isn’t always the case. This is why we work so hard on making sure that all students understand and absorb our teaching strategies. The key to ensuring that students truly “Get it” is to make sure that it’s presented in a fun way. Here are a few easy teaching strategies to check for student understanding.

Teaching Strategies that Allow Students to Show You through Movement

Have students connect their brains to their bodies by showing you what they know through movement. We have all heard the studies on the mind/body connection, and what’s a better time to utilize this theory than when you are checking for understanding? Try playing four corners with your students. Ask students a multiple-choice question, and label each corner in the room A, B, C, and D. After you ask the question, the students have to go to the corner that they think is right. To help ensure that students aren’t “Going with the crowd,” they must write the answer down at their desk first before they go to the corner that they chose. It’s also important to ensure students that it’s OK if they are wrong, and make sure you explain to them why they were wrong.

Try a Gallery Walk

Instead of using tests and quizzes to check for understanding, try using a gallery walk. A gallery walk is fun way to get students up and moving while developing their communication skills. After you have taught a concept, place students into small groups (2-3 people in a group). Challenge each group to create a poster about what they just learned. They can do anything that they wish on the poster, just as long as it teaches the essential concept. Once students are done, hang up each poster on the wall and have students do a gallery walk to look at them all. Students must stop at each poster and place a sticky note asking questions or commenting on the poster.

Utilize the Technology that You Have

Whether you have a class set of tablets or just a few computers, these pieces of technology can be a great asset in checking for student understanding. There are various apps and websites that can help you. One website and app is called Poll Everywhere. This app allows you to ask a question and get immediate results in a graph.  Another great app is called Socrative. Teachers ask a question and students answer using the app. Questions can be true or false, multiple choice, or even short answer.

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Have Students Do a Partner Talk

Sometimes students find it easier to talk to their classmates than they do to a teacher. Their friends help them feel more at ease. The next time you want to ensure that students truly are understanding a concept, place them into groups of two (let them choose) and have them discuss what they learned. The key to making this work is you. You must monitor each group to check for understanding. In addition to that, you should have students fill out a form to see if the student is really grasping the concept that you just taught them. Just make sure that you have students fill out the form after their partners talk by themselves. Their group meeting may have helped them with any unanswered questions that they had about the lesson, which will help them with the assessment form.

Use Hand Signals

A hand signal may be one of the simplest ways that you can check for understanding of a concept. This is because it’s easy, and you get immediate results without the hassle of worksheets or technology. All you have to do is teach your students a few signals. Here are a few teacher-tested ideas.

  • Have students use sign language to sign the letter “U” for understand.
  • Have students use sign language to sign the letter “D” for don’t understand.
  • Have students give a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

Be Creative

Sometimes all you have to do to check if your students are getting the lesson is to know how they learn best. If you are teaching high school students, you can challenge them to write a Twitter post explaining in 140 characters or less about the concept. If you are teaching students in middle school and you know that they like game shows, challenge them to pretend they are on a game show and explain the concept in 60 seconds or less. If you are teaching elementary students, and you know these children are very visual, you can have them draw a picture of the lesson that was taught. Learners respond well to things that are of interest to them. So as long as you tailor your assessment with that, you will get the information that you need.

Checking for understanding is an essential part of the job. With each lesson taught comes some sort of form of assessment. Try a variety of teaching strategies, to see what works best for your students.

What are your favorite teaching strategies to check for student understanding? Please share them in the comment section below, we would love to hear what you have to say.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.