Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


310: Rock the Reading Block
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STANDARDIZED TESTING: How to Encourage Engagement

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You’ve got testing coming up and your students are not
excited. Neither are you, for that matter. It’s hard to get behind a day in
which your students are miserable, you don’t get to teach them anything, and
the results of their bored labor can and will be used against you.
Luckily, there are ways you can encourage your students to
genuinely engage in the process of standardized testing, whether or not they
can ever genuinely enjoy it.
#1 Choose a class theme song –
Sports teams are known for their pre-game playlist, walk-out
songs, and victory chants. Why shouldn’t your class have the same? Invite
students to nominate a class pump-up theme song as a homework assignment. Have
them choose a song and explain why it will help the class get ready for the
test. Then let the class vote on which song to use. Download it and play it in
the week or weeks leading up to testing. Play it as students walk in for the
#2 Create Prep Games
Looking ahead to your testing, create a daily game for your
students to play in the week or weeks leading up to the testing that engages
the test content in a fun and interesting way. 
As you build student’s enthusiasm for the games, remind them that the
test is just another way to show their mastery of the material they are doing
such a great job with in class. If you don’t already have a game generator you like, consider using Kahoot.

#3 Class Challenge Cards + Prizes
Many students respond to the idea of a challenge, and who
doesn’t like to win a prize? As testing gets close, let students brainstorm
with you to come up with ways they can earn points throughout the testing.
_____ 10 Points Did you go to bed by ____ pm on the night
before the test?
_____ 10 Points Did you eat breakfast before the test?
_____ 10 Points Did you try to stay focused during the test
and not zone out?
_____ 10 Points Did you make a pump up playlist and listen to
it on your way in to the test?
_____ 10 Points Did your teacher notice that you were
focused throughout the test 
Individual Prize Ideas: 
20-40 Points – Get out of HW free
40-60 Points – 10 extra credit points on any quiz
60-80 Points – two day extension on a paper
Class Prize Ideas: 
If total points are above _____, donut
If total points are above ______, day off of class to have a picnic outside! 
#4 Test-Taking Kits
Make your students test-taking kits.  Put in some gum and lifesavers, an extra good luck pencil (like these cute ones) a small card from you that says something nice and reminds them of WHY it is a good thing for them and for their school to do the best
they can (if you have a lot of students, just print the same one for everyone!).  Add whatever you want,
whatever you think will make the arduous process of standardized testing just a
little bit nicer for them. It doesn’t have to cost much.
#5 Make it about the Team
Choose a color and encourage
everyone to wear it on test day. Hand out wristbands. Brainstorm a slogan and
bring in a hilarious  stuffed animal to
be the team mascot. Make t-shirts. Bring pom poms – why not? Taking a
standardized test is isolating. Not only is it long and lonely, but its
essential nature is judgmental. Helping students feel they are part of the
class team and you are their coach and cheerleader every bit of the way can
only help break down some of that pressure and stress.
#6 Sprinkle in some Funny Creative Writing Prompts about Testing
As students get nervous about testing, lighten the mood a
bit by letting them think about it in a funny and creative way. Offer journal
prompts relating to testing in the days preceding it, like:
1. Imagine your favorite superhero was about to take a huge
standardized test of her superhero ability. Describe the test and how she
2. Write a story beginning with the line… “I knew the test
day was going to go well when I opened the packet and saw the words: You have been chosen. Quietly put down your
pencil and walk through the blue door that has just appeared in the wall.”

3. Imagine you could give a test to anyone in the world. Who
would you test? What would be on the test? What would be the point?
4. Think of a literary character you think would be very
good at taking the standardized testing coming up at our school (Hermione
Granger? Katniss Everdeen? Ender Wiggin?). Imagine what it would be like if he
or she showed up at our school for the test. Write the story of the day.
All these strategies complement each other well. You can
play the class theme song as students work on creating test prep Kahoots or
other games. You can let students print the class slogan across the top of
their Challenge cards. You can put a little picture of the mascot you’ve chosen
in their good luck kits. As you go over the types of material that will be on
the test and the structure of the testing, talk to your students sincerely about your
hopes for them and for your school, and about how important it is to you to be
a good coach and cheerleader for them in this. Ask them how you can help, and
remind them that the challenge cards and prizes are all part of making the
process fun so you can all help the school by doing your best. 

I know your life is busy, so I’ve put together a free packet for you with a class challenge card, “I Know You Can Do It Cards,” and three printable writing prompts.  Just put in your e-mail below and I’ll send it along!

Would you like to talk more about creative methods to help engage your students? Click over to our Facebook group, Creative High School English, and join the conversation. We’ve already begun discussing ideas for a class theme song (can’t go wrong with “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey). 

hey there!

I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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  • What a wonderful post. I'm with you on standardized testing. I've always hated those days as much as the kids.

  • Thanks, Deann! Have you discovered any fun strategies for making it any more digestible for your students? I am eager to keep building my toolkit.


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