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Beyond Exit Slips: 17 Creative Ways to Check for Understanding

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June 12, 2024

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As teachers, we all know how valuable it is to make sure our students are actually following us. We need a way to know if they’re ready to move on to the next bit of instruction, or if we need to review what we’ve already discussed.

Checking for understanding, as this is formally called, is a good way to gauge their readiness. It’s a practice that’s been recommended in teaching colleges for just about as long as we can remember.

However, the problem is that, while we’re often told we need to check for understanding, it’s rare that we’re told exactly how to do this. We tend to rely on the same-old, same-old, like exit slips, and while those are helpful, that practice has a tendency to get kind of stale.

So what’s the alternative? You need to get creative! In this post, we’ll go beyond existing slips to tell you about some fun and creative ways you can check for understanding in your classroom.

17 Creative Ways to Check for Understanding

student working with his peers at table

Are your students paying attention to what you’ve been teaching them – and more importantly, are they grasping it? Here are a few ways you can make sure.

1. Leverage Technology

If you’re not already using technology, why not? Kids love the opportunity to use their devices, and this gives you a more productive outlet to do so.

A few great sites you can use include Quizlet, Kahoot, and Booklet. These will let you mix in some fun while also making sure your students understand the material. When it comes to gamifying your instruction, you can’t get much better than this.

2. Ask Open-Ended Questions

This one’s not necessarily creative, but it’s an important reminder to avoid yes/no questions when you’re checking for understanding. If you ask a student if they understand, particularly in front of their peers, they’re almost always going to say, “yes,” even if they haven’t got the foggiest idea of what you’re talking about.

Instead, ask open-ended questions that require some deeper thought.

3. Write a Headline

Many students are averse to the idea of writing long chunks of short answer responses, but you can ease yoru students into this type of closing activity by just getting them to write a few short words. You can set the cap, but a good place to start is just six or seven words.

The idea is simply – by asking students to summarize what they’ve learned in just a few words, you’ll learn what stood out most to them (which can provide you with some guidance on how you need to tailor the instruction moving forward).

4. Give Me Five

Another popular exit activity is to have your students rate their understanding on a scale of one to five, using their fingers. Make sure you establish what each number means ahead of time and find out afterward what they didn’t understand, if you end up getting a lot of “ones” and not a lot of “fives.”

5. Do a Thumbs Up

Another hands-oriented activity? Have students display a designated hand signal to showcase their level of understanding.

Thumbs up would mean, “I understand completely” while a thumbs down means, “I’m totally lost.” A sideways thumb or a waving gesture could mean, “I’m not totally sure and need some more instruction.”

6. Do a Socratic Seminar

A Socratic seminar can be used at any grade level but is most helpful for older kids. It’s a formal discussion in which a leader asks open-ended questions based on a text. 

This kind of exit technique requires a great deal of critical thinking, since students not only have to evaluate what others are saying but also come up with their own responses.

7. Use Emojis

Another idea is to leave cards with emojis printed on them at each student’s desk. They’ll attach clips to them to show you their level of understanding.

8. Sit Down

During your lesson, ask your students some true false questions related to the material. Have them stand if they agree and sit down if they disagree. They can squat if they’re unsure.

Not only is this a good way to check for understanding, but it also gets kids up and moving – something that can really help bust up the cobwebs when your students have been sitting all day and are losing focus.

9. Have Them Write Their Own Questions

Have your students write down a list of questions for each other (or for you!) based on the material you’ve taught. This is a great way to get all of your students involved and feel more invested in the material you’ve taught them.

10. Start Drawing

For students who learn best by doing – especially drawing – you may want to get visual. Ask your students to create a visual or a symbolic representation of what you’ve taught, then ask them to explain it to the other students. 

This might be a Venn diagram comparing two concepts that you taught in class, or a concept map showcasing a more complex process. They can even make their own storyboards or comics.

11. Make Polls

Another way to get technology involved is to create some polls. Before the lesson, create a poll on Google Meet where students can respond in real-time. Alternatively, you can whip up a survey in Google Classroom/Google Forms or Survey Monkey.

This is an easy way to check for understanding, and one that most students think is pretty fun to boot.

12. Use Whiteboards

If your budget allows, invest in some miniature whiteboards to pass out to each of your students. Have them write their answers to questions on the whiteboards, and do a quick sweep of the responses to check that everyone understands. 

13. Host a Debate

Debates are a great way to improve your students’ critical thinking skills and to introduce the fine art of friendly disagreement. Have some students debate or discuss a topic while the rest of the class listens. You can even record it and turn it into a class podcast later on, if you choose!

14. Have Them Summarize It

There are a few ways to go about this checking for understanding activity. You can have your students write a short letter summarizing something they learned from the day’s lesson, or you can make it even shorter – have them Tweet about it! 

Like the headline idea mentioned above, this activity is challenging because it forces students to just focus on the most important details.

15. Create a Stoplight

At the beginning of the year, make a drawing of a stoplight and hang it up near your classroom door. After the lesson, have your students write their name on a post-it, then attach it to the stoplight of the appropriate color (green meaning “I get it!”, yellow meaning, “I need a little more help,” and red meaning, “I’m lost!”). 

This is another simple, low-pressure way for you to figure out where some more instruction might be needed. 

16. Connect it Back

This is something that can be done in every single classroom, for any subject you teach. After you’ve taught the day’s lessons, task students with figuring out how they’ll relate what they’ve learned to their everyday lives. 

At first, you might get some grumbles, like, “I don’t think I’ll ever use the Pythagorean theorem!” but with some guidance, you can help them make the right connections fairly quickly. 

17. Teach Someone

The highest level of understanding a subject is being able to teach it to someone else. 

Encourage your students to develop brief lessons about what you’ve taught that day. You can have them teach their lessons to each other in real time, or even record it with a cell phone or laptop for extra longevity.

Exit Slips Don’t Need to Be Boring

female student standing at end of class

Remember, while these alternatives to exit slips are indeed ingenious and far more creative than the bland strategies you might be used to falling back on, they’re not perfect – and they’re not the end of your instruction.

In reality, the best “checks for understanding” are used as tools, the first step in a feedback cycle that tells you where you need to steer your instruction next. They’ll show you where there are misconceptions or knowledge gaps – and when you’re ready to move on.

As you set new learning goals, consider adding some of these strategies to your instructional toolbox! You’ll keep things fresh – and most importantly, you’ll keep your instruction as relevant and personalized as possible.

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